Symbiotic economy, as a concept and construct, has existed for billions of years, perhaps for as long as life has existed. It has enabled ecosystems and societies to live in equilibrium and constantly move forward. In the context of businesses, as they exist and co-exist today, a panel of thought leaders from different industries gathered under the auspices of the Bangalore chapter of the Forbes’ Round Table banner to offer their perspectives on economic symbiosis in general and particularly from the point of view of their businesses. These stalwarts included Bala Bharadvaj, MD, Boeing India Engineering & Technology Center; Samit Ghosh, MD & CEO, Ujjivan Financial Bank; Debarati Sen, MD, 3M; Sukanto Aich, Whole-Time Director and Chief Marketing Officer at Philips Lighting, South Asia; Venkat Krishnapur, VP Engineering and MD, McAfee India and Vishal Sharma, CEO Cluster India & Indian Sub-Continent, DB Schenker.
The discussion opened with Venkat Krishnapur, from the digital security company - McAfee India, sharing his perspective on how his company and industry view devices, architectures, the cloud and cyber security through the lens of symbiosis. “Today we live in a world with so many different groups performing different functions and often the inter-relationships rely on one group talking to another without losing context. So, effectively, working in a symbiotic fashion assumes significant importance,” he began. He went on to suggest that rather than working in silos, people are cutting across verticals and borderlines are blurring, even in organizational structures. “The power of influence really dictates the extent of success in such an environment, which is why a symbiotic relationship allows people to bring value to what they do while recognizing the value of others.”
Sharing his company’s experience and approach, Debarati Sen from 3M said, “We are a public company in India and we take our obligations and responsibilities very seriously. We aim to be a responsible corporate citizen in every interaction that we have, whether it is with our vendors, service providers, the regulatory authorities, customers or individual consumers. We take our ethical responsibility to a higher level, even when it comes to our whistle-blower policies. We make sure that our interaction and footprints with the every community of stakeholder that we deal with are always positive.”
As an apex representative of a logistics firm, Cluster India & Indian Sub-Continent, DB Schenker, Vishal Sharma explained his view with a paradigm from warehousing, which is one aspect of his business. “In the past, health and safety were basic concerns with respect to workers. Now we pursue very small but practical issues related to their wellbeing. So, for instance, we seek to keep the environment more conducive, even in terms of temperature and humidity; we have designed adjustable workstations for better ergonomics, installed fatigue reducing mats, built in more skylights to get better illumination, etc. These measures to promote health, safety and wellbeing are instituted even if it comes at a cost.
We think from the product and user perspective and also from a business perspective. Our measures which facilitate staff with a better working environment also deliver energy efficiency and reduce attrition levels, which in turn save training time and costs, etc.” Summarizing, he explained that there is a mind-set shift to go beyond the basics and move towards well-being which is seen and felt.
Coming with experience from various industries, Sukanto Aich talked about why he moved to Philips Lighting. “Philips has started its journey towards providing sustainable solutions only six to seven years ago. Our first mission was to be completely off carbon by 2020. Today 80% of our products are made from sustainable systems. At the same time, we looked beyond lighting solutions, such as LED. There are building management systems which can help conserve energy and reduce carbon with smart HVAC and light management. Towards achieving optimum experiences for our end customers, we are working with a whole host of suppliers and partners. Effectively, while we are giving back to society with sustainability and a greener environment we are also working on solutions which could add value to our customers. We are working on better employee productivity too, through better lighting solutions and other unconventional ways to beat fatigue and enhance body rhythms.” He added, “Being from this industry which works very closely with the green building concept, we have moved from targeting just energy efficiency to aiming for well-being of people.”
Having spent a large part of his career in the financial sector, Samit Ghosh, currently the CEO and MD of Ujjivan Financial Bank pointed out that until recently, banking never served the mass-market in India, for various valid reasons. It was a challenge that he sought to overcome with the help of technology. “Earlier, without suitable technology, the cost of serving customers was high. When I retired from banking, I started a micro-finance institution that leveraged technology and we have a very successful model today, with over 4 million customers right across the country. We worked with the Reserve Bank and were very fortunate that the Governor at that time, Raghuram Rajan, was very passionate about financial inclusion in India. To promote this cause he initiated special licenses for small finance banks and we were lucky enough to get a license.”
Elaborating on how his bank derived symbiotic momentum from the system, he explained how the entire Adhaar infrastructure facilitated banking services, enabling people to open accounts almost instantly with Adhaar authentication and even allowed them to do a range of transactions with it. “That’s how I see Symbiosis,” he said.
Lending a fresh perspective to the discussion on symbiosis, Bala Bharadvaj, from the aviation industry explained Boeing India Engineering & Technology Center’s perspective. “While technology offers a big picture of how the world is evolving, our business is driven by the need to know, well in advance, whether there is a threat to our country and what do we can do about it, in terms of equipment that we should manufacture. Other countries are in the same predicament. All countries, especially larger ones, have to have a system in place to protect themselves even if they want peace. There is no guarantee that a neighbour will not attack just because we want to be peaceful. Our business works on this premise.”
He went on to tell how Boeing makes and launches satellites that can be used to predict threats from other countries and those from the weather, in terms of a storm. The company also makes aircrafts that can be used for commercial transportation and for military and defense purposes. The efforts that the company has put in over decades have spawned other businesses and helped it to prosper in many ways. These were just some examples of how technology could be developed and used for various applications. He saw this as symbiotic in a very fundamental way.
Adding to this thought, Venkat Krishnapur pointed out how various types of technologies were coming together and Big data and computing enable data crunching to provide very customized contextual information as another form of symbiosis.
Samit Ghosh concluded the discussion with a beautiful vista of economic symbiosis. He explained that although his business was not the best in terms of remuneration, being one with a larger social purpose, and the work was tough too, it offered the highest job satisfaction. “In fact, we compete with Google and Intel and others every year and are always among the top 10 best places to work.” This job satisfaction comes from the fact that everyone’s purposes are aligned. The employees can see how customers’ lives change due to the loans they disburse; they not only enjoy the immense respect from the customer but feel a sense of purpose in their work too.