30 Under 30 2020

Leadership matters and this is universal: Rakesh Rathi

Rakesh Rathi was honored with a prestigious and decorated award 'Champion of Change' by Shri Pranab Mukherjee

Published: Feb 12, 2020 11:52:05 AM IST
Updated: Feb 12, 2020 01:15:42 PM IST

Being networked with various business corporates and its leadership globally, it was quite exciting and inspiring to interact with Rakesh Rathi (Indian diaspora) and know his views with respect to the global economy growth chart froma technology, leadership, corporate and social point of view.

Recently, Rakesh was honoured with a prestigious and decorated award ‘Champion of Change’  by Shri Pranab Mukherjee (13th Hon’ble President of India) for creating a significant impact due to his engagement with global CxO with leading MNC (multi-national corporations) and being an inspiration to others. The award was presented in a glittering ceremony in presence of esteemed award winners and guests and hence we were keen to know more about his take in technology and international business.

Based in Switzerland, Rakesh has rock-solid academic background – Engineering (Mumbai, India) & MBA (IMD, Switzerland) and global professional experience (Europe, US, APAC)of over 25 years across multiple industries and verticals with senior roles in both private sector (global corporations) and in public sector (ILO, WHO). He has been instrumental in driving technology with business KPI with CxO of large global firms.

When asked about his view related to technology sector in India, he says, “If we look at the positives - the Indian IT and ITeS sector grew to US$ 181 billion in 2018-19, ranks among the top sources of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and has played an instrumental role in building strong bilateral ties with global economies. Tier-1 IT firms such as TCS, Cognizant, Wipro, Infosys, HCL are well appreciated by leaders of global organizations for their innovation. However, with frequent digital and disruptive changes (Digital Transformation, Robotics, AI/ML, Cyber Security, Quantum Computing,Wi-fi6, 5G et al); tech companies have to constantly evolve their offering and credentials to align to these changes in IT landscape."

He also adds that India should be looked as an innovation hub and not only as a low-cost offshoring destination. Further, we have to grow both in Services and Products; currently we are more into Services. Giving us more specifics RR continues, “One of the key contributor to the unprecedented demand of the global digital revolution is our young Indians - 62% of India's 1.3 billion people are under the age of 35, and we have over 500 million+ internet-connected and smartphone users, however I see the skill-gap and also the disparity in technology adaptability between urban and rural populations. Further, only technical skills will not be sufficient going forward. We will have to balance it with industry knowhow. From a digital transformation perspective, I strongly believe that SMAC (Social, Mobility, Analytics and Cloud) with a strong foundation of innovative IT Infrastructure (Networks, Data Centres) will continue to dominate tech globally and will be instrumental in the sharp upsurge of the IT sector.Therefore, for India re-skilling in these domains (tech + industry) can address the skill-gap significantly."

To his take on India is in the level as Silicon Valley – he smiled and said “Silicon Valleyand also Europe, have high interest fromInstitutional Investors and Venture Capitalistssince they target global consumers with innovative products, take calculated risksand therefore have higher visible outreach. If India can create a similar atmosphere for promoting entrepreneurship we too can spur new global innovative companies. Having said that – we do have more than 15+ unicorns in India in the likes of Flipkart, Byjus,  Paytm, OYO et al. India should continue to promote such start-ups and expand them globally.3G lead to evolution of smartphones and that revolutionized every industry, similarly further penetration of Wi-Fi/4G/5G both in urban and rural areas is an absolute necessity for  next-gen technologies and business to grown. Jio (Reliance), Airtel (Bharti) and Vodafone have all put in substantial investments to boost telecom connectivity in India. R&D and space technology is another growth segment wherein we have the talent and should be nurtured.I do appreciate ‘Start-up- India’campaign by the Indian government, however only the analysis of the metrics will reflect if we have had the expected impact".

What really intrigues were his statement where Rakesh says - India could offer opportunities and platform to Indian Diaspora abroad to encourage them and bring in their international experience, this itself could be a huge accelerator to growth. Indian born intellectuals have risen the ranks of corporate by sheer hard work and are now leading global firms….Sunder Pichai (Alphabet, Google), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Ajay Banga (Mastercard), Vas Narasimhan (Novartis), Shantanu Narayen (Adobe), Arvind Krishna (IBM), Indra Nooyi (ex PepsiCo); they are all an inspiration, we should have similar leaders mentor local industries to be on top of the global economy chart.

We requested Rakesh to share more on his experience dealing with international CXO’s. “Leadership matters and this is universal”, he said and continued "Over time, I have seen a huge shift in my interaction with global leaders, they are more aware and interested in mapping the business KPI with technology, digital transformation, innovation, automation, diversity & inclusion, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), sustainability and these topics have become key to drive efficiency and productivity, beyond only looking at revenues and profitability. This is a major change in their narrative. Further, role of a CIO (Chief Information Officer) and IT has now evolved from earlier being a cost centre to now looked upon as a revenue driver. Technology has a much higher visibility at a board level which is quite positive since every company now is a technology company irrespective of the vertical/industry they belong to”

And querying on which industry interests him most, his response is, “I have had the opportunity to work across multiple verticals…BFSI (i.e Banking, Financial Services and Insurance), Pharma, Manufacturing, Engineering. Technology is a common thread to all of them. People, Process and Technology are the key drivers for any transformation (Business and/or IT) and the role of leadership is to blend them together."

He further shared the key metrics faced by policymakers in India and his answer if India is on the trajectory to be called a Global economy, which could reflect on global investment scenarios and make India one of the most sought investment countries?

His response - "Foreign investors adore Indian markets due to favourable demographics, tech savvy youth and huge local consumption. We have also simplified rules governing foreign portfolio investment (FPI), policies are more transparent, liberal, the structural reforms in tax has also generated global optimism about ease of doing business in India. The recent reduction in the base corporate tax for the existing firms to 22% from 30%, and for new manufacturing firms reduced to 15% from 25% indicates our tax slabs are at par with major global economies. However, India is ranked 63rd among 190 nations in the World Bank’s - Ease of Doing Business 2020 ranking, so much more needs to be done to improve our ranking. Foreign investors would like to see further streamlining of the fairly complex regulatory and compliance framework around tax laws, KYC, MAT, capital controls, and capital gains. They would also like to ensure there will be limitedpolicy flip flops and uncertainty. It has to be level playing field between protecting domestic markets and providing opportunities for global players to commercialize their FDI (Foreign Direct Investments).

On the recent budget (2020) announced in Feb, his response was ‘Given the complexity of a diverse Indian economy, huge expectations and anticipation from all sectors, I believe a sincere effort was made by our Finance Minister, Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman with positives such as investments in infrastructure for roads and airports (Rs 103 lakh crores), corporate &personal income tax benefits,development of smart cities, abolishing the dividend distribution tax (DDT) and policy for setting data centre parks which would benefit tech companies and attract FDI (Foreign Direct Investments).  Given I am in the technology sector, it was also a delight to hear our Finance Minister indicate the usage of big data, high computing capacity, artificial intelligence and analytics to digitise manufacturing in India. Having said that, I believe much more would be required to stimulate growth, employment and consumption. We perhaps require to move away from a pre-defined fiscal deficit mindset; while deficit is an important metric, it has to be balanced with growth initiatives. GST has made positive strides, however it is still too complicated and requires simplification. Technology companies (and SEZ) have been a key driver for FDI, employment and intellectual branding of India overseas, so further provision to stimulate their growth would have been welcome.Incentives to boost the automobile sector, Electric Vehicles (EV) and deeper penetration of Wi-Fi in rural sectors could have been included. Overall an inspirational budget, if we can achieve all that has been promised”

On global macro indicators, his view was that  multiple factors have to be considered including those of the unresolved trade war between United States and China, which has been beneficial to India since we have gained over USD 755 million in additional exports to the US in the first half of 2019. We can further leverage our ‘Make in India’ manufacturing campaign for companies moving away from China due to their escalation with US with better labour and land policies for foreign investors. The PLI (Production-Linked Incentive) fund of Rs 45,000 crore sanctioned by the central government is a positive move to ensure large global firms such as Samsung, Huawei, and Apple Foxconn bring in their global supply chains to India and make the country an electronics manufacturing hub going forward. Additionally, Britain’s exit from the European Union (Brexit)is another factor to be monitored closely. 

Rakesh had accompanied leadership from ILO (International Labour Organisation having its headquarters in Geneva)and a team from World Bank on a field trip to bridge the gap of microinsurance at a very rural level and design strategies to address them – India was a big focus and Rakesh being Indian played a significant role for advocating the launch in India.  His view is that it is a strong solution&product for India which will add huge value and impact on rural economic growth similar to micro-funding (Grameen Bank). We asked Rakeshto take us through the gap he faced in India when it came to implementing any social project.  He said," With a larger population living in rural areas, for any social project to have an impact, we have to drive this at the base (field) level. While a robust, stable, accountable and scalable NGO or CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) can play a crucial role in the implementation, we also require less bureaucracy and paperwork and use technology and digitization for more actions on the ground. This will also facilitate to attract Indian and Foreign funding for social projects, which itself should make a positive impact collectively on rural growth”

We concluded the conversation on a lighter note and asked him about his stay in Switzerland for over 25 years, Rakesh mentioned “I have had a wonderful life living here both professionally and personally. Great friends, alpine ski, hiking trails, squash .…c’est la vie!”

Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.

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