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'Leadership matters and this is universal': Rakesh Rathi

Rakesh Rathi was honoured with a prestigious and decorated award by Hon'ble Pranab Mukherjee (13th President of India) for driving global corporate and business innovation with C-level executives

Published: Jun 1, 2020 02:49:18 PM IST
Updated: Jun 22, 2020 10:47:33 AM IST

'Leadership matters and this is universal': Rakesh Rathi

The prestigious award to Rakesh from Hon’ble Pranab Mukherjee (13th President of India) was presented in a glittering ceremony in Delhi, India in presence of esteemed guests and award winners. Being networked with various business corporates and its leadership globally, it was quite exciting to interact with Rakesh Rathi and know his views with respect to the global economy roadmap from a corporate, industry and technology point of view.

Based in Switzerland, Rakesh has rock-solid academic background – Engineering (Mumbai, India) and MBA (IMD, Switzerland), global professional experience (Europe, US, APAC) of over 25 years across multiple industries and verticals in senior roles. He has been instrumental in successfully implementing cutting-edge technology impacting business KPI (key performance indicators) with leadership of large global firms and well appreciated by his clients for both his technology and industry experience.

On his experience dealing with international C-level executives, Rakesh responded “Leadership Matters and this is universal…," he replied “Over time I have seen a huge shift in my interaction with global leaders. They are interested in mapping the business KPI with technology, digital transformation, innovation, automation, diversity & inclusion (D&I), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), sustainability and these topics have become key to drive efficiency and productivity, beyond only looking at revenues and profitability…, while Nestle is a leader in FMCG globally their leadership aims for environmental sustainability with 100% recyclable packaging by 2025; UBS is a leading global bank and although in financial services the organisation honours engineers with a Distinguished Engineers (DE) award, Novartis is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies yet has the Digital Transformation and D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) as a leadership priority and so on. Role of a CIO (Chief Information Officer) and IT has now evolved from earlier being a cost centre to now being looked upon as a profit centre (revenue driver) impacting all business metrics and hence 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. 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.”

Talking about his view related to technology sector in India, he said,“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 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, IoT, Robotics, AI/ML, Cyber Security, Quantum Computing, Wi-fi, 5G etc); tech companies have to constantly evolve their offering to align to these changes in IT landscape. India should be looked as an innovation hub (which we are) and not only as a low-cost offshoring destination. We have to grow both in Services and Products, currently we are more into Services. 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. 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) and IoT (Internet of Things) 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 can India  be in the level as Silicon Valley he said, “Silicon Valley and also Europe, have high interest from Institutional Investors and Venture Capitalists since they target global consumers with innovative products, take calculated risks and therefore have higher visibility. 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, Paytm, OYO etc also pioneering companies such as Biocon and India should continue to promote such start-ups and expand them globally. Due to cutting-edge developments in network, telecom and data centres by leading global companies such as Cisco, Verizon and others, 3G (third generation wireless) lead to evolution of faster internet & smartphones and that revolutionized every industry; similarly further penetration of Wi-Fi6/4G/5G both in urban and rural areas is an absolute necessity for business to grow. While, 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 and are now leading CEO’s of global firms like Sunder Pichai (Alphabet, Google), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Ajay Banga (Mastercard), Vas Narasimhan (Novartis) among others; they all are inspirational & we should have similar leaders’ mentor local industries to be on top of the global economy chart.

And querying on which industry interests him most, he said,“I have had the opportunity to work across multiple verticals from BFSI, Pharma, to FMCG/Retail, Manufacturing and Engineering. I believe technology is a common thread to all of them”.

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, policies are more transparent, 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 limited policy 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 recently announced Indian budget (2020), he added ‘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 Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman with positives such as investments in infrastructure, corporate & personal income tax benefits, abolishing the dividend distribution tax and policy for setting data centre parks 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 and analytics to digitise manufacturing in India. However, I believe much more would be required to stimulate growth, employment and consumption, rural development and most importantly GDP. We 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 (Goods and Services Tax) has made positive strides but it still requires simplification. Technology companies (and creation of SEZ – Special Economic Zones) 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. In sports, while cricket has a high visibility in India, we do have extremely talented sports personalities in other categories such as P.V.Sindhu, Vishwanathan Anand, Mary Kom…. As such the budget could have promoted development of talent and infrastructure in sports as well. Globally, a major change is being observed in terms of diversity and inclusion (D&I) as such we should have more ‘Gender Budgeting’ which will benefit women workforce both in rural and urban areas. While Indian film industry dominates in entertainment, however we also require to promote other forms of art including promoting skilled Indian artisans and craftsmen in India and abroad. It is imperative that the budget delivers on what 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, Apple 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) and World Bank on a field trip to bridge the gap of microinsurance and microfinancing 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 these are welcome solutions for India which will impact rural economic growth.

To conclude the conversation on a lighter note and asking 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, our twin boys Ved and Arya.…Tout est bien!”

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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