When Shekhar Gupta, Editorial Advisor to the India Today Group, jokingly asked Satya Nadella why he allowed Kunal Bahl to leave Microsoft, Nadella response was tongue-in-cheek: "Let's say a more enlightened immigration policy would help."*
Nadella, Microsoft Corp's CEO, and Bahl, co-founder and CEO of Snapdeal.com, were at a panel discussion organised by India Today Group and Microsoft in Mumbai on Monday. The evening saw more than 150 CEOs from across industries gather at hotel Trident in Mumbai's Nariman Point. The occasion: The new CEO of Microsoft's first visit to India after he took the helm at the iconic software company in February.
Moderated by Gupta, the panel also featured Adi Godrej, Chairman of Godrej Group, Chanda Kochhar, MD and CEO of ICICI Bank, and Noshir Kaka, MD of McKinsey India. The distinguished group spent a fair amount of time discussing the topic: 'The Leadership Challenge: Innovating to Deliver on India's Promise'.
Nadella, gung-ho about the potential that India and Indian corporate organisations hold, says what strikes him most is the powerful optimism and the energy in the air, and finds it "most exciting".
"I'm increasingly seeing the ambition profile in India and the standards going up, and it is also great to see the diversity of industries and spheres that the entrepreneurial spirits are operating here," said Nadella.
For 47-year-old Nadella, who hails from Andhra Pradesh, Mumbai was his second pit stop on this visit after Hyderabad, after which he spends a day in New Delhi for a day before heading back to the United States.
Nadella is optimistic about the importance of technology in people's lives and is of the view that technology will ultimately be shaped by our needs as opposed to technology shaping us.
"It's putting people at the centre and then the applications and the data and the devices come together to give you a richer experience and this is perhaps the more important mobility trend versus being fixated on one device as the be all and end all," said Nadella.
Others on the panel agreed, with Adi Godrej pointing out that in a country with eight million retail outlets, technology has helped tremendously in reaching out to them. He also added an example of household insecticides: "Science and technology has led to a lot of innovation that allows us to provide low-cost products."
Chanda Kochhar said India is a good ground for innovation as we have a customer base that is very receptive to technology. "You bring any technology to them and they absorb it faster than you thought and this gives you the ability to keep bringing in more and more solutions," said Kochhar.
On similar lines, Kunal Bahl of Snapdeal pointed out that there are several product companies that are coming to aid the growth of platforms such as theirs. However, what is needed is to make increased use of the online-offline parity that technology, in this case the internet, brings in. "We also have the responsibility to keep pushing the boundaries and breaking the ceiling over and over again on what is to be sold and bought online," he said.
Adding to this, Noshir Kaka said one aspect that technology really needs to look at is education and healthcare, which are extremely less penetrated. "You can look at that and say that's a huge problem, you could look at that and say what a wonderful opportunity for technology to do something that the physical India, if I could use those words, could never ever dream of," said Kaka, adding that India has an incredible opportunity going ahead.
Nadella agreed, saying the sectors that technology can disrupt will be manufacturing and health & pharma. "I won't call it disruption, but innovation," he said.
*The quote of Satya Nadella has been changed in the first para to reflect the correct version.