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A leader for a global India Inc - Mukesh Ambani

The ability to formulate a shared vision of the world is the most vital attribute of a global leader.

Print Edition: January 13, 2008

Mukesh Ambani, Chairman & MD, RIL
Mukesh Ambani
Economic prophets have billed India as an emerging global economic superpower. Economic reforms, high rates of economic growth, vibrant services and manufacturing sectors, rising exports, increasing foreign investments and global forays by Indian companies are factors that have contributed to such forecasts.

As a result, desires, as well as dreams, of being counted among the top three economies in the world, abound. However, in an environment of unbridled optimism, the aspect of evolving and implementing strategies to make India an economic superpower seems to have been glossed over.

We are at the doorsteps of an historical opportunity for India. We can bring about revolutionary changes in economy, society and human life. In the midst of these changes, we must not forget an important factor. In the final analysis, it is leadership that holds the key to our future.

My definition of leadership is not in a narrow political sense, but leadership in every walk of life—especially in business. The imperative of turning prophecies about India as an economic superpower to enable India perform and attain global economic superpower status is compelling. What then does India need to attain global leadership?

An enlightened, bold and purposeful leadership is critical to successfully pursue the three pathways of economic, technological and social leadership to attain true global leadership. Without leadership, all talk of being a global economic leader will be rhetoric.

India needs a clearly defined set of global leadership goals, defined pathways to attain these goals and an enlightened and bold national leadership that is passionate about realising India’s true potential. Today businesses are firmly embedded in our social system.

Global India Inc.s new leaders
New leaders
Companies play a far deeper role in global affairs than they have ever done before. The revenues of large enterprises are greater than the GDP of several countries in the world.

In 2006, global Official Development Assistance (ODA) totalled $103.9 billion. On the other hand, global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) reached $1.3 trillion in 2006.

FDI, which is key driver of the international economic system, outstripped ODA more than ten-fold! These figures show that companies, leveraging their investment dollars, have become key players in the process of global development.

Leaders in this century will need a completely different set of skills since their role will go well beyond the confines of their geography and also beyond the purview of business.

I believe that the 21st century leader must remain in sync with dramatic changes sweeping the globe. A forceful leader must also be sensitive, caring and compassionate.

Consequently, business leaders will find their jobs extended into domains well beyond the scope of quarterly bottom line figures. Indian CEOs, as much as those anywhere else in the world, will have to take on the tsunami of global poverty, rooted in the deliberately inequitable distribution of wealth.

In the past, the involvement of the business sector in poverty alleviation has been overwhelmingly driven by a philanthropic rather than a business motive. Future leaders and managers, however, will have a far greater responsibility to the society in which they operate.

The leader must not only address the anxieties of his team and workforce, but also the problems and aspirations of society as a whole. I strongly believe that humility and not arrogance makes leadership most effective. And strong-minded focus is critical to success.

Global India Inc.’s new leaders will have to deal with a variety of issues in terms of changing economic patterns, demographics and migration, the pressures created by scarce essential resources like water and energy, their impact on the environment, religion and individual identity, the explosive impact of poverty and the governance issues that it throws up.

India Inc.s future global leaders
Future leaders
To the taxonomy of qualities that will be required to be a successful corporate chief in these conditions, I would add the single most important feature— the ability to formulate a shared vision of the world over the next 50 years.

That is and will always be the essence of leadership. The leaders for a global India Inc. will be prescient, rooted in the present but with an eye firmly fixed on the future on which they are willing to bet their careers and their fortunes.

They will see as part of their role the need to create a sustainable business environment and to ensure gender diversity and equality of growth.

They will actively engage in social issues, recognising that business and society cannot operate in discrete silos, that the stakeholders in a company are no longer just the shareholders. They include the community and the world at large.

The global leader of tomorrow will have to handle far more ambiguity and uncertainty, and since no one can control all the vicissitudes of global business, there won’t always be a guarantee on the results.

In the fast-changing landscape of business and politics, global Indian leaders will need to adapt, change and constantly think on their feet to keep pace with these differences.

The new age leaders must lead without any cultural bias and prejudice. They will need to recognise that there is no ‘absolute culture’.

Business leaders
Business leaders
As they seek to cultivate new skills and abilities, India Inc.’s future global leaders will need to unlearn past assumptions and cultivate flexible thinking that allows them to handle incessant chaos and change, and evolve strategies that integrate different people, countries and cultures.

The language for the 21st century is global and India Inc.’s new leaders will have to master its vocabulary.

My father, Dhirubhai Ambani, was a uniquely gifted leader of men, who had a strong emotional bonding with his colleagues and his shareholders.

He built a world-class business and yet I doubt if any management book would ever have laid down the rules of leadership based on his style.

He always used to say: “If one focusses on goals, one will overcome obstacles. If one focusses only on obstacles, one will never reach the goals.”

It is a leadership lesson that I believe will always be relevant.

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