While the job description of the CEO of a company has probably not changed since the time the position was created, it is also true that the number of issues that a modern CEO needs to deal with, and the kind of challenges he faces are vastly different from those of his predecessors of a few decades ago. This is particularly true for Indian CEOs as the Indian business environment has undergone a sea change in the past two-and-a-half decades.
Twenty five years ago, the biggest challenge for many Indian CEOs involved dealing with the government at every step of the way, and abiding by the hundreds of often irrational and difficult regulations that were in the rule book. A closed economy and a government that meddled in every industry meant fewer chances of global scale, difficulties in procuring technology and raw materials from abroad, and trying to figure out how to comply with the hundreds of excise, customs, and direct tax clauses that regulated their business apart from antiquated labour laws and other such laws at central, state and district levels. On the other hand, a closed economy also conferred some advantages - and low competition was one of them. A company in many industries would need to deal with one or two or at most three competitors in their product categories.Many irrational laws still remain, but many others have thankfully become much simpler. The ease of doing business in India - while still abysmal by global standards - is a vast improvement over what it was two decades ago. On the other hand, hyper-competition has become the order of the day. It is not unusual for firms in most sectors to face two or three dozen formidable competitors, both of domestic origin as well as multinationals attracted by the potential of the Indian market. This means that the last man standing can be the only one who goes on to build a viable business. Then there is true globalisation - in the sense that Indian firms are competing in India and global markets on equal terms with multinationals from both the West and the East. There are rapid changes in technology to be dealt with, far more complex financial markets, and a far greater scrutiny on corporate governance standards.
And finally, there are far greater pressures from the equity markets, which have both provided a lot of capital to the Indian industry and also set high expectations of growth and profits from listed companies. Twenty years ago, few Indian CEOs needed to explain quarterly numbers to analysts and investors in as great a detail as they need to now.
One thing that remains constant, though, is that the best CEOs know how to steer their companies through good times and bad - and to thrive despite difficulties in the external environment. And the external environment - both domestic and global - has been particularly nasty in the past several years.
Three years ago, we initiated an exercise to figure out who India's best CEOs are. It has become an annual exercise and we have refined the methodology considerably based on feedback of the first two years. It is a two-step, rigorous process that we follow, taking into account both quantitative and qualitative performance. The quantitative measures are largely financial, taking into account sales and profit growth, capital efficiency and other such parameters. The qualitative inputs seek to identify the other initiatives that the CEO has taken, which are likely to benefit the company in the medium to long term.
Finally, an eminent panel of jurors discussed the candidates to pick the best. This year's jurors - Kalpana Morparia, CEO, JP Morgan India; Rama Bijapurkar, eminent strategy consultant; Ashish Nanda, Director of IIM Ahmedabad; Surjit Bhalla, Managing Director of Oxus Research; and Gagan Rai, MD of NSDL e-Governance Infrastructure - had a long and spirited debate while selecting the winners.
This issue is a celebration of India's corporate leadership, and I hope you will enjoy reading it.