There are few businessmen around in India who have taken what were essentially start-up gigs to stratospheric levels in the last three decades: Brijmohan Lal Munjal in bikes, N. R. Narayana Murthy in software services, Subhash Chandra in broadcast media, Aditya Puri in banking, Sunil Mittal in telecom, Anil Agrawal in commodities, and Kishore Biyani in retail. If you lower the bar a little in terms of wealth created, you have the likes of Harsh Mariwala in consumer goods, the now-fallen Jignesh Shah in financial markets, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw in biotech, and, in recent years, Rahul Bhatia in aviation and Rahul Sharma in phones. (If you move the time slider back a little, you would have the king of them all, Dhirubhai Ambani, but he's not alive.) The common thread running through their stories is that all of them kept their enterprises at the top of the game as the market for their wares boomed. That may seem a truism in hindsight, but think about this: there were other better-resourced competitors in each of their markets but these gents, and lady, came up tops.
That is the essence of entrepreneurship. There's always someone out there who's hungry for the next big thing. If he or she is stupid enough to take the risk and a bunch of things like team, market timing, early benign customers, and luck come together right, some succeed wildly. Especially in markets that come into being almost overnight. Even if the odds are near impossible - one in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, makes it big - I think the underdog has the advantage in this game. As, too, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, the co-founders of Flipkart, India's top online retailer by revenues. (The Chandigarh boys are not brothers; Sachin is the son of a grains trader and a homemaker, Binny of a bank manager and government employee.) In the exploding market of e-commerce - India's crossed $10 billion in such business - luck has been with Sachin and Binny so far. They had the distributed computing basics to write code that helped Flipkart scale, the early entrant's luck, and a remarkable ability to learn along the way. But all their chutzpah* will be challenged in the years ahead as they prepare to battle it out with Amazon, started nearly two decades ago by another underdog, Jeff Bezos, and with sales that are nearly half of India's federal revenues. Read the story of Amazon's entry into India and how Flipkart is ready for the fight with its elbows stuck out. Associate Editor Sunny Sen and Assistant Editor Taslima Khan put together the two-story package.
Chronicling business and economy in these times is serious work but there are fun stories to be done, too. Just as we have interesting stories this issue of Gond art edging towards the mainstream, the Auto Expo, and the Bollywood Bhatts' hit formula, there are a few deep-dive stories that will set you thinking. Special Correspondent Sarika Malhotra writes of Bihar's surging excise revenues on the back of a five-fold jump in liquor consumption in the state over six years. Liquor has always been a source of easy revenues for governments but comes with social costs, and Bihar is not any different. Senior Editor N. Madhavan writes about a deeply troubling year for the truck and bus makers in India and how the business, with strong linkages with the rest of the manufacturing economy, may be stuck in the mud for a while. As sobering is fellow Senior Editor Anand Adhikari's story on how difficult it is for the banking system to get rid of its burgeoning non-performing assets. The RBI has taken the stance that lenders need to exit bad loans even it means taking a haircut, but as it turns out choices are not easy in an economy with little visibility of a turnaround. If food inflation continues to ease in the coming months, that could change.
*The spelling of chutzpah was corrected in this paragraph.