Business Today

Retrospectives: Best of Business Today

BT’s Anniversary Specials… …have not just been chronicling the travails and triumphs of India Inc. but also been guiding and setting the agenda for it. Here’s the proof:

     Print Edition: January 11, 2009

1993

There was a lot that happened in 1992 that could have become the focus of Business Today’s first anniversary issue. There were momentous policy changes taking place as part of the economic reforms promised to the International Monetary Fund. Then, there was the dramatic rise and crash of the stock market thanks to the Harshad Mehta scam. But BT had its sights fixed on the future when the government and business would be tested for their seriousness in making the economy and companies globally competitive.

In the wake of the balance of payments crisis in 1991, it had become imperative for India to grow its exports to fund its imports. For this to happen, Indian business had to compete globally. But how? BT made this key question the theme for its first anniversary issue. It found out that a growing number of businessmen had already begun to believe they could compete globally. ITC Chairman Krishan Chugh, for one, believed Indian businessmen could be world beaters.

Postscript
Today, going global is considered a natural, even necessary, way to grow for Indian companies. This wasn’t the case in 1993 when most companies were still fearful of foreign competition. BT attempted to change the mindset.

1994

Nineteen ninety-three was truly the year of reckoning for India Inc. The groundwork for profound changes in India’s economic landscape had begun. Industry was getting deregulated, reforms were moving apace and the influx of multinationals with powerful brands was forcing Indian companies to streamline their operations and to look at alliances. Many of those early churnings were expected to take concrete shape in 1994. In fact, many companies had begun recasting their managements, focussing on quality, identifying areas of core competencies, merging, buying and selling units and seeking to improve bottomlines.

Business Today sought to capture the dynamics of corporate restructuring in its second anniversary issue through articles on theories and trends, case studies of the major corporate houses of India to bring out the essence of restructuring. A panel discussion with CEOs of top companies and an opinion poll were also part of the offering.

PostScript
Many of the businesses that were featured in this issue of BT have not only overhauled their businesses making themselves more efficient with rising bottomlines but have also successfully stepped outside Indian shores. Today, hardly any quater goes by without some Indian company or the other making some high-profile acquisition.

 The best of 2008

Blockbuster Gambit (January 27, 2008): A gambit in chess is a bit of a ruse: it may not be 100 per cent sound, but the pay-off can be spectacular. Our cover was the story of such gambiteers—Indian innovation-driven drug companies pouring big money into their quest for the blockbuster drug. With at least 60 molecules in their pipeline, the companies were optimistic. But we asked whether they would have the legs to go the tortuous distance, from initial research to market. Or, like a stranded knight in a gambit gone wrong, find their legs buckling? Perhaps Ranbaxy could be a pointer...

India’s Best Managed Companies (March 23, 2008): Consultancy firm Ernst & Young helped us to identify what it is that makes one company better managed than another and what are the leading practices that India’s best companies adopt to outperform competitors. The study revealed some common threads (10 Mantras) which, if woven together, produce a “best managed” company. Larsen & Toubro, sharply focussed on its skills as an engineering company, with overflowing order books and a buoyant balance sheet, emerged as the overall Best Managed Company.

Real Estate: Correction or Crash (May 18, 2008): BT was first off the starting block with its cover story on the state of the property market when the first signs of a correction in prices showed up following the stock market crash of January. The cover package put in perspective the trends in each of India’s big cities and what to expect and what not to expect—a crash—in the coming months. BT’s prognosis has been bang on target. A crash is not in sight—yet.

Will Cricket’s New Czars Make Money (June 1, 2008): The inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) was a huge hit but would it also make money for the eight franchise owners? BT provided the answer for the first time in its June 1 cover story that put together indicative loss & profit accounts for the franchisees, showing most of them would begin making profits from 2009. BT’s verdict was that IPL had, indeed, become big business with little downside risk. A confirmation of that is on the cards when the player auctions for the second season takes place in February 2009.

Managing the Slowdown (October 5, 2008): The slowdown is real. Our pragmatic cover did not hide under euphemisms but examined concretely what this meant for business. Reaching out to key industry leaders, we sought to learn how they were managing the slowdown. The testing of ground reality was not just from companies like Maruti Suzuki and ICICI Bank that had borne the brunt of a full-fledged demand recession, but also from those where the going was still steady, like L&T and Samsung. We found that downturn strategies go much beyond conventional cost-cutting measures.

India’s Best Marketers (November 16, 2008): Expanding the scope of an exercise undertaken since 2004, BT homed in on India’s Best Marketers. Our fascinating list of 11 case studies included the story of a company taking on video piracy, an iconic soft drink brand’s strategy to capture market share, an individual redefining how cricket is marketed and played and a politician hard-selling his state brilliantly to counterbalance his discomforting political legacy. The relevance of maven marketing is only enhanced in the tough times we face today.

Cost of Terror (December 28, 2008): For the first time, Business Today attempted to explain terror from a new perspective—that of the cost it exacts. Our cover package went beyond just cost assessment and evaluated our responses and remedies. It also looked at what the Indian government needs to do to minimise the impact on the economy, how economies like the US and UK were impacted by terror (surprise answer) and the burgeoning business of providing security. It gave first person accounts of three prominent businessmen and professionals trapped at The Taj.

 

1995

BT’s third anniversary issue (The Quality Revolution) was published at a time when the impact of the reforms process, initiated by the Narasimha Rao administration, was becoming visible. While the tide seemed to be turning for the economy, for India Inc. a new challenge had begun to loom—globalisation had meant that customers were demanding quality in products and services. Clearly, the survival of companies depended on matching up to global standards. The anniversary issue noted how only a few companies had started focussing on quality back then. On the brighter side, many had begun to realise the need to zero in on quality strategies. In its endeavour to help companies make the transition, BT presented a manual for change through articles on quality philosophies, methodologies and strategies.

PostScript
Once again, Business Today was ahead of its time. There has been a quality revolution over the subsequent years. Several Indian companies have won global quality awards. Besides, the success of Indian software services and pharma companies globally are well-documented. There is still some way to go on quality commitment though.

1996

In business, getting the best results is very often about finding horses for courses— placing the right people in the right jobs. With economic activity picking up following liberalisation, the challenge before companies at the time was clearly that of managing people, which went on to become the theme of BT’s fourth anniversary issue. The BT edition was an attempt to become the first experiential guide to people management in the evolving knowledge economy.

The problem for India Inc. at the time was finding enough trained workers, despite a burgeoning population. The anniversary issue highlighted how organisations could fully leverage their people by integrating human resource management into the business strategy; and how it was important for organisations to invest in people, as they were the only source of knowledge, which is the biggest competitive advantage in a globalised economy.

Postscript
Today, the economic slowdown may be forcing India Inc. to lay off people in order to remain competitive. But that does not diminish the importance of sound HR management for companies. Finding the right talent and retaining them remains one of the critical challenges for Indian businesses today and will be so in the future as well.

1997

The fifth anniversary issue of BT was compiled at a time when most companies were struggling for survival with increased competition in the marketplace. A whole host of multinational companies had entered the Indian market and the customer was truly spoilt for choice with more brands at his disposal than ever before. As companies jostled with each other to woo customers and build enduring relationships with them, BT decided to make that the focus of its anniversary edition (Managing Customer Value). Team BT discovered companies were willing to walk the extra mile to please customers. As BT pointed out then, this would require most companies to make customers their raison d’etre. This would require companies to build organisations whose strategies, structure, processes and people were focussed exclusively on the customer. Then, companies would also have to be fully geared towards serving the customer.

Postscript
With competition in the marketplace intensifying over the years, companies have increased their focus on the customer—something that BT had documented and debated in its 1997 anniversary issue. Companies are now not only trying to reach out to customers through superior product and service quality, but are also trying to nurture strong relationships with them.

1998

Indian business had a terrible time in 1997. Rapid government changes had made things worse for the Indian economy that had already been reeling under an industrial recession. That coupled with competition from multinationals had Indian business, and more so the familymanaged businesses, gasping for breath. Expecting such a fallout of globalisation, Business Today had launched a research project early in 1997 to examine whether India’s 50 biggest businesses would be able to survive the onslaught of multinationals. It published the findings in its sixth anniversary issue, a mammoth tome running into 500-odd pages. While many business groups like Reliance, Ranbaxy and Arvind had already become quite competitive, many others lacked the focus, integration and professionalism needed to make them strong. But BT then believed that as long as business groups made efforts to overcome their shortcomings, and as long the family remained the bedrock of Indian society, Indian entrepreneurship would continue to thrive.

Postscript
Today, the business empires of Dhoots, the Jindals, the Munjals, the Birlas, the Bajajs and the Thapars, among others, have not only grown in size, but there is also greater synergy among their diverse businesses and they are better managed than ever in the past.

1999

If 1997 had been bad for the Indian economy, then 1998 was worse. Sector after sector and company after company had continued to report lower sales growth, net profit growth and net profit margins. The piecemeal reforms doled out by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government failed to rev up the economy that had slipped into a recession-like state—there was no negative growth though, only a deep and abiding downturn. The managements of companies were left with no recourse except cutting costs. But were companies doing this prudently and intelligently? If not, then it could have seriously hampered their future competitiveness and success. With those key concerns in mind, Business Today decided to devote its Seventh Anniversary issue to Total Cost Management, the mantra for survival. The exercise took the form of a national survey, whose findings BT used to build a prescription for effective cost management.

Postscript
The current downturn mirrors the situation in 1997-98. And once again, effective cost management has become critical for the survival of companies. Issues like cash management versus earnings management and finding new ways of cutting cost without impacting competitiveness or future growth have again become relevant. These were all discussed threadbare in the 1999 issue.

2000

As India entered the new millennium, its economy had been transformed. It was not only a more open economy, but also a more competitive domestic market. This posed new challenges for India Inc.— what it will be like to manage in the millennium. This became the theme of BT’s anniversary issue (Managing in the Trimillennium).

BT got select academics, businessmen and consultants in the country to write about the management challenges in the emerging Knowledge Economy. Most responses that BT got underlined how it was going to be imperative for managers to think out of the box in taking decisions that will impact the organisation’s structure and systems. Also, there seemed to be near unanimity that good corporate governance and orientation towards shareholder value would have to be the new mantras in a globalised economy.

Postscript
The issues raised in this edition are more relevant today than ever before. Indian companies are now acutely aware of the need to focus on issues like corporate governance and shareholder value. The incidents, like Satyam&rsquo, highlight the importance of corporate conduct and importance of shareholder activism.

2001

The ninth anniversary issue (India’s Best Employers) was dedicated to the changing face of India Inc. In the new millennium, the workplace, work processes, styles of management and leadership were all changing, as the domestic economy aligned with the global economy. The first-ever Business Today-Hewitt Associates study on the “Best Employers in India” tried to see how companies were responding to the changing times. The study, among other things, showed that it was possible for most companies to follow the same kind of people policies that the leaders did, that all the best performers had adopted the global best practices driven by the realisation that the employee is their most valuable asset.

Postscript
The leaders in the 2001 survey, including Infosys, Procter & Gamble and ICICI, all have have set new benchmarks over the last few years for nurturing and rewarding talent. BT was the first off the block to capture the incipient trend.

2002

The 2002 anniversary issue was published in the backdrop of turbulence in the global economy. The American economy was picking up the pieces after the devastating 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The Indian economy, too, had slowed down expanding at just about 5 per cent—down from the robust 7-8 per cent growth achieved towards the end of the 1990s.

BT then decided to devote its entire anniversary issue to tracing India’s economic evolution post-Independence and the lessons learnt. The focus was on analysing where the economy was headed and what was required to propel it into a sustainable high growth trajectory.

The issue, in particular, highlighted what lay in store for India in the future in terms of the next level of reforms in governance, stock markets, banking & finance, and the changing face of Indian Inc.

Postscript
India is trying to zero in on the right mix of policy to sustain a high growth story. As Montek Singh Ahluwalia (then Director, IMF) noted in his guest column: “If the political will to push forward can be mobilised, few doubt that the economy will deliver.” Now, as part of the UPA administration, Ahluwalia would probably still feel the same way.

2003

The 2003 anniversary issue (Can India Win?) was put together at a time when the economy was showing signs of emerging as a force to reckon with. However, there were enough doubting Thomases who wondered whether India could, indeed, deliver on its potential.

BT in its special edition pointed out how India appeared set to become the next economic powerhouse due to its inherent strengths: high-quality, low-cost human capital, abundant natural resources, democracy and a thriving diaspora. It also showcased the significant strides India had already made in the post-reforms period to emerge as among the fastest growing economies in the world.

Postscript
All the factors that BT listed in this issue helped India record its highest growth ever during 2003-07. The global meltdown will take its toll on the Indian economy, but it’s still among the fastest-growing economies.

2004

As the Indian economy continued its march in the post-liberalisation era, something that went unnoticed was India’s steady evolution as a knowledge economy.

BT made it the theme of its 12th anniversary issue (IDEAS). The edition showed how increasingly ideas were driving India’s economic march forward: 4,000 patents in five years, over 100 top MNC and Indian research labs and the second most vibrant entrepreneurial culture, among other things.

Postscript
BT assessed a resurgent India’s potential to suceed in the global knowledge economy. The trend has only become more visible now.

2005

Cheery optimism—those two words aptly summed up the mood at the end of 2004. The preceding twelve months had been a great one for Indian business, with almost all sectors of the industry growing impressively. The stock market echoed the overall sentiment, closing out 2004 on a big high.

With the rapidly unfolding India story firmly in place and showing ever exciting potential for the future, Business Today thought it apt to devote its 13th anniversary edition to a projection of India @ 2020. For this, it roped in top CEOs and thought leaders, people most likely to influence the country’s destiny, to write exclusive columns outlining the key trends that they foresee in their respective spheres of activity in 2020. The perspective ranged from engagement of rural communities and growing power of women in the workplace, to India’s future place in the global economy. What was heartening was the positive frame of mind of all the columnists, who believed that India was on a winning course.

Postscript
The positive note struck by the CEOs and thought leaders finds resonance today. It is generally believed the global economic crisis would not be able to derail India’s growth story; it will just temporarily slow down its progress. As for challenges, we addressed them in the next anniversary issue.

2006

For a country as diverse as India and one that is trying to evolve and develop, there are bound to be challenges at every step of the way. The year 2005 presented its own set of challenges. Many of those were a result of 15 years of economic liberalisation that had unleashed new forces, which challenged the position and privileges of the entrenched order. All those created uncertainties, stress points and at times even led to conflicts.

As a result, Business Today chose to highlight in its 14th anniversary issue challenges that, it believed, needed to be addressed if India were to reach its goal of becoming a developed nation in the foreseeable future. It listed 25 challenges and got a stellar line-up of contributors to offer their unique insights into how to tackle them.

Postscript
Most of those challenges persist four years after and are likely to remain so for years. It’s clearly difficult to set a time-frame for overcoming challenges like eradicating poverty, rooting out corruption, or providing universal education and housing for Indians, as these hinge on successfully tackling some of the bigger economic and development challenges first. The successes in the fight against the AIDS epidemic is an encouraging example.

2007

Things couldn’t have been any better than they were in 2006 for the Indian economy. A whopping 9.1 per cent GDP growth in the first half of 2006-07; India becoming the world’s back office; the Sensex within kissing distance of 14,000, and more than two dozen Indians on the world’s richest list. But there was also plenty of sobering reality to go with it. India had 380 million people who earned less than $1; only 61 per cent of the country was literate; there was no availability of drinking water for millions. The list was long.

In view of those two very different outcomes since liberalisation, Business Today decided to devote its 15th anniversary issue to India’s journey over the past 15 years since liberalisation and where it will get over the next 15 years. It looked at how India’s economy, business, its poor and its famed middle class had fared since liberalisation and how they are expected to fare 15 years hence through articles, columns by industry leaders and an opinion poll on reforms.

Postscript
The victory of “Inclusive Growth” over “India Shining” proved that the agenda of reforms—government and private—is still heavy. It is important to examine whether there has been a fundamental flaw in the direction of the reforms and, if not, then what are the ways in which development can be made inclusive.

2008

If seen purely through the prism of Indian business and economy, then 2007 was a belter of a year. But even as India rung in 2008 with a sense of celebration and undiminished optimism, it continued to be one of the world’s poorest nations; its infrastructure, healthcare and education systems continued to be in a pathetic state. These glaring anomalies pointed to an acute crisis of leadership.

This led BT to identify and fete people who it thought would shape India’s destiny in the 21st century. And what better way to do it than feature those 21 young but extraordinary men and women drawn from business, arts, entertainment and the social sector in its 16th anniversary issue! Those leaders, all aged 45 or below, were from diverse fields and pioneers in their own right.

Postscript
The days of monolithic leadership seem to be over. Given its vast diversity, India needs visionary leaders at all levels: in villages, towns and districts; in business, sports, education, healthcare and science.

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