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Doing Things Differently

Aroon Purie     January 21, 2021

As Business Today enters its 30th year, the world has just lived past an unprecedented health crisis. It so happens that Business Today was launched about four months after the much-heralded 1991 reforms of Manmohan Singh which transformed the Indian economy. The reforms dismantled the licence raj and laid the foundation of an economy that has grown 35.3 times since then to become the fifth largest globally, although the reforms didn't go far enough. This, however, demonstrated what Indian private enterprises could do when unleashed from bureaucratic controls. Sadly, the lesson has been lost on the 'powers that be' since then. Although India has grown at a reasonable rate for the past three decades compared to some other countries, it is not what it could have been. India's reforms have been sporadic and not audacious enough to realise its full potential. I have always maintained that one of our greatest assets is our entrepreneurial spirit right from the roadside tea seller to the tycoon. India is an over-regulated state with an overbearing bureaucracy. The entrepreneurs of India must be admired and recognised for their achievements in this stifling environment. Their achievements are despite the government, not because of it.

In 2020, across India Inc., CEOs had to recalibrate age-old strategies, business processes and established systems to stay on top of the crisis. Be it finance, automobile, retail or consumer durables, every business had to respond to its unique challenges. In this trial by fire, some CEOs made drastic changes in their strategies while others smartly tweaked their business models. But not one was unaffected by the sheer scale and scope of the pandemic.

Each business leader's experiences through the crisis have thrown up learnings that have made them wiser about running their enterprises. Business Today's 29th Anniversary Issue theme - "How I Will do Things Differently" - was designed to hear these from the horse's mouth. To chronicle their learnings and capture their outlook.

Business Today invited 17 of India's finest CEOs - across industries - to ask how they will do things differently from here on. Their insights on converting a crisis into an opportunity are something to consider not just for fellow CEOs and strategists but also policymakers and regulators.

Panasonic India's Manish Sharma says the Japanese electronics major has sworn to build its component manufacturing ecosystem within the country, in sync with the government's Atma Nirbhar Bharat plan; For McDonald's Amit Jatia, future-proofing the business is top priority; Cargill's Marcel Smits says the firm will continue to operate at the low end of the risk spectrum in the trading business and "will continue this risk-off mode"; Harsh Goenka of RPG Group plans to pivot to remote sales calls and augmented reality; ITC's Sanjiv Puri proposes to build on engagement with agriculture to support nearly 3,000 farmer producer organisations with more than a million farmers across 24 crop value chain clusters in 21 states; HDFC's Keki Mistry's cross-functional team - Digi-Future - is creating a road map for the future as risk and crisis management takes precedence; T. Krishnakumar is asking Coca-Cola India to bring execution closer to consumers; WNS' Keshav Murugesh proposes to champion education as the foundation for shared development of people and industry; and Amitabh Chaudhry of Axis Bank says a robust Business Continuity Plan is non-negotiable given the ongoing uncertainty and volatile business environment.

They share their invaluable learnings and lessons from the pandemic in the following pages.

New Year 2021 could be the catalyst for far-reaching change across India Inc. How these businesses, and those in their sectors, adapt to the change will decide our collective future.

I believe you will find substantial managerial and strategic takeaways from their acumen. I look forward to your feedback, as always.

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