Authored by Faculty Advisor: Kara Palamountain 

For the first time, the GIM Global Health Initiative (GHI) class traveled to India in March. For those of you who don’t know, GHI’s mission is to develop and commercialize diagnostic devices for bottom-of-the-pyramid populations living in resource-limited settings. By partnering with industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations, GHI has been able to develop an early infant diagnostic for HIV as well as a molecular diagnostic for HIV and Tuberculosis (TB). In this context, the class has traditionally focused on African countries. However, India has the world’s second largest population suffering from HIV/AIDS and the largest TB burden in the world, so our class of 30 (plus a 9-month old adorable baby girl) headed to the land of biryani and cricket.

The main purpose of our trip was to identify the key steps and organizations involved in launching a diagnostic device in India. We also wanted to get feedback on the two products from the end-users. Where would it make most sense to place these products in the complex network of healthcare facilities? What could be changed to make these devices more successful in India? Ultimately, the answers to these questions would help us formulate a strategy for GHI involvement in India in the future.

We started the trip in New Delhi, spent the weekend in Kerala, traveled to Hyderabad for four days, and ended up back in New Delhi before heading back to E-town and Chicago.

New Delhi

Organizations We Met With: Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NACO (National AIDS Control Organization), RNTCP (Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme), Apollo Hospitals, Becton Dickinson

Highlights: Bike riding through Old Delhi, Conjoint Analysis session with RNTCP, lots of pashmina scarf shopping at Dilli Haat, breakfast at the Shangri-La with Lucky the Bread Man at your service, visiting some of the largest TB clinics and hospitals in the country, Ben S. dislocating his shoulder on the dance floor after the Kellogg Alumni Mixer and really delicious dinners at the ITC Maurya and Park Balluchi.

Crazy Story: The first night in Delhi, a local merchant forcibly applied henna to Jesse’s right hand by India Gate (allegedly). Jesse is now very aware that henna is mostly for women, especially after trying to hide his hand in meetings all week.


Organizations We Met With: None – this was our weekend off!

Highlights: Cooling off in the amazing resort pool with giant water-spewing elephants, houseboat tour of Kerala, Lindsey F’s morning yoga sessions in paradise, the most relaxing spa treatments ever and Whit’s “Dawson’s Creek” theme party efforts in the middle of the backwaters

Crazy Story: Rebecca R. and Louise A. are terrified by an intruder in their bungalow. After alerting all the hotel staff, it’s actually probably just a bird. They both still don’t sleep all night.


Organizations We Met With: TB Alert India, APSACS (Andra Pradesh State AIDS Control Society), the State TB Controller’s office, Vimta Labs, PHMI (Public Health Management Institute), a DAPCU (District AIDS Prevention and Control Unit) in Hyderabad

Highlights: Charminar and the Spice markets, lakefront dinners, rural clinic visits and state-government meetings, home-cooked Hyderabadi meal, seeing/understanding/utilizing the ubiquitous head-nod motion that we’d heard so much about

Crazy Story: Hitting up Bottles and Chimney’s (not Chutes and Ladders) and depleting their entire beer supply in amazing beer towers.

Agra and the Taj Mahal

Highlights: Seeing the Taj Mahal and taking multiple jumping pictures, eating a delicious lunch at a 5 star resort and enjoying refreshments on the 6 hour bus ride back to Delhi. It may have been the longest day of all of our lives, but it was also one of the best.

In summary, GIM GHI had a really productive class and trip. We worked hard, we played hard and we came back with some really valuable insights we are looking forward to sharing with academia, industry, and the rest of the GHI team this May.


Shikha Sharma, MD CEO Axis Bank

Shikha Sharma, MD CEO Axis Bank

Shikha Sharma is the Managing Director & CEO of Axis Bank since 2009. Axis Bank is amongst the three major private sector banks which commenced business in 1994 as a consequence of the liberalization and reform of the financial sector. Previously, she was the Managing Director & founder CEO of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company. She has done her B.A. (Hons.) in Economics, and completed her Masters of Business Administration from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in 1980. She has a Post Graduate Diploma in Software Technology, from the National Centre for Software Technology, Mumbai.

India@Kellogg spoke to Ms.Sharma about her views on the Indian banking sector and the strategic priorities for Axis bank.

Q. Ms. Sharma, thank you so much for agreeing to speak to us. Since you took over as CEO, what have been your key priorities?

In the three years I have been here, I have found Axis Bank to be a strong and vibrant organisation with some great strengths, particularly in retail liabilities and corporate banking. The Bank also has a culture which fosters and encourages dignity and respect for all individuals and is very welcoming of outsiders. The key priorities for me have been to build and diversify the Bank’s product portfolio, enhance the capabilities in risk management and HR and overall build an institutional, scalable platform commensurate with the scale that the Bank has gained in the recent years.

Q. Looking ahead, which business lines do you see aggressive growth in the banking sector in?

We are really excited about the India story, notwithstanding all the headwinds and challenges we are reading about these days. We remain positive on the structural growth story of India in the medium-to-long term, and hence all aspects of banking will continue to see growth. Given the evolution of banking, clearly mortgages, auto finance and consumer loans, which are underpenetrated will see rapid growth. We also believe that mobile banking will enable India to leapfrog the typical evolution of payments infrastructure from cash to cheques to cards. This arena is conducive to some innovative, path-breaking banking models going forward. On the other hand, corporate India will continue to seek opportunities for growth both in India and overseas, be it in infrastructure or other sectors.

Q. Increasing urbanization and rising spending power continue to drive intense competition in the retail banking space. How do you see Axis Bank successfully competing and differentiating itself in this arena?

The Bank has a sweet spot in the mass/mass affluent segment and is known for high levels of customer engagement and loyalty in its branches. We believe that this is a sustainable differentiator for us going forward. Of course, we will have to ensure that we have competitive products, innovative delivery models, responsive turnaround times, etc.

Q. How do you view the role of technology and innovation in banking? Are there any specific investments that Axis Bank is making in this direction?

Technology has typically been in the background as far as banking is concerned, but that is fast-changing. Today’s consumer is embracing technology very quickly, with significant repercussions on customer segmentation, product design and delivery and indeed the analytical backbone on which banks can design their offerings. We believe that a lot of innovation will happen around these areas. We are investing in building our analytical capabilities and of course in continuing to scale up our technology architecture so as to make it more robust and flexible at the same time.

Q. Could you share a bit about the opportunity and challenges you see in Rural Banking?

The rural opportunity needs a nuanced understanding – today agriculture accounts for less than half of the rural GDP. The rural ecosystem is therefore a lot about services and small industries in addition to the agricultural ecosystem. The current opportunity is centred around consumption and micro-credit, which has not been the domain of traditional banking models. We are in the process of designing and running some pilots to test the waters in this space and will be guided by the results of these pilots before we take the next steps.

Q. In the past couple of years, there have been a number of new banks and NBFC’s. Could you share your thoughts on the room for more banks in India and their challenges?

At the end of the day, banking is a business of trust and unless new entrants already enjoy the confidence of customers in their existing businesses, they will need to build the trust over several years. This is likely to be their greatest challenge. Having said that, some of the players who may be present in other lines of business (e.g. NBFCs), could certainly bring their own business models to the banking space, and to that extent, they will challenge existing players, and the customer will benefit from this.

Q. Finally, what is your vision for where you want to take Axis Bank in the years to come?

A couple of years ago, the entire senior management team developed a vision for the Bank which essentially says that over the next 3-5 years, we would like to deliver consistent, profitable growth at a premium to the industry, with a diversified business model. We would like to ensure maximum share of wallet of our customers, but want this to be driven by customer insight and consistently superior customer service.

Mr. Mihir Mankad is an established television anchor for reputed Indian TV channels such as NDTV, Zee and the national broadcaster Doordarshan (DD). The unique aspect of his television career is that he has been a top anchor in both the business and sports genres, hosting some of the most viewed events in the country such as the Olympics and Cricket World Cup. Prior to television, Mihir’s career spanned both the privMihir Mankadate and nonprofit sectors, as a well-renowned strategy consultant (McKinsey India, Bain US) and as a leader in the development and nonprofit space (Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative for children in India, and The Janet Pomeroy Center for the Disabled in San Francisco). His diverse career is mirrored by the diversity of his interests, which include sport, travel, media, and Latin and Ballroom dance.

Please tell us about your early career and experience in the US.

Following in my family’s footsteps (where 3 generations had represented the country in sports), and inspired by my own mother (the first Indian woman at Wimbledon), I was driven by a desire to make a mark in the tennis world during the first phase of my life. An early dream was fulfilled when I received a scholarship to attend Stanford University, and made the legendary tennis team. Winning the NCAA team Championships my freshman year was a highlight, but being part of the top ranked team, with the nation’s top juniors hand selected by the coach, meant that my playing time and starting position would be limited as a walk-on.  Soon I came to the tough realization that professional tennis may not work out, also due to finances (it actually takes a fortune to transition into a top 200 ranking, where life becomes sustainable). So I decided to focus on a more traditional career upon graduation from college.

Getting into management consulting and living in California (both in LA and San Francisco) was a good transition into the “real” world. My Kellogg experience was significant, rejuvenating, and enabling, and was marked by intellectual growth across disciplines (especially nonprofit management), and extracurricular highlights of leading the Consulting and Ballroom Dance Clubs (called “Movers and Shakers” then). Kellogg also enabled my top job choices, with offers from the San Francisco offices of BCG and Bain.  Post a couple of years at Bain, I did some soul-searching and decided to look for an opportunity in either a social cause or media and entertainment (including sports) – two distinct but consistent passions of mine.

After completing a 10-week strategic planning assignment for the Recreation Center for the Handicapped (RCH) in San Francisco, the board liked the work and created a new position for me. I signed on to a full time leadership position to implement my plan, at a fraction of my previous salary. After 2 exhilarating and challenging years, marked my marketing learned at Kellogg to raise funds, and strategic planning learned in consulting to create real change across functional areas at a 50 year-old nonprofit that had never seen PowerPoint before, my visa status in the US ran out. Given I had to live out of the country for a year to gain another 6 years of work status, I decided to move back to India, where the economy was seeing unprecedented growth and change.

My one-year plan turned into 8, with some tremendous experiences spanning both media and development.

It is very unconventional to see a B-School student in media and entertainment. How did you get into media? Is that something that you were thinking about doing?

It was always at the back of my mind. In that sense, I was quite an untraditional MBA. Moreover, I felt that moving to India would allow me flexibility to explore, as I would not be tied to a visa status from a conventional employer. After working or consulting on the business side of media at McKinsey, Saregama (India’s largest music label) and Rajshri Media (a video content aggregation startup), I received my first break as a sports anchor with Zee Sports, anchoring the daily show Sports Planet (similar to ESPN’s SportsCenter).

It actually took 3 years of waiting and knocking on doors to finally get that first break, after which things took off nicely. My family’s and my own sports background helped, but it was mainly a consistent persistence, including “elevator pitching” that eventually led to this unconventional career change.

Can you share your TV anchoring experience with I@K?

After my initial experience with sports news, I was selected to live anchor for the official broadcast of three of the most viewed television events in Indian history – the 2008 Olympics, the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the 2011 Cricket World Cup, with daily viewership crossing 40 million. Out of these, the 2008 Olympics experience was particularly significant to me.  Just 5 days before the start of this event, I lost my father. But I knew that he would have been proud to see me host this event. Keeping the sadness inside while facing the nation each day for 6-8 hours with a smile, I immersed myself in the 30 sports, 300 events, and 11,000 athletes, and the news, records, facts and trivia around them. This hard work also paid off, as I subsequently got invited to host virtually every major multisport live broadcast since, and also got a job from the CNN of India – NDTV.

Can you share your experience as a Business anchor?

At NDTV, I was actually asked to serve as a prime time business news anchor, and ended up hosting over 300 bulletins and shows. Interestingly, the 10 pm Nasdaq Live show involved interviewing a live guest in New York on US markets each night, typically a renowned CEO, market expert, or economist, and I found myself having to keep updated on both the Indian and US economies. My Kellogg MBA and especially Finance courses came to good use, and I extensively researched and analyzed financial markets, corporate strategies and macroeconomic policies to prepare for my shows. Outside of news, I particularly enjoyed features, including anchoring the well received Boss’ Day Out show, for which I spent a day with some of the nation’s leading CEO’s.

What is your accomplishment on the nonprofit side?

My television career was coming along well when one day I suddenly received a call from a former Bain colleague who had just moved to India and saw me on TV.  He eventually convinced me to change paths again for an incredibly impactful and time-bound opportunity to lead The Clinton Foundation’s Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in India, with a focus on children with HIV/AIDS, during the critical last two years of the program’s funding in India. With the world’s third largest infected population in our country, I was fortunate to become a part of a brilliant global machinery that was literally saving or prolonging the lives of thousands of children, many orphans, via life-saving ART medication and innovative nutrition and psychosocial support programs. The experience was also an outstanding leadership opportunity, as it involved managing a staff of 60, fostering relationships with 200 partner NGOs, and gaining credibility with key government officials. I travelled throughout the country, meeting partners and beneficiaries (children, caretakers, “high-risk groups”) to keenly understand issues and new solutions first-hand. Outside of our specific mandate, I was also able to contribute significantly to the new IEC (Information, Education & Communication) policy of our latest National AIDS Control Plan (NACP-IV), with specific media interventions for increasing awareness and lowering stigma. Given the global financial crises, our overseas funders eventually ended their support for India after the agreed 5-year term, and after successfully transitioning most of our interventions to the government, I returned back to TV anchoring.

What are the current projects you are working on?

I have just received a Presidential scholarship to attend the mid-career Mason Fellows program in Public Administration at Harvard University’s (Kennedy School), and will be leaving shortly for this enabling, one-year program, which starts in the summer.

Over the past few months, in addition to anchoring, I have also served as a guest lecturer at four major universities in Delhi, on an innovative and interactive “practical life skills” module that touches on business essentials, public speaking and elevator pitching, and have found this experience very rewarding.

How did Kellogg help you in the thinking process throughout your career? Is there anything you would have done differently if you got a chance to go back to your Kellogg experience?

Kellogg to me was more about the people experiences than the theory (much of which can be learned on the job).  It instilled a confidence in dealing with diversity. I also felt that it was a “fair” institution, with rewards matching effort. A subtle thing that I may change if I could go back is to find the same hunger and humility in my second year as I had in my first. When things worked out well in my first year, I felt I may have developed a bit of overconfidence, and taken my foot off the pedal at times. I would also recommend more OB/MORS classes, given the people oriented nature of most jobs today and the occasional politics that all of us inevitably run into.

What is your advice for readers reading this article?

That it’s okay to be more of a journeyman than a destination person. New and unconventional opportunities are constantly being created, and are there for the taking. Let your MBA give you options, not limit you. Of course there is value in focus, and our typical Type A personalities will lean this way. But my life has also worked out just fine.

Also, a significant pay cut is often a deal breaker for many MBA’s interested in exploring. But take it, at least once or twice, and see where it leads you.  Yes, things may have been easier for me being single and globally mobile, and managing a family may be more complex and challenging. But find a way. As a friend nicely put it, “If you’re not having fun, it’s probably not worth doing anyways…”

For the first time at Kellogg, more than a dozen Kellogg professors across departments, had a chance to go on the Global Immersion in Management (GIM) trip that is normally only conducted for students. In December 2012, Kellogg Faculty travelled to India and spent 10 days visiting businesses across the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

 India@Kellogg spoke to Professor Sunil Chopra who co-led the trip with Professor Jan Van Mieghem about his impressions following the trip. Sunil Chopra is the IBM Distinguished Professor of Operations Management. He was also Interim Dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University from 2009-2010. From 2006 – 2009, he served as Senior Associate Dean: Curriculum and Teaching. He became a faculty member of the school in 1989. Previously he was an Assistant Professor at the Stern School of Business Administration at New York University. He has a PhD in Operations Research from SUNY Stony Brook.

 Could you start by telling us about the trip – it seems like it shared many characteristics with the student GIM trips? What was it like being a student again?

The trip was modeled on student GIM trips with classroom teaching and field trips. The idea for the faculty trip originated from a colleague of mine, Jan Van Mieghem. A lot of the growth that we will see in the future will be from emerging economies, including India. Jan, who had not yet been to India, approached me with the idea of designing a trip for Kellogg Faculty as it was a unique opportunity to learn first-hand about a country that will significantly impact growth in the world economy. I was particularly excited with the thought of getting colleagues who have not had direct exposure to India, go on this trip.

I have arranged GIM trips in the past and have found that they work best when clear objectives are set at the outset and delivered upon the completion of the trip. In the fall term before the trip, we had 6 weeks of classes to prepare for the trip. The first 3 weeks featured a mix of internal and external speakers, while the last 3 weeks was spent with the faculty making in-depth presentations on companies. These preparatory classed helped us start at a high level of abstraction, so that when we arrived at the companies in India we didn’t have to start from scratch.

What was your personal highlight of the trip?

 One of my favorite events was organized at the startup, Mast Kalandar, in Bangalore and was organized by Kellogg alum Neill Brownstein, who co-founded Footprint Ventures. At an event called, “Dancing with the Entrepreneurs”, three startups presented their business ideas to a panel featuring some of the Kellogg faculty members. Through this visit, I felt that the faculty really got a sense of the fundamental differences between doing business in India and in the US. One example is the retail industry – while smaller business ventures may not stand high chances of succeeding within a US context due to cost disadvantages, the same cannot quite be said for India. The question is whether India should bypass big box stores given that major US chains, such as Blockbuster and Best Buy, are struggling. In India, one can ask whether the Internet can be used in conjunction with the smaller retail stores to create a different business model that works within the local context.

 What do you think were among the major “aha-moments” for the professors on the trip?

One such aha-moment occurred during our visit to Abbott India. For instance in one area of their business, Abbott was facing 300 competitors. With such intense competition, companies really need to constantly focus on how best to compete and stay profitable.

Another great opportunity of the trip was the exposure that faculty got to top Indian management. It helped us get a sense of how Indian executives operate and lead and the tools they make use of in order to be successful. For instance, we observed how Rajiv Verma, CEO of HT Media, made use of many of the academic concepts that we know from Kellogg, yet applied them in a way that was very specific to the India environment

It was also interesting to contrast the road to success of Pepsi and Godrej. While Pepsi took 15 years to become successful, Godrej became successful almost immediately. Because of this rapid growth in the Indian market, Godrej often faces questions when expanding abroad – simply because the international growth rates are unable to match the domestic growth. The Godrej CEO described how the company’s decision to go multinational was driven by one of their core competencies: The ability to tackle complexity in a highly non-structural environment. Hence, Godrej plans to enter market such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where they have a competitive advantage given their ability to deal with complexity.

Finally, it was interesting to see an example of a very process-oriented Indian business such as Infosys in Bangalore. Until 20 years ago, where one could argues that Indian business was very relationship-based, it is clear that managing internal business processes has become key.

 Any plans to have a faculty trip to other countries?

 Yes, absolutely – China and Brazil, and other BRIC countries are obvious places for us to plan the next faculty GIM trip.

Kellogg has great emphasis on preparing students to be global business leaders. What was the personal learning for you from the GIM trip?

 From one perspective, our faculty is already very global and through their backgrounds they are able to bring in international perspectives into classroom teaching. Until this trip, I have not had many chances to interact deeply with colleagues from other academic departments at Kellogg. During our company visits, it was interesting to see how cross-functional the questions were. It really allowed me to understand the issues these companies were facing from different angels and gave me a new perspective on Indian business.

India@Kellogg recently had a chance to speak to Rajesh Radhakrishnan, KSM ’99 about his diverse career that has spanned multiple continents and functional areas. Mr Radhakrishnan currently heads Corporate Strategy at Larsen Toubro and takes us through a candid description of his career while offering his thoughts on how the academic experience and social ties at Kellogg has supported his career growth.

Mr. Radhakrishnan has a B. Tech from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management. He currently resides in Mumbai with his wife, Maria, and their two children.

Your career path has taken you through many different industries and locations – can you talk about how Kellogg impacted those career choices?

I can honestly say that Kellogg changed my life professionally by opening doors that I could not have accessed as easily otherwise.  Kellogg opened the door to a career in strategy consulting with a firm like Deloitte, and exposed me to options in banking, hi-tech, and consumer products; Kellogg opened my eyes & mind in a manner that tangibly changed how I presented myself and was perceived by employers, colleagues and corporations.

Several professors shaped my thinking; as did the network (nay family) of Kellogg classmates, alumni, professors, and administrative staff.  The Kellogg network has been a family to whom I have reached back for counsel and guidance; and to which I have been happily duty-bound to give back in a similar manner.

To provide an example of my lack of exposure pre-Kellogg, I recall listening to Hank Paulson, then CEO of Goldman Sachs, speak during my first month at Kellogg and asking myself – “what/ who is Goldman?”  “what do they do in investment banking”, and asking Mr Paulson a few basic (read dumb!) questions that may have embarrassed some of my more sophisticated classmates.

The Kellogg  network and family of students, professors and alumni has been a source of support and influence on me since the days I joined my first cohort group on orientation in September  of ’97, on a KOA  to Alaska (KOA ~Kellogg Outdoors Adventure, an outwards bound orientation program for the incoming class).  Academically, Professors like Dan Spulber, Dave Besanko, and Dan Diermier shaped my thinking  in economics and strategy those days.  As I reflect on my experiences in the last 5-10 years in senior management,  I think of the classes in OB, Power & Politics with Professors Medvec and Ocasio.

Access and interaction with “the Kellogg family” – Professors Bala, Ocasio, Jain, Besanko, Spulber and Deans Wilson, Brasfield-Langowitsch, and Jacobs and others, for 13 years on a continuing basis is a point of gratitude and satisfaction for me.  Talking about the network from Kellogg, I am grateful for the time I spent hanging around the atrium and at Friday TGs, working with a large cross-section of people through club-GMA and social-sports activities.  This emphasis on “relationships as they happen” is something that shapes significantly my organizational philosophy today on the need for informal relationships.

Last, but hardly the least, how Kellogg influenced me – I met my wife, Maria Welborne (MBA-MEM ’99), in the first month at Kellogg at a BMA barbecue-intro for the incoming class.  We got married a month after graduation.  We now have two daughters, and as all husbands will attest I continue to learn that I need to practice “yes dear, you are right, I will try harder!” – An important lesson for managing upward in all organizations!

You have also worn many hats as far as your functional experience goes – ranging from Supply Chain Management, to Marketing to Corporate Strategy and Business Development. Some choose to be experts in a functional field, while others switch between functions to get a more holistic business training. You seem to have done the latter – was this deliberate / coincidental? Which route do you think best supports career success?

Pursuing diverse experiences and a path towards general managerial skills was fairly consistent with my personality and gifts. Coming out of Kellogg, consulting was a natural choice for me.  Strategy & operations consulting opened doors to diverse functions and diverse organizations.  Some of the doors I went through were chosen in a deliberate manner; and honestly, in some instances, I was simply dealing with life as it unfolded – it is hard to engineer everything in life!  During the 13 years I have been out of business school, there have been two recessions and a few personal-life-factors.  I did not choose to be laid off in the global recession, 6 months after being promoted with fanfare and recognition; or plan to be on the wrong side of the management tracks after a boardroom battle and takeover.  And sometimes the choices in our work are driven by family priorities.  My wife, Maria, made a bold choice to devote seven years to be a mother to our two daughters, stepping off a highly promising career path that would have surely taken her to a VP-GM responsibility for a $500M business at Eaton Corporation.  My own next move may not be about skills development or career progression, but may be driven off the family’s desire to return to the US after living in India close to 3 years.  We make a few planned choices and, sometimes, deal with the cards we are dealt.  Confidence in one’s skills and an enthusiasm for learning and new experiences helped me find balance with the adversity and ambiguity I experienced.

Let me return to the theme in your question about whether one gains from functional diversification vs. staying focused on a function.  I would say YES!  You need both to be a general manager  – one needs depth in one of 3 disciplines:  selling the widget, making the widget, or managing the money; AND one needs to have a collective appreciation for all three areas, what drives the people who work for you, and several other disciplines that streamline the flow of value to the customer and that of money to the company.

At Kellogg, in consulting and in some exceptional organizations where I served, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with and learn from some very bright people.   I see the value of analytics, consulting frameworks, DCF valuations,  and structured power point communications to boards, but also reflect on how important the relationships in the organization are to be effective and how important it is to spend time with customers and to “feel” the pulses of the marketplace directly.  The strategy and BD roles at the side of 3-4 CEOs (Mr. Naik of L&T, Mr. Herrick of Tecumseh, Mr Jayaram of Elgi, and M/s Hogan-Schrock of Pentair) have given me an appreciation for how gray decision zones are and how lonely the role of the ultimate decision-maker can be.

Please tell us about your current role at L&T. L&T is one of the most trusted brands in India and has in recent years received several accolades for being a great place to work. What do you attribute this success to?

I head corporate strategy at L&T.  50-60% of my time goes to strategic planning and coordination across 15 independent businesses spanning nearly 65 different operations (we are going through a mid-term review of the strategic plan in view of the change of economic conditions in India in ’12, vis-à-vis ’10).

This is an interesting time to be in the strategy role because of the visibility across an organization during a time of transformation to meet the needs of global competition in its domestic markets and aspiration to expand outside India.  These are exciting times at the organization because L&T is in a front-&-center role in India being built – whether it be infrastructure, like airports, roads, bridges, ports, metro rail, power plants,  heavy engineering equipment, or defense.  Personally, there is a lot of learning on the do’s and don’ts of management from working with Mr. AM Naik and the senior leadership team around him.

Understanding the challenges in our power and infrastructure businesses has given me a new appreciation for the complexity of doing business in India, and competitive behavior by managing government(s) and the non-market environment.  Observing executives like Mr. Naik cut through the core issues in a business review is a lot like watching Michael Jordan or Roger Federer practicing their craft – the best thing for you to do is appreciate the opportunity and take notes .  L&T has diverse businesses, providing a simultaneous large and small company experience; and diversity in management styles.

In my personal opinion L&T’s success has to do with three things – an overall growth story of India; L&T being good on the fundamentals,  a technically sound company in a technical sector with 50,000 capable people; and a strong, family-style culture with stability in leadership.  In a country where quality standards were not always high, and corners are often cut for a series of expediency-factors whether it be lack of process or corruption, L&T has spent 75 years building a high-quality organization staffed with engineers from the best universities in India and an attention to doing things well and right (may be some credit to the northern European culture that the founders M/s Larsen and Toubro instilled).  Finally, I believe continuity and stability in the senior management has been significant in L&T’s growth from 7000 Cr in 1999 to 60000 Cr ($12B) in 2012.

You are a member of two strong networks – the IIT community as well as the Kellogg community. How do you think the IIT versus the Kellogg experience has contributed to your career growth?

The IIT and Kellogg networks have been invaluable to me at two levels: first, they have contributed to nearly thirty deep and strong friendships that have lasted ten to twenty five years; second, it is (practically) everywhere I wanted to be – like the tagline for Visa.

Like Kellogg – the common factor for me in the networks is great people and the good fortune to have developed a large number of relationships.  Many of us build lasting relationships in our high school and undergrad years.  My days at IIT Bombay were a formative phase in my life and I grew much in confidence, capabilities and exposure.  Some of my closest friends today date back to the days on IITB campus; and I gained several more from the other campuses during a phase in 2002-06 when I served in alumni association responsibilities with the pan-IIT organization.

I attach value to the emotional well being from belonging to a good social and professional family (or network).  It is not about being able to do business deals or gaining something monetary or transactional.  It is like Friday evenings with your extended family or at a club with old friends – some shared experiences, some shared values, a principle of giving and taking, …   (or as the title song in the sitcom Cheers goes – “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name …” )

Prof. Mohanbir Sawhney is a McCormick Tribune Professor of Technology at the Kellogg School of Management. Prof. Sawhney is a globally recognized scholar, teacher, consultant and speaker in strategic marketing, innovation and new media. He has been widely recognized as a thought leader. Business Week named him as one of the 25 most influential people in e-Business. He is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum.
Prof. Sawhney holds a Ph.D. in marketing from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; a Master’s degree in management from IIM Calcutta; and a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from IIT Delhi.

Professor Sawhney, you wrote about the concept of different waves of innovation in your recent article in The Hindu. Could you explain the concept to the audience a little bit?

There are really waves of innovation transfer and globalization. In essence, these waves revolve around the cross geographical propagation of innovation and the challenges and opportunities that arise as a consequence.
If you think about how innovation has globalized over time, the first wave of innovation is the idea that the developed markets are the mecca of innovation. Each country evolved its unique capabilities – the Swiss did precision machinery, the Japanese did automotives and consumer electronics, the Koreans did steel and the US did high technology and software.
The model here was that you built the products in your home country and then sold them around the world. This has changed now, while there is globalization in sales, there is also globalization of production, manufacturing and operating processes.
As you get to the emerging markets you would have to de-feature, de-content and strip down your products because affordability is a constraint. The challenge here is that these products are not really designed with a cost structure or appropriate technology in mind for emerging markets. An interesting example of under-design is when the Japanese came to the Indian markets with LCVs (Light Commercial Vehicles) in the 1980s, they simply broke down on the Indian roads because in India, the trucks are overloaded to twice their capacity and run under tough operating conditions.
So, localization and adaptation are some of the challenges of wave one of innovation. I think the epitome of wave one innovation is “Glocal Operations” where companies have global production along with localization – Nissan and Honda are some examples.
While wave one was from developed markets to emerging markets, wave two is from emerging markets to emerging markets. This is when the emerging markets themselves became important and big enough in their own right for you to innovate from scratch for those markets. A great example is Hindustan Lever which over the past 50 years, has built and designed products that don’t exist anywhere else like Rin and Fair&Lovely. Nokia is another example – they have done a lot of local innovation like putting flashlights and radios on phones, multilingual support and building the ultra low cost phone.

What key themes have you noticed in emerging market innovation and what is it that is now leading to the third wave?

Wave three is the realization that is now dawning on these companies that the very constraints that were imposed upon innovation in the emerging market context are now producing some interesting opportunities.
For example – Godrej in India has created a refrigerator called Chotu Cool – a compact refrigerator that costs about $ 10 and does not use electricity. Now, if you look at the US market, how would you market that same product? As a camping refrigerator!
The common themes that I find in the emerging market innovation are ultra affordability, durability owning to tough operating conditions and ecology and alternate power sources.
But, just like you needed an adaptation and translation in the forward flow, you also need translation and adaptation in the reverse flow. So you need adaption so that the refrigerator that works in the Indian village also works at a camp in the US. Another example is about howthe portable ultrasound machine developed by GE for India and China for rural healthcare could also be used for disaster management in developed countries. And if you were to sell the Tata Nano in Western Europe, you’d have to beef it up with additional safety requirements, higher performance and some luxury features.
The third wave of innovation is this enormous opportunity where Indian, Chinese and Brazilian companies can take the benefits of what they have created for the local markets and globalize it.

Do you think this is a limited opportunity for India and other developing countries? You mentioned that for various countries, the innovation position had been moving across the globe, you think the same could happen to India and China?

Clearly, the world is now one market place determined by the competitiveness of the innovation capacity and the cost factor – which is a function of multiple things including the availability of skilled scientific man power, the environment, infrastructure, government funding as well as the mindset and culture of entrepreneurship.
The real question is to know which countries would be able to create the best ingredients for innovation including people, institutions for financing, government support, tax benefits, regulatory changes etc.
It was therefore disappointing for me to note that in a recent study by the World Economic Forum, where they looked at the ease of starting a business and rated various countries, India was at a 138 amongst 150 countries. It is hence the job of the government to figure out as to how to create high quality man power and to ensure availability of quality infrastructure where currently India lags.

Do you see a sense of urgency for this in India?

There is a sense of urgency because there is a constant erosion of the competitive position of any country as costs keep rising. For example, the salaries in the ITES and BPO industries are going up, the attrition is high and at the same time the clients put pressure on the pricing. So, the only way to break through the commoditization or eroding the competitive advantage trap is to go for innovation.
What we observe is that even though Indian companies are doing well, they tend to not go out of their comfort zone. Infosys, Wipro, TCS etc have multiple billion dollars as revenue and some of the brightest minds but they are still largely into the project mind set or people business and have really not gone into the product business. So, I am waiting for the next Google or Microsoft or Yahoo to emerge out of India.
Our emphasis on building products and brands is still not where it needs to be.

On that note, you spoke about the various waves of innovation that India is going through, which industries do you think are best poised to make use of that?

One industry is what we call high value added manufacturing. For instance, in automotive components where India has built a phenomenal hub around Chennai where more than a dozen of world’s major OEMs have their operations. In fact many companies are actually now standardizing their global small car platforms and making India the global hub given the small car expertise and scale that India has.
Similarly in the Pharmacy industry, globally the cost of doing clinical trials and R&D has really escalated and curtailed innovation. However, India has some stellar set ups like Dr. Reddy’s Labs, Ranbaxy and Cadilla. On the flip side, what India needs to stay away from is industries which are purely scale sensitive like LCD screens, batteries or toys and low value added or commodity industries. Because where there is purely a scale game, we can never beat China.

Some of these industries that you mentioned, given the infrastructural climate we have in India and given the limitations, are there some tips which people have used successfully used in overcoming these challenges?

Evidence suggests the geographical proximity of like-minded people or similar players creates a huge competitive advantage – a good example of this is the car industry in Chennai and the IT industry in Bangalore.
Other success factors are investing in original product development and R&D as opposed to simply being the commercialization arm of a western company or investing in pure services and holding themselves to global, not domestic, standards of quality.

The last question would be – for people who want to move back to India to start a business; do you think this is the right time?

This is a great time! In a market that is growing so rapidly, the opportunities are immense. Despite all the entrepreneurial activities that go on in India, there are still some models that have been tried and tested in the US but have still not found deep penetration in India. For example: Groupon or Amazon.
Flipkart is being called the Amazon for India but they have done some interesting adaptation like home delivery of products and also figured out creative ways for people to pay.
So, one idea would be to take products and ideas that have found success here and do some cultural adaptation and transformation – a combination of the first and second wave of innovation.

The other idea is to build products and services specifically for the Indian market from scratch. Where is Indian McDonalds for example?

So there are a lot of opportunities in India – but you have to walk-in with zero arrogance. You have to accept that you as an entrepreneur don’t have all the answers. The India that you came from even five years ago is very different from India today as it is changing very quickly so you have to stay abreast with the dynamics and learn as you go along.

Kunal Bahl is the co-founder and CEO of Snapdeal.com, India’s largest group-buying platform. Snapdeal was started in June 2008 by Kunal and his close friend, Rohit Bansal. Kunal manages the strategic vision, key business relationships, fundraising and growth plans for Snapdeal. He has a degree in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a business degree from the Wharton School of Business, and attended the Executive Marketing program at the Kellogg School of Management.

Kunal visited the Kellogg campus in mid-November and candidly spoke to us about his experiences, ranging from his desire to start his own business at a young age to future plans for the portal. It has been an exciting year for Snapdeal – in January this year they closed a $12 million investment round, led by Nexus Venture Partners and IndoUS Venture Partners and in July they raised $40 million from Bessemer Venture Partners. While couponing businesses have continued to spring up and be the subject of intense media scrutiny, Snapdeal has been successful in scaling up its business. The team is currently actively recruiting world-class candidates to join their Indian business.

Following his interview with India@Kellogg, Kunal went on to give an engaging and interactive lecture to students at the Kellogg School of Management – speaking openly again about his experience at Snapdeal, future plans for the business and the emerging dynamic and young culture of the company

You started your entrepreneurship journey by starting a detergent company while still being a student. Please tell us a little more about that experience and your learnings.

With respect to developing my professional career, I have long had the belief that I have nothing to lose and a lot to gain – this motivated me to take risks and start a business at a young age. During my final year of college in the US, I started a detergent business. The highly concentrated laundry detergent capsules produced from this business were eventually sold in 4,000 stores in the US, and went on to be featured in QVC (the US’s leading home shopping television platform), New York Times and The Oprah Book club. While considering different marketing strategies for this business, we issued a lot of coupons and allowed people to sample our products and this was my entry into the couponing business.

Despite globally powerful US brand names on your resume you decided to go back to India. Could you tell us a little bit about what led to that decision and your experience to date?

The answer to that question is pretty simple –while working for Microsoft, my H1B visa ran out and I had no other option but to relocate to India. While I was in the US, the Indian retail landscape had changed and we saw an opportunity to introduce couponing to the market. When we started Snapdeal, it was an offline couponing business, not an online one. In February 2010, we had the offline business running and we decided to test out an online portal. We had a website running in 8 days flat.

Building a strong sales force appears to be a challenging, but yet critical aspect of local deal business. Can you share with us your experience in this regard?

We have invested heavily in building the sales force side of the business, and now have more than 200 people, who are working on the ground and speaking with local merchants. Our sales staff typically consists of young sales talent with a lot of energy and perseverance whom we have been able to train very well.

Can you throw some light on what you mean by ‘Mass customization’?

The Indian consumer market is different from that of the typical Western market. Unlike western cities, Indian cities consist of hyper-local markets such that there are several different markets even within a certain city. Within large cities, customers will be unwilling to travel long distances. Hence, it becomes critical to customize the deals with respect to the specific location and preferences of the customer.

Can you talk more about your plans for the business going forward?

We already operate in 50 cities in India and internationally (Snapdeal has started in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives and Singapore) and as we scale we are expecting to move the company towards a broader retail-buying platform, without being restricted to couponing alone. We will continue to develop this general ecommerce platform for the Indian market and act as a marketing powerhouse for merchants and retailers.

Any advice for students who are considering returning to India?

I think this is a great time to go back to India, given the vast amount of opportunities that exist. In many ways, the Indian consumer market today is similar to that of the market in the US a decade ago and offers immense opportunity to those who are willing to go back and start a venture.