When I first heard my friend Tarun Khanna talk about his new book “Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China and India are Reshaping Their Futures and Yours” my first reaction was- Oh! No…not another one on this subject that has been done to death by anyone who considers himself (or herself) even marginally qualified. But since curiosity got better of me, I read the book- and I am glad I did. For the book was refreshingly different and almost a personal account by Tarun, relying on his experience and extensive travels to bring out the difference in approach to business in India and China despite that fact that they are broad-brushed as “Asia” by most multinationals (oh well- some are now demystifying this and have India and China as individual regions, but the generalization still exists).
I found the book interesting on a number of accounts.
Firstly, the brilliant explanation of the difference in the nature of entrepreneurship in both the countries in the context of their historical and social fabric. It provokes the reader to find answers to several baffling questions in the process- especially someone like me who goes into deep depression every time I travel to China and return- of how Beijing is able to implement reforms in a fast forward mode, when India presses Pause even before it begins to play; of how Chinese infrastructure juggernaut is sweeping through its Tier 3 and 4 cities, when India is struggling with managing traffic snarls in just its metros. How Indian companies seemingly manage their businesses more efficiently than China despite these handicaps- is the availability of better managerial capability the answer? In that case, what is creating these world-class managers, when even getting admission to a decent school is nothing short of a nightmare in India…
Secondly, the author’s personal research on how closely the Chinese state is involved in favouring investors bringing high technology. And how effectively they are using these resources to manage local issues. It reminded me of an experience not so long ago, when I learnt that every investor in China is expected to shell out a percentage of investment (in return for the State’s support) in promoting education or developing the local community. I thought at that time that it was a brilliant ploy, but of course a dangerous one, for those with deep pockets clearly have a better chance at success. But it also resonated with what Ratan Tata said in a recent interview that if India’s government machinery doesn’t support the long-staying businesses, they it would become a convenient destination for opportunists, which is equally if not more dangerous.
Tarun chooses to be politically correct when articulating the system he prefers- perhaps rightly so, as there are not very many common areas in my mind. China and India have unique advantages which cannot be compared, and clearly both seem to be working, in one way or the other, for both.
The third reason which drew me to the book immensely was the strong point made by the book that both India and China are succeeding in spite, or because, of their quirks and rather quixotic nature, and companies that wish to do business and succeed in these countries cannot afford anymore to not adapt themselves. Not very different to what was thought as the key to succeed in Europe.
One of the topics that has engaged me the most in recent times is the development of entrepreneurs (perhaps triggered when I joined the company that I believe is the nurturing bed for most entrepreneurs), and was most intrigued to read on this subject in the book and found Tarun’s comments insightful. I think it’s rather idealistic to expect the two countries to have the kind of cooperation that Tarun suggests, even if it will result in the kind of success that he prophesizes, given the chequered history that the countries have had- both politically and otherwise. Especially in recent times, several issues that make either side nervous are conveniently brushed under the carpet as opposed to inviting an open discussion. There has been an increasing flow of ideas and people between India and China today than there ever has been but is still at an abysmally low level when compared to say, what either India and China have with the US or even UK.
In his intro, Tarun says, “…Levin’s comment made me remember my freshman year at Princeton, when I realized that that none of my roommates—talented, ambitious individuals who went on to achieve no small measure of success in the world—could locate India on a world map. One boy helpfully suggested it was “right by Arabia,” a
remark that made me retire to my bunk bed in tears.” One thing is clear- Tarun wouldn’t need to retire to his bunk bed in tears anymore………and his recent treatise is an illuminating reason why!!!!!!!