19 May 2015 19:35 IST

Unsung heroes too shy to sing

Why are Indian companies afraid to flaunt their identity?

Watching the evening news on US network television this week, I was surprised by an advertisement for an unlikely product coming from an even more unlikely source.

This advertisement was for a tractor – spring is afterall well underway – and the company was Mahindra. To win the viewer’s confidence, the announcer went on to say that Mahindra is the world’s largest tractor manufacturer. And to perhaps incentivise dealerships, the ad promoted a deal unthinkable anywhere in the free world – zero per cent down-financing for an incredible 84 months, plus a five-year unlimited warranty on every tractor.

The ad was also notable for the fact that it never mentioned Mahindra’s Indian origins.

Let’s look at some astonishing business facts that would have made any other western nation tout its horns.

Pride is in the numbers

A 2010-White House report complimented Indian companies which aided the turnaround of struggling US firms, saving jobs and improving company performance. It singled out the Essar Group because the group invested over $1.6 billion in the declining Minnesota Steel Industries and now employs over 7,200 people in nearly a dozen states. The report also mentioned the Tata Group for investing more than $3 billion in the US and employing nearly 19,000 across the country.

Reliance India Limited has a record unparalleled in modern global business and industry. In part because of its refining operations, where the company imports raw crude oil and converts it into various petroleum products for export, the company contributes to nearly 20 per cent of India’s exports. In contrast, the venerable Boeing’s share of US exports is just 1.9 per cent; huge, no question, given America’s export-oriented economy, but relatively small compared with RIL’s accomplishments.

Not many people know that Bharti Airtel is the fourth largest mobile operator in the world with over 300 million customers. The company operates in over 20 countries across Asia and Africa.

Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd is among the world’s top five generic drug manufacturers, selling in 43 countries and manufacturing in eight. It was bought by the Daiichi Sankyo Co. Ltd. group of Japan but still operates as Ranbaxy.

A vision to boot

The financial industry in India is well-regulated and public sector banks, with government backing, naturally dominate. The story of ICICI is amazing in this context. Started in 1994, it grew largely by segmenting the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) sector, a market largely ignored by the big state- controlled banks. It is now the country’s largest private bank with total assets of $99 billion and a network of 4,050 branches.

Most people had never heard about the Adani Group until last year’s Lok Sabha elections, when some political parties made crony capitalism charges against the company. But the company’s vision of building what it calls an integrated infrastructure is unique in a global economy that prizes outsourcing for competitive advantage. Operating in a space where the government has struggled to keep pace, the company owns its mines, ports, logistical network and power generation plants so that the entire value chain operates within the company’s infrastructure. This company did not exist until 1988. Today it has a revenue of over $9 billion.

Proclaim thy roots

When the world thinks about Indian companies, only TCS, Infosys, Wipro and other large IT outsourcers come to mind. NASSCOM companies have added significant value to India’s development in the last two decades. But dozens of companies that are not in the technology sector are world leaders for their vision or for the way they are operating successful businesses, with a truly global reach.

And unlike companies that proudly declare their products with a ‘Made-in’ tag, these Indian companies are too afraid to disclose their origins. In fact, they operate in almost a clandestine manner, masking everything Indian about themselves. Until Indian companies overcome this lack of confidence in their identity and image, they cannot truly become the global leaders that they already are.

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