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October - 2000 - issue > Sam Pitroda Column
New Blood Makes A Mark
Sunday, October 1, 2000

In many ways, it is refreshing to see the rebirth of the entrepreneurial spirit in India, thanks to technology. A new breed of entrepreneurs is now breaking old barriers and setting up new parameters of success, infusing a new attitude and value system into age-old systems. What makes this change momentous is the fact that these young people are successful by virtue of their education and talent rather than their connections or blood. Because technology is a business based on knowledge, it is a business where only merit counts, where respect for others outside of the family becomes critical, where sharing gets you the best rewards, and where working as a team is crucial.

I think it is critical that we realize that this is a change for the better. The traditional family model that has dominated India is by its very nature contrary to the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. Wherever families rule, there is an inherent reluctance to bring in outside talent, probably to avoid sharing family wealth and prestige. Rather than become instruments of change and development, for years the motto of such enterprises in India remained “keeping money within the family.” This attitude has kept the door to future innovation firmly shut, which has had a negative impact on the whole country in the long run.

Against this background, we have to consider if technology-driven enterprises can replace “license Raj.” In many ways, the answer is yes. With globalization, liberalization and privatization, the whole perception of the country is beginning to change. Only the best can survive now as Indian companies are competing with the best players in the international arena. There are no short cuts to success anymore and technology is playing a key role in the transformation.

We have to remember that entrepreneurship, in the final analysis, is part and parcel of a larger value system. I am a firm believer that value systems have the power to define and transform a country’s economy. For Indians to compete effectively with the rest of the world on equal footing, the character of entrepreneurship has to change. The best world businesses are built on a foundation of open structures — open to people, open to risk, open to investment, and open to new alliances.

In spite of the challenges that reside within the system, Indian entrepreneurs on the whole have done very well. But, the critical question we have to ask ourselves is: Why do Indians do better outside the country? This stresses for us the need to overhaul the system, in order to create an environment conducive to entrepreneurship and open the doors of opportunities within the country rather than drive away talented people. Our politicians have to remember that fostering a spirit of entrepreneurship is directly equivalent to creating wealth for the country. Every person who has the drive should have the opportunity to be a future Bill Gates. In the end, it is about building wealth, where the tools are the people.

However, even in this arena, we are facing the same problems as we do with all India-related industries — India is not looking inward; our focus is to export software services rather than build technology to strengthen the nation’s backbone. We aim to become a “super outsourcing resource” rather than a technology superpower. For once, we have the opportunity to look within and rework our image to the rest of the world. We want the world to look to India for its entrepreneurs, not its exports.

Now is the time for Indian entrepreneurs to build companies that will shape our future for years to come. I believe the solution to India’s problems resides in giving free rein to entrepreneurs to build companies that will change the country in a fundamental way. Technology can solve India’s problems. But to make this happen, we must make sure we provide the fertile ground for this change to take root. Laws need to change, processes must be refined, attitudes should be transformed, and hierarchies must make way for egalitarianism.

Sam Pitroda is chairman and CEO of the London-based WorldTel. A founder of several companies in Europe and North America and the first chairman of India’s Telecom Commission, Pitroda holds over 50 worldwide patents. To exchange ideas with Pitroda, write to pitroda@siliconindia.com.

This article is based on a telephone conversation with Mr. Pitroda.

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