Finance to Freedom: A businesswoman finds salvation in Buddhism

Sep 1, 2017 0

By Saket Suman

Thimphu, Bhutan– Twenty years ago she was a chartered financial accountant in a fund management company in Hong Kong — and before that in New York and London — smoking cigarettes and dressing fancy. Today she wears maroon monastic clothes, her head shaven, asking people to buy her book, whose royalties go to the welfare of disabled children in Bhutan.

Emma Slade, 51, is an unusual Buddhist nun in Bhutan. The course of her life changed drastically after a visit to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, in 1997.

“I was on a business trip to Indonesia. I was staying in a lovely five-star hotel and I opened the door, only to see a man with a gun! He pushed it to my chest, I saw the door close and yes, there I was in the room with him. It was a very shattering experience which has now turned into something very useful.

“You don’t expect something like that to happen to you, especially in a five-star hotel. I was there for about three hours. It doesn’t sound a very long period of time perhaps, but I think what happened was a really very odd situation. He was there to rob me but in the end he was quite confused. We ended up being trapped in the room together. I was being held hostage by somebody who himself was trapped in many ways,” Slade told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of the just-concluded Mountain Echoes Literary Festival here.

Emma Slade, 51, is an unusual Buddhist nun in Bhutan.

This incident left a profound impact on her. Only a few days later she was shown a picture of the hostage taker, surrounded by a pool of blood. This photograph, shown to her by Indonesian police, is firmly etched in her memory.

“I escaped alive, that was a great deal. I had terrible flashbacks, experienced lots of traumatic visions. His smell lingered in my head for many, many months. The feeling of him being very near to me was hard for a long time and I had to recover from that. It did shatter my trust in the world entirely.

“I felt as if I had been very lucky to survive and that I could not go on with finance any longer. I didn’t want to go on thinking about dresses and money because I had been given, gifted and granted my life back. I sold my place, all my possessions and I just travelled around the world,” recalled Slade.

She describes this realisation — that she was gifted her life — as an important moment in her spiritual journey, one that led her to abandoning her trouser-suits and high heels to become a Buddhist nun in Bhutan.

So for the next two to three years, she was travelling around the world in quest of answers to questions that she herself didn’t know. “Probably I was just looking for myself,” she added.

“I discovered yoga, discovered this very profound feeling of being connected to the natural world, and that’s what I did for about two years around the world. Then I realised that it was time I should go into retreat and meditate. Since then most of my life has been in and around meditation and yoga,” she elaborated.

Her book, “Set Free”, narrates the tale of her extraordinary life and its changed course.

“Buddhism was of great interest to me since a very young age. Any picture of the Buddha or even the prayer flags sort of pulled me towards them. They seem to express such peacefulness. Gradually, my interest and understanding grew with time — and also my efforts. I came to Bhutan in 2011 to be in Buddhist culture, not as a separate entity with boundaries but to experience it in a natural habitat where that is the way of life,” she recalled.

Slade now splits her time between her hometown of Whistable in Kent and Bhutan. She is also learning Tibetan and has founded a charity for disabled children in Bhutan. The royalties from her book will go to this charity and she hopes to reside permanently in Bhutan soon.

She is currently the only Western woman to have been ordained as a nun in Bhutan. “Now things make a lot more sense to me,” she concluded. (IANS)

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India’s Q1 GDP growth slows down to 5.7 percent

Aug 31, 2017 0

New Delhi–Pulled down by sluggish manufacturing, growth in the Indian economy during the first quarter of this fiscal fell to 5.7 per cent, clocking the lowest GDP growth rate under the Narendra Modi dispensation, official data showed on Thursday. Industry expressed disappointment at the numbers, saying it anticipated a rebound from the ongoing quarter.

The previous low of 4.6 per cent was recorded in January-March 2014.

According to data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), India’s gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter at Rs 31.10 lakh crore grew 5.7 per cent over the same quarter last year. During the previous quarter the GDP had grown by 6.1 per cent.

The country’s GDP had grown at 7.9 per cent in the same period a year ago.

“GDP at constant (2011-12) prices in Q1 of 2017-18 is estimated at Rs 31.10 lakh crore, as against Rs 29.42 lakh crore in Q1 of 2016-17, showing a growth rate of 5.7 per cent,” a CSO release here said.

Pankaj Patel, President, FICCI

In terms of Gross Value Added (GVA), which excludes indirect taxes and subsidies, the growth was even lower at 5.6 per cent over the GVA for the corresponding quarter of last year.

The principal reason for the decline in growth is a fall in manufacturing sector, where GVA fell sharply to 1.2 per cent, from 10.7 per cent a year ago, Chief Statistician T.C.A. Anant told reporters here after the release of the numbers.

“Principally, the major sector that has seen a sharp decline in industry,” he said.

“The major reason for slowdown in growth at 5.7 per cent is on account of manufacturing, where GVA is largely contributed by the private sector. In all, 74 per cent of the GVA comes from corporate sector. Its performance has been poor, though the sales growth is good,” he added.

Anant said the slowdown in the first quarter to 5.7 per cent was due to de-stocking by firms as caution ahead of the GST roll-out on July 1.

He said there was a likely revival from the second quarter onwards as subsequently stocks would be restored to normal levels as the GST regime progressed.

The GVA in manufacturing was showing a declining trend from Q2 of the last fiscal, which has continued, he added.

Anant noted that another reason for the fall in growth rate was rise in costs on account of prices in intermediate inputs, which has been much higher than last year.

He said services and crop production have seen an increase in the first quarter.

The financial, insurance, real estate and professional services sectors also slowed to 6.4 percent in the April-June quarter from 9.4 per cent a year ago.

Activities that registered growth of over 7 per cent in the first quarter were trade, hotels, transport and communication and services related to broadcasting, public administration, defence and other services and electricity, gas, water supply and other utility services.

Growth in agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining and quarrying, manufacturing, construction and financial, insurance, real estate and professional services is estimated to be 2.3 per cent, (-)0.7 per cent, 1.2 per cent, 2 per cent and 6.4 per cent, respectively, during this period.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also blamed the fall in growth on the de-stocking of inventories by industry in anticipation of the GST and said this process is ending and manufacturing is expected to pick up from the current quarter.

“That manufacturing has fallen is essentially due to the anticipatory impact of GST (Goods and Services Tax). Since it came in July, most manufacturers were de-stocking,” Jaitley told reporters here, noting that services growth had, however, improved during the quarter in question.

“De-stocking of the manufacturing sector seems to have been completed, so the dip in manufacturing could be bottoming out from this quarter,” he said.

“Gross fixed capital ratio turned positive, investment improved… services improved,” during the first quarter, he added.

India Inc on Thursday expressed disappointment over slowing down of India’s GDP growth to 5.7 per cent in the June-ended first quarter of the current fiscal, as the industry was anticipating a rebound from low growth numbers.

“Growth numbers indicate a moderation in agriculture and industrial sectors. The uncertainty surrounding implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) did impact industrial production in the first quarter. However, we are confident that this effect will wane off in coming months,” said Pankaj Patel, President, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

Industry lobby Assocham suggested the policymakers to take urgent steps to revive private investments following the recent push to accelerate infrastructure spending, to improve the business climate and (eventually) less leveraged corporates’ and banks’ balance sheets.

“Continuous fall in fixed investments, unsolved problem of banks’ NPAs (non-performing assets) in India, global policy and political risks and tightening financial conditions on account of deleveraging financial institutions and slowdown in real estate could weigh negatively,” the industry lobby said in a statement.

According to Anis Chakravarty, Lead Economist, Deloitte, the fall in the latest growth number was possibly on account of the temporary shocks in combination with an overall slowing of the economy.

“Financial services show a worsening trend, while government-led services have done well with front loading of expenditure,” said Chakravarty. (IANS)

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India, Switzerland to enhance cooperation in fight against tax fraud

Aug 31, 2017 0

New Delhi–India and Switzerland on Thursday agreed to enhance cooperation in the fight against tax fraud while acknowledging the need for a global level playing field for implementation of the international standards on tax transparency.

A joint statement issued following delegation-level talks headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Swiss President Doris Leuthard said that “both leaders emphasised their willingness to further enhance cooperation in the fight against tax fraud and tax evasion”.

“They acknowledged the importance of a global level playing field for effective implementation of the international standards on tax transparency,” the statement said.

“They noted with satisfaction the signing of the Joint Declaration in November 2016 on the implementation of Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) and, in this context, President Leuthard briefed Prime Minister Modi about the ongoing parliamentary procedure in Switzerland,” it said.

Addressing the media with the visiting dignitary after the delegation-level talks, Modi said India will continue to work with Switzerland to combat black money while the Swiss President stressed that her country has one of the strongest laws against money laundering.

“Transparency in financial transactions is an issue of concern in today’s world, whether it be black money, dirty money, hawala or arms and drugs financing,” Modi said.

“To combat this global problem, we will continue to cooperate with Switzerland,” he said.

Modi said that with two countries signing a joint declaration for automatic exchange of tax information last year, India will get such information on an automatic basis once it is internally ratified in Switzerland.

On her part, Leuthard said that the law was now with the Swiss Parliament for ratification and hoped that such information can be shared with India from 2019 onwards.

“This is important because Switzerland is, and will be, an important financial place and we have all interest to be transparent, cooperative, and a good reliable partner,” she said, adding that both her country and India can go hand in hand on this.

Leuthard said Switzerland had one of the strongest laws against money laundering and hoped other countries will follow suit.

According to the joint statement, Modi also expressed his expectation that Switzerland will implement the recommendations of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information in Tax Matters with the view to further improve mutual administrative assistance in tax matters, the statement said.

In his address to the media, the Prime Minister said foreign direct investment is an important pillar of economic cooperation between India and Switzerland. “We specially welcome Swiss investors in India.

“We agreed to continue discussions on a bilateral investment agreement. Swiss companies have a lot of expertise to partner India in its road to development.”

Modi said that in a meeting of business leaders of the two countries he attended along with Leuthard, it was clear that both sides were eager to have business-to-business collaborations.

The Swiss President said she discussed with Modi the issue of an investor protection agreement on which negotiations were underway.

Switzerland is the seventh largest trading partner for India with a total bilateral trade, including merchandise exports, bullion and IT services and software exports, of $18.2 billion in 2016-17.

From April 2000 to September 2016, Switzerland invested approximately $3.57 billion in India, thus becoming the 11th largest investor and accounting for about 1.2 per cent of total foreign direct investment (FDI) in India.

Stating that the proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and India also came up for discussion, Modi said that both sides were committed to an early conclusion of this.

He also said that both countries have agreed to work together for the full implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Following Thursday’s talks, the two countries signed two agreements on cooperation in the railway sector.

Leuthard arrived here on Wednesday on a four-day visit to India. Swiss Presidents have earlier visited India in 1998, 2003, and 2007.

Modi visited Switzerland in June 2016 in what was the first prime ministerial visit from India to that country in several decades. (IANS)

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VMware seeks government push to increase its footprint in India

Aug 30, 2017 0

By Nishant Arora

Las Vegas– With businesses in India aiming to embrace modern data centres and extend the benefits of mobility to employees, Cloud infrastructure and business mobility leader VMware has intensified efforts to engage with top-level government officials.

After establishing its presence in the country in 2005, VMware India has grown to become a strategic contributor to the company’s global innovation engine.

The R&D team in India plays a critical role in product development in all of VMware’s strategic imperatives — the software-defined data centre (SDDC), Hybrid Cloud and end-user computing.

“We make it a point to meet senior Indian leaders and officials whenever they are in the US. We met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu recently and offered to increase investment in India to enhance our footprint in the country,” Sanjay Poonen, Chief Operating Officer, Customer Operations at VMware, told IANS in an interview here.

Sanjay Poonen

“Going forward, we are set to meet senior government officials like Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant to extend support (for initiatives such as Digital India and Make in India) from our most strategic location globally, which is India,” India-born Poonen noted on the sidelines of the ongoing “VMWorld 2017” conference here.

The company’s research and development and support operations in India are second in size and scale only to those at its headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

Developers in Bengaluru and Pune contribute crucial components of VMware’s key technologies. The main technology areas are software-defined networking, virtualisation, virtual desktops, digital workspace, enterprise mobility management, cloud automation and operations monitoring.

In line with its commitment to invest $500 million in India by the end of this year, VMware in 2015 announced the inauguration of its state-of-the-art campus in Bengaluru — set up with an investment of $120 million.

The Dell-owned firm’s presence in India has now expanded to six locations, including R&D centres in Bengaluru and Pune.

“Mobility is fast changing India and the lifestyle of the next generation. The challenge ahead is to modernise data centres to meet the growing demand. VMware and its parent company Dell are looking at modernising the data centres — be it for enterprise, commercial or government,” said Poonen who will be visiting India in November.

Poonen joined VMware in August 2013 and is responsible for worldwide sales, services, ecosystems and alliances, global marketing and communications and cross-portfolio product marketing.

As enterprises the world over are moving from data centres to Cloud and desktop to mobile, said Poonen, the time is ripe for VMware to unleash its full potential in India.

“The Indian enterprises and small and medium businesses (SMBs) are looking at embracing mobile Cloud. We are capable of handling millions of devices and find no better place in the world than India to push for innovation that is at the cusp of digital transformation,” Poonen told IANS.

In July, VMware announced the opening of its first “AirWatch” data centre in India. The new data centre will deliver industry-leading AirWatch Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) technology to businesses.

The AirWatch technology lays the foundation for delivering digital workspaces through “Workspace ONE”.

“Our AirWatch business is rapidly growing in India. We are looking at sectors like banking and finance, telcos and manufacturing which want efficient and modern data centres with secure end points,” said Poonen, an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Powered by AirWatch technology, Workspace ONE is an enterprise platform that empowers all employees to easily and securely use the IT tools, applications and devices they need to be successful at their jobs.

“We have a very good team in India. The Dell teams work very closely with us. We also have a credible set of partners and a robust local network that is being empowered by us. I look forward to a great India journey ahead,” the top VMware executive added. (IANS)

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Seven-eight eastern states holding India back: NITI Aayog CEO

Aug 30, 2017 0

New Delhi–Seven to eight states in eastern India are responsible for “holding back” the nation and there is a need to name and shame them, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said on Wednesday.

Kant said analysis showed that there are close to 200 districts where there was a failure in terms of education, health and nutrition.

“When we break them down, the southern and western parts of India do reasonably well, but it’s the eastern part which is totally in the red,” the NITI Aayog CEO said at the Impact Conclave here.

“So failure of India is accounted for by these states. Until you radically reform them and the 200 odd districts, it will be very difficult for India to grow,” he added.

Amitabh Kant

Without naming the states, Kant said there had been a huge failure of governance in these places. Unless they were transformed, India would “fail Sustainable Development Goals as we miserably failed Millenium Development Goals.

“We need to create a baseline survey and monitor these states and districts on a regular basis and put it all in the public domain. We need to name and shame these states and districts. We must bring it out that these are the states which are holding India back,” he said.

Kant was speaking at a two-day conclave that focuses on “Transformation after two years of Sustainable Development Goals”.

He said that with 33 per cent of stunted children in the world coming from India, there seemed to be something “seriously wrong with governance”.

“It is not about financial resources. There are schemes for women and child development, Health Department, anganwadis and Asha workers. All these schemes have been running for around 45 years and the leakage levels are so enormous that something seems to be wrong with the governance,” he added.

Kant said Indians like to work in silos unlike the Japanese “who work as a team”.

“It’s not possible to achieve nutrition goals unless Women and Child Welfare Department, Education, Health and Sanitation Departments work together.

“But at district levels, they are not speaking to each other. So you need a very high level of convergence at the field level,” he said.

Kant added that even at district level, naming and shaming was the key to force improvement at the ground level.

“We must monitor and rank everything and put them out in the public domain. We should rank district hospitals and put them out. People must know why a district hospital is performing badly.

“Shame it and shame the politicians of that district. And they must be voted out of power if they don’t turn it around,” he said.

Kant said while the Sustainable Development Goals are critical for India, even more critical was India’s ambition to grow.

“And it cannot grow without education, health and nutrition. This has to be the fulcrum around which our policies need to evolve,” the NITI Aayog CEO said.

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VMware joins Pivotal, Google Cloud for new container service

Aug 30, 2017 0

Las Vegas– Cloud infrastructure and business mobility leader VMware on Tuesday announced a partnership with Pivotal and Google for a new product that enables enterprises to deliver enterprise-grade ‘Kubernetes’ on premise with ‘vSphere’ and Google Cloud Platform.

Called Pivotal Container Service (PKS), the new offering is expected to become available in the fourth quarter this year as a stand-alone product.

Kubernetes is an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling and management of containerised applications.

“VMware has partnered with Pivotal and Google to deliver an enterprise-ready Kubernetes solution integrated with VMware’s software-defined data center infrastructure,” Sanjay Poonen, Chief Operating Officer, Customer Operations, VMware, told reporters here.

Sanjay Poonen

“Pivotal Container Service is purpose-built to deliver Kubernetes that is easy to deploy and operate, ready for developer consumption, while addressing the operational needs of IT. This new solution is unique in its ability to enable developers and IT to work as one,” Poonen added.

PKS will help operations teams deliver a hardened, maintainable container platform, while giving developers on-demand access to a production-ready environment featuring high availability, security, and multi-tenancy across private and public clouds.

A critical benefit for enterprise customers will be PKS’ constant compatibility to Google Container Engine (GKE), which is continuously powered by the latest Kubernetes release.

PKS will be best suited for large- to mid-sized enterprises as well as service providers.

“Pivotal and VMware, in partnership with Google Cloud, bring you Pivotal Container Service, a powerful new way to deploy and operate Kubernetes,” said Rob Mee, CEO at Pivotal.

“We see an open hybrid cloud ecosystem forming based on many technologists and providers coming together on Kubernetes, and Pivotal Container Service is a great way to run containers and Kubernetes on premises,” added Sam Ramji, Vice President Product Management, Developer Platforms, Google Cloud.

Vmware also unveiled ‘Workspace ONE Intelligence’ — the industry’s first unified end user experience, management and security solution for all endpoint platforms.

Workspace ONE’ is an integrated digital workspace platform, powered by the VMware ‘AirWatch Unified Endpoint Management’ (UEM) technology, that simply and securely delivers and manages any app on any device.

It provides a user-centric approach to managing all endpoints in an organisation — from mobile and desktop to Internet of Things (IoT).

Customers will now have the ability to use ‘Workspace ONE’ as a single solution to enable unified endpoint management (UEM) and unify the end user experience across all endpoint platforms including Windows, macOS, ChromeOS, iOS, and Android.

“Workspace ONE Intelligence will give businesses the agility and security that is critical to digital transformation initiatives,” said Sumit Dhawan, Senior Vice President and General Manager, End-User Computing, VMware.

‘Workspace ONE Intelligence’ is expected in be available in the fourth quarter this year. (IANS)

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Research firm MedGenome raises $30 million funding

Aug 29, 2017 0

Bengaluru–Genomics research firm MedGenome on Tuesday said that it raised $30 million (Rs 192 crore) in the third round (Series C) of funding to speed up developing affordable diagnostics tests.

The financing was led by venture capital firm Sequoia India and Belgian investment firm Sofina s.a.

Infosys co-founder S. Gopalakrishnan and former Cognizant Chief Executive Officer Lakshmi Narayanan participated in the funding for the first time.

“I am investing in MedGenome as it addresses opportunities in developing precision medicine. Its platform and network are designed to generate actionable insights for clinicians to diagnose and provide better management for complex diseases at lower cost,” said Gopalakrishnan.

Gopalakrishnan

In the previous two rounds (Series B and A) of funding, the four-year old firm raised $20 million in 2015 from the Indian arm of the US-based Sequoia and $4 million in 2013 from the Singapore-based Emerge Ventures Pte Ltd.

“The fresh capital will be used to penetrate the market by creating awareness on the need for genetic tests and broaden biomarker discovery programmes,” said the city-based firm in a statement here.

As the largest sequencing lab in South East Asia, MedGenome services global pharmaceutical and biotech firms the world over. Its lab is certified by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments and accredited with the College of American Pathologists.

The research firm claimed conducting the country’s first liquid biopsy test ‘OncoTrack’ to monitor cancer treatment, non-invasive prenatal test for pregnant women, carrier screening test for couples planning on a baby and exome sequencing test for identifying mutations in rare diseases.

“With over a million babies born every year with genetic disorders, India carries a huge genetic disorder burden. Precision medicine is the goal of clinicians and patients that can be enabled through biomarker discovery,” said MedGenome Founder-Chairman Sam Santhosh in the statement.

With leadership in genetic diagnostics for inherited diseases in the country, the company is expanding DNA-based testing to cover infectious diseases like tuberculosis.

“MedGenome continues to emerge as a leading genomics firm, bringing affordable genetic testing to emerging market consumers, supporting physicians make better decisions and leveraging the power of that data to impact global drug discovery market,” said Sequoia Managing Director Abhay Pandey in the statement.

Sofina Investment Manager Xiai-Tian Loi said his firm was partnering with MedGenome to broaden the use of genomics-based diagnostics in the Indian healthcare sector and tap into the value of Indian genetic data for research.

“We believe MedGenome’s efforts will have an impact on healthcare delivery in India and the world over,” he added. (IANS)

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Women entrepreneurs continue to face challenges in India: Anita Dongre

Aug 26, 2017 0

By Sugandha Rawal

New Delhi–Anita Dongre has made a name for herself in the fashion world, but there was a time when she faced difficulty in getting a store in a mall in Mumbai. The designer says she comes from a “traditional family where the women were always homemakers” and had to overcome her family’s resistance while starting out.

The celebrated designer, who is also a successful entrepreneur courtesy her brand House of Anita Dongre, feels women entrepreneurs continue to face challenges.

“I come from a traditional family where the women… did not have professional careers outside the house. I had to overcome the family’s resistance initially, but once they showed their support, there was no looking back,” Dongre, based in Mumbai, told IANS in an email interview.

“Women entrepreneurs continue to face challenges today and I hope they find a firm support system and follow their gut as I did,” she added.

Dongre founded AND Designs India Limited in 1995, and rebranded it House of Anita Dongre (HOAD) in 2015.

Anita Dongre

She has stitched together three brands under her label with distinct identities. There is AND with its contemporary western-wear for women line; Global Desi which boasts of boho-chic ensembles; and then there is Anita Dongre label which shines with special curated looks in bridal, couture, pret and menswear.

She is a regular at fashion weeks and wedding exhibitions like the fifth edition of Vogue Wedding Show, which concluded here earlier this month.

Her label took global flight when the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, opted for her creation for a day out in India last year. There’s a Bollywood twist to her brand story as well. She has actress Kareena Kapoor Khan as a muse for her brand AND, and got Aditi Rao Hydari for the “Love Notes” campaign of her label too.

The designer has also expanded to foreign shores with two stores in New York.

Talking about foraying into New York, she said: “It has always been my dream to see Indian craftsmanship celebrated on a global platform. It was gratifying to see that happen — women from different walks of life and fashion experts would walk in and be startled at the degree of expertise that goes into every garment.”

“This is what brings me joy. Future plans remain celebrating craftsmanship in the best way we can.”

She works closely with artisans in villages, and she says the “purpose of working with the artisans is to bring these indigenous skills into mainstream fashion”.

“Our efforts have provided year-long employment to several artisans and weavers who are contributing to collections that are relevant in today’s time. Most of them use traditional skills, but we do a design intervention to modernise their output.”

“This is the strength of our partnership; I bring the marketplace and design knowledge, and my craftspeople bring in generations of skill — and we learn from each other.”

Dongre lauds the Indian government for attempting to bridge the gap between artisans and designers.

“There is a new wave of sustainability in the industry. Not only does this effort help revive these heritage crafts, they also allow Indian craftsmanship a platform in the world of design,” said the designer, pointing out that the efforts “are reviving rural India by bringing in employment”.

Work wise, Dongre is currently spending all her time focusing on her brand and her New York stores.

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Infosys saga indicative of industry-wide malaise

Aug 26, 2017 0

By Amit Kapoor

Infosys is yet again in the news for all the wrong reasons. The poster child of the Indian IT industry just cannot seem to stabilise its ship even after a decade of consistently losing market share under different leaders, mostly comprising of its co-founders. In fact, Vishal Sikka was the first non-founder CEO for the company and was the first one successful in bringing stability to the companys market performance vis-à-vis rivals like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) since it had begun deteriorating almost a decade ago.

The real story in the Infosys saga, however, does not lie in the intricacies of the company’s boardroom battles but the larger malaise that it highlights within the Indian corporates as a whole.

First, the succession planning of Indian corporates seems to be a serious issue. While the concept of succession planning exists in India, bluechip corporates have been struggling to successfully put it into practice. Sikka’s abrupt exit puts the company in a state of disarray. The Indian system of succession planning within corporates differs largely from their global counterparts, which begin to hunt for a successor quite a few months in advance.

N.R. Narayana Murthy

Second, there seems to a lack of clarity on the role that different stakeholders play in a company. Promoters in companies need to define their roles as executives, board members and shareholders. Problems like the one in Infosys arise when promoters overstep their roles and assume different responsibilities at different points of time. The founders at Infosys seem to be having a tough time letting go of their control over the company and often cross jurisdiction is the result. After N.R. Narayana Murthy stepped down as CEO in 2002, three co-founders succeeded him — mostly unsuccessfully in maintaining the company’s growth trajectory. Murthy’s vocal interference in the company’s workings and Nandan Nilekani’s return following Sikka’s exit points to an utter unwillingness of handing over control to an “outsider”. Founders assuming control anytime they feel uncomfortable with operations undermines decisive leadership and puts the stability of the company under threat.

Third, corporate governance seems to be quite problematic among Indian firms. The fact that the issue has arisen in a firm that made the concept popular in India is especially concerning. When the acquisition of Israeli solutions provider Panaya was questioned by Murthy, a shareholder in the company, it behoved the board to address the concerns to the satisfaction of its shareholders. Transparency is the key to ensuring the highest standards of corporate governance. In the board’s defence, they did call for an independent inquiry into the matter and found no wrongdoing. However, it fell short of releasing the complete reports of the investigation as demanded by Murthy.

Vishal Sikka

All these factors — succession planning, clarity of roles and corporate governance — play a crucial role in determining the sustainability of large firms and if they become a ubiquitous problem, among Indian corporates, their survival might come under threat. There is also a much larger problem that springs out of the tendency of the old guard to not let go of their companies – the ability to innovate.

Infosys was slowly becoming irrelevant with back office processing and IT support work due to large scale automation. Rapid automation calls for a move into emerging sectors like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics for IT firms and Infosys was losing ground here. Sikka attempted venturing into these disruptive sectors and the founders who were accustomed to making profits through labour arbitrage did not feel comfortable with such moves.

This is a typical problem with large firms. Innovation does not come easy to them. In most industries, innovators are usually “outsiders” in some sense. Either it comes from a new company whose founder has a non-traditional background or from existing companies through senior managers who are new and unfamiliar to the industry. Such sets of people are usually more able to identify new opportunities and are bolder in pursuing them as well. This is the biggest problem with Infosys and results in slow-paced innovation within the company, which is hurting the company itself in the long run. An innovation handicap will mark the company for its slow demise in an industry as fast paced as IT. On a larger scale, it also damages the country’s ability to innovate as a whole, which is quite worrying for its relevance on the world stage.

Therefore, the crisis in Infosys isn’t just limited to the company itself. The Indian corporate sector needs to take copious notes as it unfolds and learns what not to do in order to ensure its sustainability. Also, it must learn not to fall into the trap of sticking to old ideas at the cost of innovation.

(Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. The views expressed are personal. Chirag Yadav, senior researcher, Institute for Competitiveness, India has contributed to the article.)

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Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani returns as non-Executive Chairman

Aug 25, 2017 0

Bengaluru– Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani on Thursday returned to the global software major as non-Executive Chairman of the Board with immediate effect.

“The Board of Directors has appointed Nandan Nilekani as a non-executive, non-independent Director and as the Chairman of the Board of Directors,” said the IT major in a regulatory filing on the BSE.

The Board accepted the resignation of R. Seshsayee as its Chairman and as a Director on the Board with immediate effect.

Nandan Nilekani (Photo courtesy: The Indian Express)

It also accepted the resignation of Co-Chairman Ravi Venkatesan with immediate effect though he continues as an Independent Director.

The Board accepted the resignation of Executive Vice-Chairman Vishal Sikka and as a Director on the Board with immediate effect.

Resignations of Directors Jeffery S. Lehman and John Etchemendy were also accepted with immediate effect.

Nilekani, who was CEO of Infosys from March 2002 till April 2007, quit the company a decade ago to head the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

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