To a waiting group of B-school students on the lawns of Green Meadows, one of the many resorts on the picturesque East Coast Road near Chennai, it was a different Rahul Bajaj who strode in to join them. Dressed in traditional embroidered attire, he was squeezing time away from his family members who were on a private visit to the city, for a wedding reception. “At my age, it is invigorating to be with you,” began Bajaj, much to the cheer of the organisers of the event: L’Attitude 13°05′, as the Great Lakes Institute of Management called the B-school fest that had drawn participants from all over the country. And, the students were all ears to listen to what Bajaj Auto’s articulate Chairman had to say. A few excerpts from his interaction:
On the economy
Going great guns. Fiscal deficit is under control. Our forex reserves are comfortable, though deficit on balance of trade is a matter of concern. India is no longer the flavour of the month or week, but of the times. However, the glass is not full but half-empty. Infrastructure has to be improved, for instance. There is still discretion with the Government, on many matters, leading to corruption potential. Despite our 5,000-year-old culture, we have poverty, with 30 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, living on less than a dollar a day. Our current per capita income of $700 is what China had in the 1970s; now, it is double there. We need to bridge the gap; for, it is growing bigger.
Leadership is not just charisma or showmanship. It means consistency, being forthright, having no tolerance for mediocrity, and not compromising integrity. Because, in the long run, honesty pays.
We will be an economic power, no doubt. But what is more important is that there should be no unemployment, and poverty. Also, parental income should not be a constraint for the children to access education and healthcare. Let there be no caste or regional differences, based on which we fight amongst ourselves. We are one India, and we are Indians.
There are only two divides, the haves and the have-nots. The age group 15-30 is our great asset. We need to focus on vocational training to tackle educated unemployment.
On the responsibility of corporates
In addition to running the business, there are three things that companies should do. One, good corporate governance, going beyond what is outlined in company law and Clause 49.
Two, corporate social responsibility, without losing sight of shareholder value. Done sensibly, CSR is good for shareholders; only, it should be within the right limits. And three, pure philanthropy, though it may not directly increase shareholder value; reason, companies get so much from society that it is logical that they give back something. Remember, however, that you should not do anything at the cost of running the company in the most efficient way.
On Bajaj and the small car
That will depend on what happens to the Rs 1 lakh car… and what happens to Bajaj’s commercial vehicle in the four-wheeler segment.
But, Rs 1 lakh, to whom? For the consumer or ex-showroom? And it would need to meet standards of image and safety. In the absence of proper segment reporting, we may not know how much is the subsidy for the small car from the commercial vehicle operations.
Will the Rs 1 lakh car make a dent into the sales of two-wheelers?
No, because for every one customer who graduates from two-wheeler to car, more than one will come in, driven by the status of public transport, which may take 10 to 30 years to improve.
On privatisation of primary education
Private sector can’t take care of basic education, because the sector operates with a profit motive. The Government has to offer facilities for education, a priority that comes first, even before removing poverty. There can be a PPP (private public partnership) model as in infrastructure, with money from the Government and management from the private sector.
Message for B-school students
You will be joining the ranks of the country’s elite. And the elite have a great responsibility – of bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Of working to increase the income per capita and also the quality of life. Opportunities within the country are growing; and so, fewer grads seek jobs abroad these days. Wherever you are, remember that you are batting for your country. Work with integrity and capability to make the country proud.