Well Left

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Ms Bharathi Baskar, Motivational Speaker, Writer and Diversity Champion, on the state of women in corporates and on life’s lessons on what to leave and what to choose.

I’ve been in the corporate sector for almost three decades. I have an interesting observation to share. At the bottom of the pyramid, that’s the entry level, in banks, IT, FMCG or other companies, they hire more women than men. As the pyramid goes to the middle-level management, there are about 70 men and 30 women, across the industry. When you reach the top of the pyramid, we have about 94 men and 6 women. I call it the theory of falling women.  

Why are they falling? In the corporate world, it’s one of our biggest challenges to ensure that we promote diversity. Some of you might be asking me why I should be disturbed about it, because it was no women at the top some time ago.  I’m not happy about it at all. Because this number has stayed as it is, for the last 15 years. That’s what is worrying me. This number is not seeing an arithmetic or geometric progression.  If we take the academic area, in our schools and colleges, women dominate the space. Some of us, who belong to the generation that saw our mothers or grandmothers to be the first entrants into educational institutions, could vouch for that. We see that girls are definitely entering more and more into colleges in engineering, science, medical and other disciplines.  The academic dominance is not converting itself into dominance in the corporate world. Why would that be?

Don’t shoot two horses

When it comes to sharing household duties, we are definitely not where we should have been, though it’s much better. I hope the younger generation, when they get married and when they have children, will change diapers, feed their children, take them to school and attend parent-teacher meetings. Also, there are things that women want to do and they’re not willing to let go. So that’s what I’m here to discuss.

Sometimes you will have to leave certain things when you want to get something else. There is a Russian proverb that says that if somebody tries to shoot two horses, for sure, he will not shoot either. So when women try to do multiple things—they want to be the best mother, the best wife, the best host, the best person in the office and dressed up as best as they could be. If you want to do everything, sometimes your focus is lost. You’re forced to give up something at one stage and the easy option is the career.

At office, it’s difficult to raise your hand when an assignment is given to you. I have seen it in my organization several times. Let’s say there is a boss and there are 10 people in the room. The boss announces a project. Maybe there are two women and eight men in that room. The boss asks which one of them thinks to be the best suited to lead the project. From whatever I have witnessed, all eight men will most certainly raise their hands, whether they are really qualified to do the project or not and if they believe they can do it or not. No questions asked. The two women will look at each other. If one woman half raises the hand, the other woman will also do the same. 

Our minds are very much conditioned. We don’t try to assess whether we are qualified for the project. Our first thoughts are about what will happen, if I take up a project and go home at 10. Do I have to travel more and more? Does it mean that I need to take on more load? Who’s going to take care of my kid? We always have a cluster of thoughts in our minds, rather than being focussed single-mindedly on our ambitions in our career. Is it good or bad? I’m not here to judge. I’m not here to say that the two women should have raised their hands. No, I’m not going to say that.

I think we need to come to an equilibrium in the society and abundance, where the best will get the assignment, irrespective of the gender. If it happens to be a woman, then the domestic duties will have to be equally shared by the other members of the home, including the husband. If they decide and share the household duties and responsibilities in such a way that they ensure that there is no guilt in the mind of the woman who has taken up that additional assignment, then this six will become 10 and then 15 and then 30. One fine day it will be 50.  

Ashwin’s master stroke

I’m not a big fan of cricket. But sometimes I would love to watch the last overs of the games, just to see the adrenaline rush in the crowd. Many of you may remember the recent T20 world cup match played between India and Pakistan, where in the last over, India had to get 16 runs to win. Virat Kohli was batting like a man possessed.  He was at his best on that day. On the other side, supporting him was Hardik Pandya. He got out and Kohli continued to score and did his best. Dinesh Karthik came in and got out. We had one ball remaining and two runs to win.

Ravichandran Ashwin came in. As he revealed in an interview later, Ashwin was absolutely not prepared to walk in. He cursed Dinesh Karthik, walked from the dressing room to the middle of the ground, which he describes as the longest walk in his life. He went in and faced the first ball that was bowled at him. Guess what? Ashwin left that ball and it was declared a wide. His judgment was absolutely good. He could see that it was a wide and then he left it. They called it, ‘well left,’ and I heard that for the first time and it really inspired me.

What happened when he left the ball? How did he take that decision? I was really intrigued by that. The pressure was so much. This is the last ball and you have only two runs to win. There is every reason that he could have attempted to play the ball and hit the winning shot, yet he decided to leave the ball. That gave the Indian team an extra ball and an extra run. When the extra ball came, it was worth playing. He played it, scored a run and we won the match. That’s one of the best wins that we have had. Of course, it’s against Pakistan. What else would you ask for?  

Well left is well played

I could even remember that when I was studying in a government school, mostly in Tamil medium, we had a cricket coach. In retrospect, I’m really surprised that government schools offered such good facilities. Generally, girls don’t play cricket at that age. We haven’t seen much of cricket either because very few houses had televisions. Every time, we tried to be a little aggressive and hit a ball that was going a little off the pitch or outside, our coach would lose his cool and scream at us. But every time, we took an informed decision and left the ball, he would call us and tell us that we did well.

‘Well-left,’ is the most underrated shot played in cricket as well as in life. Sometimes, it’s better not to play some of the balls that are coming to us. I am not propagating procrastination or inaction here. All I am saying is that let’s not try to play all the balls that come to us. Let’s choose our balls and battles. In organizations as well, I have seen this behavior, especially in members of the senior leadership. Some of them want to get involved in everything and that would be micro management, at its best. They would get involved in matters where they have absolutely no expertise, concern, responsibility or authority, but their voices will be there. They will have a comment on everything.

Eventually, it becomes a personality disorder that unless you say something, you feel that you’re not complete.  Many a time, this behavior leads to being people who are ‘last-word freaks.’ ‘My word has to be the last everywhere.’ What I have learned is that when you focus only on your goals and things that you really want to do, you’ll do much better, rather than trying to hit every ball and getting out. If you leave some balls, your chances of survival are much better than in cricket.  It’s very important that you ignore certain comments made on you.

The grass is blue

Once a tiger and a donkey got into an argument. The donkey said that the grass is blue in color. The tiger said, “Are you nuts? The grass is green in color.” They were arguing and arguing and it reached a certain point when they wanted to present it for arbitration. They went to the arbitrator—the Lion, the king of the jungle. The king was seated on his throne. The donkey and tiger approached the lion. As they were going closer to the Lion King, the donkey screamed, “Your Majesty. Don’t you agree that the grass is blue in color?” The king, without wasting much time said, “Yes.”

The donkey said, “This tiger is annoying me, arguing with me. He says that the grass is green in color. Would you please punish him?” The king said, “Yes. I will punish him with six weeks of silence.” The donkey was absolutely thrilled and happy. He kept chanting that the grass is blue and went off.  The tiger said, “Your Majesty. I accept the punishment. But may I ask you one question? Isn’t it true that the grass is green?”

“Of course, it is green,” said the king. “Then why do you punish me?” asked the tiger. The king replied, “Your punishment has got nothing to do with whether the grass is blue or green in color. A courageous, independent, intelligent creature like you is wasting your time, arguing with a donkey if the grass is blue or green. On top of that, you have the audacity to bring it for arbitration and waste my time too. The punishment is for that.”

Inviting pain

Sometimes, whether you agree or not, we are donkeys and many times we are tigers and seldom we are lions. If the other person is not willing to see the reason, it is best to leave the argument, because we have got more important things to do. A lot of us have had this experience with a toothache. We might need to wait a day or two to visit the dentist. In that interim one day or two days, there is this temptation to take our tongue to the tooth, which is giving us the pain and then feel the tooth. Though the pain will increase, it’s extremely difficult to resist the temptation to take your tongue to the ailing tooth and feel that excruciating pain. Why do we do that? Because it’s very difficult to resist the temptation. Sometimes in our homes, in our workplaces, in the social platforms that we are operating, there is a temptation to say certain things, which we know for sure, are going to be absolutely useless for us. Yet, we end up saying that word, and then spend probably the next 15 days or one month or whatever, trying to defend our position. How much of our time is lost in doing this!

We talk about time management and often hear that everybody has got 24 hours. There are goals for us to follow. There are things to do, of which there are compulsive assignments. The only way to do it is to release certain things and pick up only those things that are going to help you. Do things where your focus should lie on.

Poet Thiruvalluvar in Thirukural, a collection of couplets, describes the behavior of a stork. The stork, he says, patiently waits by the river and allows tiny fish to pass through. It waits till it sights a big fish and then grabs it. That’s exactly what we need to practice for ‘well left.’ When we leave certain things, it gives us ample time and space to do the things that we really want to do.

The hare & the tortoise story retold

Let me narrate one more story which is the Zen version of the hare and tortoise story. All of us have heard the original story. In the Zen version of the story, the hare comes and talks to us. It says, “Yes. I am the hare who lost to the tortoise. That’s what Aesop has made you believe. Actually, I didn’t lose the race. I quit the race. But Aesop wrote the fable in such a way that the entire world thinks that I have lost the race. Do you think that a hare will lose to a tortoise? Do you believe that if somebody is halfway in the race, he will sleep to let the tortoise, of all species, to pass him by? No, I didn’t lose. I was not even sleeping.

“I entered the race because the stupid tortoise went about calling me for the race, for a long time. When I knew that I was far, far ahead, I decided to just rest for a while at a lush green meadow there. There was a good stream and carrots were available for me. When I was taking my break, a bearded Zen guru appeared and asked me, “Hey, what are you doing here?” “I’m running a race?” I said. “Are you running a race? I see you sitting here,” the guru retorted. I explained, “I’m actually running a race. But I decided to sit for a while because the tortoise, my opponent, is far behind.”

The guru chided me, “You’re running a race with the tortoise. Everyone knows that the hare is faster than the tortoise. If they give you a medal for winning the race, where will you hang it?  Let me get it straight. Today, you’re running a race to prove that you’re faster than the tortoise. Tomorrow, you will run to prove that you are faster than the snake and the day after, it will be against an elephant or any other creature. When will you stop running this race?”

Run your real race

“That’s when I decided that I would quit the race. But the story was made in such a way that I was resting and the tortoise had surpassed me. Whether it’s a marathon or a sprint, I am always faster than the tortoise. I decided I must choose my true competitors and exit from the race.” So, according to the Zen version of the story, the hare had ‘well left,’ so he has the energy and time to run the race with the real opponents.

Friends, if at all, a race has to be run in life, you will have to choose what you really want to do. There are certain words that you will have to leave unspoken and there are certain actions that you will have to desist from doing. An immediate temptation to give back, is not going to be good for you in the long run. There are certain assignments and tasks that you’ll have to give up so that you have the time to focus on your Swadharma. Your Swadharma is where your heart and mind lies.  

It’s a very tough decision on what to leave and what to choose. There is only one way to do it. Find out where your natural talent lies and what you are interested in naturally, and then you have ample choices for choosing the ones that you really want to do and thereby you will achieve your goals. Remember, when you’re trying to hit two horses, you will end up hitting none of them.  

Dr Lata Rajagopalan’s fireside chat with Bharati Baskar

When did you discover that you could be an orator?

Very young, when I was probably about eight or nine years old, I was selected for a school drama. When I was on stage, I was very reluctant like anybody else at that age. But once I got onto the stage and heard the audience clap, I found out this was going to be very close to my heart.  

Who inspired you to develop this facet of becoming an orator? 

My eldest sister. She is the first orator in our family. She continues to be a huge inspiration though she’s not on stage anymore. I followed her everywhere she went. At one stage, she stopped but I continued.

What genres of movies do you like watching?

Any movie where a woman is shown as an intelligent person or good. 

Who is your favorite singer? 

The one and only SPB.

An author you admire?

In Tamil, I admire Jaya Mohan. He is a leading author in Tamil literature today. He can also write in Malayalam. He has written Mahabharata in 14 volumes, having about 25,000 pages. I think this is the longest novel ever written in the world. In English, Jeffrey Archer is my favorite. I love short stories.  

Have you ever been nervous on stage?

I have been nervous, I think, on every stage. You’ll learn how not to show your nervousness over a period of time.

Do you prepare extensively on topics or do you take a hint of the topics and speak?

Literary topics need a lot of preparation. Social topics, generally I don’t prepare. You have to be just you. Go with the vibe. You’re on the stage and you take off from what your previous speaker has spoken. If it’s about a different topic, like something on physics, medicine, etc, I do prepare.  

Do you argue a lot in real life? It must be hard to win against you.

I don’t argue much at home. I leave some of the things. Certain things are well left.

Does your family play a role in your preparations?

Not in my preparations, because I just keep it to myself. My second daughter is a critic. Usually, my husband and my elder daughter say that I’ve done well, whether I’ve really done well or not. If at all, I get a topic about finance, then I take some tips from my husband, Baskar, who is a chartered accountant.

Do you aspire to be a moderator in debates?

Most certainly. I am already a moderator in shows but maybe not in the popular Sun TV debate where we have our moderator, Mr. Solomon Pappiah. It’s lovely to work with him as a team. When I am a moderator, I enjoy that position equally well.

Every time we watch Television debates in America, we realize that debating skills seem to decide political careers. Have you ever thought of entering politics?

Not really. I am at a stage in life when I want to give back something. I’ve had a very long and I am still having a career in banking. I’ve been on stage for almost 22 years. Now it’s time to give back to the younger generation. There are a lot of questions in their minds, and sometimes they don’t know whom to ask those questions to. I want to be in that position. Politics is not my space. 

Photo Gallery – March 2023

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Mr Kuntal Kumar Sen, Mr Rajat Bansal and CA N Madhan during the MMA – International Fiscal Association  One Day International Tax Conference on “Contemporary Trends in International Taxation”
Dignitaries on Dias during the Inaugural session of MMA Women Manager’s Convention 2023 on the theme “The Extra Mile”
Dr Sandhya Shekar, Digital and Business Strategy and Mr  Shane Cragun, Co-Founder & CEO, LeadersCode., Adviser, Mentor and Author, Sanfrancisco, USA during the special session on “Forging Ahead – 7 New Rules of Leadership
Ms Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Film Artiste  addressing the women delegates virtually during the MMA Women Manager’s Convention 2023
Dr Meera Raghavan, Ms Ramya Bharati, IPS, Dr Ranjani Manian and Lt Cdr Imtiaz Begam R during the special session on “Shifting Priorities”
Ms Swetha Kochar, Mrs Lakshmi Chandrasekaran, Dr Aishwarya Selvaraj and Ms Roshini Dilip Nichani during the special session on “Fun Skills for a Wholesome life 2023
Live Demo by Ms Roshini Dilip Nichani on the theme “Health and Beauty
Gp Capt R Vijayakumar (Retd) VSM, Dr L S Ganesh, Vice Chancellor, ICFAI University, Mr S Kannan, IRS, Former Principal Chief Commissioner- GST, Govt of India, Mr Ganesh Natarajan, Author and Mr K Mahalingam, Senior Vice President, MMA during the discussion on the theme of the book “India’s Pathways to Success – Winning in the Next Decade”  authored by Mr Ganesh Natarajan
Gp Capt R Vijayakumar (Retd), VSM, Dr N Ravichandran, Dr N Gopalaswami, IAS (Retd), Dr S Venkataramanaiah, and Mr S Babaji Rajah Bhonsle Dignitaries on Dias during the discussion on “Managing Social Organisations – Lessons from World’s Largest Pilgrimage Center” 

Building a Robust Academic Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

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Universities are hotbeds of innovation. Creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem within a university is a critical step to commercializing innovations. What is the experience of IIT-Madras in creating a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem? MMA-KAS organised a Fireside Chat on the theme, “Building a Robust Academic Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.” Prof Ashwin Mahalingam, Faculty – Department of Civil Engineering, IIT-Madras, shared his thoughts with Mr V Shankar, Founder, CAMS & Director, ACSYS Investments Pvt Ltd.

Shankar: We are all aware of the terms—incubators, accelerators and angel investors; but we have not heard so much about these in the academic context. That such an ecosystem exists within an academic institution—IIT Madras—is a rarity. Can you speak about that?    

Ashwin: I don’t think we have solved the entrepreneurial academic ecosystem puzzle completely. We have made some advances. We have four parts to our ecosystem. The first part is ideation, where ideas get generated. This is a critical part of any entrepreneurship ecosystem because without ideas, we don’t have companies. The second part is the pre-incubation part, where we test the ideas. Not every idea necessarily lends itself into being an entrepreneurial venture. Possibly, about 10 or 15% of good ideas lead to good businesses. Here, we stress test those ideas. The third is the incubation segment. The fourth segment is where we do all the support activities to enable these three segments. 

There are a number of research labs at IIT-Madras and a number of faculty doing research. Ideas come out in the normal practice of doing business at IIT. In parallel, we have students who think creatively—sitting in hostels, having conversations with other students and trading ideas. The co-location factor is extremely important. IIT being a residential institute has its own benefits. We also have industrial consultancy and sponsored research cell—which incidentally, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year—and which allows us not only to do research theoretically in our own spaces, but also collaborate with industry to do research. At the top, we have the Centre for Innovation CFI).

When we study engineering, nobody likes workshop; but that is where we do something with our hands. The rest of it is all theoretical. Unfortunately, workshops in most engineering colleges are very structured and don’t lend themselves towards innovation and creativity. So we came up with an idea of creating a workshop that would be a kind of ‘by the students, of the students and for the students,’ completely managed by students and where they could do whatever they wanted. This is what we call the Centre for Innovation. Very generously, the alumni of 1981 batch, to which you (Shankar) belong, funded this centre. We now have a laboratory, where the tagline is, ‘walk in with an idea and walk out with a product.’  We have all kinds of equipment and machines available. 

There are already existing groups of students who are building race cars and rovers. You can join an existing group or you can start your own group. It doesn’t matter if you’re a civil engineer; you can still join the robotics group. It doesn’t matter if you’re a chemical engineer; you can start making drones. No rules at all. The funny thing is that all the hustle and bustle of activities take place at 3 am. The Centre for Innovation has been a wonderful melting pot of students where they leave all their baggage—like the branch they are in, the place they are from—behind. They have the freedom to do whatever, without the spectre of a grade looming over their head.   


In the pre incubation part, we have a program (Nirmaan) wherein students can explore the commercial potential of their ideas. We put them through a one year program and try to see if there is a business behind it. Typically, we have about 10 or 15 teams a year. A team could have two people, three people, etc. They work on the technology and we help them think through the business side of it, to figure out a business model and business plan and to go and speak to some customers. A lot of alumni come in and mentor them. The ideas may work or not. If it doesn’t seem to work, no regrets. But at least, you have clarity in your mind. We hope that some fraction of students that come into Nirmaan will start a business. Some of our more successful startups today have come through this pipeline. 

We also have an innovation ecosystem project where we tell our faculty to go beyond publishing a paper. If they are interested in patenting it, we are ready to give them a little bit of funding. We have restarted the MS in Entrepreneurship program. The output here is a validated business plan.  You can apply for MS in Entrepreneurship after you graduate. Every six months, we put down a list of projects that faculty have and the kind of people that they’re looking for. Sometimes, they look for people with a technical background, sometimes with more of a liberal arts, economics or management background to work on the entrepreneurial side of the business.  

Recently we’ve started the Gopalakrishnan-Deshpande Centre for Innovation named after two of our eminent alumni who funded this. We focus on customer discovery—who your customers are. It’s a seven-week program, where we force you to talk to 100 customers and decide who exactly is your customer and what should your product look like. 

Lastly, we have the entrepreneurship cell, which I am currently the faculty in charge of. It’s completely student run and it evangelizes entrepreneurship. Eminent people from the entrepreneurship world give talks to our students.  We run competitions, so students can test their ideas and pitch them in front of an audience of VCs. 


We have the main incubator, which is the IIT Madras Incubation Cell (IITMIC). Then, we have a few thematic incubators, which are in a sense sub-incubators of IITMIC. We have a bio-incubator that focuses on biotech. RTBI is a rural technology business incubator and it focuses on rural technology. We also have Health Technology Innovation Centre, which focuses on med tech.  

The incubation cell provides you some space, a desk, power and internet connection. It provides a little bit of seed funding as a grant and a little bit as a loan. You can hire a few people and get something manufactured or fabricated. IITMIC provides you a brand. It also provides a lot of mentorship from faculty or alumni.  We also we have tie ups with legal and HR agencies which can help in getting employees, writing employment contracts, filing tax returns, etc. and you can focus on running your business.  

Support System

To do this, we have a number of people who support us. Ten years ago, our alumni created the IITMEF—the IIT Madras Entrepreneurship Forum. A lot of support is provided by our alumni. We also have connections with TiE and the Keiretsu forum, which are entrepreneur or angel investor forums, where people interface with us and support our ecosystem. We have all these moving pieces, essentially focused on trying to get ideas, test them, and scale them, so they become successful businesses.  

Shankar: We were the batch responsible for funding the IIT Madras CFI. We had our 25th reunion in 2006. When we went to the hostel rooms, we found students just sitting in the rooms and playing computer games. Nobody played any sport.  That triggered us to set up the CFI. Today, if you go to the institute, they talk about pre-CFI and post-CFI days and that it has created a massive difference to the DNA of the institute. As alumni, we are proud of that. Now, can you tell us about the challenges you faced and learnings in this whole process. 

Ashwin:  In the pre-CFI days, research was happening and we had our research labs. Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala, an academic with more of a practical orientation and trying to make products rather than just do research, started the RTBI—Rural Technology and Business Incubator. When we set up the CFI, entrepreneurship was far from our mind. We thought that the students were moving away from engineering after graduation. The idea was to get students to innovate so that they would become better engineers. 

About ten years ago, our then Director Mr Bhaskar Ramamurthy went to the US to meet our alumni. When they asked him how they could support the institute, he said that he saw entrepreneurship as the future. That galvanized the alumni and what followed was the IIT Madras Entrepreneurship Forum. So at that point, we had an incubation cell, entrepreneurship forum and alumni who were ready to mentor, but we had no startups. Some students were doing innovative, techy stuff in the hostel but these were not getting wrapped up. That motivated us to start Nirmaan and later scale it up. In the initial days, the entrepreneurship cell had just one or two students but slowly the interest ramped up. Now it’s a 200-strong student body. 

We realized there was a lot of student energy in entrepreneurship but not as much faculty energy and involvement. We always felt that the faculty oriented startups are probably going to be our long term and more successful startups. That’s when Kris Gopalakrishnan and Deshpande came together and we started a program where every faculty tries to find a student entrepreneur and help them in discovering customers. Then they can be a part of Nirmaan and so on.

Convincing Students and Parents

The big challenges in the beginning were trying to convince students and faculty that entrepreneurship was even an option. In the initial days, when we organised a panel discussion on entrepreneurship and sent out emails to about 550 faculty on campus, nobody responded. Then after our Director wrote a slightly stronger email, 15 people showed up out of 550. Even those who came told me that for getting promoted from assistant to associate professor, people ask only about the number of papers they have published and the quality of the journals that publish them. “Nobody asks me about startups and why should I do this?” they said.

The students said, “I’ve got 20 lakh per annum job offer. You are telling me that I should start up a company where, after struggle, I will make no money. Why do you want me to try this?” Slowly after some success stories and role models came up, the media picked them up and gave publicity. It took a while to convince the students that a startup was not that difficult.

But convincing the parents of students was another issue. I’ve had calls from parents asking me, “Why are you corrupting my son / daughter? I sent him (her) there because they would get an IIT education and make their way up a nice multinational corporation. And you’re talking about entrepreneurship, how dare you do that?”  We had to tell them that their son or daughter decided on their free will. Getting the culture built was extremely challenging and time consuming. The only mantra was that we got to keep at it. At one point, the alumni mentors far outnumbered the startups. But they continued to persist. 

Slowly, over a period of time, the Institute also did a wonderful job in publicizing entrepreneurship, which I think was very important. Every time there’s a competition, we nominate somebody and when they win, we publicize it. We give credit to people who do things beyond just publishing in a variety of forums. We have pots of money that are available for research that could be commercialized. It has been a tough journey and we are by no means done yet. There’s still a lot of work to do.  

Shankar: A couple of startups that have been successful with origins in IITM are Ather and Agnikul. Agnikul does 3D printed rockets and the first rocket takeoff is scheduled for later this month.  

Ashwin:  Planys Technologies does underwater robots that help fix underwater pipelines and dams. Another startup that I was involved with does modular housing. It builds foldable houses and it turned out to be a godsend during Covid, for quickly setting up some kind of a vaccination facility or a clinic. 

I used to teach entrepreneurship class for Tarun and Swapnil of Ather. Interestingly, they both graduated from IIT, went to work, came back and said, “What we were doing in the class was far more exciting than what we are doing at work.” It was in 2013 or 2014. Nobody really thought then that commercial EV was possible. Fortunately, a lot of people threw their weight behind Ather. A number of alumni and faculty supported it. The founders said, “Come what may. We are not going to just develop a technology and sell it. We’re going to build a business.” Not only have they done it successfully but also, they’ve been an inspiration to a lot of other people. Tarun was one of the student presidents of the E-cell when he was here. Not only did he gain from the experience of running the E-cell but also, he gave back by evangelizing all this throughout the institute. A lot of synergies are required. It is not just one intervention or one path that you go through.

Democratizing Education

Shankar: Now let’s move away from the IITM entrepreneurship ecosystem. Since the new director Dr Kamakoti has taken over about a couple of months back, the emphasis is on democratizing education. It’s not that you can enter an IIT only by clearing the JEE. Along those lines, a number of initiatives have taken place. There is a BSc in Data Science and number of online courses which are available to anybody. 

Ashwin:  I’m also a firm believer in democratizing education. We opened up several years ago, starting from the time when Professor Anand was the Director. This was followed up by Bhaskar and now Dr Kamakoti, who is trying to really ramp it up. We have the NPTEL platform—the National Program for Technology Enhanced Learning, where IIT Madras as well as other centrally funded technical institutes (CFTIs) put up their courses online. There are a number of ways you can use them. You can just view them or take a course and write an exam and get some credit for it. If you get credit in a few courses, then you can apply for a certificate. There are multiple courses on NPTEL. You can choose a course, the institute and even the professor who handles that. The idea is that this should be accessible to everybody and these courses are free. 

The online BSc program in Data Science is a next step. The difference between the traditional program and this is that you can take it at your own pace. You can drop out after a year and probably get a certificate or drop out after a couple of years and get a diploma. If you complete the four year program, you get a BSc degree from IIT Madras. It isn’t free for all. There is a qualifying test but it’s far easier than the JEE. There are many heartwarming stories of people who have taken this course. Now we are working on offering Civil Engineering online. There’s a lot of infrastructure being built and people who are in construction learn on the job. They would love to go through an IIT curated six month program, to understand a bit more about concrete, construction technology and so on. We’ve also launched a program on electric vehicles. 

Democratizing Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Shankar: What are you doing to democratize entrepreneurial ecosystem?   

Ashwin: We help colleges to setup CFIs and E-cells. The E-cell has a campus ambassador program, where we have students in a number of campuses all over India. We talk to them and they, in turn, try to evangelize the cells in their campuses nationwide. CFI also does something similar. It is a bit more tangible because there is a workshop there. In parallel, the incubation cell is also trying to connect with incubators in other colleges. 

On the one hand, we are happy to partner with people and just transfer knowledge. On the other hand, we’re also happy to go and incubate. Perhaps, they don’t have all the facilities required to successfully incubate. So we offer space or technical support, whatever it is. We have tied up with 12 colleges in the south. Some of them include Crescent Engineering College, Sona College and Madurai Thigaraja Engineering College. 

We had the research culture to start with, without which none of this would have happened. It is very important to have research and innovation culture. Part of it is the faculty writing proposals and doing research. The other is restructuring the curriculum to make it a bit more open ended, doing more group projects rather than examinations, so that both faculty and students learn by doing something.

The second learning, in my personal view is that we wouldn’t even be at 50% of where we are, if it had not been for our alumni. There are valuable skills that the alumni can impart. It is very important for colleges and universities to start channeling their alumni.  

Shankar: Education is ripe for disruption. There are people commercially trying to do it. But I think as a centrally funded institution, IITM has taken the responsibility and is executing it using technology. How does a typical professor’s time look like in IIT?

Ashwin: When I tell people that I’m a professor at IIT, they assume that I teach. I do teach but roughly, on an average, three to four hours a week. That’s not just me, most of us teach one to one and a half courses a semester. A course is about three hours a week. We’ve got teaching assistants. 

In the early part of my career, about 70% of my time went into research, because I was trying to build up a research stream, research lab, research, pipeline and all of that. And, in places like IIT, we do a little bit of administration. We are on various committees. So in the early part of my career, it was 10% teaching, 70% research and about 10% on projects with companies and administration. 

Of late, the amount of time I’m able to devote to research has come down. Though I still like to put in about 30 to 40% of my time into research, it is becoming difficult. More time goes into working with companies—more on the consulting side, which is not basic research but applied research. I am also setting up systems at IIT. It’s not just me. There are dozens of other people who have contributed towards this picture. I’m trying to set up a new School of Sustainability at IIT. There are a number of institute building activities that we end up doing. My teaching now stays at 10%; Institute building and outside facing activities at 25% and research occupies the rest.

Shankar: What are your sporting interests?

 Ashwin: I am a sports fanatic. I play tennis. The reputation I have with some of my students is that it’s easier to catch me on the tennis court than in the institute premises. I used to quiz quite a bit as well. One of the top quizzes in the country is the Saarang Lone Wolf quiz, which happens at the open air theater at IIT. Incidentally, it’s now the 25th anniversary of when I won the quiz. The quiz traditionally starts at midnight and goes up till sunrise.


Q: What kind of startups do the people who work in IIT generally go after?

Ashwin: They take an idea that they liked and worked on and then try to push that forward. In that process, they discover whether it’s an import substitution or if it’s an existing market that they’re trying to disrupt.

Q: What is the approximate timeline for a startup in IIT?

Ashwin: It depends on the type of startup. A biotech entrepreneurship sometimes takes decades, because you have so much of research involved. Apps, for instance, can be up and running in three months. Ather Energy was one of our first startups. My colleagues who are experts in non-destructive testing of drones, robotics, etc. started up a few companies, which we call deep tech startups. For these, it roughly takes anywhere between two to three to five years, depending on where you are. Although the incubation agreement we sign is for 18 months, the support we commit to, is often far beyond this.  

Q: How can we commercialize our patents?

Ashwin: The process of commercialization is reasonably well laid out. There are various stages you go through at IIT. We have an IP cell with some people who have techno legal background. The paperwork is done by the cell and the research is done by the faculty. But it’s going to probably cost you more to maintain the patents than the revenue you may generate out of the patent. There’s the myth that once you have a patent, companies will just come and buy it from you. The onus is on the faculty to take it forward and without commercializing the patent, you really aren’t pushing the entrepreneurial envelope far enough. Patents are a good start because that means somebody is doing something creative. But we can’t be satisfied merely because we have a patent. 

Q: What entrepreneurship options are there for Tier two and Tier three university students?

Ashwin:  Every year, IIT Madras holds an E Summit—Entrepreneurship summit. It’s an intercollegiate entrepreneurship festival, just like Shaastra, Any student from any college can register. I think it’s in March or early April this year. Students from tier two and tier three colleges interested in entrepreneurship can register for this summit, come and spend three days on campus and listen to a bunch of talks, day in and day out. There are a number of workshops that they can register and participate in. There are also competitions for people with various levels of maturity. If you have an idea, you can pitch it in a competition. If you don’t have an idea, we’ll give you a hypothetical situation where you can put yourself in an entrepreneur’s shoes and try to strategize as an entrepreneur. The second step might be to become a campus ambassador in their college, affiliated with our entrepreneurship cell.

Q: The entrepreneurial ecosystem has to be established independent of the curriculum. Now the course content of our institutions is so tough. How can we integrate the entrepreneurship system with the course curriculum to make the students aware of and get involved in the entrepreneurial journey?

Ashwin: It’s a problem we also dealt with. Some universities offer independent credits when you affiliate with a professor on a project. That’s one way of doing it. In some cases, the final year project that everyone has to do can be oriented more towards entrepreneurship. It’s also important to start offering entrepreneurship courses in the curriculum. 

Q:  It may be easy for IIT to attract companies to incubate. What can Tier 2 or 3 colleges do to attract research and innovation work in their institutions?

Ashwin: One is to build some expertise in a particular area. I see more companies who want to work local rather than travel over hills and valleys to come to an IIT. The university or the department must have a vision to strengthen in some core areas. As a civil engineer, if I want to strengthen myself in concrete technologies, I must start recruiting some faculty and push some research in that area. Build that capability, then slowly start working with the cement manufacturers and start building outwards from there. You must align with local industry. That’s the way to start.

Over The Barrel

Read Time:14 Minute

Mr P Elango MD, Hindustan Oil Exploration Company Ltd (HOEC) shared his insights in a chat with Mr V Shankar, Vice President, MMA; Founder, CAMS and Director, ACSYS Investments Pvt Ltd.

Shankar: In the oil industry, what is the meaning of upstream and downstream?

Elango: India spends $500 million as the daily spend in importing oil from outside.   Broadly, the petroleum sector is divided into three streams: The upstream companies search for oil and gas within the country or outside the country, similar to any mining industry, but with a high level of uncertainty.  Companies like ONGC, Oil India, Vedanta, Cairn and Reliance to some extent, are the leading companies in this business. Based on some geological surveys, they look at areas where condition exists for oil and gas to accumulate. They follow a process of elimination and zero-in on likely areas. The only way to find out whether oil or gas is available is by drilling a well. On an average, a well is drilled to three kilometres below the surface, where the pressure will be very high. It costs roughly about $3 to $5 million to drill a well onshore, about $20 million to drill a well offshore and close to $100 million to drill a well in deep sea water. It’s a highly capital intensive sector. Therefore, you can understand why there are a limited number of players.

The next part is downstream, which is processing the crude oil, that is discovered by the upstream companies or imported by the country from outside India, in a refinery. This is like any other process industry. They feed the crude oil and get different types of petroleum products at different boiling points. All the refining companies have a marketing arm which sells the petroleum product through retail outlets. India has got about 80,000 retail outlets spread all over the country. Then we also have midstream companies that transport the oil either through sea tankers or by pipelines within the country. 

I began my journey in 1985 with ONGC. At that point in time, India was able to meet 85% of country’s requirement and we were only importing 15% of oil. In 2000, the domestic production could meet only 35%. In the last two decades, it has come down further and today, we are able to meet only 15% of the requirement and 85% of the oil is imported.

Imagine we switch off all the lights in an auditorium during evening hours and throw around a box of pins all over. If the task to find those pins and put it back in the box is given only to two people, the probability of finding it is lower. But if the task is to be performed by many people, then the probability of finding the pins is much larger. Finding oil and gas is something similar to this or to tiger sighting. You need to have passion, patience and perseverance. The cost of doing it is very high.

The complexity is less in the downstream side. The leading players here are IOCL, BPCL and HPCL in the public sector and Reliance and Nayara in the private sector. The one good thing India did in the mid and downstream side was that it built capacity in excess of our requirement. India has 250 Million Tons of refining capacity and we need only about 200 MT per year. So we’re able to export 20% of what is being produced. To that extent, the value addition happens within the country.

Shankar: If the producers can form a cartel and set prices, why can’t the consumers form a cartel and dictate prices? What are the dynamics of this market?

Roughly, we have 193 countries recognized by UN as individual nations. Whether you find crude in all the countries or not, you will find a car. If you have a car, you obviously need petrol or diesel. Of these 193 countries who are consumers, only 20 have exportable surplus crude oil. The mismatch starts from there. That’s number one. Number two, crude oil pricing is also determined by basic economics, which is demand and supply. But there is a very important third factor, which is geopolitics that determines the oil prices. 

The unit cost of producing oil has very little to do with the oil prices. Unlike any other commodity, oil production can be controlled very quickly. If the producing cartel decides to reduce the production by X million barrels today, it can be done instantly. In fact, this culture started 150 years back when oil was discovered in the US. They realized that if you produce more oil, the price goes down. So, there was an artificial restriction on production, which resulted in increased prices. 

The largest importers are China, India, US and Japan. Even if they form a cartel, it cannot be really effective, simply because the producers can decide to cut down the production or even deny to sell. The equation rests with a strong bias towards the seller.

Tell us about natural gas production and distribution. Can we substitute oil with gas?

Gas initially used to be a by-product of oil. In terms of its energy content, it is quite similar to oil and can, therefore, substitute quite easily wherever oil is used except for the fact that it’s not easy to store the gas. You need to condense it and convert it to liquid form to serve the gas. Otherwise, it will occupy a large space. In the early 70s, oil companies looked at gas as an unwanted thing.  But subsequently, countries developed the gas infrastructure, which is primarily the gas pipeline and they were able to make a very good use of gas.

Just to give an example, in Russia, 50% of the primary energy consumption is from gas. Global average use of gas is about 24%. In India, it is just 6% because of the lack of infrastructure. PM Modi, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, focused on creating the pipeline infrastructure within the state. So, Gujarat has got about 3500 kilometer pipeline and 35% of Gujarat’s primary energy mix consists of gas. For mobility, CNG (compressed natural gas) is used and piped natural gas can substitute LPG. In Tamil Nadu, right here in Ennore, IOC invested Rs.10,000 crores in setting up a LNG plant, where liquefied gas will be brought through tankers, regasified and put through pipelines. Unfortunately, the utilization of that is less than 10% because of the politics in laying the downstream pipelines.

Shankar: It’s a pretty sad statistic that Rs.10,000 crores of investment is not effectively utilised. In the pre-Covid era, where was India sourcing its oil and gas? What were the nature of our contracts?

Elango: Import of oil need to be through the sea route. Therefore, sourcing from the shortest possible route is advantageous. From that aspect, Middle East is about 1050 nautical miles from Mumbai. It is a short route and it became a major source of purchase for the Indian companies. The second reason to buy from the Middle East is the type of crude. There are two types of crude broadly: Sour crude, which has a slightly higher sulphur content and sweet crude, which has zero sulphur content.  

Sweet crude is always $5 or $6 at a premium to the sour crude. Refineries prefer buying the cheaper sour crude and then processing it to remove the sulphur content. 60 to 70% of our requirement comes from Middle East.  South African crude is about 15 to 20%. The balance is from South America or Russia, which has now gone up. 

Coming to the commercial terms, we have long term contract and spot market deals. The price is determined by the market dynamics on a daily basis and we don’t get a price advantage through a term contract. However, we can ensure security of supplies and the refineries need a certain volume constantly. India buys about 70% through term contract and 30% from spot market. Typically, refineries in the private sector tend to be more aggressive and play in the spot market. The country’s sovereign relationship has some influence in all the arrangements we make. But otherwise, it’s a commercially independent transaction between the buyer and the seller. 

Shankar: When Trump started putting pressure on India to import more, India started importing crude from the US and I think it continues to import crude from the US even now. Was that a strategic decision or was it commercially sound?

Elango:  It is a political decision. We do not lose anything because we are able to benchmark the price. US is a very important player in the oil and gas market. Oil was first discovered in the US and it also became a freely tradable commodity out of the system generated by the US. To an extent, even if Saudi produces oil, the US has a role in fixing the price for that oil.  The US is the largest producer and largest consumer of oil. It is also one of the significant exporters of oil.  One of the important and major developments of the century is the production of shale gas / shale oil in the US. In 2003, they came up with a technology called fracking to pressurise underground rocks with high pressure water and extract shale gas and oil from the rocks. Though this technology existed for many years, it became commercialised only in this century. It dramatically changed US from a large importer to an exporter.

Shankar: We read in the newspapers about ONGC and also private players taking a stake in some oilfields?  How does this arrangement work? Has it worked well for India?  

Elango: Oil requires a larger investment and more players. There are 3000 oil and gas companies in the US but in India, you can count the numbers with your one hand. Our access to capital, during various periods of time, was limited. The exploitation that has been carried out so far is in a very limited manner. If you do very intensive exploration, there is every possibility of finding more oil and gas within the country. The government has been trying to bring in private sector but they are not very comfortable with the prevailing Indian bureaucracy, particularly when things like retrospective tax or windfall tax happen. Investors of large amount require stability and the government has not been able to guarantee that. One major incident will drive away the larger players. Some of them came and tried but could not succeed. 

In Rajasthan, there is a field called Mangala. ONGC drilled some wells and could not find any oil in the field. Cairn Energy was a small independent company listed in the US at that time. Its market cap was 500 million dollars. It believed that if there is oil and gas in Gujarat and Pakistan, then the oil should have migrated and captured somewhere in that region. They drilled 13 wells and could not find the oil. But in the 14th well, they discovered 1 billion barrels of reserves, which is equivalent to $80 billion. Today, that field produces 25% of the total onshore production in the country. That’s the nature of this industry.

Shankar: How can we mitigate the country’s exploration problems? 

The present government has been very focused in attracting foreign investors. As the exploration projects have long gestation periods, not many foreign players are very keen to get into a new country and do that at this stage. The difference between working in the oil and gas sector in China and India is very simple. In China, you can amend the contract. In India, you simply cannot amend the contract, even for a grammatically incorrect sentence. The process is so cumbersome and court alone can come to the rescue.

The government has very rightly increased the share of gas in the primary energy mix of India. There’s a very strong push. Majority of the states have been awarded with the city gas distribution licenses. Pipeline networks are being created with a target to move from 6% to 15%. In Delhi, all the public transport system runs on gas. This was a court mandated decision.  Energy pricing is one of the key complicated issues. Investors always look at the price and they want market to determine prices, which is not fully happening. The government has got its own set of arguments as to why it cannot just free up.

Shankar: Tells us about India’s oil sourcing strategy in the last one year, after the Ukraine war started. Is this strategy sustainable?

Elango: I think the government has done extremely well. In the past, when US put a sanction on Iran, the government of India complied with that and stopped buying crude oil from Iran, which is one of the lead suppliers of oil and gas to India. Then the US imposed sanctions against Venezuela. Again, India complied with it and lost those sources of supply. This time, India decided that we will go and buy the crude from wherever we want.

India has traditionally enjoyed a very good relationship with Russia, particularly in the energy space. Therefore, India is able to get the Russian crude at about 40% discount. India, in a sense, is benefiting by that. What I foresee is for India to get into more of a long term contract with Russia, which would ensure we continue to get at a discounted rate on a long term basis. This strategy has really worked out well.  

Shankar: Can you quantify the benefits?

Elango: From December onwards, we’re buying about 20% of total crude from Russia at 40% discount. This number can increase depending on the outcome of the transportation arrangements. Russia has not been our traditional supplier and it’s far from Mumbai. So the freight cost is higher. Interestingly, the government is looking at Chennai port as one of the possible ports for importing Russian crude. Because the distance from one of the ports in Russia to Chennai is comparatively lesser. Overall, I foresee a situation where this energy alliance between India and Russia will strengthen and it should benefit our country.

Shankar: In the midst of the green movement which is about moving away from hydrocarbon sources, how are we going to manage the transition? 

Elango: In today’s modern world, fuel is equal to food. We import oil, which is for today and tomorrow. One of the important things is that India must use its own resources to meet its requirement. We have abundant coal resources. With our economic growth, our energy needs will continue to grow at an average of 5%. Therefore, I don’t see a situation where India can really get out of coal. The advantage we have is because we need lots of new energy, we can explore new forms of energy. We need every form of energy to meet the requirement and reduce the overall cost and improve the accessibility. India needs to pursue its goal of adding more and more energy sources.

Shankar: Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey from ONGC to HOEC (Hindustan Oil Exploration Company). 

Elango: I began my career with ONGC. After spending about 10 years there, I left ONGC and joined Cairn Energy in 95 or so.  Cairn then was a company which was producing about 3000 barrels of oil. And when I left, Cairn was producing about 220,000 barrels of oil per day. I was really fortunate enough to work for a company which started small and grew big. The growth is very exciting because you see ups and downs, similar to your life.

Then an opportunity came to turn around HOEC—a company which was about to be closed down with losses. The largest shareholder in the company—an Italian company—wanted to exit India. For them, $200 million investment which they had made, was not a big deal. I took up the challenge and my idea was to run the large capital intensive and technology intensive company like in an Uber model, in a lean way, outsourcing the services. When we started the journey in 2015, we were producing about 500 barrels oil equivalent per day. Today, the production in HOEC is about 10,000 barrels of oil equivalent. We are just 100 people. Out of this 10,000 barrels, our share would be about 4000 barrels and the balance is done by our partners. It’s been a bumpy road but I am really satisfied with the journey.

Shankar: A couple of lessons that you want to give to the people?

Elango: I want to share a lesson from an article that I read. When a cow falls into a ditch, what you need to do is to get the cow out of the ditch, find out why it got into the ditch and figure out ways to ensure it doesn’t get into the ditch again. It’s a very simple and commonsensical thing. However, it’s important that you don’t do all the three things at the same time but you need to do them sequentially. Reading this was a revealing moment for me because in our business, there’s a lot of crisis that you need to handle on a daily basis. When the crisis occurs, if you get into why it occurred, you’re delaying the period for the cow to get out of the ditch.   

Photo Gallery – February 2023

Read Time:1 Minute
Dr Lata Rajagopalan Kumar, Consultant – Communication for Development Member – IAICS presenting memento to  Dr Chithra Madhavan, Indian Historian & Author during the MMA – KAS – WBF talk on the theme ‘Management Concepts in Indian Art Heritage
Mr M M Murugappan, Chairman, Carborundum Universal Ltd, Dr B V R Mohan Reddy, Author & Founder Chairman & Board Member, CYIENT and Mr Suresh Raman, President, MMA, Vice President & Regional Head, TCS Chennai, during the  discussion on “Engineered in India: From Dreams to Billion-Dollar CYIENT” authored by Dr B V R Mohan Reddy.
Gp Capt R Vijayakumar  (Retd), VSM, Mr Rajagopal Swaminathan, Founder CEO, La Poochi (Azzetta)
Dr Mukesh Jain, IPS, Author and Dr Asit K Barma, Director, Bharathidasan Institute of Management during the discussion on the theme of the book “A Happier You – Strategies to Achieve Peak Joy in Work and Life Using the Science of Happiness” 
Ms Sangeeta Shankaran Sumesh, Business & Leadership Coach, Speaker & Author Independent Director, IFB Industries Ltd in conversation with Special Invitees Ms Shoba Sridaran, Global Head – L & D, Bristlecone and Ms Uma Maheswari, DGM, HR – Caterpillar India P Ltd during the MMA – KAS Discussion on the theme of the book “Unlock your master key to success by Dr Joseph Murphy’ as a part of the ‘Read & Grow‘ series.
Mr Arun Viknesh , Dr Lora Deve Prasana and Dr Bernard D’ Sami, during the MMA – KAS – Policy matters discussion on “Interstate Migration – Demography & Economy” 
Dr M Muthuvelu and Mr R Poornalingam, IAS (Retd) during the talk on  “Leadership Qualities in Thirukkural”

India@100: Growth Trajectory for Banks

Read Time:19 Minute

India’s economy is slated to double its growth rate in the coming decade and the country would be the third largest economy by 2027. Is the banking sector poised to keep up with the pace of growth? A group of eminent speakers from the sector shed light on the risks, responsibilities, threats and opportunities.

Mr. Chittaranjan Chattopadhyay

Chairman, BFSIB

The Prime Minister on 15th August gave a clarion call that India has to be a developed nation by 2047. That’s why India@100 has become a new slogan. Three spells of Covid disrupted the economy like anything. One sector, at the cost of as many as 1000 lives, has helped the country to remain intact. India is one of the nations that surprised the whole world as to how this country could sustain despite Covid. Major credit goes to the BFSI sector and to the bankers. From the ICAI, we have started a journey to handhold the bankers to the financial services sectors and to the insurance sectors. Our institute always feels that it shall not only cater to the CMA professionals but it shall also have to be connected with the people who are the stakeholders of this country.

Mr. P Raju Iyer

Past President, ICAI

Today knowledge is power. ICAI is for the development of technical papers and technical support, wherever it is required. With Ramchandra University, we have started a course on healthcare management. Whoever completes the course will be able to perform better in hospital management, which is now a 5 star industry and growing very fast. We are entering into other areas also like agriculture. We are entering into a MOU with IGNOU to start a course on agriculture management. We are entering into a lot of MOUs with various Universities and colleges, so that our youth can be developed with knowledge. We have submitted our report for the Budget 23, taking inputs from the industries along with possible solutions, to the Ministry of Finance with whom we had a meeting last month. Global policies are powered by nations. The nation’s progress is powered by economy. Economy is powered by industries. Industries are powered by competition. Products and services are powered by employee productivity. Employee productivity is powered by employee motivation. Employee motivation is powered by management stewardship which is powered by quality leaders. Quality leaders are powered by us, the professionals.

Mr.  Vijendar Sharma

President, ICAI

When any corporate starts a business with a debt equity ratio of 1.5, it means that if promoter contributes one rupee, the banker will contribute 1.5 rupee. When the economy is growing, we always give the credit to the corporates but it is the banker who is supporting the corporate and indirectly controlling the economy also. During covid, there were three people on the road. One was the doctor. Second was the police officer to manage the affairs and the third was the banker. While we were sitting at home comfortably without facing any sort of scarcity, our bankers were there working full time, supporting our economy and country as a whole. Without bankers, we are unable to maintain even the local balance. Because of global competition, it is very important that our product cost should be restricted. It means that the pricing of the product is decided by the competitor. In 2016, the Government of India introduced the IBC: Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. By that time, we have written off about 10 lakh crores from the bank systems. It doesn’t mean that whatever has been written off, we are not going to recover. We are going to recover from the people—either from their personal or company assets.

The role of a banker is very challenging. As cost auditors and management accountants, we must support the bankers. A balance sheet is not very useful for the banker as it tells what happened in the last one year. For the banker, it is very important to see how my investment is safe and secure. So, it’s very important that we should produce some sort of report in the hands of the bankers that can tell about the future prospects of the company. We are submitting Cost Audit Report to the Government of India which is a confidential report. Technology is changing fast and it decides the fate of any product and economy. We are developing a technical reporting system mechanism for the bankers, and it will tell which product has completed its life cycle and which one will be the future cash cow.  

Mr. B.Ramesh Babu


Transformation today, revolves around the need to generate new value, to unlock new opportunities, to drive new growth and to deliver new efficiencies. Once branded a third world country, India is now the fifth largest economy in the world. As per the prediction of Morgan Stanley, we are slated to double our growth rate in the coming decade and we would be the third largest economy by 2027. India has risen to 46th position in the global innovation index and has emerged as a third largest ecosystem for startups after the US and China with around 84 active startups in India attaining the status of unicorns between 2018 and 2022. Also, as a jewel in the crown, India has assumed the Presidency of G20, which is a premier forum for international economic cooperation, which includes world’s major and systemically important economies.

Evolution of banking in India

It is impossible for any sector to flourish and grow without a robust banking setup, be it the managing the funds of the retail or corporate sector or providing great facilities through various schemes. The banking sector has always been the protector as well as a provider of funds for the country.

Our banking sector’s evolution can be traced in three phases. The first phase is pre-independence, second is post-independence till 1991 and the third is post-reforms. Coming to the last two decades of the banking, the Indian banking industry witnessed the rollout of innovative banking models like payments and small finance banks. In addition to many outreach programs for an inclusive growth, major banking sector reforms like digital payments, mobile banking, etc., and the rise of Indian NBFCs and Fintech have significantly enhanced India’s financial inclusion.

This also stresses the requirement of partnership between banks and fintech. The digital payment system in India has evolved the most among 25 countries, with India’s IMPS being the only system rated at level five (highest) in the Faster Payment Innovations Index. India’s UPI has also revolutionized real-time payments and strives to increase its global reach in recent years, while Application Programming Interface has enabled access of seamless banking to the customers, within a matter of seconds.

Shift in banking

In fact, UPI and Aadhar Enabled Payment System (AePS) has brought in a dramatic shift in consumer behaviour and usage, as around 400 million people tap into these digital technologies. So while we spread the credit blanket and reach out to every nook and corner of the country, banks have tightened their due diligence methods to ensure clear balance sheets. Corporates have understood their requirements in view of the various actions taken. Also bad credit history can have an adverse ripple effect on them. This has led to the gross NPA of the Scheduled Commercial Banks falling to a six year low of 5.9% in March ‘22 and would fall further to 5.3% by March ‘23, according to the Financial Stability Report of RBI published recently. During the pandemic, the government not only ensured that medical facilities were made available in every part of the country, but we even successfully launched indigenous vaccines, which not only provided protection and treatment to our own countrymen. We administered 225 crore doses, but we also arranged to make these facilities available to the world at large by providing vaccines to 85 other countries and helping them to move out of the crisis. The banking sector led by RBI remained on the forefront during the crisis. The first step that was taken to ease the pain of the commercial sector and the small-scale business class was by introducing moratorium schemes followed by introduction of emergency credit line scheme and such other schemes which ensured that economy remained strong and resilient. The banking sector also ensured the economic machinery was sufficiently oiled by keeping the branches on and working even during the peak of pandemic, when the entire country was under lockdown.

The pandemic had one positive effect. It changed the way people look at and manage money. Everyone went digital for even a meagre purchase and turned on the UPS scanner on their mobile phones. This obviously has changed banking. Many of the footfalls in the branches have reduced, but it has led to higher transactions of varying ticket values. With the launch of digital rupee in future, we may see no need for paper currency. As we move from the phase of conservative banking methods to the digital world or the digital journey, with banks offering multi-channel services, the new age banking customer does not desire to make physical visits to the branch anymore. However, we have a set of people who still require physical services. Each one of these developments presents unique opportunities, challenges and competition to the existing and new players.

Banks must have the ability to withstand unknown unknowns in this disruptive age. Banks have joined hands with various NBFCs and startups, which not only provide credit of various ticket size values through the use of technology, but also arranged credit for the untapped small scale and MSME sector, who have been the lifeline in many rural and suburban areas.

Banking tomorrow

RBI Governor Dr Shaktikanta Das in his speech on ‘Banking: Beyond and Tomorrow,’ stressed the need for adoption of emerging technologies, customization of products and services, enhanced business and process automation. He also pitched for development of suitable business models with strong governance frameworks, better information management, changes in the mode of working, building enhanced resilience capabilities, and a more responsible societal and environmental role of the banks.

It is imperative that the banking sector must buckle up and partner with the nation on a growth path, as our nation envisions to double its growth in the next decade. The Indian manufacturing sector is expected to contribute an increased GDP of 25% by 2025. The key areas that we can count are infrastructure, space, defence and startups. With the improvement in our medical infrastructure and better postnatal care, we expect an increase in the average life expectancy of our citizens and reduced infant mortality, thus leading to higher contribution to our workforce and in turn, increased customer base.

Growth prospects in Tamil Nadu

If you look at Tamil Nadu itself, it is the fourth largest state in India and one of the well-developed in terms of industrial development and knowledge-based industries like IT. It has the third largest number of MSMEs in the country and provides a strong and reliable vendor base to large industries in the state. The state also enjoys logistical advantages due to the presence of three major seaports, airports, quality of human resources, a peaceful industrial climate and a positive work culture. Tamil Nadu is the only state in India to have all its major districts covered under the industrial corridor project. Industries such as aerospace, defence, electric vehicles manufacturing, textiles, and non-leather footwear are earmarked to be the thrust areas for growth. These are great avenues of opportunities for the finance sector, both at corporate and retail level.

Like God, now Wi Fi is available everywhere. The correct password to reach God is faith. Likewise, opportunities for the banking are also immense, but we need the correct password which is the ‘customer connect.’

Mr. D Lakshminarayanan

MD, Sundaram Home Finance

The banking sector is at a turning point. Twenty-five years ago, how did our banking sector look like? Computerization was still being debated. Private sector banks were on their way. Public sector banks were fighting with their legacies. It’s quite remarkable to see how Indian banking system has weathered all the challenges and still remain resilient. Twenty-five years from now, banking will dramatically be very different from where it is today.

The biggest threat for banking, as in any other industry, is the emerging global trend. Banking is facing a future marked by fundamental restructuring. But we can also assume that the banks will navigate this and become better and more profitable and will grow faster. In the next era, banks can realign to compete in new arenas, organized around customer needs. These arenas will expand far beyond the current definition of financial services. And they will also be hotly contested by a wide range of tech giants, technology startups and other non-banks. The banks that successfully manage the transition will use technology and data quite successfully to embed themselves deeper into customers’ lives with real time services that were unimaginable just a few years ago. The opportunity is great for those who move fast into this new future.

Banking is also losing its traditional advantages. Until recently, big banks grew profits and growth by applying synergies, economies of scale and accessing large pools of capital. While traditional banks have been convenient one stop shops for businesses and consumers, many haven’t evolved their products in a way that matches the tech driven pace of change in the other industries. Products such as the savings account loans and the investment advisory platforms look undifferentiated today and people increasingly feel frustrated by the financial fragmentation that banks have imposed on many consumer processes.

Banks need to identify and engage these customers as the new competitors are doing to compete. Most banks will need to embrace technology, cross industrial platforms and manage to coexist with technology. These platforms dismantle the barrier between traditional industries, reshaping the customer behaviour to fulfil their needs.

Platformization, the new mantra

Platformization is now becoming the new trend. Banks now compete with organizations that have the capacity and desire to offer any kind of financial services. Global tech giants have used their platforms to offer banking; and they offer it seamlessly to millions of customers. They have eliminated size as a big advantage to the banks’ winning customer loyalty, aggregating and analyzing data and building networks. One recent paradox that we noticed is that a lot of these emerging FinTech startups want to be like banks and get into lending operation. And banks want to be like tech companies introducing new technologies and new platforms. So what will the next phase of banking look like? The successful bank of the future will be defined as a network of various platforms. A few banks will dominate the spectrum of banking, but many will participate in that network. The transformation is not easy. It will take time but the leaders who move in fast will stay ahead of the curve.

Indian banks must move away from the existing systems for a more modular infrastructure. They must upskill employees to spur the development of new digital solutions and services; or a more robust cybersecurity layer to safeguard their customers from data threats.

As banks gear up with an objective of meeting these goals, the adoption of a modern banking platform is very crucial. This will allow the banks to personalize solutions and customer experience.

Three things banks must do

Three things that we see banks adopting in the next few years are:

Blockchain technology: Credit rating, investment banking, loan recoveries and every other activity that bankers are doing would be driven by blockchain, cloud computing and analytics, with less human intervention to achieve better accuracy. This will also, to some extent, protect the bankers from cyber related attacks.

Secondly, there will be fewer brick and mortar banks, going by the trend of the apps and super apps that are being talked about.

Digital currency will completely replace the physical currency in the years to come, which in turn would improve compliance and help the government in wider tax collections and better tracking of cash flows. The banks should now be prepared to face the major impact of their operations due to technology and government policies more than ever before.

The winning banks will find a way to create a customer experience, rather than selling mere products and services.

Mr. S Krishnan, MD & CEO

Tamilnad Mercantile Bank

Indian Banks started in a very small scale but today they have grown in size and are giving a big challenge to the global banks. It is not only the core banking but also the interoperability that has made a big difference to banking. Interoperability helps a customer to use his debit card of any bank in any ATM of any bank. When the bank started growing, naturally, the regulations also need to be enhanced. The Indian regulator is one of the well-respected regulators across the world. Today, the world is envying India on the digital front, particularly in the banking industry. The number of transactions that take place in the UPI seamlessly is amazing. We are working on introduction of digital currency in India while various countries including the developed countries are yet to come out with it. We are already able to do this in a closed loop. The banks are keeping pace and running in the race. Banks are the backbone of the economy. When the country grows, the banks in the country should be able to match the growth. There may be a large requirement of funding. Hence, there will be a requirement of big banks and big players who will be able to reach the global market. When they are able to reach the global market, they will be able to get cheaper funds and in turn can lend at a cheaper rate. The question is: Do we need only big banks? The answer is No. We need smaller and midsize banks also, who will be able to reach the last mile and understand the local requirements and strengthen the MSMEs. As Indians have got great strength in digital, there is going to be an excellent growth opportunity for every industry, more particularly for the banking, which will be mostly on the digital front.

Mr. R Radhakrishna

Chief General Manager, SBI

With the introduction of 5G, the way the medical field is going to improve will be tremendous. Such changes are going to happen in all technological fields, which in turn will help the economy to develop. Wealth generation is going to be much faster. With all these things, the way the banking is going to develop will see a lot of changes. Traditional bankers have started to lose their mettle from time to time. This started off somewhere in the 1980s and became more pronounced in the 1990s, when for the first time, the word disintermediation got established. The role of the bank got reduced because the depositor could have access to the borrower. He could invest in companies through stock market or other instruments that had come into play during that time. So, that is how the disintermediation started.

As we now delve deeper into this, this disintermediation has become much deeper. Every non-banker has also become a banker. Google is not a banker; it is a technical platform but it has become one banker. All technical platforms and apps become a bank by themselves. Today, the government itself has become a bank. They don’t need a bank in the real sense.

There are going to be a lot of challenges. That doesn’t mean that the banks will be out of business. The opportunities for them will tremendously multiply but in a different form. They need to be as competitive as the online platforms that are available, which are helping this disintermediation. With more and more technology coming in, the requirement of energy will be tremendous and the global economy has to find better ways of producing energy. Therefore, the amount of investments that will be required for creating these infrastructures will be tremendous. So, the opportunities will be there aplenty, but the challenges also will be there.

The biggest bane of Indian agriculture has been the fact that the farmers have not been given the due price for their produce, the basic reason being his inability to hold on to his goods which he has produced because of the monetary obligations he has – already he’s in clutches of debt. Therefore, he has to dispose them as distress sale process. If that basic thing is going to change, the way the value chains will develop for him are tremendous. He will get a better price for what he’s producing and you can just imagine the money power he will get. This will have a multiplier effect and the economy is bound to grow.  

Of course, the MSME sector will continue to be the driver of the economy to a larger extent than what it is at present. We are almost seeing the last days of the public sector organizations. Slowly, they are being disinvested and we are seeing more of and more of private entrepreneurial power coming into play in most of the sectors which were originally reserved for the public sector. So, with this, the economics of the whole process will improve and there is going to be more efficiency. There are going to be some pitfalls from time to time. But such a pitfall that can happen in such a growing scenario will not be anything serious, unless it has to do with the food shortages. This is how, broadly, the banking system and the economy will develop.

Development of the economy cannot happen at cost of environmental degradation. That is why we are hearing a lot about sustainability nowadays. Going forward, I am of the opinion that GDPs will not be calculated as we do it classically today, but the environmental cost will be calculated and detected.

The outlook is very bright because of the opportunities we have and the advantage on the demographic front. This is going to result in exponential growth trajectory for the economy. Banks basically are the proxies for the economy, let it be any bank. So they also will have the same trajectory as the economy. Of course, they have their own issues to tackle which will be different from bank to bank. But what we have seen in the last four or five years is the fact that the banks have developed more robust systems as regards the credit assessment. There has been a lot of course correction, basically aimed at improving the way the creditor is assessed.