President's Address at the 182nd Chamber Day of MCCI, Sept 29, 2018.
It is on this day the Madras Chamber was founded in 1836, thanks to the visionary zeal of 18 business men who came together to drive trade and commerce from what was then the Madras Presidency. The Chamber’s relevance over the decades is not just impressive but extraordinary. Two World Wars, the Great Depression, India's independence struggle, the so-called Hindu rate of growth, the licence-permit raj, controls on foreign exchange and expansion, the reforms of the 1990s, and the bold transformational moves of the current government—the Chamber has seen it all.
The effort and commitment of many Presidents and Vice Presidents, Members of the General Committee, the Secretariat, and Members of the Chamber have ensured that, over these 182 years, the Chamber has stayed true to its PURPOSE, CORE VALUES, ETHOS and BELIEFS, while at the same time sensing and responding to the changing needs of industry and commerce not just in the state, but in the country and around the world.
Thanks to our friendly neighborhood historian, V Sriram, the Chamber brought out a coffee table book titled, “Championing Enterprise”, chronicling the history of the Chamber. I am sure that all of you present here will agree that the history of the Chamber is synonymous with the history of industrial development of Southern India, especially Tamil Nadu.
When Saraswathi, Sankaranarayanan and I met the Honorable Governor in person to invite him to the Chamber Day, we handed over a copy of coffee table book to him. He was so interested in the rich history of the Chamber that for the next 10 minutes he was engrossed in the book, skimming different sections, recognizing legends from photographs, and asking us questions on specific events and anecdotes.
Over the years, the Chamber has grown to over 600 members from across industries, including the who’s who of business in the State. From family run business enterprises to publicly traded corporations to multinationals to MSMEs and startups—we have companies from manufacturing, automotive, financial services, information technology, infrastructure, logistics and retail, as well as educational institutions, to name a few, as members.
The Chamber has played and continues to play a formidable role in policy making and advocacy, in driving thought leadership, in providing a platform for sharing best practices, and in enabling networking opportunities among members to drive business among themselves.
In addition to all this, over the years, the Chamber has carved a niche for itself in four areas:
1. Identifying newer business opportunities for the State through proactive research and studies. All of you know that the many years back the Chennai Port was the brainchild of the Madras Chamber. Today we are at advanced stages of releasing a study report on how to rewire the industrial estates in the State, and we are deliberating on how to incubate a FinTech hub in Chennai given the strong base of technology and rich talent in finance, economics and accounting.
2. Enabling capacity building through skilling and vocational programs, as well as a unique independent director’s forum and women director’s forum.
3. Driving sustainability through the Sustainable Chennai Forum and The Chennai Observatory, as well as driving sustainable education and skilling, which I will talk about shortly.
4. Facilitating transformation and change through programs and workshops including the transition to the one nation, one tax, or GST.
So far so good.
But with structural changes across businesses, the Chamber today has an even bigger role to play in ensuring relevance to its members, while at the same time, catalyzing them to harness the enormous opportunities unleashed by disruptive technologies. Automation, artificial intelligence, IoT, electric vehicles 3D printing, and additive manufacturing, to name a few, are set to change the entire business landscape and therein lies a new charter for us.
If one were to do an honest and unalloyed assessment of the past few decades, Tamil Nadu has done extraordinarily well in established industries, but has missed the bus in many new-age industries. To name a few—telecommunications, pharmaceutical and biotech, private banking (although we have done well in NBFCs, transport finance, and the like) are opportunities that went unexploited.
But the good news is we have two key ingredients—technology and talent—that any state or region in the world will give an arm and a leg to embrace and leverage. With the next generation of innovative companies likely to be crafted at the intersection of technology and business, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make it really BIG.
It’s not just Tamil Nadu but India has this opportunity and it would be a shame if we collectively miss this. Roughly 300 years back, India contributed to about 25 percent of the global GDP. Today it has diminished to single digits. As a country, we missed the opportunity waves of Industry 1.0, driven by mechanization, steam power and weaving loom; Industry 2.0, driven by mass production and assembly line; and Industry 3.0, driven by electronics and computers.
With the onset of Industry 4.0 where the industrial and digital worlds converge, we are uniquely positioned to make up for lost opportunities of centuries. I honestly believe that Tamil Nadu can take a lead in Industry 4.0, given that the State is one of the few in the country to have transitioned from the agrarian, to the manufacturing, to the services economy and has so many flourishing industries.
A lot has been written about India’s technology prowess and what we can do to further strengthen it. Given that the Honorable Governor is the Chief Guest for today’s Chamber Day—and as many of know, he is also the Chancellor of the state-funded universities, and Gopal Srinivasan is the Special Guest who puts money behind entrepreneurs with newer ideas, largely driven by technology, let me share a few thoughts on what Tamil Nadu and India can do to turbo-charge its talent engine.
1. First, the “affiliating system” of higher education, which drove consistent quality while building scale in the past, needs to be reimagined. This model worked well during Industry 2.0 and Industry 3.0. With digital disrupting every aspect of our life, there is a need for greater autonomy and innovation in higher education to develop multi-disciplinary talent. Having universities with hundreds of affiliated colleges following standardized approaches strangulates innovation and entrepreneurship. What the country today needs is an exponential increase in corporate-funded universities, deemed to be universities, and autonomous institutions that have the latitude to innovate. India today needs institutions of the future, not those mired in the past.
2. Second, we need a skilling movement similar to our freedom movement. Every skilled individual needs to participate in this movement. Individual Social Responsibility (ISR) can create much greater impact than Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
The curriculum in many of our educational institutions is out-of-sync with shifts in the marketplace and the faculty find it hard to cope with the velocity of change. Teaching-learning models should boost self-paced learning and assessment methodologies should focus on learning outcomes. This can be done only if employees—present and past—who are exposed to shifts in the physical-digital world enthusiastically participate in skilling at scale.
Honorable Governor, on the occasion of the 182nd birthday of the Chamber, I would like to share a decision taken at our recent General Committee meeting two weeks back. We decided that, over the next three years, the Madras Chamber will identify 50 to 100 industry leaders, including CXOs from member companies, to be on the Board of Studies, Academic Councils, Senates and Syndicates of Universities and educational institutions of higher learning and research. These leaders will passionately contribute to shaping higher education in the State. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Honorable Governor for setting the tone by nominating industrialists to the governing bodies of state-funded universities. Sir, we have taken the cue from you to do this at scale so that we can impact every facet of academia and truly bridge the gap.
3. Third, our labor laws dating back to a time when government and public sector undertakings created jobs, need to be unshackled. Some of the recent labor reforms by the government, including draft modifications to fixed-term contracts, are truly welcome. In a gig economy where fluid workforce, work-from-home, crowdsourcing, dual employment and moonlighting are gaining currency, rigid laws that are more regulatory and punitive—rather than progressive and catalytic—set us back. India today needs laws and reforms that are “employment friendly” rather than employee or employer friendly.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we can address these areas of education, skilling and labor laws on a war footing, India can truly bend the curve and significantly enhance its contribution to global GDP. And, Tamil Nadu can play a significant role in this as a state that leads in both technology and talent. On its part, the Madras Chamber will continue to play a catalytic role in helping make this happen.
It is said that employer brands of the future would be those that focus on agile learning and upskilling. Likewise, countries and states of the future would be the ones that focus on next generation education and skilling, as well as forward-looking labor laws.
With those inaugural remarks I once again welcome you all to the founding day of the Chamber.