Try googling ‘leadership’ and you’ll get over 800 million results. Enough and more has been written about the essential attributes of leadership, and everyone has an opinion on what really goes into making a great leader. Yet there are few leaders who create large-scale impact and inspire an entire nation.
This is precisely why I invited Arun Kumar, Chairman and CEO of KPMG India, for a fireside chat at Kalaari Summit 2018. Arun has a wealth of international leadership experience, having worked in the public sector in the US as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and also as the Director General of US and Foreign Commercial Service in the Obama administration. Add to that, his vibrant journey across the world and his work in KPMG, and you’ll find yourself engrossed in what he has to say. Conversations with him are nothing if not thought-provoking.
Arun is excited about the growing entrepreneurial activity around the country. During our chat, we spoke about how it was encouraging to see that more people wanted to start up, rather than join big companies. However, he also believes that the country’s startup ecosystem needs to mature. I’ve picked up Arun’s take on a number of topics, including his aspirations for the Indian startup ecosystem, his take on the US-India corridor, and his advice to youngsters:
A bird’s-eye-view of the Indian ecosystem in the long-run
“I think India is already an entrepreneurial success story. We seem to forget the fact that we have iconic successes. Everybody keeps asking ‘where is the Google of India; where is the Alibaba? But I‘m not sure that’s the right question because India has its own success stories. I mean, take Nandan’s own company Infosys, it was a startup. That’s a great example of success that inspired many other Indian entrepreneurs.
“HDFC Bank is another startup that Deepak Parekh and his colleagues started. So, we do have great successes, though they may not be the same stories as we would see in the West or in China. I think India will find its own unique ways to build companies. You can already see that many large companies are beginning to tilt towards India, because they see the opportunity and the returns.
“I personally find the market here just amazing. I can tell you that I have not seen this kind of opportunity anywhere except during the dotcom days. I don’t think people realize this. I don’t know why my kids are not working in India and are trying to be entrepreneurs in San Francisco.”
The US-India partnership is a natural one…
“If you look at the fact that so many Indian-Americans are successful in the US, that too in almost every field of activity, I think it’s just a natural fit. The Indian market is just going to grow, and it’s going to become more attractive for US companies to be operating from here. I think every major US company is already in India. So, I think it’s got its own natural trajectory and I just hope that the governments don’t bring in things like the custom duties hike that we had recently. That affects all imports into India. I’m not sure that’s such a good thing because India can compete without that. It’s important for the country to export but also to import.”
On donning several hats
“I just enjoy whatever role I’ve been in. So right now, this is my favourite role. I’ve been here (in India) for only a year after spending 39 years elsewhere. But I can tell you that after the people and clients I have worked with — every single day has been great. There’s not even one day when I look back and say, ‘Oh! I am missing the blue skies of California!”’
The importance of focusing right
“I find that focus is extremely important, not just in entrepreneurship but even in anything else that you do. But it’s required all the more as an entrepreneur, because there are so many distractions in the way of building a company. So, my main advice would be to just have a relentless sense of focus on what it is that you are trying to do and working hard to execute it.”
Arun wants people to come to him with ideas, especially in the field of data and analytics: “We’d love to work with them! Maybe we can take them to our clients, and maybe they can solve our problems for us…Companies that are doing artificial intelligence, robotics process automation, data analytics — we want them. Data analytics…is very important for us. I mean, data was mentioned twice by both Nandan (Nilekani) and Amitabh (Kant). So we’d love to work with startups with great ideas in any of the areas that I mentioned.”
Reflecting back on my conversation with Arun, I cannot help but emphasise that everything he said points to how India is the fastest-growing and arguably the most accessible ecosystem in the world right now. It’s where the world will be. Arun’s aspirations and ideas give me hope and inspire me, and I hope it does the same for you!
Watch Arun Kumar’s full talk here:
At Kstart & Kalaari, we are committed to continue playing an active role in fostering India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and this year’s Kalaari Summit #ImagineTomorrow was one such endeavour where we got together thought leaders from different walks of life to talk about India’s dream of creating a trillion-dollar digital economy. Other topics at the summit include Connecting a Billion Indians, The Dawn of Exits: An Incredible IPO Story, Startup Sarkar: Making Bharat Go Digital!
Hear Arun’s views on shaping India’s Trillion Dollar Digital economy. I encourage you to share your thoughts on Twitter with #ImagineTomorrow and tag @Kalaari and @KstartIndia
Disclaimer: The article is the independent opinion of the author and does not represent those of Kstart or Kalaari.