‘Our Focus Is On Job Creation’
Chairman and CEO of BNI (Business Network International), Graham Weihmiller emphasises on the need for connectivity among business leaders and service providers. In conversation with Avishek Banerjee, Weihmiller says that BNI is a unique value proposition for young entrepreneurs and start-ups. Edited excerpts:
Q: As you are aware, India is known more as a continent than a country with diverse interests and needs. So how different was your strategy to crack this market?
Yes, I agree that a lot of organisations need to customise their business model when they enter different parts of the world. But one thing which is unique about BNI is that our solutions are universal across the globe. One of the things I love about India is diversity (in tastes and needs). India is a massive economy and there is tremendous innovation in business growth and entrepreneurship. But I have not seen any need to change the model as we have grown here in India. That is because our model is an open source and works wherever it is supported. We first entered India about 11 years ago and have managed to garner 16,000 businesses here. We are just getting started and it is an exciting phase for us.
Q: How many chapters do you have in India and which one would you consider your turning point?
Every new chapter is a turning point as each one is unique in its own way. They all follow the systems that have been developed over the last 32 years. The largest chapter ‘Gladiator’ is in Surat and consists of 122 members. Before that, we had Calcutta as the largest chapter in the world. At present, we have 338 chapters across India.
Q: If I am not mistaken, you charge a one-time membership fee of Rs 30,000 from your members. Does that make your business model sustainable?
Although we do have sponsorships and other models, that (membership fee) is a dominant part of the model. As our members spread positive word of mouth about us, many like-minded business professionals approach us for membership. That automatically gives us enhanced business opportunities. Rather than going for advertisements, we look for thoughtful business leaders who want to do business with others. That is the way BNI grows not only in India, but across the globe.
Q: As there are a lot of changes happening at the macro level like GST, demonetisation, etc., how is your business impacted?
We are a fan of anything which supports business growth and are the advocate of business-friendly policies. I think whenever a change is happening (at the macro level), it increases the need for connectivity with other business leaders and service providers. BNI provides both, along with business training. Our goal is to support the thoughtful business leaders through times of change and growth. That is very much the case here.
Q: What are the current challenges in your business?
As we are expanding into tier-2 and tier-3 cities, building the requisite infrastructure to support our members is a major challenge. Although we have seasoned district directors, the way we are rapidly expanding necessitates us to impart the purity of knowledge.
Q: What is the strength of your chapter base in India and going forward, what are your projections?
At present, we have 338 chapters comprising 16,000 members. We will be having 17,000 members by the end of this year and 50,000 members by 2020. That is a stretched goal which can only be achieve by taking massive actions like doubling the size of regions. Our members collectively are earning around Rs 5,000 crore and are projected to clock Rs 7,000 crore by the end of this year. Our long term target is to have several millionnaires in India. We also want Rs 50,000 crore in terms of referrals being generated.
Q: Do you see enhanced business opportunities with young entrepreneurs?
I think BNI is a unique value proposition for young entrepreneurs and start-ups. They may have a great idea and can benefit from a group of very good business advisors and friends if they are finding their chapters. We will continue supporting them as that is a very important part of the economy. In the future, we will also offer business training to fresh university grads.
Q: As you have stated that those from the women fraternity account for 10-15 per cent of your total member base. Will the equations change in future?
We would like to see women members accounting for 50 per cent of total base worldwide. We are trying hard to get that and are very supportive of women–centric businesses across the globe. Being a father of two daughters, it is something which is very important to me that they (women members) have all the opportunities that they can have. We are also open to appoint members who are physically challenged. Our primary focus is on creating jobs and promoting economic development rather than just earning profits.