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Narendra Modi Is The Chief Sales Officer Of India: Dinesh C. Paliwal, President & CEO, Harman

Harman International Industries, an American subsidiary of South Korea-based Samsung Electronics giant, produces, designs and engineers connected products for automakers, consumers and enterprises worldwide, including connected car systems; audio and visual products, enterprise automation; and connected services. While expanding its Pune facility recently, US major’s global president and CEO Dinesh C. Paliwal maintains that he is gung-ho on India and believes Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the Chief Sales Officer of India. Below are the edited excerpts:

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How important is the Indian market for you? And how big are you betting on it? 

The Indian market is very important. We’re betting bigger than most American or European corporations would, mainly because I have a very good understanding of this market. I have known the market well. I was the chairman of ABB India. So I know that you need to come early in India and China. Don’t wait for everything to be ready. So we came in ten years ago and now we have nearly 10,000 employees and they are serving worldwide in R&D development for mission-critical large complex programs being developed here. 

It is the era of disruption. So what kind of disruption do we expect in your industry and how are you gearing up for that?

We are helping companies like Ola, Uber, etc., to disrupt themselves. This is what Ola would need for content and integration and how we are disrupting by which they are going to benefit from. We are designing the current digital cockpits at a global level. We were the first company in the world to be awarded a 5G telematics programme by BMW. Since Harman is now a part of Samsung, we have the technology. Also, we have knowledge of the automotive industry.  When it comes to 5G technology, India is not in the front as the 4G itself is still not properly functioning here. Being a hundred times faster than the 4G technology, 5G technology is working very well in China, the US, Or Europe.  

The current government is talking about e-mobility. What are your views on electric vehicles and what kind of opportunities are you sensing from this vertical?

E-mobility is going everywhere in a very aggressive way. China is perhaps the fastest among the rest of the world.  What we do is we connect the car to the cloud and also to the content. We connect the car with cybersecurity also. We build in real-time mapping information, real-time traffic information that we do, which has nothing to do with electrical or gas car or a bus or fleet. That (EV) technology is coming of course. With e-mobility, which we are already working would be even more important that cloud-based and we call it OTA i.e. Over the Air Update. If something goes wrong on the phone, no problem as it is only a headache for two hours. But if something goes wrong in your car, it is not a headache. It's a life-and-death situation. That's the technology we got from this tech company in Israel. So that's going viral for e-mobility.  For a company like Tesla, all their major sub-systems in the car are constantly kept up-to-date using Harman technology. Toyota, Daimler Benz, VW worldwide, anything involving the electric car we are collaborating.  But we don't intend to go into making batteries. 

So, in your view, should e-mobility replace petrol and diesel engines in the future?

Electric mobility is lighter in footprint, easy to maintain and really gives you a lot more space.  But you cannot throw away the 1.1 billion cars of the world from the road today and every day we are having another hundred million to two hundred ten million cars. The average life cycle of a car is 10-15 years worldwide. So, we will have a combination of cars on the road 10 percent/20 per cent/30 per cent by 2030, out of which 35 per cent would be electric cars and remaining gas cars. But ideally, it should be implemented by 2035-2040 in India.

Don’t you think rising trends like protectionism will hamper your export initiatives from India?

 You know geopolitical tension is one thing which we all have to live with and has always been around. It’s nothing new and will always be around. In the end, the business has no boundaries. I've always said Harman stands for free and fair trade, which means no boundaries. We're doing incredible development and going around the world. We do a lot of development in Germany which is going around the world.  But at the same time, the trade has to be fair and has to be sustainable, right? So that's where these some trade practices in the past between certain countries were perhaps not fair. So, they've been renegotiated. But I keep myself out of that, frankly. India as a country with incredible growth and for almost everything all global companies and countries would want to work with Indians just like they want to work with China. You cannot avoid China and India. These two countries are too important for everybody in the world. Therefore, these discussions are political, they happen but they get negotiated.

I learn that you are a big fan of PM Modi …

I like strong leaders. I really appreciate the fact that he believes in certain things and that he doesn’t compromise which is great. He likes transparency. I grew up in the country, so I know that we lost a lot of time. We deserve better. I think Prime Minister Modi is pushing for accountability and transparency, and he’s also pushing people to take risks to grow technology and to have global trade. And he has put India on the world map. For me, he’s a Chief Sales Officer of India. When the Prime Minister of India goes anywhere, he positions India with the highest pride and passion that is very important. That is my job when I go around the world, I position Harman as its CEO. He’s a chief executive officer of the country and he is doing a fantastic job. When he comes to California and the Bay Area, he is seen sitting with Mark Zuckerberg, and with Google and Microsoft even Tesla. He is saying, ‘Listen, why don’t we collaborate? Come, I’ll help you grow your businesses. This is what successful country Presidents and Prime Ministers do. So, I’m very happy with what he’s doing. Second, in Modi 2.0, he has put up a very good cabinet. Yes, I know NirmalaSitharaman because I had a lot of dealings with her when she was the Commerce Minister and I was operating from the USA. People like her. She comes from the corporate world, so she understands what the needs of a business are.   Finally, we have a Prime Minister who is trying to relentlessly push certain programmes and reforms. A lot has been done in the ease of doing business in India and transparency in the last five years.

So, have structural reform like the GST, the digital push and demonetisation gone in the right direction?

I think so. How is your life without digitization? You do everything with digital and social media. That’s what he’s pushing. People were stashing cash around and doing business. That’s why; the black economy was twice the size of India’s economy. He’s going after that. I think what he’s pushing is very highly appreciated worldwide. You need a standardised tax system. You need continuity, you need consistency.  The GST is a reform that plugs all the loop-holes in the tax system so that our treasury starts to collect more taxes. Right now, how many people pay taxes? So again, I’m hoping our new Finance Minister would do many more reforms.

There is a growing perception that these new technologies like AI, robotics, cloud computing, blockchain, etc., are going to take away jobs rather than create them. What are your views on it? 

My view number one is if you look back 50 years, every 10 years we had something monumental happening with the arrival of every new technology. When the internet also came, everybody thought ‘With the internet, a lot of jobs will go away’. So, all I have to say is, the world has more employed people today than 10, 20 and 30 years ago. So, we have more people employed now. So, with the arrival of these technologies, they create new jobs.  With AI, we are able to understand our psyche which nobody knew before. So, we create more jobs where people have more things to do. So, humans also need to re-train all the time. In an interview with somebody, I said, look, we at India need big-time skill training but if we try to train everybody to become MBA and a bachelor's degree in engineering, that's not the solution. We need more electricians, plumbers, welder, etc. All the statistics(based) research has come out that AI is going to displace monotonous jobs, but a lot of ingenuity related where human psyche, the EQ requirement, a human will still be very heavily involved.

So, what is your vision for India when it comes to contributing to global operations of how much do you think India will contribute to a global business going forward, Harman? 

Actually proportionately much larger than many other companies I know of. But I sit on three other company boards and unlike most companies, Harman has a lot more proportion than our current business here with the support of a global R&D design architecture, which is a very high-end work and that will continue because this thing is so deep now in our DNA that our operations in Germany, the United States, and other places rely on India.