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BW Businessworld

‘India Is A Great Place To Invest’

Cisco’s executive chairman John Chambers talked at length about the various initiatives of the Modi government like Digital India, Make in India and Skill India.

Photo Credit : Sanjay Sakaria

Cisco recently pledged an investment of $100 million to support the Indian government’s ambitious plan to connect thousands of its villages to the Internet and create jobs as part of its Digital India initiative. Following a recent visit to New Delhi, Cisco’s executive chairman John Chambers, in an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, talked at length about the various initiatives of the Modi government like Digital India, Make in India and Skill India. Edited excerpts:

Sometime ago you were quoted as saying that “you either invest in India or you might miss the bus”. Why do you think so?
That was a controversial statement (made by me) 18 months ago. The fact is India is growing, whether it is GDP, broadband build out, or digitisation. But 18 months ago many people would not have believed that India would transform. The exact opposite has happened. I think everyone in the world realises that India has the fastest growing economy of any size in the world, and hopes that it will remain the same in the next five years. The government is transforming itself; it’s also transforming the largest democracy in the world.

Modi is doing a remarkable job. I think it’s a great place to invest, whether it’s manufacturing or startups, or in its people. So for me, if you have not invested in India, you may have already missed the bus in terms of the first bus.

Do you think India is a lone bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economic environment globally?
Only partially! I think the US economy is the biggest in the world. It’s not doing great, but it is nonetheless seeing solid growth. The current GDP of the US is $16 trillion, and it is growing at 3 per cent per annum. However, India is growing at 7 per cent, and I won’t be surprised to see it growing faster. It is growing much faster than any of its neighbouring countries. And its growth can be much higher than any other emerging market as well as developed ones. So, in the Asia-Pacific region, I see India standing alone. Globally, the US and India are in the best position. This is the reason I am honoured to chair the US India Business Council, it was a lifetime opportunity for me.

How do you look at the Modi government’s various initiatives like Digital India, Make in India and Startup India?
I think PM Modi, along with French President François Hollande, has articulated the best view of what a digital country can accomplish. Look at the premise of Digital India and let’s break it down to the points you articulated.

Manufacturing India: India is where China was in the 90s. The Chinese leadership of the time asked Cisco that if it could come and be a part of China’s growth and help it develop its manufacturing systems for high-end technology, there could be a great partnership between Cisco and China. And we led a high-tech effort on that, and we had a great last 20 years in China.

As far as India is concerned, Modi sees things exactly the same way. Manufacturing is a core job creator, not for just Cisco. The government has done a good job of making this a level playing field for all high-tech manufacturers to come and invest.

Startup India: Startup India is so important because the majority of the job creation across the world will be done by small businesses and startups. It has to do with creating an environment where anyone can create a startup and if you catch this transition on broadband to every citizen in India in an inclusive approach. In the rural community, Andhra Pradesh is an example and because of the high-speed broadband connectivity that has been brought to every home. You suddenly could do an agricultural startup, you could do a retail startup.

We are proud to increase our investment in these areas to $100 million, and in startups to $40 million, and I hope that it will be a just another step along the way, and there will be a lot of commitments in the future.

Re-skill India: This is about broadband. This is about broadband to every school, to every village, and training people for what jobs will be like in the future, whether it is agriculture, entertainment or healthcare. We have a long way to go on that but it starts with a vision and broadband invasion.

How do you combine your role as Cisco’s executive chairman and USIBC chairman? How different are they?
One of the reasons I was so interested in USIBC is because of Digital India and a PM who really got it, and the ability of Indian and American businesses and their governments to work closely together. So while the elements are very similar, I have to keep the roles separate as we think about this. But they have similar goals. Economic growth in India and the US, and its inclusiveness. And I distinguish in every meeting and press conference whether I am talking as the chairman of USIBC — about the goals — or whether as Cisco chief — in terms of the approach.

You have said that PM Modi is among the top five leaders you have met in your entire life. Why do you say so?
Leadership is about having the courage and power much like President Clinton did in United States and President Hollande in France, Cameron in UK, Merkel in Germany and Netanyahu in Israel.

I put Modi in the top five. I think his ambition is every bit as ambitious as President Clinton’s was in the 90s, but I think he will have even more impact because India is a developing nation and therefore the economic opportunities, the job creation opportunities, the inclusive opportunities are the largest ever in history for a government leader. I believe in him very much, I will do everything I can to help as executive chairman of Cisco, and chairman of USIBC.

Do you see any parallels between PM Modi and CM Chandrababu Naidu whom you have met recently?
Yeah, I think there are parallels as well as differences. Both outline a vision, both are inclusive in their vision, both understand that it’s not a series of transactions, it’s how these transactions come together to where the real power is, both have dreams and aspirations for changing the lives of everybody in India, first from the Prime Minister’s perceptive and everybody in AP from CM Naidu’s perspective. Both attract talent around them.

So surely, there are similarities, but there are also differences which is actually healthy, and the fact that the PM told me to go look at these indicates his confidence in Naidu.

India has moved the WTO on the H1B issue. You have been closely associated with India and you are also a US business leader, so what do you think about this entire issue?

America should attract as many people as possible from India to come and work. And there needs to be a process that encourages that. I am a huge believer and I would like many citizens of India to come with education, to be part of our country, to stay, and I would personally issue an H1B visa to everyone who comes to America, especially to every MBA and PhD. I also think we have to be realistic about the present situation in an election year when the politics is pretty heavy on this one.

I’m also realistic that you have got to make decisions and move when it is politically the right time to do so, and so timing is really key.