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‘Our Focus Is On Eco-friendly Public Transportation'

Indian billionaire B K Modi, chairman of Smart Global, talks about his new home in Singapore and his new and past businesses

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B K Modi is chairman of Smart Group, a conglomerate with business interests in the mobility, finance, healthcare, education, entertainment and electric vehicles. Popularly known as Dr M, India-born Modi is settled in Singapore since 2012. A 'futureprenuer' with nearly four decades of business excellence, Modi has always shunned conformity in order to embrace the future. In India, he spearheaded successful alliances and joint venture partnerships with multinational corporations like Xerox, Alcatel, Telstra, Olivetti, Singapore Technologies Telemedia, Telekom Malaysia, amongst others. His Smart Group has businesses across India, Singapore, China, the ASEAN region, parts of Africa, UK and the US. Ranked 38 on the Forbes list of Singapore's 50 Richest people, Modi is also a social entrepreneur, philanthropist and an author. Speaking with Divakar Prakash on the sidelines of the South Asian Diaspora Convention in Singapore recently, he discussed about his new home Singapore, himself and his new and past businesses. Excerpts:

What according to you led to the success of Singapore?
The government's vision for the country and execution of policies has been key pillars for the success story. In the 1960s, Singapore neither had any natural resources nor finances. It was their ports that played a very important role in bringing economic prosperity. They modernised their ports by putting in place impeccable infrastructure with a service offering that no modern port had. Then, the government implemented a tax system based on revenue alone (for example, a $2 tax for every $100) which was really efficient. The Singapore port, due to its unique infrastructure and services, attracted a lot of businesses and companies. Thanks to robust economic policies that provided comfort and ease of doing business, Singapore became a great place to do business in.

Why did you choose Singapore as your base?
I was really impressed by their egalitarian system -- there is an equal opportunity for those who perform and have the potential to add value. The underlying principal is based on social equality. Singapore is one of the free market economies with robust policy framework in place for industries to prosper and attract FDI. Moreover, it's easier to control business from Singapore rather than staying in India and travelling across the country on business trips.

Can you throw some light on your new venture involving electric vehicles?
We are entering the electric vehicle segment under the brand name Smart Dreams. This is our initiative to provide affordable and completely pollution-free world-class transportation on Indian roads. This initiative is also environment friendly and has huge potential.

Tell us about your past and new initiatives?
Some of my early ventures have been Modi Zerox, Modi Telstra and Spice Telecom. Our fund is also currently investing in areas like clean energy, smart cities and healthcare. We have plans of launching a first-of-its-kind electric bus manufacturing facility at Modi City located next to Moradabad.

How is Smart Dream different from other organisations?
We are purely into the electric vehicles segment and the first Indian corporation to delve into production of such environment friendly vehicles. The best part is that our focus is public transportation. We plan to also get into electric bus and taxi segments.

Are you getting into the electric vehicles business all on your own?
Smart Dreams has entered into a collaboration with BYD (Build Your Dreams) Auto Industry Co, the world's leading electric vehicle manufacturer and an investee company of Warren Buffets. BYD has already set up an electric bus manufacturing plant in Sothern California in 2014. Currently, it has a contract to supply electric buses to the Los Angeles County. In the last few years, electric buses have become popular in multiple countries.

Can you describe in detail this collaboration as well as financing strategy?
BYD is looking to set up a factory to make batteries in India and we are collaborating with them. We already have a manufacturing unit near Moradabad. The total investment in the project could be over $2 billion. BYD has operations in 43 countries and 190 cities.

BYD is currently a technology partner for the Smart Dreams project; our company will make all the immediate investments. We have business plans for India. Our major task is to identify suppliers as well as talk to state governments for vehicles. We have begun by investing $100 million into the project. Future investments would come partly from internal accruals and partly from our financial partners. In addition, we have also invested about $30 million in a Singapore factory in the e vehicle vertical.

Are you getting any support from the Indian government in your initiative?
In India, there are issues relating to public health and pollution. The government's vision of a pollution-free and clean India overlaps with our product offerings. We have shown full commitment and have offered two electric buses to the Delhi government for free trial. The product is still in the testing phase on the commercial route pre-allocated by the Delhi Transportation Corporation.

Can you describe these buses in detail?
In addition to being electric, this bus is completely air-conditioned with first-class seating facility. It has a battery life of about 4000 recharging cycles and covers a distance of more than 250 kms with fully charged battery. The battery used is recyclable and environment friendly. The Indian government is keen to partner with us under the Make in India initiative.

Do you have any suggestions for the government?
Yes. They should extend duty benefits to clean energy technologies. This will increase the adoption rate. We also need a policy for electric vehicles including includes zero duty on manufacturing or parts import.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Divakar Prakash

The author is a Strategy Consultant with experience of consulting CEO level executives and key stakeholders in Real Estate , Government, Not for Profit, FMCG and Chemical sectors. Educated at the School of Management ,University of St-Andrews consistently a top ranked institution in Europe at Master's level in business Strategy, Corporate Finance and General Management

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