Leaders in India was the name of the business forum conference I attended in Mumbai last week. With some humility I could not help but think that most of us did not really qualify that title. Then again, the only criteria was that you had to be a CEO.

In my humble opinion there were too many foreign speakers/panellists in the conference. There are so many excellent Leaders in India that I failed to understand why they had to be flown in from abroad. There is often a dose of self opinionated arrogance of which, according to me, one has to be extremely cautious.

Leaders in India

Leaders in India

Steve Forbes, of Forbes magazine, who I had a chat with after the conference gave a very good talk on India, obviously well researched by his staff in India. Donald Trump Jr also spoke well but speakers like Shivkumar, MD of Nokia, proofed that we have excellent talent present in India and the information he presented then came across much more credible.

Having said that, without a doubt my day was made when Tom Peters took to the microphone. Yes, the Tom Peters of “In Search of Excellence”. I am a great fan of his books and in particular his later works such as the colourful Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age. Not that he had much news to report as he admitted freely himself. In actual fact, Tom confessed that he was just repeating what he has been preaching the last decades: the biggest threat of large corporations are they themselves. You only have to look at the top 100 companies and see the same list a few decades later to understand the truth behind this. It was just a sheer pleasure to see him walk all over the room and the conviction in the way he was expressing himself. The thing I appreciated a lot was the total lack of arrogance.

To proof Tom Peter’s argument wrong for his own company was Adi Godrej. He highlighted the organisational structure of the companies bearing his name only to understand why he is not suffering the self destruction Tom is warning us about. In many ways Godrej and the Tata’s have set up a corporate structure that is extremely enlightened and an example of how western companies should organise themselves. They were already participating in the areas of corporate responsibility before this term was coined.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, the famous First Lady of Biocon, gave a colourful insight in how she had become an accidental entrepreneur. Over a decade ago I already had the pleasure of dining with her in one of north Goa’s restaurants. Strangely, she must already have impressed me a lot at that time as I still vividly remember that dinner. Mind you, being a zoologist by training myself I appreciate the difficulties and the challenges of setting up a pioneering company the way she did. Hat’s of to her.

There were a number of other interesting aspects mentioned of which right now I only remember Hilton’s remark that the most important lesson he had learned was that “the shower curtain should be hanging inside the bath tub”. Steve Tappin, author of “The Secrets of CEOs” presented a good summary of the two days though most of it was lost on me due to the beautiful background music they played. After two very long days it was the stage setting of reflection. As Shri shri Ravi Shankar once said at a conference I attended at the European Parliament “let’s meditate”. I am going to do just that this week albeit not in his way.

From the foothills of the Himalaya, the beautiful Naini Retreat in Nainital to be precise, I would like to wish you all a very, very happy Diwali.