Over the past weekend, the Ross School of Business hosted the seventh annual India Business Conference. The event featured panels of speakers from both the United States and India to talk about the changing business relationship between the two countries.

The speakers at the event included Natarajan Chandrasekaran, CEO of Tata Consultancy Services; Niren Chaudhary, the global president of KFC; and Yashwant Sinha, the former Minister of External Affairs and former Minister of Finance to India. Each event was moderated by a Ross faculty member who also oversaw question and answer sessions.

Business Prof. Guatam Ahuja, the conference organizer, said the conference was designed to cover a wide range of topics to inform current and future business leaders. It attracted a crowd of largely business students and local businesspeople.

MBA student Anand Markande, who was in attendance at the event, said this importance of emerging economies is reflected in the graduate curriculum at the Business School.

“Here, we have a lot of courses that have an emerging market theme,” Markande said. “This is especially true of India and China.”

On Friday, Chandrasekaran provided opening remarks to an audience of about 100 people at the Robertson Auditorium at the Ross School of Business.  He spoke about executive leadership and the role of software, data, and communication in business.

“There are distinct characteristics of the recent economic development in India, which are making a revolution in business,” Chandrasekaran said. “Access to data, the different types of data and the way you put that data to use, as well as the increasing interconnection of businesses due to communication, play a vital role in economic growth.”

Following his address, Chandrasekaran took questions from the audience, noting the importance of transparency and cybersecurity in maintaining a successful business, as well as the significance of the relationship between India and China.

“China is certainly a great market; it is a great place,” Chandrasekaran said. “Going forward, China and India need to look to see what we can do together to improve our business relations.  Both nations can look to each other to try and notice what successes that businesses from both nations have had in IT services and attempt to replicate those practices, and push for reform.”

Mukesh Aghi, the president of the U.S.-India Business Council, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, also spoke at the event about future business opportunities between the two nations.  

Aghi said because of India’s rapid urbanization and modernization, there will also be a need for foreign investment in Indian infrastructure.

“Roughly 400 million Indians have migrated from rural to urban areas,” Aghi said. “This is the largest migration in human history, ever. And that means that cities will have to build roads, hospitals, a better education and security system, housing and transportation system. That is a tremendous challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity for multinational investment.”

On Saturday, the conference featured panels on brand building in India, the textile industry in India, current issues in the Indian economy and managing the institutional legal environment for businesses.

Sinha, the featured speaker on Saturday, spoke about the economic turbulence in India following reform policies in 1991 in which India’s finance minister, Manmohan Singh presented reforms changing business regulations.

Sinha shared stories from his tenure as finance minister, saying that the two decades of economic instability in the country are largely attributed to lack of government support for economic reform policies.

“In India, economics and business is a slave to politics,” Sinha said. “Much of what has been causing our periods of economic troubles has been a lack of political consensus over the proposed reform policies. This is something that you can see in all major parties.”

Ahuja said the conference should be important for students in understanding the ever-growing international business world and globalization.

“We want to broaden people’s understanding of India, and the U.S. business relationship with India,” Ahuja said. “We have to prepare our students for the global marketplace, and since India is the second-largest population in the world, a very young population, India is rapidly becoming the country of the future.”

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