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'India has been transformed. The country I go back to is not the same country I left'

July 14, 2008

Last month Indra K Nooyi, PepsioCo's first lady Chairman and CEO, became the first lady chairman of the United States India Business Council, a forum that has worked tirelessly to improve the India-US business relationship for more than 30 years. This is the speech the Chennai-born Nooyi delivered at the USIBC's annual meeting:

Today, we will talk about India, about what India might one day become. You see, in my lifetime, India has been transformed. The country I go back to is not the same country I left. Like a photograph of yourself as a young person, it is somehow the same and yet changed beyond all recognition.

India at 60 had traveled a long way from India at 50, let alone India at Independence. But a question that has been asked and that we will discuss today is: Where will India be by the time she is 75? I think she will be helping to shape the destiny of the world in the 21st century. I think India could be the most competitive of nations and I want to open today's agenda with some thoughts about the things that need to happen to make that possible.

That's also where we come in, those of us here in the United States-India Business Council. I have recently spoken about my idea of the good company, which I know is an idea shared by many business leaders. The central idea is that what is good for business and what is good for the world must go hand in hand.

The relationships that the USIBC are trying to foster are a very good example of what I mean. The USIBC understands that what is good for India is good for US and Indian businesses alike. This is not an organisation based on competition, but rather one based on partnership.

These are two countries tied by trade and tied by values. The fact that a new economic power is emerging which is based on the rule of law, governed by a durable economy and held to account by a free press, is a cause for great optimism about the future of the world.

In 1978 I left one of these great democracies to make my professional life in the other. In the 30 years since then, both have thrived. But while the United States of America was, by then, already established as a great capitalist power, India was a long way from being in the same league.

Indeed, even to have aspired to be in the same league with the US would have seemed antithetical to everything India stood for at the time. Nehruvian socialism helped to keep India intact through a difficult birth and, against the odds, democracy survived and flourished.

But its economic legacy was much less benign. The industrial policy resolutions of 1948 and 1956 were well-drafted and, in theory, permitted complete flexibility to encourage economic growth without unnecessary controls. In practice, their interpretation got lost in a bureaucratic maze.

And so, though it held together as a political unit, as an economic competitor India fell behind. The great talent of its people went untapped and an exodus of bright professionals began.

Image: Indra Nooyi at the USIBC event. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

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