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2/16/2010

IBNLive : Forbes India: Why India's CE…

Forbes India: Why India's CEOs want Government jobs
Malini Goyal Forbes India

ARUN MAIRA The Mission: Member, Planning Commission. To help the government evolve better policies on urbanisation and industrialisation. The Difference He Makes: As a consultant, he can locate systemic problems and provide solutions. He is already helping the Planning Commission overcome its inward-looking mindset and open up to feedback from the outer world. Key Insight “The biggest thing that hits you here is the scale. Anything that you do affects millions of people.” THE INVITATION
PROJECT INDIA: Nandan Nilekani heads the ambitious national identity project.

Arun Maira was on a holiday with his wife. He was on a train in Prague when his phone began to buzz. In normal course, he would have been hard-pressed to recognize the caller’s soft, gentle voice amid the rattle and roll of the express train. It was the Indian Prime Minister on the line. Maira had been alerted about it just 15 minutes earlier. In fact, his idyllic vacation had suddenly turned topsy-turvy that morning with an urgent mail and a call from his college batch-mate and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Ahluwalia had come to the point straightaway. “The PM would like you to join the Planning Commission. You have rich experience in industry.” Both surprised and taken aback, Maira enquired politely, “It is an honour. Tell me who thought of me.” “The PM asked for you himself,” Ahluwalia said. “He would personally like to invite you. I am sorry to bother you on your vacation. But are you okay to take a call from him?” Maira was glad to agree but since he was out sight-seeing, he asked for enough time to rush back to the hotel. But not even 15 minutes had passed when the PM’s call came through. “Arunji, would you accept the invitation to the Planning Commission?” Dr. Manmohan Singh asked. “We need growth which is much more inclusive.” The PM also told Maira he would have a minister’s rank as a planning commission member. Shailesh Gandhi got his wake-up call some five years ago. Till then, he was running a successful packaging firm with more than 500 employees and a clientele that included many blue-chips. Then one day, an alumni meet changed everything for him. One of his professors chided him: “You used to be so critical about the society. What now? Things have only gotten worse. What have you done?” It tugged at his conscience. By 2003, he had sold off his business and become a Right-to-Information (RTI) activist. He reckoned he could shine the spotlight on governments and force them to be more transparent and improve their performance. In August 2008, Gandhi heard from his activist friend Arvind Kejriwal. The Manmohan Singh government was appointing four information commissioners. “Why don’t we nominate four, five names from civil society?” Kejriwal asked. Gandhi’s name was one of them. One day, he got a call from Prithviraj Chauhan, minister of state in the PM’s office, inviting him to come on board. He agreed. “Why not be an insider and make a bigger difference rather than just criticising from the outside?” he asks.

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Instinct told him it was the right place and the right time to be in. the co-founders of Infosys agreed that this was a significant opportunity for Nilekani and gave their assent without any hesitation. I am not unduly worried about it. given the growing security awareness around the country. “Some said I am mad to even consider a government offer. the government decided to set up a national grid that would link up all the intelligence agencies in the country. Yojana Bhawan. Of course. He had earlier entered the heavily secured building from the back door with his boss for the swearing in ceremony. Race Course Road. but Nilekani said he was interested in a more independent role where he could make a larger impact. So he reluctantly handed over the spiral note pad to the peon. He has been given a modest but spacious office at the commission’s headquarters. replete with a big dining table and the familiar red-green lights outside his room. the clarity emerged. When told about this. Singh first offered him a Planning Commission job. For a while he was torn. It also gave Raman time to make up his mind. It’s an honour.” he recalls. The moment didn’t last long. Maira had to step out for lunch. But his employers were supportive: “Where is the doubt? You have been called for national service. Besides. Maira was befuddled. Singh offered him the role of Chairman. Within a month. military veteran Raghu Raman felt he had finally got the break he had always aspired for. a position he had coveted for long. under the leadership of Home Minister P Chidambaram. The meeting lasted half an hour. Others thought it was a great opportunity. “Everything felt just perfect. Singh cleared the papers and informed the Cabinet. the peon outside stood in front of him with folded hands. The Difference He Makes: Renowned networking specialist. But he couldn’t find the car or the driver. Key Insight: “It is just that the processes here have more cholesterol in them than we are used to.php?id… 2/5 . but now he was going out alone through the front door.2/16/2010 IBNLive : Forbes India: Why India's CE… In June last year. What for? Sahebs aren’t supposed to carry any file. The government took its time to vet the candidates and complete its due diligence for the critical position. THE BEGINNING Maira’s first day at work turned out to be a huge culture shock. On June 15. Unique Identity Authority of India. Raman joined M&M in the 1990s and seeded its security business in 2000. told him. Leaving Infosys would be a big decision and he could do that only for a challenging assignment. a Mahindra-British Aerospace joint venture.” a proud Keshub Mahindra. He would report to the PM and have the freedom to bring the best minds from outside for the project. For a while he could not make up his mind. That same day. the chairman. The amount of difference a civil servant can make [to the country] is of a different caliber altogether.” Nandan Nilekani got his call from the PM towards the end of May 2009. there was no comparison between the government job and the M&M assignment in terms of money and perks. Raman was one of the candidates being vetted by the government to head the NatGrid. with a cabinet minister’s rank.com/printpage.” he said. Nilekani was on board.in. He became the CEO of Mahindra Defence Land Systems. His secretary had said that the driver was waiting downstairs. http://ibnlive. No one recognised him. “Once I gave my commitment. The first time that he stepped out with a spiral note pad. he met the PM privately at his 7. Understands building consensus is the first step to bringing big change. taking a plunge would mean giving up the thrill of leading a growing company. The PM asked him to meet him in Delhi two weeks later. In the wake of the 26/11 terror attacks. Speaking to friends didn’t help. That’s a legitimate part of democratic process. Within 10 days.” NANDAN NILEKANI The Mission: To launch the world’s most ambitious national identity project.

php?id… 3/5 . three peons (one for home) and a driver. Maira decided to peep in to look for his driver. The PM had always underscored the importance of taking states along in transformational projects. files are stacked on top http://ibnlive. I didn’t have to do this… It’s like doing a start-up all over again in a very different world. Human resource processes are just so archaic and frustrating. It’s a big risk. Today. Files still need to be approved on paper. His travels took him on a veritable Bharat darshan--including Jaipur. he was told. It was a monumental breach of protocol. The fact that we have done this outreach program has helped dissolve anxieties. It worked. That is when he took the decision unheard of in any career setting. Nilekani figured a way to deal with the risks. He then met Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for lunch for over an hour and a half. But only one is full-time permanent staff and the rest are on contract on a meagre salary of Rs. Gandhi realised he was understaffed and that would hobble his progress. getting the budget signed and finding the people.” says Nilekani. my team and I have gone and met ministers and secretaries. he has seven personal staff--three secretaries. “Sometimes I struggle with what to do with so many of them. it isn’t an easy transition to make. Since it was lunch time nobody was there at the Conscious not to throw his weight around.” His brief put him under no compulsion to visit the individual states. if you make an effort and go out to meet people. I was doing well and could have stayed on at Infosys till the age of 60. He decided to use his salary to hire four interns and top up the salary of the contract staff with some incentives.” Life as an information commissioner is far from easy. From our own accord. he has been able to make his team work 10 times as fast as any other across the country. “I was very comfortable in my world. If I don’t deliver.” he says sitting in a cramped.” Maira said. discussing the details of the project and what it meant for the people of Bihar. Drivers had a separate waiting room next door. Dehradun and Shimla--places that he had never been to before.com/printpage. “It was a part of creating the momentum for our project.in. Key Insight: “The frustration is that it’s the small things--not the big ones--that are holding up the government. The government has given Gandhi a team of eight. It was a newly created post. “Even the basic things are not there. he spent an evening with the secretaries. Most important touch-points for the public distribution system or rural job guarantee scheme are managed by the states. Patna. He also got his new staff computers on his own.” The man who made his own tea and hopped across to chat with his junior colleagues is learning his lessons in protocol and delegation. as if the sky had fallen. At age 66. Quite naturally. Take for instance the way files are stored. “I found that all over the world. “I am looking for my driver. he was wondering what to do next when the administrative head spotted him and promptly jumped to his rescue. 7. It has been a difficult 17-month journey for Gandhi. but Nilekani did so anyway.” In Bihar. Nandan Nilekani is candid about his big shift.” the chairman of the unique identity project says. IBNLive : Forbes India: Why India's CE… He wanted to go back to his room but the security would not let him in. Maira had shared the executive assistant with another colleague. “When you pay such pittance what do you get? Corruption is an obvious side-effect. My prior success in no way guarantees my assured success in this world. they welcome it. then the consequences could be large. The Difference He Makes: As a Right-to-Information advocate. He made two quick calls: he chose to retain his informal work style. Nilekani chose to meet them in their state to win their support for the project. So instead of meeting them in Delhi or sending them a letter. At Boston Consulting Group. He figured he had the financial cushion through his personal savings to take the shock.” he says. He spent the first few weeks organising the office and equipment. And he preferred to go out and meet people.2/16/2010 reception to help. With no cabinets. Bhopal. SHAILESH GANDHI The Mission: Central information commissioner. But that led to a huge flutter in the driver’s room. “I have seen more of America than India before this job.500 per month. dingy office with stacks of files all around him.

using informal link-ups. as the private sector grows in size. the issues of land reforms came up. Today. Some like JSW got it right by tuning into the locals. the land went back to the people in the form of a public infrastructure. cumbersome and a complete waste of time to tie and untie strings. For example. http://ibnlive.” he said. Finding a file isn’t easy. Key Insight: “This will not be easy. he’s relying on better feedback from outside. “The only way to do this in a democracy is to build relationship with people and work with them. His office at Vigyan Bhavan. but it has to do with the same infrastructure and the same set of people. As a starting point.” says Maira. With such a conducive atmosphere. He found it difficult. The message is coming out loud and clear that the industry has to be more effective in reaching out to people. is supportive and intervenes to untangle any crossed wires. to build a healthy ecosystem. “The quality of people that the commission needs to work with has to be different and deeper. He listened to what the industry needs and what would they require from the government. The Planning Commission is at the cusp of change. To help evolve an efficient system for the flow of information among official agencies. This was done ahead of the mid-term appraisal so that the feedback could be factored in.” he says. “It is like re-designing an aircraft while flying. There was a time when the government acquired land for public works.2/16/2010 of each other. Home Minister P Chidambaram. States like West Bengal stand as a glaring example of what has gone wrong and what has gone right. its role is changing to that of a facilitator. For years. IBNLive : Forbes India: Why India's CE… Gandhi didn’t like the two flaps and the strings used to fasten the files. The approval came at the last moment. nourish the industry and assess the nation’s future needs. New Delhi’s premier conference and office complex. As a heavyweight consultant. Today when the government acquires land for the private sector. there’s been a spate of applications on his table. known for his reputation for clinical efficiency.php?id… 4/5 .com/printpage. industry. it hardly matters that Raman’s official car is an old Ambassador that former President Shankar Dayal Sharma once rode. making them a stakeholder.” Something clearly isn’t acceptable. is up and running. His travel file had to be cleared. His joint secretary spent three days chasing the file which went all the way up to the prime minister’s office for clearance.” he says. Maira has a recipe to deal with the inward-looking culture. He asked for removing them. While people were compensated in some ways. Maira’s big areas of focus: urbanisation and industrialisation. His trip to attend a Right-to-Information conference in Bangladesh was a touch-and-go affair. ministries and people. CAPT. Since the time he took charge in December. Can make the two work together.in. Ideally he would have liked a much neater arrangement with filing cabinets but procurement declined to entertain the request. RAGHU RAMAN The Mission: Head. “I stuck and dispensed with it. rather than directing budgets. outlining the government’s desire for inclusive growth. detailing where and how much the government spent money. National Intelligence Grid. while at the same time. The commission needs new capabilities.” Last year when he took charge. it is almost like “public good for private gain. Raman has clearly had an easier time settling in. Therefore it is important for private enterprises to take people into confidence and give them a fair deal. But life isn’t about seeking easy jobs.” he says. The Difference He Makes: Has experience both in government and industry. “There was resistance which I could not understand. He is beefing up the quality and the level of engagement—by reaching out to all stakeholders. he had an interesting one-day offsite with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). it functioned as a budgeting organisation. He has had the freedom to put together his team with guidance from his colleagues. People from both within and outside the government want to work for him. THE NURTURING Maira has arrived at an interesting time. The focus has to now shift to shaping strategies and philosophies. physically.

Soon. he is talking to a diverse set of potential users like farmers. 20 state governments. Shortly after he took over. the only thing I would have talked about is RTI. “I now understand the government needs. His challenge is to make people feel that their lives will be made better and more convenient by getting the number. The databases that will feed into the NatGrid includes telephone records. It has cleared 5. (Additional reporting b y Mitu Jayashankar) http://ibnlive. He envisages a massive team of volunteers who would work with him on the project. He gave each of them 10 minutes to talk about one or two areas in which they would want the PM’s support. Shimla. Since we don’t know how to manage effectively we expect some higher authority to take charge. I also understand how a corporation functions. “People get elected (to local bodies) but they don’t [know] how to manage. “Some people might feel that I am from the private sector--and [wonder] will I understand the public space or problems of the poor or know how to navigate. He spends a lot of time evangelising the concept. “If you had spoken to me a year back. But 17 months after taking up the assignment. That’s a legitimate part of democratic process. That includes a workshop at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies. I think administrative reforms are far more compelling to make anything happen in the government. Skills at the local level need to be built. But change is on the anvil. for legal professionals.in.” he told the PM. “At the end of the day. Nilekani’s mantra is consensus building. People from some of the best organisations have responded wanting to help and work. “Why appoint them if you cannot equip them. This will require liaising deeply with a diverse set of companies and also helping deal with their concerns and needs. Raman is hesitant to discuss specifics. our biggest guarantee of success is if people want the ID.” he says. “This ability to draw upon private sector in a slightly informal manner is what I bring. which involves more work. Bangalore. urban poor and beneficiaries of the rural job guarantee scheme. Commissioners don’t have enough staff.php?id… 5/5 . telecom operators etc.” he says.” he says. conduct meetings effectively.” he says. the prime minister invited all the members of the Planning Commission. But he shares a flavour of his early days.” he says. So. to build consensus and get them engaged.com/printpage. “It’s just that the processes here have more cholesterol in them than we are used to. lodging and all forms of communications. Files are being digitized. “Soon India will have half its population living in cities. We need to much more actively guide the urbanisation policy. information commissioners will deal with only electronic files. “The big difference in private and public is that in private sector. By the time his term ends in 2012. travel. I am not unduly worried about it.” he says. “You can’t design detail top down. It is my ability to fuse the two together that helps. urbanisation is something of immense importance. your consensus building is within the frame of your own company – your management team and the board. he understands the institutional challenges better. Each locality needs to take charge. Given the sensitivities of his assignment.” he says.” says he.800 cases in 2009 as against the national average of 600. Papers have begun to be scanned. It’s a much more amorphous world than I am used to. he reports a positive response from his interactions. His brand and status help open doors but it cuts the other way as well. Maira picked urbanisation and climate change. many of them pro bono. he sent out 40-50 emails to people he knew in the private sector whom he thought could help in different ways in his assignment. Today. Gandhi will hopefully witness the change that brought him into the government. “The frustration is that it’s the small things–-not the big ones—that are holding up the government. Here it cuts across a whole different set of stakeholders who have different points of view. He said while the focus on rural growth.2/16/2010 IBNLive : Forbes India: Why India's CE… Several weeks ago. microfinance institutions.” The government now plans to achieve this by having a national programme for training local representatives and leaders. Nilekani has met regulators like RBI.” he says. banking transactions. Gandhi’s team is on a roll.” All told. agriculture is important. They will work on short stints at different points of time. for a bunch of voluntary groups and sociologists and another at the National Law School.