Which are some of the better books on Indian business and businessmen? A short list here
16 January is a date that has been saved by those involved in running/starting their own businesses. On this day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be launching ‘Startup India, Stand Up India’ in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan, an initiative expected to outline the kind of policy initiatives the government intends to take to encourage start-ups, thereby enabling creation of jobs and subsequent economic growth. Organised by the Department of Indian Policy and Promotion, it will have the top tier of industry and business in attendance, including those from Silicon Valley.
‘The ease of doing business’ has not exactly been a catchphrase in all the years since India became independent; in fact, through a large part of it, such a phrase would not have evoked anything but sardonic laughter among those caught in the web of regulations and red tapes.
Here, we look at some books that profile Indian businessmen or offer commentary on the art of doing business, both in the present and in times past.
1. The ones that made it then: Successful businessmen in India hardly write autobiographies, perhaps to avoid the dilemma of what to omit and how much to reveal. When authorised, biographies tend to become hagiographies or compilation of company data. If unauthorised, they tend to run into legal trouble, as journalist-editor Hamish McDonald found out when he profiled Dhirubhai Ambani in his book The Polyester Prince. McDonald’s Ambani and Sons (Roli Books) is, however, available in Indian bookstores and provides an interesting insight into how business was done in Dhirubhai’s times and the fraught relationship between industry and government.
An inspirational account but also one that tells a good story is Bakhtiar K Dadabhoy’s Jeh: A Life Of J.R.D Tata (Rupa) about the pioneering path walked by this industrialist-philanthropist-institution builder. Gita Piramal’s Business Leaders (Penguin India), with its profiles of legendary industrialists like GD Birla, Walchand Hirachand, Kasturbhai Lalbhai and JRD, provides an interesting perspective on business practices of another age. An exception among this slew of biographies, SL Kirloskar’s Cactus and Roses is a candid autobiographical account of running a business in pre- and post-independence India.
2. To enabling factors: The knack for building successful businesses is more pronounced in certain communities than other, and Thomas Timberg’s book The Marwaris: From Jagat Seth to the Birlas (Allen Lane) dwells on the factors that make Marwaris tick, especially in traditional business formats (hint: hard work, thrift and levelheadedness are more than words).
Indian Family Business Mantras (Rupa), written by Peter leach and Tatwamasi Dixit, functions more like a guidebook/primer for family businesses and ways and means of overcoming typical challenges. Of course, the spirit of innovation and ingenuity is not the sole preserve of businessmen, but pervades the spirit of the country, as Jugaad Innovationby Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja makes amply clear.
3. To a more level playing field now: Starting a business, or turning a small one into a business empire, is not regarded as a privilege anymore, available only to those who, thanks to the accident of birth, have been born into well-entrenched business dynasties. Contemporary publications reflect that shift: Rashmi Bansal’s Take Me Home (Westland) tells the story of 20 entrepreneurs through the prism of geography, who founded successful businesses in small town India, away from the opportunities metropolitan India might provide.
Nikhil Inamdar’s Rokda: How Baniyas do Business (Random House) profiles successful entrepreneurs through the prism of caste, looking at Snapdeal and Meru Cabs, Hindware and Bansal Classes to try and configure the winning formula.