Saturday, 17 November 2007

The Indians Are Coming

IN the Filipino imagination, when one hears the title being spoken, it would probably connote images of American-Indian braves riding down the hill and encircling a convoy of pioneers, shooting at them with their arrows as the settlers desperately try to defend themselves with their hunting rifles.

And then from out of the blue, to the sound of the bugles, arrive the cavalry to chase the bad guys and rescue the beleaguered pioneers to safety.

Today, however, it is Indians of the real kind who are coming.

Not the ones dressed in feathers and war paint, but those who actually come from the country of India.

They used to come to the West to work in its factories. Some arrived as health care professionals in search of greener pastures. But whatever they came as, they came for one thing—a better life. Then, India was a poor and absolutely difficult country to live in. People were escaping their poverty in droves, to the welcoming shores of the affluent West.

Today, they come with a different agenda.

No longer seeking the material comforts of faraway lands, they come to conquer. No, not conquest as in taking over countries and establishing dynasties or anything like that. They come to take over businesses, or establish their own in distant shores.

Forbes Magazine reports that the top 3 Indian billionaires are now worth more than their top 40 Chinese counterparts combined. And they go on further to say that in the world’s top 10, with the dollar going the way it is, there will soon be more Indian than American billionaires in the group.

This may not mean a lot to most people. After all, businessmen are businessmen, wherever they happen to be from.

Being Indian, American or Chinese may indicate more an accident of birth rather than anything of great significance, as they tend to share the same characteristics, drive and ambition, irrespective of where it is that they came from.

While this is partly true, it is not an entirely correct conclusion. It is significant that in today’s global economy, it is entrepreneurs from the erstwhile “Third World” who are advancing rapidly in terms of wealth and affluence.

It is even more significant for us Filipinos because the ones who are succeeding look and act more like us, than the white Westerners who used to be the ones we exclusively looked up to when it came to building and creating wealth.

When Lakshmi Mittal’s group took over France’s Arcelor, it was not unlike the braves riding down the hill and firing arrows at the hapless “les pioneers.” He came and delivered a clear and unequivocal message to France and the rest of the developed world-–our time has come, and we are here to stay.

And yet while Mittal Steel was busy snapping up France’s Arcelor, China’s Lenovo acquiring IBM’s PC business, and Reliance Industries rapidly expanding its portfolio of businesses overseas, our own Filipino conglomerates have been unusually insular, and sticking closely to the home front.

Alright, San Miguel is alive and well in Southeast Asia, Chow King now has outlets in many places in Jakarta, and the Indonesians now munch on the same Jack and Jill snack favorites that we used to enjoy as kids.

But these are nowhere near enough.

Encircling our wagons and waiting defensively for the braves to arrive does not anymore qualify as a viable and sustainable long term strategy.

In a world increasingly without borders, and in markets now devoid of nationalities, only those with truly great ambitions will succeed.

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, November 17, 2007

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