Optimism about India playing a major role in global innovation was the prevailing opinion at a conference Nov. 18 here at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School West campus.
Wharton School Dean Thomas Robertson delivered the opening remarks in a video message from Philadelphia. The West Coast event culminated Wharton’s “India as a Pioneer of Innovation” conference, which began on the Penn campus 14-15 and featured speakers including ICICI CEO and managing director Chanda Kochhar and Sam Pitroda, adviser to the prime minister of India and founder and chairman of C-SAM.
Inventus Capital Partners managing director and TiE co-founder Kanwal Rekhi keynoted the San Francisco session, which was preceded by two panels covering India’s advantages for innovation and its legal and regulatory framework.
Robertson rattled off UPenn’s claim to fame as a center for India and South Asia studies, citing the “scores of (Penn) faculty working on India,” the plethora of students from India attending UPenn and the university’s cooperative role in helping advance the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and the new Indian School of Business in Mohali, Punjab.
“It is a high priority for us,” the dean emphasized.
Penn’s South Asia Center was one of the earliest federally recognized National Resource Centers for the study of South Asia when it started 48 years ago.
Penn’s Center for the Advanced Study of India is the only U.S. research center dedicated to the study of contemporary India.
Knowledge@Wharton, the university’s excellent newsletter, has more than 300,000 subscribers in India, Robertson pointed out.
Harbir Singh, management professor and co-director of the Mack Institute for Innovation Management at the Wharton School, moderated a panel on “India’s Role in Global Innovation.”
Wharton’s Accelerated Development Program in India, a certificate program for high-potential business leaders, has now awarded certificates to more than 300 executives in a little over a year, the Indian American professor said.
Prashant Kale, a professor of strategy at the Jones School of Business at Rice University, and Singh have collaborated in research on India’s powerful business groups.
These groups, including Reliance, Tata Group, etc., account for 50 percent of India’s total sales and 80 percent of its market capitalization, he said.
One advantage they have over smaller companies is easier access to venture capital for affiliated start-ups, but innovation might also be stifled by the layers of traditional management.
Kale said their research is still inconclusive as to whether the business groups can truly lead in India’s innovation push. Prasad Setty, vice president of people analytics and compensation at Google, focused his presentation on three India-born leaders at Google.
Members of Congress who are dragging their feet at passing an immigration bill to include making it easier for highly skilled immigrants to get visas to come to the United States might have learned something from Setty’s presentation.
Pavni Diwanji, director of engineering at Google, joined the company after founding Kendara and Mailfrontier. She leads Google’s anti-spam efforts.
Lalit Katragadda, a Google engineer and country head, India products, was the initial mover for an Indian research center and developed Google Map Maker.
Sanjay Ghemawat, Google’s 62nd employee, is one of two senior fellows at the company. He is co-architect of Google’s core infrastructure.
It makes one wonder which departments at Google are not being led by an Indian American immigrant.
Vivek Wadhwa, BusinessWeek and Washington Post columnist and vice president of research and innovation at Singularity University, debunked some misconceptions about India.
He pointed out that while India’s universities are failing to produce enough Ph.D.s and technology school graduates ready to enter the work force with the skills they need (“35% of tech school graduates are unhirable,” he asserted), companies like Infosys have boot camps that can retrain them in months.
India’s IT companies have “perfected the art of workplace recruitment,” he said. “They can develop managers in three-four years,” he added.
Another myth is the perception that there is a high turnover rate at India’s IT companies. His research has found that employees stay at those companies for five-seven years, compared to two-three years on average in Silicon Valley.
Wadhwa also detailed India’s competitive advantage in fields including drug development and discovery, cell phones, solar energy, water sanitization and Aakash, its low-cost computer.