BERKELEY, Calif. — Dozens of U.S.-based firm heads, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists gathered Sept. 8 at the Andersen Auditorium on the campus of U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business here to discuss the potential growth opportunities of the stateside business in India and the subcontinent as part of the second U.S.-India Conference.
The daylong event, organized by the All India Management Association, featured more than a handful of plenary sessions which included keynote addresses, fireside chats and panel discussions.
AIMA director general Rekha Sethi, VMware COO of customer operations Sanjay Poonen, conference chair and AIMA president Sunil Kant Munjal, and Consul General of India in San Francisco Venkatesan Ashok opened up the conference with a session discussing the way to unlock growth opportunities in India.
The second session featured a fireside chat with Indian American venture capitalist and founder of Khosla Ventures Vinod Khosla. In a conversation with Munjal, Khosla opened up to the audience while attempting to stay on point with the session’s title, “Imagine: Harnessing Tech to Make a Better World.”
In response to a question about his work ethic and what he expects from the people he works with, Khosla said, “My job is to push people to be their greatest. Good isn’t good enough; great is barely acceptable.”
The VC veered off the path a little to discuss his disdain for ties.
“Why are we wearing ties?” he said, adding that during a visit to the White House previously, he didn’t wear one. “The problem with ties is that you are subscribing to culture and tradition.”
Khosla isn’t a fan of sticking to the way things are, bringing the conversation back on point.
“Technology is coming at us from all over,” he said, adding that exploring the edges of innovation drives him. “Change happens at the edges no matter the industry.”
The edges encourage innovation and growth, Khosla said. Innovation, however, he said, is something large institutions have not provided in decades.
The best innovation a large company has come up with is the credit card in the 1970s, he said.
The outspoken Indian American entrepreneur said that India having initiatives is a “really, really bad idea.”
Additionally, he said that Indians should focus on versatility, claiming that seeing the recent run of success by Indian Americans in the spelling bee is bad. “Young Indians should focus on having an education on a broader scale. We want people to drive change and be flexible when it changes.”
He closed out his talk with a more positive view on tech and its influence globally.
“What is exciting to me is tech influencing business in ways you can’t imagine,” he said. Khosla said artificial intelligence is serving as a way to make jobs run more efficiently, including AI systems serving as better doctors and agriculture machines.
For India, Khosla advised the country, “Don’t copy (the rest of the world’s innovations). Leapfrog the world like you did with cellphones.”
Shashi Tharoor, a member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha and Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs chairman, followed up Khosla’s session with a keynote address on India’s soft power.
The politician spent the better part of his half hour-plus speech knocking the current regime leading India, the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Most notably from his speech, Tharoor said that “India is losing credibility worldwide under the current government … India needs to assess its internal problems before it can grow globally.”
That said, Tharoor concluded his remarks that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the country, recommending the business heads to seek opportunities in the country.
Other panels during the conference included a session about innovation for affordable healthcare featuring speeches by Varian Medical Systems president and CEO Dow Wilson and U.C. Berkeley business school Prof. Ganesh Iyer. Wilson, during his keynote, noted that his company is “on the cusp of many, many (healthcare) innovations to come.”
AIMA senior vice president TV Mohandas Pai and Genpact Ltd. founder Pramod Bhasin touched on the biggest opportunities for India in the next decade in another of the sessions, while NDTV consulting editor Vikram Chandra, IBM cognitive opentech group director Jim Spohrer and Facebook director Anand Chandrasekaran wrapped up the conference with a session titled, “Making Sense of the Random: Using AI to Discover, Solve and Create.”
The conference also featured several breaks allowing for the U.S.-based firms and their leaders to network with the speakers.