The export of engineered goods to developed markets is very limited

“Take” depicts need for someone to take the lead and “playground” refers to a place where you can gain advantage in a competitive environment.

First, let us take a look at the current export situation in India. We see export-oriented units in the country. That was a good sign and initiative. Yet people behind these companies are real pioneers who should be awarded for their efforts. However, even the big conglomerates are not able to succeed or have not tried to export so far. Soon with all the capital behind them, they may find themselves too late to be successful and share export revenues.

We see a few, but far too little, middle-sized companies with a clear vision penetrating into the world export markets. Others open their own or joint-venture operation in the US or Europe, soaring for several years and consuming a lot of invested money for the company’s management who dared to take the risk. Let me give you two examples of such well managed and successful exporting companies. See INOXVA – and ELGI – I am afraid that these excellent companies have too few followers.

What are the reasons that the engineering industry cannot make a substantial contribution to the growth of India’s economy? It can be explained by the timeline of the country. Decades ago, Indian companies lived in a protected environment with great barriers to entry and were able to get away with any quality of product they produced. Thus, the product quality was very low due to the lack of competition. This had initially generated a bad impression on all that India had to offer. After 1990, liberalization took place resulting in stronger competition. This had forced companies to adhere to quality standards.

However, the need for long-term investment in R&D is still weak. Very few companies have started this effort on a small scale while a majority of them are too busy keeping up with fast-changing technologies. The desire itself also plays a big role. Unlike a lot of other countries, India has a huge domestic market. The logistics, together with the risks associated with exports discourages them from engaging in exports.

There are many obstacles in place, but there are also many virtues and opportunities begging to be utilized. India, with its British heritage, closer culture to Europeans and Americans, and most importantly the ability to communicate is still not making headways. Should the Prime Minister – Mr Narendra Modi, in all his wisdom and experience, not revamp the existing and corroded institutions for export promotion?

Meanwhile, India’s independency is a lifetime underway and the economy is growing with the second largest pace in the world. The country can only sustain if more revenue is earned from export income.

More interestingly, the quality has drastically upgraded. I have never seen more companies adhering to certifications standards rigorously as in India. But does the world know that? Now ideas and opinions have turned. Is the Western world afraid that this giant India will permanently take over, like the Chinese industry has done in the recent past for consumer goods?

Forgive me that I am narrow minded and only look at the industrial development of India. But the copying phase is long over and if India wants to deserve a place in technology in the present world, much has to be mobilized and fast. Innovation is the key word, but that still seems like a faraway goal for India’s industry.

Vision and structure are needed first, but who takes the lead? Does that need the promotion by foreigners like me? I hope not!!! Let us hope that the masses of intelligent people in IT, who will soon be made redundant, can be reshaped to make a creative contribution to industrial development. That pool of superfluous young people is my best hope for the future of the country. I know that the majority of India still needs to be brought to a reasonable existence level first, but the money needed for that transition should come from somewhere. Most of my friends in India will soon retire, like me. Their export pioneering experience should not get wasted.

But nobody has any plans to popularize India and that is urgently needed. Don’t leave it to your government, its associations or any institution. It needs private initiative for the sake of all. But where do we start?

Probably we have to organize export master classes or webinars together for the younger successors of the industry in India. Think along the experience and inputs of your learning lessons of the past. It must be made possible to mobilize experienced people, address these problems and take action. 

My function is only as a distant observer and well-wisher, meeting many industrialists and bureaucrats alike. However, with almost thirty years of export experience for the Indian industry’s exports, I would still make a contribution to give Indian industry the “playground” the country deserves.

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