Tuesday, December 04, 2007

ET CEO Cookout - Kolkata - My experiences

The ET CEO Cookout was supposed to start at 7pm and was held at ITC-The Sonar. For some unknown reason, ITC seems to have changed the name of the hotel from ITC-Sonar Bangla to the current one. Is it ITC believes that Bangla isn't Sonar (made of gold) anymore??!!

It was a unique experience for me to be amongst so many luminaries of the business world. Jairam Ramesh, YC Deveshwar and Percy Siganporia were all there. There was a lot of anticipation for the arrival of Buddhababu. He came in at around 7:45pm and that paved the way for the start of the evening's proceedings.

The ET executive director (missed his name) started off the proceedings with a short speech and introducing the guests. Buddhababu followed him with his thoughts on India's infrastructure deficit. Although, Buddhababu claimed that he had not time to prepare, it was pretty evident that he had a lot of information on it. The way he was rattling off data about infrastructure spends in India vis a vis China indicated he had spent a fair amount of time on studying the infrastructure issue. His speech mainly on China's infrastructure advances and where we are lacking behind. An unrelated observation was that he looked very serious through out the meet, probably a reflection of the recent troubles he and his state administration have been having.

Buddhababu's speech was followed up by Jairam Ramesh. Ramesh insisted that funding from Indian infrastructure development has to come from DI (Domestic Investment) and not from FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). He also wanted the government to act as venture capitalists in funding the projects and let the private sector manage the projects.

He was followed by Y.C. Deveshwar who said that providing a framework for incentives and dis-incentives was important for the private sector participation. His point was that companies like his (ITC) were not given any benefits for all the ecological good they do. Somehow, no one asked him what it would be like if his company was asked to pay back for the health damage its products inflicted on its consumers. Well, thats a separate debate altogether :-)

Deveshwar also said that conservation of the natural resources we already have are of utmost importance. That was a point that I fully agree with and also made in my solution.

Percy Siganporia came in next. Dressed in a body-hugging black suit & a black shirt with the top few buttons open and a Shah Rukh-ish pony-tail, he looked more like a film personality than a CEO of a conservatively managed company like Tata Tea. His speech sounded straight from the heart. He was the only speaker who bought in the topic of developing our soft-infrastructure like education, healthcare, social security etc. That to my mind was something that was worth taking note of and acting on.

After the speeches and some questions and general discussion where people generally discussed different perspectives on the topic, the CEOs and Jairam Ramesh proceeded to cook. The cooking bit was just a matter of symbolism. The food was all ready and the buffet table laid out.

The food was amazing. Right from the canape to the main course, all the dishes were in oriental style. I particularly liked the sushi perhaps because it reminded me of my meals in Tokyo.

I had dinner with the US Consul General and struck up a general conversation with him. He is a fairly young person and has quite a good sense of humour.

Overall it was a very good evening. Great company and some amazing food made it an evening to remember.

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