“The effort will now be to ensure that the hardware sector gets what it deserves from the investors.”

Ceo-1.jpg (19845 bytes)—Ram N Agarwal,
President, MAIT.

The annual change of guard at
the Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology (MAIT) has put Ram N Agarwal,
President, Wipro Peripherals, at the helm as its new President. Agarwal takes over the
organization at a time when MAIT is rediscovering its voice at the center. The Prime
Minister’s IT Task Force is now working on a new hardware-based report that is expected to
give manufacturing a fillip. This has come about largely due to successful lobbying by the
old MAIT team headed by Manu Parpia. Speaking to Surajit Agarwal immediately after donning
the mantle, Agarwal said his role is to carry on the gains of the previous year, as well
as build a base for increasing manufacturing in the country. Excerpts from the first
interview of the New Man at MAIT.

You have taken over at a time when
hardware has come firmly into the limelight. What is your aim for the coming years?

Basically in MAIT, we have completed a part of the visioning exercise. This has been done
in the previous year. Now, for much of the next year, it is time for action. My role will
be to take the vision that has been worked out in the past and convert it into action. A
lot has already happened in the past one year and our aim now is to grow 15x in eight
years. At the same time we want to at least double the business velocity.

This is an ambitious target you
have set for yourselves, but what are the specific ways in which you hope to achieve it?

Basically, we have identified six different strategies, or action points if you like, that
are going to help us make this happen. We have set up teams that will look into making
these specific action points happen. For example, a major focus area for us is design.
This has been our thrust for much of this year, and in the next year too, we will continue
to focus on this area. The design strategy group will be headed by Manu Parpia, as design
has been an initiative launched under his presidentship and we would like him to continue
to lead the initiative. The second action group-of which I will be in charge-will deal
with setting up ‘ITplexes’ in different parts of the country.

This is a new focus area for MAIT.
What exactly will these plexes do?
Well, the idea is to create
huge promotional areas within the state which are basically IT promotional zones. Here, no
government licenses will apply. Companies should be able to come in with their investment
and straightaway get down to the serious business of starting off their production units.
They will not be bothered about running after different ministries trying to get various
aspects of their projects cleared. Since the focus of these plexes will be on
manufacturing, we envisage individual investments to the tune of Rs 100-200 crore. The
idea is to make these zones free from the normal uncertainties faced by businesses
elsewhere. Once the uncertainties go, the hesitation to invest will also go away. These
plexes will be modeled on the lines of Singapore and Subic Bay. We have already taken up
the issue with the Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and they have been
pretty enthused by the idea.

But are companies willing to make
that kind of investment in manufacturing when the volumes still do not justify the kind of
manufacturing facilities you are talking about?

This was true some time ago but now things have changed. We have achieved global-scale
volumes in some areas, and if we are talking about a million new PCs this year then you
can see that the volumes are coming in fast. So the volumes are there, what is now needed
is the right climate to make the investments happen.

What are the other issues that you
will be tackling?
The other issues that have
become important over the years and that will receive much of my attention this year
include the need for greater interaction with the financial institutions. Somehow the
industry has not caught the fancy of investors. Hardware might not be as lucrative as
software, but the sector is generally doing much better than many other industry segments.
So there is no reason why the stock should not be attractive to investors. The effort will
now be to interact more with financial community and ensure that the hardware sector, too,
gets what it deserves from the investors.

As far as health of the industry is
concerned, I find the competition sometimes tends to get unhealthy. So we plan to come out
with a code of conduct for our members which will ensure that the competition will at
least remain healthy. Apart from this we have a number of working groups that will
interact with the government, the NRIs etc. The idea is to get the action going.

While you do have a number of
plans, do you think the secretariat is strong enough to take on the number of different
projects?

We will be strengthening the secretariat to take on the additional work. You see,
traditionally MAIT has been a President-led organization but we are now looking at
becoming more secretariat-led. Toward this end I will be doing all I can to strengthen the
secretariat. In future MAIT has to be led by the initiatives of its secretariat.

But don’t you think you are
hampered in your efforts by a shortage of funds? After all, with just around 150 members
how much can you do to build up a strong secretariat? Or do you also have plans to boost
membership?

The low membership base when compared to other industry associations is not really an area
of concern. Because if we are successful in what we do then a lot more companies will come
to become members of the association. We need to succeed in our missions and the
membership issue will resolve itself automatically.

MAIT is looking at a merged
association or federation with NASSCOM. What is driving this initiative?
It’s not only with NASSCOM.
Over the last year we have made attempts at coming together as a unified association with
other bodies like ELCINA, TEMA etc. The main reason for this line of thinking is because
you can’t have different approaches for the same industry. We have teamed up with NASSCOM
in the past, especially for exhibitions, and we will continue to work with them in future
too. The need of the hour is a combined representation and we will do whatever is
necessary.

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