Business as unusual

A small team of youngsters is making the world come to India for doing business

74-deepak-bagla Driven by passion: Deepak Bagla (standing in the middle) with his team | Sanjay Ahlawat

MANY INDIANS STILL have fond memories of the PAL-Peugeot 309, though the car ran on Indian roads just for a brief time. Peugeot was one of the first multinational automobile companies to come to India after the liberalisation of the economy, but a bitter spat with its Indian partner, PAL Motors, and labour unrest ended its game in 1997. Now 20 years later, the French carmaker is back. And, the credit goes to Invest India, the government-backed investment promotion agency.

In January, Peugeot announced that it would start selling cars in India in 2020. While this news was splashed all across, few people knew about the hard work behind the scenes that brought the company back.

Invest India is working closely with state governments, government departments and embassies. The aim is to set up investment promotion agencies in all states.

In September 2015, an article in the Financial Times about Peugeot looking to expand to new markets caught the attention of the Invest India team. The company was looking at Morocco, Iran and China. Rothschild, the consulting firm advising Peugeot, had an Indian, Vikas Sehgal, working on it. The Invest India team contacted him, but he said it would be difficult to get the French back because of the bad experience in the previous stint. But the team got an opportunity to make a presentation in Paris. The presentation impressed Peugeot, and after several rounds of discussion, the investment fell in India’s lap.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry and the National Association of Software and Services Companies hold 51 per cent in Invest India, and the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion holds the rest. While the deals that it facilitates hog the headlines, the Invest India team prefers to remain behind the scenes. “We have kept it under the wraps, under the radar, because we wanted it to be a solid organisation which only speaks on results,” said Deepak Bagla, CEO of Invest India.

Suave and polished, Bagla is quite unlike a government employee. He has worked with the likes of World Bank, Citibank and RPG Enterprises, and still looks like an investment banker. It was the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that changed his life. He was at The Oberoi, when the machine gun-wielding terrorists attacked the hotel. After killing six hostages on the 18th floor, they had parked themselves in the room next to his. “That changed my entire perspective,” he said. “The only thing I asked God was, ‘let me see my kids’. Back then, I decided that I would no longer work for all this. I thought I would work for an NGO, and this came up. So it was not for money. It was to give back.”

Bagla has built Invest India brick by brick. It was a defunct organisation in 2014; now it is among the top investment promotion agencies in the world. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development ranked it the number one IPA in 2016.

Bagla attributes the success to his team. “Each of these kids has taken 5 to 95 per cent pay cut,” he said. “It is purely this passion to do something for their country that has brought them here. After all, why would IIM Ahmedabad’s gold medallist join me. He had a Rs 40 lakh offer from Bain.”

Varada Taneja, Roshni Sagar and Ravneet Mann—all in their 20s or early 30s—manage country relationships at Invest India. Their responsibility entails managing ten countries in western Europe that are looking at investing in India. Armed with education from premier institutes, they have dropped plum offers in India and abroad. “The environment in the government is quite encouraging for youngsters,” said Taneja. “When you see an actual difference being made because of your efforts, it’s a great feeling. It’s about being a part of the change.”

Payal Koul Mirakhur, who is vice-president at Invest India, looks after global investor relationships. She was the chief strategy officer at the engineering firm Aricent before moving to Invest India. “It is easy to be cynical of the government from outside,” she said. “But it’s only when you join the government that you get to know that there’s so much work happening.”

The young Invest India team has drastically cut the time taken for starting business in India. When Vestas, a Denmark-based wine turbine manufacturer, wanted to expand to India, one of its advisers told the company that it would take at least four years. The company’s best experience was in China where it started production in 18 months. The Invest India team brought Vestas to India, and the company started manufacturing in 14 months and 11 days. “Be it the Central government departments or dealing with state governments, Invest India supported us all through,” said Amar Variava, director of marketing and public affairs at Vestas.

Now that it has a proper form and structure, Invest India is aggressively planning to pitch India as “the destination” for investors. It has set a target, called India 100, which aims at bringing in foreign direct investment worth $100 billion. The team has done an in-depth study on 200 companies. “We have to build a compelling case for valuation and then develop investor’s business strategy, and then we get them clearances or joint venture partners,” said Bagla.

Invest India is working closely with state governments, government departments and embassies. The aim is to set up investment promotion agencies in all states. The states have been asked to pitch for seven suitable sectors instead of spreading thin. Invest India trains state IPAs, creates systems and targets investors for them, and helps them in marketing.

Bagla says states today are hungry for investments. “They have understood that today good economics is the centre of good politics. The voters feel that investments are needed if states are to develop and jobs are to be created,” he said.

The states seem happy about the change. “I find the team very proactive and responsive to any query,” said Krishna Kishore, CEO of Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board.

Bagla is quite optimistic about the future, and believes India has an edge over China. “In terms of FDI in greenfield projects, we are higher than China for three years in a row,” he said. “Moreover, people have understood that it is easy to get into China but difficult or rather impossible to get out.”

Does that mean Tesla is coming to India? “Tesla does not need us,” said Bagla. “Elon Musk has moved beyond cars; his priority right now is the Moon. In his business model, we are not there right now.”