Just in the year 2010 alone, some 60,000 odd Diaspora, all professionals from different parts of the world, returned to India to start a new life afresh. Since then, at least twice that many are estimated to have come back, until now. Global surveys on the subject suggest that at least 80% NRIs and even some PIOs tend to think in terms of shifting base to India if suitable opportunities crop up. Just what is fuelling this trend ? Obviously it is not that the job market in the developed economies of the west are bad, contrarily they are doing pretty well. What actually seems to be driving this reverse exodus of sorts is perception of the increasing plenitude of opportunities here in India. NRI Achievers takes a look, without resorting to wonky analyses of what and why this is happening, but instead chooses to tap into the experiences of such Indians who have returned … into their challenges and thrills of moving back, and why they don’t regret it at all …
Numerous highly-skilled non-resident Indians are now returning to the country – all for different reasons. For some it is family, for most others, there are now adequate professional and entrepreneurial opportunities available in India unlike earlier times. Statistics available show that an estimated 60,000 Indian professionals returned to live and work in India during the year 2010 alone, and today in 2015, all indications point that this inflow is a rising trend. There are some 25 Million-odd Indians living abroad – a number comparable to the entire population of Australia – who regularly contribute to the home economy via remittances to their family in India. So much so that India was the top recipient of global remittances that stood at around US$ 70 Billion in 2013-14, followed by China, the Philippines and Mexico, according to a World Bank brief. Overseas Guajarati’s, apropos, have also for long were active lobbyists in Western capitals for foreign investment into their home state. And today, NRIs are increasingly contributing to India with their presence and expertise as well.
In the technology sector, entrepreneurs returning to India after having worked in developed economies are both mentoring start-ups as well as funding them. Sundi Natarajan (44) went to the US in 1998 and was part of three technology start-ups, becoming an American citizen in the process. He moved back to India in 2010. “I have two daughters, and I want them to grow up in India just like I did,” he says. Natarajan has since then invested in several Indian start-ups, either in an individual capacity or through networks like the Indian Angel Network and BITS Spark Angels.
Vikram Vuppala (37) spent a decade in the United States but never intended to settle there. A 1999-batch IIT Kharagpur alumnus, he went to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business for his MBA, but stayed on only to earn enough to pay back his education loan. That done, he gave up both his job with global consulting firm McKinsey and his green card, to return to India in December 2009 and start Nephro Plus, a chain of kidney-care hospitals based out of Hyderabad. NephroPlus currently has 25 centres across the country employing approximately 500 people. Until 2013, it had conducted 50,000 plus dialysis sessions without a single cross-infection. “My passion was to generate jobs in India,” says Vuppala. “At IIT, I paid had to pay a mere ` 1,000 per semester as tuition fees, with the government subsidising my education to the tune of ` 25,000 for a semester. I wanted to show my gratefulness by giving back to my country.”
Rupa Chanda, Professor of Economics and Social Sciences, IIM Bangalore, adds: “Until now, the contribution of NRIs has been more perceptible and visible in sectors like as Information Technology and Healthcare. In the IT sector, non residents have come back to open subsidiaries and to a large extent also influenced outsourcing to the country.” If contributions in other areas have been low, it is quite likely due to problems inherent to India. “The problems are the same the Indian investor faces – corruption, inefficient bureaucracy and red-tape, unavailability of land, and lack of quality human capital have all been bottlenecks for large scale investments.”
“When NRIs return, they bring with them professional contacts with high-net-worth individuals and venture capitalists,” says Vuppala. “That helps in financing a company. A former boss of mine back in the US invested ` 2 Crore in an angel-round into my hospital chain. And the McKinsey name helped me secure venture capital funding two years ago.” There are many others like Vikram and Natarajan, who came back for good, and made the best of both worlds. We present you with a brief outline of four such returnees here.
Dr. Vikram Sheel Kumar (38) is the Founder of Ozorie Healthcare, and the Director of Doctor Kares Hospital. Born in the US and educated at the Harvard Medical School, he had moved back to India in the 1980s. He is now seeding new start-ups and helping with his dad’s business. He oversees Doctor Kares, a super-speciality hospital, with his father. He has also founded three start-ups, Dimagi – a software company focused on mobile apps for the health-care sector, Cogito Health – commercialising a novel voice-analysis system to detect mental health patterns, and Ozorie – makes pain relief, rapid heal and hair revive products.
“In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to return to my roots in India. Here, there is a social hierarchy, but entry barriers to create something new are very low. The biggest challenge is HR. In the US, people start working much earlier, so work ethics are better. Also, one has to constantly prove oneself in the job market here. In the US, once an entrepreneur defines his vision and the staffs buy into the plan, they stick around. Here people don’t understand the value of equity.” When asked about adjustment pangs, he says that at times he finds the social life a little difficult. He tries extra hard to do interesting after-work things. He is learning the tabla, plays squash and cricket and has a yoga instructor.
Gaurav Jain (45) is the MD of Aamod Resorts, a chain of boutique hotels and townships which he founded on his return to India. A product of IIT and IIM, he was part of the “brain-drain generation” that migrated overseas in droves to tap opportunities in the hot spots of global finance. But in 2008, he decided to swim against the tide, and returned to India with wife and kids to settled in Gurgaon, northern India’s much touted millennium city, where roads are cratered with potholes, power cuts are frequent and setting up a business can seem as hard as embarking on a lunar mission. But the India he had returned was a new India, which despite all its ills is fast emerging as a promised land for entrepreneurs. “In India, there is opportunity everywhere,” says Jain. “Building a resort ? I couldn’t have done that in the UK.”
On his family front, despite initial concerns the children have settled down rather well, their frequent trips to India in the past meant having insulated them against any major shocks. In a Gurgaon gated township, they have found friends and have an active social life. But outside, driving, infrastructure and aggressive people make things difficult. Finding a nanny for their children, Jain shares have been a nightmare, and it has been difficult for his banker wife who has had to miss out on opportunities.
Pankaj Tibrewal (45), Founder of Chart Cube, is an engineer who moved back and forth between the US and India, went for his masters, came back to set up a start-up, moved to Silicon Valley in 1999, did his MBA, and worked with McKinsey before Kishore Biyani of Future Retail wooed him back in 2008, and made him the COO of Pantaloon Retail. Why Did He Come Back ? According to him, though life is better in the US, India is the land of hope and optimism today. He sees change everywhere. “Things are not as structured — it is a very informal culture. This gives you enormous organisational flexibility.” Working here, he finds work culture reasonably informal, which gives him enormous organisational flexibility. In the US, unless all stakeholders agreed one couldn’t move, here it’s easier to take decisions.
Turning Native, his wife was happy as they were closer to family and has domestic help and a support system at home. Children settled down well, having worked on their Hindi and Maths in the US, and living in a gated community in Mumbai was a great help in adjustment. He believes it is important to keep an open mind, else things can get frustrating. In meetings, people will take calls, hop in and out. But it cuts both ways. In the US a meeting with the CEO takes three weeks to arrange, while here it just took a call to arrange it. He has apropos moved on, first to HT media as its Business Head in 2012, a year after which he kick started his own venture, Chart Cube, in 2013. The genesis of Chart Cube apparently came as an inspiration to Pankaj while sprawled on the floor of a Pantaloons store struggling to have a team discussion about hundreds of retail metrics that had been printed on enormous sheets of paper.
“Managers typically spend 10 to 20 percent of their time making data-driven decisions. They review data in Excel, share insights in PowerPoint, and discuss with their teams via email. These antiquated tools make it difficult for people to get on the same page and the result is a ‘Cycle of Indecision’. Chart cube short-circuits this process by bringing together the data, the story and the discussion into one mobile app, so teams can make data-driven decisions with unprecedented efficiency and fun.” The idea was to blend two tasks – data analysis and data presentation, into one app. At least one organization has bought that vision – Shasta Ventures has invested US$ 4 Million into Chart Cube by way of a Series A round.
Mukund Venkatesh (40) is currently Vice President and GM India Operations of Global Analytics, a reputed provider of Big Data underwriting solutions for the global under-banked population. Building on his global strategic and operational leadership in hi-tech industries, Venkatesh leads Global Analytics’ India Operations and Asia Markets. MIT-educated Venkatesh came to Global Analytics from Pivotal Systems, a successful tech start up he co-founded and served as Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Prior to Pivotal Systems, Venkatesh was with McKinsey’s Palo Alto office serving a diverse set of technology clients.
Born and brought up in the US, he moved to India in 2009 to be with his wife, who had made the move to India in 2007. Finding the shuttling between the US and India tedious, he decided to base himself out of India. Then the VP in charge of marketing Pivotal Sys products, he used to work from 9 pm to 3 am, in sync with his US-based colleagues, often taking an afternoon nap to make up for his sleeping hours, and keeping track of the Asian market during the day. Adapting to India, his first take was: “US has rigid rules. India is flexible with a lot of give and take, it works well.” He was also pleasantly surprised by the good government services. His poor knowledge of the local language was initially a problem. He thinks freshly cooked home food and so many household staff are luxuries. Surprisingly, nowadays he sees his family in the US more than when he was there. Talking about his latest assignment, Venkatesh said: “I am thrilled to join a team of this calibre. The Global Analytics India team is constantly pushing the boundaries of predictive analytics and product development to deliver truly innovative and consumer-friendly financial solutions …”