October 2005

Good tidings

David Good*, who heads the Tata corporate office in the United States, explains his mission and the group's vision for spreading its business wings in America

David GoodI first came to India over 30 years ago, as a brand new US Embassy official in New Delhi. If at that time average Americans thought about India at all, they imagined a poor country with people begging on the streets — streets filled with elephants, tigers, fakirs and the like.

All of that has changed: now if you ask the average American about India, he or she would probably tell you it is a land full of smart young techies who are stealing American jobs. A vastly different image of India, but still not what India really is. The biggest challenge right now for the Tata group in the US is to change the image of Indian companies as basically outsourcers. As head of the Tata group's new corporate office in Washington DC, that is my job; and although I will be doing that for the Tatas, Indian industry in general should benefit as well.

I worked for the American state department for 34 years and my last job in India was as consul general in Mumbai. That was a wonderful assignment which my wife and I loved. In 2002, I returned to Washington DC and after a two-year stint as the director of the India, Nepal and Sri Lanka office in the department's South Asia bureau, I retired from government service. Not long afterwards, mutual friends put me in touch with representatives of the Tata group; they had recently decided to open a Washington office and were looking for someone to head it. I began work on February 1 and my colleague Kapil Sharma — a former staff member in the US Congress — joined me on March 1.

I have known about the Tatas since my first arrival in India, back in 1971. It is a wonderful group. While consul general in Mumbai, I met several of the company's directors and other senior group officials whom I have a lot of respect for, especially Ratan Tata. He told me that he envisioned my position as an ambassador of the Tatas to the US. That's the kind of terminology I am very familiar with, and a role I'm very comfortable in.

The work I am doing with the group is in fact quite similar to what I was doing with the state department, only in reverse. Then I was representing the American government to the state governments and the people of western India. Now I am representing the Tatas to US federal and state government officials, to US industry and to the American people.

The Tata involvement with America dates back to the early 1900s. Margaret Tutwiler, who used to be the spokeswoman for the state department and is now a senior official at the New York Stock Exchange, says one of her ancestors was one of the first managers of Tata Steel in Jamshedpur a hundred years ago — something I verified while visiting Jamshedpur. Tata Incorporated — a subsidiary of Tata Steel headquartered in New York City — just celebrated its 60th anniversary. Today, Kapil and I have identified more than 80 Tata offices in the US, with nearly 10,000 people working in them.

Americans don't know much about Indian companies, and therefore need to be made aware that the Tatas are the gold standard of Indian companies — committed to the kind of investment that means more jobs in their country, and more money invested in the economy — that they want to set down roots in the US. The Tatas have recently completed the purchase of Tyco Global Network — the undersea broadband cable company — and have taken over management of the luxury Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York. They are currently considering acquisitions in other American cities. All of this means new investment and new jobs and, believe me, there is nothing that lights up the eyes of US politicians more than hearing about jobs that are created in their constituencies.

This is the first time that a major Indian company has opened an office in Washington. There are a lot of companies that have sales offices in the US, but I believe not one has had this kind of operation. I see this office as having three principal objectives. First, we want people to understand that better economic and political relations with India is a two-way street — it is going to benefit the US and India. That's our first objective. We want to reach out beyond Washington to New York, California and other places where people are open to knowing more about the Tatas and about India.

A second objective will be to support Tata businesses in the US. I will be focusing primarily on the companies that already have a presence in the US: TCS, Indian Hotels, Tetley, Tata Tea, Tata Automotive Components and Tata Steel. I want to make sure that they are aware of changes in the political and regulatory atmosphere in the US that may affect them as they plan their US business strategies. I will also do whatever I can to promote business for them in the US market.

A third objective is to create a corporate social responsibility strategy for the US. We haven't settled yet on specific projects in the CSR field; we want to look around a bit more to find the right thing. An area that the Tatas could be associated with would be something like IT and computer education for children in inner cities. Whatever we do, ultimately, it may be conceived and designed, say, in Washington but ideally will be carried out in several cities around the US.

Another objective, and one towards which we already have a head start, is associating ourselves with anything that promotes the India-US relationship in the Washington and New York areas. That means involvement with academic institutions, think tanks, political institutions, research institutions, business associations and so on. Wherever they are doing anything in the Indo-US framework — whether it is politics, trade, history or social issues — there is a role for us to play. In that way, the Tata group will be associated in people's minds with the new partnership between our countries.

We have already supported several programmes, such as those by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the US-India Business Council. We co-sponsored the USIBC's 30th anniversary meeting that took place on June 1. Basically part of the US Chamber of Commerce, the council has historically represented American businesses that are trying to invest in and export to India. But, in recent years, the USIBC has begun drawing in Indian companies as well, which is why the Tata group has been a major corporate sponsor for the last several years.We also intend to support other organizations that promote better Indo-US relations. We are members of the Asia Society as well as the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.

One body that's vitally important to us is the US Congress. The India caucuses in the Senate and the House of Representatives are made up of Congressmen and women who are well disposed to India. The Senate caucus on India is co-chaired by Hillary Clinton and an office like ours can become very important for her. Hillary Clinton has been getting flak from people who feel she is too closely associated with Indian business companies. They ask her, aren't they just taking American jobs and sending them out to India? So, it is important for us to be able to make her aware that there are Indian companies like the Tatas that are actually investing in the United States and creating new jobs.

In fact, I can go into any government office right now and say, you want to see new jobs that have been created by the Tatas? Look at us. There are as many as 20 new positions in northern Virginia alone representing TCS, VSNL and our Tata Sons office. The Tatas are also saving jobs. Had it not been for VSNL's acquisition of Tyco Global Network, TGN would possibly have shrunk drastically in size. Once somebody like Hillary Clinton knows this and starts talking about it, a much larger number of opinion makers are going to realise that the Tatas are doing quite a few positive things in the US.

A lot of people in India are afraid of the Sino-US relationship, because China's trade and business relationship with America dwarfs India's. I have a slightly different view on this. I am not sure that US-China ties are actually stronger than those with India. I think only the economic ties are deeper, because there is much more American investment in China than there is in India right now. In that sense, US business and the government have a much greater stake in maintaining good relations with China. The political ties, I think, are actually stronger between the US and India right now, because China is not a democracy, besides which it still has major human rights problems.

India can and should make itself a little more attractive as a place of investment for American companies. They're very interested in India right now; it's the flavor of the decade. But American companies are also wary of India. They may be comfortable with BPOs, call centres and things like that, but when it comes to real investments in manufacturing, hardware or infrastructure, they find the regulatory climate very difficult, the labor climate very uncertain and they are still uncomfortable about corruption. It's nowhere near as difficult for them to break into China because that government has made it much easier for foreign companies to come in.

However, the Tatas are showing the way for many US companies. Time and again, over the last couple of months, representatives of American companies have come to me in Washington and said they'd like to come into India, but are uncomfortable about just dropping in on their own. The one group they feel very comfortable with is the Tatas, because the Tatas have such a good reputation for straightforward dealing, for integrity. They say, "We'd like to come into India, and we'd like to do it with you." That does not mean the Tatas will, or even can, pick every one of these opportunities. Some of these companies really don't have anything to do with our core competencies or specialities. But what it does mean is that we are building a reputation in select circles — the kind of golden reputation that the Tatas already enjoy in India. When you do that you automatically begin to attract companies that would be interested in working with you.

I would like to think that my job with the Tatas is not merely to open new doors for the group itself, but for India as a whole — that's the Tata way of thinking. I believe that, sooner or later, other major Indian companies will also open up offices in Washington or some other place in the US. They can then join forces with offices like ours to improve the overall understanding of the India-American relationship, not just in Washington and New York but throughout the United States.

*David Good joined the US state department in 1971 after graduating in political science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After 34 years in the department, serving in the state department, the US Information Agency and in diplomatic postings in India and West Asia, he was made the US consul general in Mumbai, a position he held from 1999 to 2002. Good retired in 2004 as director of the department's Washington DC office for India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives affairs. The much-travelled Good is conversant in Hindi, Gujarati, Arabic and Hebrew. David Good spoke to Christabelle Noronha.