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American dream... in India

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This US businessman believes his work in India gives a cutting edge to his political ambitions back home.

Greg Ball - mixing business with politics.
Greg Ball - mixing business with politics.

Anjana Chandramouly

"Ilove Chennai. Whenever I am here, people ask me why I am not visiting Goa or Bangalore. But I enjoy being here," says 28-year-old Greg Ball, Vice-President - Marketing, Exceed International, a US-based real estate development company with presence in India, Turkey and Tunisia.

The company's Indian operations are located in Chennai. A fourth-generation real estate development company, Exceed wants to work on large township projects and hopes to bring American standards to Chennai. "We want to bring the American dream to India," says Ball.

The Indian office was set up initially as a support centre for the US operations. "We realised the opportunities in India, which exceed those in the US," he says. The company has $3 million worth of projects in the pipeline in India. "If anything, the American office now supports the Indian office," he says.

Ball met Charlie Miles, President of Exceed International, at the military academy in the US. It was his loyalty to his good friend Miles that brought him to Exceed. "I love business, but politics is my passion. There's nothing else that I wanted to do," he says. His ultimate political ambition is to become the Governor of New York State!

Ball narrates an incident from his childhood that sowed the seeds for his passion. "My godmother was personal secretary to Joseph Kennedy, the father of Jack Kennedy. As an infant I had cat-scratch fever, and Jean Kennedy- Smith, Jack Kennedy's sister, asked my parents to take me to a hospital. When my parents said they couldn't afford it, she said she would take care of everything. And, within five minutes, there were 10 doctors around me. I think those little interactions that I had as a kid with that family in particular showed me how well power could be used."

He feels that people should use their abilities to impact others positively, because there is both good and evil in this world. "Evil exists, and we have to fight it at every turn."

And his military regimentation helps him do so. "How to work, and get people to do what they don't want to do or like. that's an art, especially in the business world. Leading people at intrinsic levels to accomplish great things, and tap into their full potential is what leadership is all about, whether in uniform or behind the desk in a suit and tie."

His stint in the military academy helped him learn to listen. "I am very comfortable sitting in a room knowing that I know very little and the rest know a great deal and, if I just listen I can find all the answers."

That's one of the valuable aspects of leadership, he says. "At the end of the day, it's all about fighting for your people, remaining loyal to them and taking care of them."

His passion for politics has led him to the New York State Assembly race. "I want to bring to the government the perspective of a businessman and a military man, and champion the cause of the average blue-collar New Yorker. not the well-to-do or the very rich and famous."

He feels that the State's working families, seniors, small businessmen, and children deserve better. There are individuals, he says, who have worked hard their entire lives, made the community a better place and at the fag end of their lives have been pushed out of their homes because of higher taxes.

If elected, he wants to "move the tax burden off the backs of the working classes, and towards big corporations and wealthy Americans." Besides tax reforms, he wants to usher in smarter growth, fight congestion and transportation issues, improve schools, protect the environment and improve the overall quality of life.

His energetic campaign started 17 months ahead of the September 2006 elections. "I am running against Willis Stephens, one of the most powerful men in the State. He comes from a family, which has been in politics for about 150 years. I am running a very grassroots campaign." He goes from door to door, has already knocked on about 6,000 homes, and put about 30,000 miles in his car in six months.

"I have gone through 4-5 pairs of shoes. I work 20 hours a day reaching as many people as possible. I call it the Shoe Leather Express," he adds.

Ball does not want to spend millions of dollars pushing mailers and TV ads on people, and firmly believes in connecting to people at a personal level. He has not sought funds from big corporations or lobbyists, but has a lot of individuals supporting his campaign. "There are lots of people giving small amounts of money. As a politician you have to decide where you want to stand - with the people or large multinationals and lobbyists."

He wants to link New York to a global economy. "A lot of people talk of outsourcing being a bad thing. In the US, sometimes we have a very insular culture. I don't see a JP Morgan office here. I don't even think it exists in Chennai. But it's a huge financial institution in the US. If you sat with them and talked about opportunities here in India, you will probably have a limited discussion."

The reality, according to him, is that the future of the world, and even America's financial future, rests in the hands of India. He believes that the vitality of the US as a nation will be decided by its connection to the Indian marketplace.

As an American businessman with an experience in India, and "one who understands how to link to the global marketplace, I think the taxpayers, workers and residents of New York will benefit from a politician who understands how to grapple with the tough issues of connecting to a global economy," he says.

He feels that the domestic concerns of the US should not stagnate the country's robust international policy and adds that it's important to find out how to expand more American jobs and also develop a very strong relationship with the Indian marketplace. "As Americans, we have to begin thinking outside of the consumer economy of the US. That's a thing of the past."

And this is where he feels his experience at Exceed International would help in the political arena, "because we need coordinated planning, whether it is infrastructure projects or restricting residential sprawl; we need to look more towards the next generation and communicate with all the communities in the district where we want to be 30-40 years from now."

As an American, he feels that his country should carefully maintain its image as a strong, yet compassionate nation. "The hearts and minds of the next generation throughout the world will be won over with our intelligence, our culture and our humanitarian capacity, not our F-15s."

Even as he juggles his time between work and a rigorous political campaign, he enjoys every bit of hard work and stress that come with such a busy schedule. It's important to take care of oneself on a daily basis, learn to say no and zone out. "I enjoy what I do. If I didn't, I would be doing something else

Picture by Bijoy Ghosh

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 17, 2006)
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