Globe trotting with a young vision

Updated on: Apr 19, 2012
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It has been quite a hectic year for 34-year-old Shankar Vanavarayar. And a rewarding one, too. He travelled the length and breadth of the country, besides numerous trips abroad, as head of the Confederation of Indian Industry's Young Indians (Yi).

Even though he makes light of his hectic schedule for the day, he admits that the year has been a bit too much. “I just did the calculations. I have been to 15 States, four continents and I feel almost like a part-time MEA (Minister of External Affairs),” he jokes.

The Chief Executive of Sri Sakthi Textiles, he belongs to an industrialist family in Coimbatore, and is the grandson of N. Mahalingam.

He recently demitted the office of national Chairman of Yi.

The most memorable of the special moments he enjoyed as the head of Yi is the presence of his family at the organisation's annual meeting when he completed his term. His father, Krishnaraj Vanavarayar, got up to speak towards the end, and all he did was to request the other family members to stand up before thanking Yi for “turning this shy individual into leadership material”.

The son sees himself as a legacy keeper who contemporises things, and definitely not as a maverick. But, he says, “this year has been extraordinary because I have realised how much you can do with a team by giving people space and motivating them.”

Many in the Yi's governing council wrote to tell him he had inspired and motivated them. “I never realised it. I didn't have a strategy to do that. Then I understood some things about myself and that goes back to my family as well.”

The past year he has participated in the Boao Forum in China, the Commonwealth Business Forum in Australia and in conferences in Italy and elsewhere. He values his experience at the Boao Forum — modelled on the lines of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland — to promote regional economic integration. He spoke there on education and youth.

He also realised that for China, India is on the periphery and a market undecipherable to it. At one session, after he stated that the next century would have to be an Asia century with China and India taking the lead, backed by their depth and wealth of knowledge, a ranking bureaucrat closely questioned him and even recorded his comments. At another conference in Australia, a speaker praised India but cautioned that the country can achieve more greatness only if Vanavarayar's generation became more impatient.

Entrepreneurship in India is happening by default, says Vanavarayar, who has an MBA from Cardiff University and a Masters in international education management from the UK's University of Leeds. He led a delegation to Nice for a young entrepreneurs' summit. Entrepreneurship development in India depends largely on the ecosystem, the region and the community to which a person belongs. But does the average person have access to the right knowledge to start a venture, he asks rhetorically, and answers it with “that is missing.”

Given the lucrative IT salaries, not many youngsters want to do anything on their own or even join the family business, he says.

Manufacturing is not fashionable and we are falling into the trap of a service economy, he says, citing steep land prices, labour scarcity and absence of skilled labour as the major causes. “We have to become youth-centric, decision-making has to be faster,” he says.

Loyalty, respect and reverence come in different ways now. “They may like you on Facebook rather than fall at your feet. And you have to accept that,” he says with the experience of one who is working in a family-owned group.

His wife, Samyuktha, a Masters in Food Sciences from the UK, has started working in one of the group companies. “In our family, she is the first woman entering the business.”

Mercifully, there was no resistance from the family, he adds.

Published on April 19, 2012

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