Shaheryar Mian






Real Estate and Finance


Jan 2019 - Sept 2020

By Shaheryar Mian

India in 1001 words – give or take

Oxford University made history by welcoming the largest percentage of women leaders to Saïd’s EMBA program in the September 2019 cohort (40% of the class). I got the opportunity to audit the program’s Global Rules of the Game module in Mumbai taught by Professor Mari Sako. I was joined by fellow classmate Sohail Choudhry. The week-long module allowed us the opportunity to visit companies that included Amazon, and Tata Motors. The CEO of HSBC India also spoke with us and shared insights on the business environment and the challenges related to alignment of government policy with the goals of the banking sector.

Classroom facilities were on point

The India growth story is of particular interest to business students, investors, and entrepreneurs alike. Here are some noteworthy facts and insights I learned:

  • India is a service-focused economy (below 15% of GDP) compared to its rival China which focuses on the manufacturing sector (30% of GDP).
  • Data from Goldman Sachs shows that BRIC’s will experience exponential growth in GDP over the next few decades. For India, the country is poised to achieve 79.1% of US GDP by 2050. China in comparison will achieve more than 120% of US GDP by 2050 to become the world’s largest economy.
  • The population figures are staggering. India will overtake China in terms of population by 2050 and command more than 1.6 billion residents. China will experience a slow decline during the same period hovering just above 1.2 billion. Why is this important? India’s average population age is 27 versus China’s 37; and India’s middle class will grow to over 500 million people by 2025 which trumps the size of the US middle class – making India an exceptionally lucrative market for players like Walmart, Amazon and other businesses given the projected rise in lifestyle and income. Just to put things in perspective, that figure was 60 million in 2010.
  • Walmart paid a substantial sum of 16 billion USD to acquire local e-commerce giant, Flipkart, in 2018 (the biggest M&A deal in India at the time); yielding a pulse on how big businesses are viewing India’s growth story.
  • Most of the large companies in India are state-owned, however Modi’s government propelled FDI with more than $200 billion USD in foreign investments recorded prior to his last election. However, there are still restrictions on FDI and India maintained a protectionist agenda and an insulated economy well into the 90’s and 2000’s for several reasons that included anti-colonial feelings and ideologies related to self-sufficiency. However, this changed in the last decade with a drastic reduction in customs duty collections as a percentage of imports and entry of major western companies including SoftBank with its investment in the hotel chain unicorn: Oyo.
  • In 2014, the country instituted a law to require large companies to allocate 2% of their Net Profits towards CSR to alleviate poverty and enhance education and health standards in the country. This is a positive policy move whose results are yet to be measured in detail.
  • The CEO of HSBC India, Surendra Rosha, shared how digitization has allowed the bank to expand its scale and service to a great number of customers efficiently. The bank is focused on aligning its goals with the government’s policy of alleviating poverty and addressing climate change. Rosha noted that Intra-Asia trade will remain strong and highlighted how for the first time in history, India’s import of electronics surpassed gold. If you didn’t know already, gold is the most sought-after commodity in the country for generations.
  • In 2020 the Asia region will be the youngest in the world. Countries like India with a mammoth population and increasing percentage of middle class will benefit from an insulation from global shocks given the sizable appetite in aggregate demand from the domestic market.

The challenges I noticed in light of the growth story:

Hanging out with the S19 cohort before our dinner night on the Tuesday.

There is a substantial gap between the rich and the poor with a missing middle which is visibly large. Taking rides in a Tuk Tuk or taxi will expose the reality on the ground as you pass by slums right beside established neighbourhoods. Western companies like Amazon and Walmart have faced backlash for predatory pricing strategies and monopolising the local market. In addition, Modi’s populist agenda has been controversial and blamed for causing divisions in the country. There is also the concern of the “informal economy” in India which constitutes 45% of GDP and thus puts some of the growth story figures into question. The most glaring concern however is the inequality in the country whereby a million young Indians enter the workforce every month, but less than half are either employed or employable. With a rising population and a lax policy on education, it is imperative for the government to focus on public-private partnerships to address the gaps in the education system and ensure the young Indian population does not miss the chance to become skilled workers.



A bunch of us took a Tuk Tuk ride. Super fun! And kinda dangerous…

With all the facts, figures, and challenges highlighted, India is poised to become the third largest economy in the world by 2030. On a personal note, I found my interactions with the locals quite pleasant. The staff at our hotel was warm, hardworking, and thoughtful. The business leaders we met emulated an aura of humbleness and thoughtful leadership for the future. Given the glorious history of the country and growth trajectory, it begs the question: will India become the next superpower?


Our short trip dictated a packed agenda with 6AM start every morning and activities that went on till 10PM every night. On the social front, the September 2019 class is an inclusive group and really made Sohail and I feel welcome. The cohort hails leaders from around the world in several sectors. We dined over many lunches and dinners learning about each other’s lives and engaging in thought-provoking discussions about the future of India and the world. During the trip I got questions from both cohorts about how one compares to the other – while I won’t draw specific comparisons, I will say that Oxford has a way of attracting great people; and that our J19 cohort’s noise level is quite high, especially during social occasions.

Thursday night we got to visit a popular local place called Olive’s in Bandra where you are supposed to see Bollywood celebrities. Sadly there were no sightings on this occasion.

On our last night I went to drinks at the recently opened Soho House Mumbai hosted by S19. As I looked over the rooftop terrace admiring the breathtaking views of the ocean and the sunset, I was reminded of the common thread between our two cohorts: the insatiable desire to learn and do better. Complacency has no place at Saïd Business School.

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