How are you feeling about stepping down as chairman?
I'm feeling very good. I'm looking forward to having time to do the things I want to do. And as far as I'm concerned, it's a relief.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for your successor?
The big-picture challenge is that the [business] environment is going to be tougher and more complex than it was in 1991. In 1991, there were less people aspiring to succeed in this newly opened economy. Today there are many.
More than half your revenue comes from outside India. Which countries look robust to you?
The U.S. has tremendous resiliency and a great sense of reinventing itself if it finds itself in a corner. And I think that has happened. I'm quite bullish on the U.S. and investment potential here. Europe and the U.K. I think have much deeper-rooted problems. The real emerging giant in my view is Africa. Africa is a continent that is going to be a new emerging market that is not built on natural resources alone but based on a new cadre of entrepreneurs. India itself, it's just sad that we've stumbled.
Is corruption eroding investors' confidence in India?
It's been a concern to many of us for some time. It's been masked by the very high rate of growth we've had and the prosperity that there has been. It has led to a fair amount of crony capitalism, and people like us have been concerned that it's not usually a level playing field as it should be.
Your firm hasn't been untouched by the bribery scandal in India's telecom industry. You were called to answer questions from investigators, and a lobbyist who worked for you was under surveillance.
I still wonder what that is, because if anything the investigative agencies have not only cleared us but found us to be disadvantaged among all the telecom players. Obviously, there were phone calls, which were absolutely innocuous, that were wiretapped.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
We did nothing wrong, did nothing illegal, so no, I wouldn't have done anything differently.
You graduated from Cornell and worked as an architect in Los Angeles. How do you think those years in the U.S. shaped your thinking?
You were open to new ideas. You're young, a 22-year-old, you say, Why don't we do this? Why can't we do this? Nobody said, Shut up, or What do you know? You might have a level of confidence that you could speak up. When I came to India, I had views, I had the confidence, and this was a wonderful, wonderful thing in terms of being able to see things that other people, who were looking down at the details, were not seeing.
Does India today remind you of the U.S. in the 1950s?
It's a lot more complex. The U.S. in the '50s and '60s was a wonderful time. Many new things were happening, there was great exuberance, a lot of enthusiasm about what could be done. Everybody was quite buoyant at that time. The last four or five years have been very buoyant years for India. It's only in the last two years that we have stumbled badly.
Are there things you wish you had done as chairman?
I would have loved to have achieved a flatter organization than we have ended up being. These are issues of almost cultural pushback. We're a very hierarchical country, so to have a very flat organization runs contrary to what the Indian wants to see. He wants to be better than the next guy.
What will you do next?
I'm just trying not to make too many plans. It's been a long time since I've had the opportunity to just have time to myself. Once I get that out of my system, then I will address how to stay busy.