Ashok T. Aram, recently chosen Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, talks about economics, development and Coimbatore
A boy from Mani HSS graduates in electronics and communication engineering from College of Engineering, Chennai. He then surprises his peers and heads to Sophia University, Tokyo to do a masters in international business. He's hired right out of university by Deutsche Bank (DB) and five years later he is their youngest managing director.
On March 3, this year, Ashok T. Aram was chosen as a young global leader by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Their list this year included tennis star Roger Federer, Twitter CEO Evan Williams, Indian minister Agatha Sangma, film star Nandita Das and motivational speaker Sangeeth Varghese; 660 in all, including 12 Indians and four of Indian origin.
So how did it all happen? His university dissertation on direct investments in Asia landed him offers with seven banks. “As a kid I was interested in three countries- United States, Germany and Japan. I joined DB in the hope of learning some German,” he says.
"In ‘94-95 licences for mobile telecom were being given in Asia. I was sent to Singapore then to work with the telecom industry during this telecom revolution," he explains.
The then CEO of DB- Asia offered to take him to Frankfurt just when the Euro was being introduced. He soon joined the investment banking division in London. "I was just at the right place at the right time and I didn't screw up," he says.
Soon he moved on to acquisitions for the bank in the US, where DB took over Banker's Trust in 1998. He became an MD when he was 28 going 29 in 2000. He's currently the managing director of Abraaj Capital, one of the world's 50 biggest private equity groups, based in Dubai.
He doesn't see himself as part of the brain drain from the country. Indian expatriates should be seen as a brain trust, he says. “We now have a significant private sector that seeks to globalise the Indian economy. We need to use the tremendous power of the Indian Diaspora to contribute to our economy,” he explains.
Back in town
Coming back to his hometown, he finds that despite the regions strong culture of enterprise, general infrastructure seems neglected.
“While we continue to bat above average in industrial production and innovation, we are low on sewage, road, rail and airport infrastructure,” says Ashok. “Access is a critical aspect.” If we are on the top tier of destinations on air routes, he explains, opportunities will multiply.
According to him, “The inability to politically represent the region effectively impedes it from becoming much more successful.”
He highlights the need for more organisation at the local level; for Coimbatoreans to ask questions on how development money is being spent on them. “Twenty-five years ago Coimbatore and Pune weren't quite different. Today Pune is a decade ahead in terms of infrastructure.”
On a note of caution for developing India, Ashok says that while the use of foreign technology to tap our natural resources is important, it needs to be used in a sensitive manner. “The government has a crucial regulatory role here,” he states.
He adds, “If the primary beneficiaries of development aren't from the resource rich regions of the country, they will never buy into the process.”
Ashok is one of those who welcome brakes on development by environmentalists. He explains, “It's not bad if they rightfully slow down development. We need to analyse industrial progress comprehensively.”
Now a young leader of the WEF, Ashok doesn't cringe at the WEF becoming a focal point for protests against unbridled globalisation. Large financial corporations are a core pillar of the world economy and symbols of capitalism, he says.
“They integrate world trade and investment, are managers of risk and, play a crucial role in allocation of capital.” The criticism against them, when large financial crises happen, isn't without basis.”
“But if you believe in democracy, you have to grant the right to protesters to make their views known.”