India experts talk economy

Despite the global economic crisis, Dr. Rakesh Mohan ’71, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India, the country’s central bank, described India’s current financial situation as “healthy” in a conference held in the Macmillan Center on Friday.

The conference, “India: Seeking Opportunity in Crisis,” brought together policymakers and leaders from the fields of academia and business to discuss the implications of the global financial turmoil and foreign investment in India. The conference was arranged by the South Asian Business Forum, an organization at the Yale School of Management, and drew an audience of about 60 students, most of whom are students at SOM.

The conference began with Dr. Mohan’s keynote address, which outlined India’s current economic situation in the context of the subprime mortgage crisis. Dr. Mohan said while India’s economy was slowing down, there was some relief in the fact that Indian banks, “under RBI regulation and their own prudence, have had very low exposure to so-called toxic assets.”

“We really, as of now, have no banking problems,” he said.

Dr. Mohan’s keynote was followed by a panel about the effects of the global recession on India’s development. Suman Bery, director general of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, and Harish Damodaran, editorial analyst of The Hindu Business Line newspaper, led the panel with Dr. Mohan. During his address, Bery posed the question: Is India still in denial about its economic and the infrastructural issues?

In the second panel, speakers discussed the state of private equity in India and the opportunities for foreign investors. Thomas Barry ’66, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Zephyr Capital, an American private equity firm, contrasted deregulation of Indian markets with regulation in U.S. markets.

“India’s coming out of socialism and the U.S. is going into socialism,” he said as the audience laughed.

Later in the panel, Raman Nanda, director of finance and management of Acumen Fund, a non-profit global venture fund,, talked about the wealth of investment opportunities available in entertainment technology, infrastructure and the cell phone industry. When an audience member asked about India’s anti-business government policies, Barry replied, “Indians and Americans get along so well because we can succeed in spite of our governments, not because of them.”

The conference ended with a panel addressing how Indian companies should conduct business in the United States.

Devesh Taneja SOM ’10, one of the organizers and a member of the South Asian Business Forum, said he hoped the conference would bring India closer to the Yale community, especially in light of Yale’s recent India Initiative. While he said it was difficult to obtain corporate sponsorship, Taneja plans to make the conference an annual affair.

Another organizer, Ashwin Agarwal SOM ’09, said the event attracted a diverse audience, including management students from New York University, Harvard University, Cornell University and Dartmouth College . He added that the organizers had to convince SOM administrators that the event would be successful.

“We were amazed at all the bureaucracy a little school like SOM can have,” he said.

Samina Islam SOM ’09, however, said the conference lacked balance because it was “too finance-oriented.”

One of the few undergraduates at the conference, Vidur Sehgal ’10, said he thought there were too many high-profile names squeezed into one day, but added that he was impressed by the roster of speakers.

“It’s so reassuring to know that our corrupt Indian politicians have some smart advisors to guide them,” he said.

Organizers said they hope next year’s conference will grow and involve more undergraduate participation.

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