My trip to India with Obama entourage

Vivek Ranadive
Vivek Ranadive

The White House had invited me to join President Barack Obama on a trip for India’s Republic Day. Since I have no political affiliations (I call myself an “American”), I saw this as an opportunity to be part of history. As a boy from Mumbai who came to Boston as a teenager with $50 in his pocket, I owe everything to America. To visit the country of my birth with President Obama was a privilege and an honor I simply could not refuse.

Months earlier, I witnessed history when I watched India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi galvanize 20,000 cheering Indian-Americans at Madison Square Garden. My daughter Anjali sang the national anthem, and while I was there to support her, I was also curious to get a firsthand look at the new leader who had taken India by storm. I was impressed with Prime Minister Modi’s combination of vision, values, action orientation and humility.

Shortly after accepting the invitation, Honeywell’s CEO Dave Cote reached out to me. Cote had been Co-Chair of the US-India CEO Forum for 10 years, and I was delighted to learn that my friends PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, Westinghouse Electric CEO Daniel Roderick and other executives would be part of the delegation. In other words, I would be the underachiever on this road trip.

The delegation arrived in Delhi in the early hours of Saturday from different locations – Indra, Ajay and myself directly from Davos.

Over lunch, Cote guided the delegation as we crafted a working paper on how best to increase trade; in Silicon Valley speak, in a “nonlinear” fashion. The goal was to expand trade between the two countries from $100 billion a year to $500 billion a year over the next decade. Not an unrealistic target, considering China’s trade with the U.S. is currently over $500 billion a year. There was also the matter of resolving liability issues around nuclear energy, which both sides were keen to accomplish.

Each of us contributed to the working paper based on our backgrounds and expertise, and I focused on technology and infrastructure. While it is great to have brilliant software engineers in India, if it takes hours to commute and they have limited Internet access, then productivity is severely limited.

Wearing my Sacramento Kings hat, I lamented the fact that India currently does not have an NBA-class arena to serve as a galvanizing force and civic space in the community. Indeed, Prime Minister Modi has a dream of creating smart cities, and arenas should be central to that project. This is not a new idea – after all, cities have been built around coliseums for thousands of years.

Sorenson wanted to open hotels, and he explained how it took at least 106 permits in India and just six in Singapore. Roderick had spent six months in India trying to build nuclear reactors and provide employment to tens of thousands. Iger talked about how pirated movies were robbing both local and overseas content creators of large revenue streams. Infrastructure, refrigerated food supply chains and consistent regulations that adhere to global standards were the core issues summarized in our working paper.

The trip was not without its glamorous moments. New Delhi was lit up for the world, as we proceeded throughout the city in the official motorcade. It was a sight to behold: business titans in a minivan taking pictures like school children. We took pictures at the Secretariat Building and met up with other members of the president’s delegation. I was proud to see fellow Californians – U.S. Congressman Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

While the meetings with Prime Minster Modi, President Obama and the Indian delegation were special, I cherished the small dinner Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker organized with the President. She left no doubt that while there were always hurdles, we would grow and improve the U.S.-India relationship.

We talked late into the night about the trip, culture, art, geopolitics and, of course, my Sacramento Kings. The President had vast and deep knowledge on a variety of subjects, and I asked for his help in getting “Boogie” (DeMarcus Cousins, my team’s center) on the NBA All-Star team.

As the trip ended, I reflected on how proud I am to be an American. Our business leaders are the finest in the world. I believe there will be a shift in India to a postcolonial, post-socialist country strongly aligned with the United States. We will quintuple trade with India over the next decade. India will become one of America’s most important partners in the 21st century and finally achieve its full potential.

Vivek Ranadivé is Sacramento Kings Chairman

Vivek Ranadivé

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