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View from India: Footprints that made 2019 memorable

We are on the threshold of 2020 and it’s time for reflection. Time to pause and look back at the year that’s gone by.

Going beyond Government-related announcements are some personalities who have made a difference to 2019. It’s their innovative tech ideas, farsightedness and a scientific fervour that have made them a cut above the rest. Read on.

E-commerce slated for digital disruption

Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani who spearheads Reliance Industries Ltd, is gearing up to start an Alphabet-like Rs 1.08-trillion digital company. It is conceptualised along the lines of both Alibaba and Alphabet, whereby Reliance Industries will invest the money in the holding company. This will be in the form of optionally convertible preference shares. Reportedly, an investment of $24 billion has gone into the digital-services holding company.

The company will create digital services and, as time progresses, it will be open for a strategic investor. It is all set to disrupt the internet shopping space in the country.  

With the new venture, the billionaire is preparing for an initial public offering within the next five years. To put things in perspective, Reliance launched Jio, its 4G network in 2016, bringing over 350 million users into its fold. What is important is that Reliance is originally an oil-focused conglomerate that has diversified into telecom and real estate. Ambani has built a network of partners through various acquisitions and stake purchases in the group company. With Jio, Ambani has forged ties in the tech-internet space. All this forms the backdrop of the upcoming e-commerce company.

This new venture also comes at a time when the Government of India (GoI) came out with a new foreign direct investment (FDI) policy earlier in the year. In all likelihood, the new norms may give a domestic brand like Reliance a vantage point compared to global e-commerce companies. Naturally, internet shopping is expected to witness a sea change.

The mantle passes on

Azim Premji, who’s spent 53 years of his life in the IT business, has finally hung up his boots. Premji is acknowledged as the marathon man in IT circles and is credited for transforming his father’s cooking oil company into a globally recognised IT company. Wipro, his company, stands tall at Rs 1.8 lakh crore. He has retired as executive chairman this year and passed on the baton to Rishad, his first son, who is now the chairman. Premji remains on board as founder chairman.

With a management degree from the Harvard School of Business, Rishad joined Wipro in 2007 in its financial services business division.

Being on the board of directors since 2015, he made the right moves. Forward thinking led Rishad to start a venture capitalists (VC) wing called Wipro Ventures. With an investment to the tune of a $100 million, the VC wing supports startups whose solutions are being tapped for Wipro’s future businesses. So far, over 15 startups have enabled Wipro through 100 deals.  

As chief strategy officer (the post he held until he became chairman), he’s been responsible for investor relations.

What’s interesting and challenging is that the Wipro scion has taken over the reins of the multimillion-dollar company when the IT industry is increasingly relying on frontier technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning and digital securities. These technologies will open out new opportunities for Rishad and his team to upskill the workforce, as well as realigning strategies, services and solutions.

Women in armed forces fly high

Women have broken the proverbial glass ceiling across verticals. They’ve inspired generations of wannabes.

Once again, the tide is in favour of women and this time it’s the armed forces. Sub-lieutenant Shivangi has made national news for becoming the first woman pilot in the Indian Navy. She will fly the Dornier surveillance aircraft of the Indian Navy. Shivangi, who was born in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, has joined her operational duties at the Kochi naval base.

Though the Indian Navy has a sizeable number of women, none of them have piloted naval choppers. Shivangi has set an example for others to emulate. Interestingly, women in the other armed forces have also created history. 

Shaliza Dhami, a Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force (IAF), has risen to new heights. She occupies pride of place as the country’s first female officer who has become the flight commander of a flying unit. Shaliza has other firsts to her credit. She is the first woman flying instructor of the IAF for Chetak and Cheetah helicopters and the first woman officer to be given a permanent commission with the IAF in 2019.

Shivangi and Shaliza’s accomplishments are the outcome of IAF’s decision to induct women as fighter pilots. The seeds of this significant move were sown in 2015 when the Ministry of Defence (MoD) approved the induction of women pilots into the fighter (combat) stream of the IAF. Rigorous training in the Air Force Academy has resulted in their induction into the fighter stream. 

Father of Indian space programme fondly remembered

Spacecraft Chandrayaan-2 has journeyed towards the South Pole. Scientist, physicist, innovator and industrialist Dr Vikram A Sarabhai envisioned it six decades ago. He’s hailed as the father of the Indian space programme.

He may have died in 1971, yet his scientific contribution continues to enrich the nation. Dr Sarabhai studied cosmic rays during his doctorate degree at Cambridge University. The insight helped him establish the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in 1947, followed by the Space Applications Centre. This paved the way for groundbreaking research. 

The seeds that were sown then continue to bear fruit. The award-winning innovator was a visiting professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), besides piloting the country’s Atomic Energy Commission.

The scientist initiated the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which later developed Chandrayaan-2. The visionary launched the first rocket at Thumba near Thiruvanathapuram in Kerala during the 1960s. Thumba was then a fishing village and the office was comprised of a scientific team lacking in modern infrastructure, yet here’s where the rocket soared into space and ignited so many dreams. As India’s first rocket station, its rocket technology is now used for Moon and Mars missions.

Dr Sarabhai also started a project on Aryabhata. This was India’s first artificial satellite orbiting Earth and took off after his demise.

Dr Sarabhai has shaped modern India. ISRO and Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) commemorated the birth centenary year (August 12, 1919) with Dr Sarabhai’s photo album, a coffee table book on ISRO and a 100 Rupee Coin.

Doyen, industrialist no more

Basant Kumar Birla, chairman of the BK Birla Group died at the ripe age of 98. He was part of the first generation of industrialists who shaped India’s industrial-economic growth post-independence.

The astute businessman transformed the BK Birla Group into a business empire worth around Rs 16,000 crore. His sharp acumen paved the way for diversifying the business, consequently contributing towards the country’s engineering development. The strategic intent has resulted in engineering globalisation, as many Birla companies have a global presence. 

Flagship companies Kesoram Industries and Century Textiles have expanded into rayon, engineering, cement, medium-density fibreboards, pulp and paper, shipping, tyres, tea and chemicals, among others. The business group has given rise to a huge community of engineers. These professionals represent various disciplines of engineering and have combined with technology and R&D to create world-class products and solutions.

The industrialist was also the chairman of the Krishnarpan Charity Trust, which runs the BK Birla Institute of Engineering and Technology (BITS Pilani) in Pilani, Rajasthan. BITS Pilani - a premier educational institute with campuses in Pilani, Goa, Hyderabad and Dubai - has many unique features. Its highlight is the remote learning programme that happens through BITS Connect 2.0. Students of a particular campus can watch a lecture at Pilani and even raise questions. Students also have the flexibility to opt for dual degrees and transfers, besides choosing lab and class timings. It’s also the country’s first university to have a LinkedIn network.

Birla’s legacy lives on through the companies and educational institutes he has created.

Here’s wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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