Can Micromax Turn out to be India’s Main Smartphone Maker?

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Can Micromax Become India's Leading Smartphone Maker?

Picture: Amit Verma

Rahul Sharma: “We’re concentrating on one billion {dollars} by the tip of 2013”


On august 29, 2012, as jk shin, president of samsung Electronics, unveiled Galaxy Observe 2, the second iteration of his firm’s flagship ‘phablet’ smartphone collection, in Berlin, a guerrilla cargo of 10,000 comparable gadgets was promoting massive in shops throughout India. It had been introduced in solely per week in the past.

Effectively, the gadgets had been virtually comparable.  

 The Canvas A100 smartphones had 5-inch screens as towards the 5.5-inch ones on the Observe 2 however the decision was not half as detailed; the batteries had been two-thirds the capability; the processors had only one core in comparison with the 4 on the Observe 2; and RAM was only a fourth compared.

Then there was the value: Rs 9,999 in comparison with the Observe 2’s Rs 39,900 on the time of its formal launch in India in November that yr.

At 25 % of the Observe 2’s price, the gadgets appeared to make sense to the Indian buyer—a lot in order that in one other three weeks, they might be all however bought out. This was the sign its makers, the Gurgaon-headquartered Micromax, had been hoping and ready for.

Inside days its provide chain, distribution and advertising and marketing equipment began shifting into assault mode. Specs had been mapped and orders despatched out to China for a more moderen model that includes a dual-core processor, a greater high quality and better decision display screen, extra inside reminiscence and an upgraded digicam. The improved Canvas 2 was unveiled within the first week of November, a bit over two months after its predecessor’s 10,000-unit check launch had proved profitable: It nonetheless sported the Rs 9,999 price ticket.

The telephone turned out to be a winner for Micromax, promoting out throughout many shops inside days and commanding a premium over its retail value for practically six months. Provide constraints definitely contributed to the moment gross sales (Micromax underestimated the recognition of the gadgets) however there was little doubt that the corporate was on to one thing important.

“Our multinational rivals provided one or two smartphone fashions in each successive display screen measurement—3.5 inch, 4.3 inch, 4.7 inch, 5 inch, and so forth. It was as if they had been checking every [screen size] field with a number of fashions,” says Rahul Sharma, 37, one of many 4 co-founders of the corporate and simply its most recognisable and dapper face.

So what did Sharma and Micromax do over the following yr?
“From a Rs 6,000 Canvas Viva to a Rs 19,000 Canvas 4, now we have put a 5-inch smartphone subsequent to every of their bins. We guess the home on 5-inch smartphones and that market simply exploded!” he says.

Yesterday’s Scrappy Challenger Is All Grown Up

Micromax has come a distance since making its first cell phones in 2008. In accordance with analysis corporations IDC and CyberMedia Analysis (CMR), the corporate is the third largest vendor of cell phones in India behind Samsung and Nokia.

The cell phone market is at the moment going via a significant upheaval as tons of of thousands and thousands of customers in India and all over the world improve from cheaper and less-capable function telephones to smartphones. Within the smartphone race, each these analysis corporations place Micromax firmly on the quantity two place behind Samsung in market share—22.7 % versus Samsung’s 31.9 %, in keeping with CMR; and 22.2 % versus 25.7 %, in keeping with IDC.

Samsung India declined to talk with Forbes India for this story. A spokesperson mentioned the corporate didn’t imagine the IDC and CMR figures had been correct; they had been extra satisfied by the GfK-Nielsen numbers (a proprietary subscription service, the specifics of which Samsung didn’t disclose). “We don’t take into account Micromax a competitor,” the spokesperson added.

Sharma is amused when he hears that Samsung doesn’t take into account his firm a competitor. “I feel Mahatma Gandhi mentioned it greatest: ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they struggle you, and then you definitely win’!” he says.

And profitable they’re.

In accordance with Sharma, Micromax has already surpassed final yr’s income of Rs 3,100 crore within the first six months of this yr. “We’re concentrating on one billion {dollars} by the tip of 2013,” he says.

Vikas Jain, one other co-founder, says, “In most international locations the place Samsung has an area subsidiary and has been in operation for over 12 months, they’re often primary. If we defeat them in India, this may develop into the primary nation the place that stops being the rule.”

With its coffers filling up with revenues from the sale of over 2.5 million handsets every month, Micromax is setting its sights even increased. A surprising new international advert marketing campaign that includes Australian actor Hugh Jackman was rolled out not too long ago. The corporate claims it’s spending Rs 30 crore on the marketing campaign alone.

Gone is the diffidence and scrappiness of earlier than. As an alternative is a perception that it may vault itself up the worldwide pecking order of smartphones the place the downslide of Nokia and RIM has left a vacuum. “Although it accounts for lower than 10 % of our income immediately, in three years we would like our worldwide income to be equal to our India income—or $2 billion every,” says Sharma. As with most Micromax senior executives, the road between confidence and bombast is blurred.

Can Micromax Become India's Leading Smartphone Maker?

Picture: Amit Verma

From left: Amit Mathur, who leads Micromax’s worldwide enterprise, with Chief Advertising Officer Shubhodip Pal and Ajay Sharma, the pinnacle of the smartphone enterprise

The Smartphone Rider
When Micromax crashed into the cell phone market in India with its low-cost function telephones which had progressive attributes like dual-SIM and enormous batteries, it was dismissed as a one-trick pony. The arguments: That they had no R&D; they merely bought telephones provided by contracted Chinese language phone-makers in Shenzhen; they had been solely about cheaper costs.

Maybe the largest rivalry was that as ‘dumb’ function telephones gave approach to superior smartphones, the likes of Micromax wouldn’t stand an opportunity. And but, the corporate has not solely made the transition, it has improved its rating within the course of.

In the meantime, with solely round 18 % of Indian telephone customers utilizing a smartphone, the upside of the shift in desire continues to be huge. In June, India pipped Japan to develop into the third largest smartphone market on this planet after China and the US. By subsequent yr, it’s prone to be the second largest.

The rise of Google’s free Android OS was simply the largest issue that aided Micromax’s rise. Within the pre-Android period, telephones had been in contrast and purchased based mostly on their {hardware} and software program options. However Android virtually utterly took software program differentiation off the desk as each, a Rs 10,000 smartphone and a Rs 45,000 smartphone, carry practically the identical working system (OS) options.

Can Micromax Become India's Leading Smartphone Maker?

Being free, Android attracted most telephone makers from internationally. And as volumes grew, it drew in additional apps and their builders. A ‘virtuous cycle’ was created the place customers most popular Android telephones as a result of vastness of its ecosystem, and telephone makers selected Android as a result of customers did. Nokia and RIM have struggled largely as a result of diminishing enchantment of their OS platforms for builders and customers alike.

“What’s stunning within the case of smartphones is the velocity at which commoditisation is occurring. In simply six years, now we have gone from the primary technology of touchscreen smartphones, which appeared virtually magical, to them changing into commodities,” says Horace Dediu, founding father of cellular analyst agency Asymco, broadly thought to be one of many foremost consultants on smartphones and on Apple.

To this point, this has labored fairly nicely for Micromax.

“When a Samsung invests billions of {dollars} in R&D, it has to recoup that cash. So whereas it comes up with its [custom-designed] Exynos processors, Micromax merely goes and buys Mediatek or Snapdragon processors. Shopping for what is accessible available in the market is at all times cheaper than custom-building it,” says Katyayan Gupta, a know-how analyst with Forrester Analysis.

Provides Ajay Sharma, the pinnacle of Micromax’s smartphone enterprise who previously led HTC India: “If I could make a smartphone that has all the pieces {that a} competitor provides at double the value, why will customers not select it? Our Canvas 4 smartphone prices Rs 18,000, not Rs 45,000.”

Because of this Micromax is using on the slipstream of cutting-edge R&D being completed by moneyed gamers similar to Samsung and Nokia; it’s selecting to purchase know-how that’s one technology outdated—and bear in mind, a technology within the smartphone area is usually measured in just some months.

“The nervousness for bigger firms is that in the event that they construct a brand new class—like, say, a pill or sensible watch—it will get commoditised in three years after it has, perhaps, spent 4 to 5 years to design and develop it,” says Dediu. “If the market lifetime of your product is shorter than its growth life, then you may have an issue. For this reason Apple was so frightened when Android copied its consumer expertise early on—it occurred so quick, earlier than they’d a pipeline of latest [product] concepts.”

Whereas Nokia, RIM and Samsung are caught within the ‘damned in the event you do, damned in the event you don’t’ dilemma, Micromax continues to claw at their marketshare by providing ‘adequate’ choices for a fraction of the value charged by the ‘premium’ merchandise. Neither can Micromax afford to play the billion-dollar R&D sport like its larger rivals, nor does it really feel the necessity to comply with the phrases set by others.

How lengthy can this proceed?

Satish Babu, founding father of Univercell, considered one of India’s largest cell phone retail chains, says that whereas the typical promoting value for a telephone within the nation is Rs 5,000 at the moment, customers are prepared to spend 1.5 occasions that value on the level of improve. “And they’re upgrading their telephones each 9 months immediately,” he provides.

Dediu believes that “when a know-how product reaches commodity standing, performance turns into much less essential because it can’t be dramatically completely different throughout merchandise. That’s when advertising and marketing should change the message to different attributes like comfort, value or type.”

But, it’s not unimaginable to distinguish your model even inside a commoditised area like smartphones.

“Apple’s strategy has been to disrupt the market via know-how, and as soon as commoditisation units in, to protect a premium phase for itself. They did it with PCs and now they’re doing it with smartphones,” factors out Dediu. “There’s a purpose why they not too long ago employed the Burberry CEO—clothes is probably the most commoditised class on this planet, however even there you’ll be able to nonetheless seize worth on the premium finish. Everybody doesn’t put on $3 T-shirts and even the Chinese language, who make these T-shirts, aspire for European manufacturers.”

The rationale for Micromax’s ballooning advertising and marketing and promoting spend is instantly obvious now. Since options and {hardware} specs stop to be differentiators, it must construct a model that may compete with a Samsung, one that buyers can aspire to.

“Even of us in Faridabad and Gorakhpur will know Hugh Jackman. Finally they may consider us as a high-end model. We need to be a Zara or a Mango; not a Peter England, however not a Gucci or Prada both,” says Rahul Sharma.

Goal: Samsung
Although the acknowledged goal of most Micromax executives is solely to develop the corporate’s revenues and buyer base in India, there’s a sure unsaid ambition that appears to unite them—to unseat Samsung because the main smartphone participant.

Can Micromax Become India's Leading Smartphone Maker?

“Beating Samsung will not be going to be simple. The Koreans have good designs and improvements in every product, an excellent service and distribution community and stable market information. Plus, they’ll actually be aggressive,” says Babu of Univercell.

Micromax’s greatest weak point thus far has been the notion that its telephones aren’t very dependable, and getting one serviced is a ache. “Micromax telephones will not be dangerous when it comes to high quality. Even Samsung and Nokia telephones have points, however the firms are capable of resolve them shortly. Alternatively, Micromax has had challenges in responsiveness as a result of they didn’t have sufficient service centres,” says Babu.

To handle this, the corporate is almost tripling the variety of its partner-managed service centres from 436 final yr to 1,250 by March 2014 (at the moment they’re at 745), says Bharat Malik, Micromax’s service head (who was employed from Nokia). Throughout these centres, Malik’s workforce of 200 claims to supervise 6,50,000 buyer walk-ins each month.

It needs to cut back the turnaround time to lower than seven days from the present 15. “To do this we’re transitioning to holding spare half stock as a substitute of the sooner Simply-In-Time ordering system,” says Malik. A brand new CRM system will go dwell earlier than the tip of the yr.

“Service is one space the place we’d like numerous enchancment,” says Sharma. Senior executives have been studying case research about firms with impeccable service choices, similar to Domino’s Pizza for example, he provides. “Like Domino’s 45-minute supply assure, can we transfer in direction of, say, a 48-hour restore assure? We’re piloting a house pick-up and drop of our telephones in Mumbai and Delhi. We wish to roll this out in a much bigger means in six months,” he says.

On the retail entrance, it’s making an attempt to formulate a bottom-up, direct-to-retailer strategy supported by model promoting as a substitute of making an attempt to emulate the robust channel relationships nurtured by the deep-pocketed Nokia and Samsung.

By means of its ‘Elite Circle’ channel promotion initiative, it tracks the gross sales of its telephones instantly from retailers every day (via a proprietary SMS-based app) as a substitute of ready as much as weeks for that information to move in through a number of distributors ranges. Relying on how they fare towards the gross sales targets, incentives get wire-transferred on to retailers.

Then, in fact, there’s the product portfolio.

Since its inception, Micromax has been identified for 2 issues: An uncanny capability to identify product gaps available in the market, and the velocity with which its provide chain responds to them. Whereas each of these nonetheless keep legitimate, its scale now provides it a direct seat throughout the desk from international ecosystem biggies starting from Google to Intel to Qualcomm to MediaTek.

Sharma’s aspiration to be seen as a Zara (the Spanish style big that launches 10,000 new designs yearly, with some going from design tables to shops in as little as two weeks) is as a lot in regards to the responsiveness of his provide chain as it’s in regards to the attributes of the model.

“Everybody has to behave like a CEO of their very own area and take fast selections. Our tradition is to be fast and nimble. Thus, a fallacious resolution is usually higher than no resolution in any respect,” he says.

Micromax’s Canvas HD smartphone was the primary product globally to make use of MediaTek’s quad-core processor. Later this yr, it will likely be one other Micromax telephone that may sport MediaTek’s first octa-core processor too.

One other American semiconductor big is claimed to offer it an India-specific LTE chipset as a substitute of the off-the-shelf ‘multi-mode’ ones that help all international frequency bands. This, in flip, will permit it to deliver a 4G smartphone to the market at a considerably decrease price than what at the moment exists.

Sharma can also be insisting that international {hardware} and software program makers deal with his Chinese language manufacturing companions—Tinno and Longcheer—as extensions of Micromax. In response, the world’s greatest identified PC processor firm has already embedded its engineers inside these corporations to assist in the joint-development of merchandise, he says.

By means of these tightly-coupled partnerships, Micromax reckons it may react even quicker than Samsung or Nokia that are vertically built-in. “Provide chain velocity is an element of your thoughts, not of your backend capabilities,” Sharma says.

A great instance of this may be how the corporate reacted to Nokia’s Asha collection of function telephones that use the older Symbian Sequence-40 working system. (Nokia insists these be known as smartphones, however most analysts dispute that. “Let the corporate say what it needs to however Asha will not be a pureplay smartphone. At greatest, it’s a ‘sensible function telephone’,” says Forrester’s Gupta).

“After Nokia launched Asha, Samsung bought edgy and launched its personal function telephone line, Rex. We debated whether or not to launch our personal function telephone sub-brand. However then

we checked if we might get Android to run on simply 256 MB of RAM which an entry-level telephone may sport. It did, however video games like Indignant Birds and Temple Run didn’t,” says Sharma. “My very own R&D workforce suggested me towards it but when Google permits me to run Android on 256 MB of RAM, why can’t I? So, in two months—not a yr—we launched our Bolt collection of entry-level Android smartphones priced between Rs 3,500 to Rs 6,500. It turned out to be an enormous success and we’re promoting round 5,00,000 items each month.”

Can Micromax Become India's Leading Smartphone Maker?

Picture: Amit Verma

Vikas Jain, co-founder: “If we defeat [Samsung] in India, this may develop into the primary nation the place [its being No. 1] stops being the rule”

Working Android on lower-end telephones seems to be a strategic precedence for Google, given its work on the newest Package Kat model to make sure it may run easily on telephones with simply 512 MB of RAM. “For 2014, our aim is [to figure out], how will we attain the following billion individuals?” Android head Sundar Pichai mentioned at an organization occasion on October 31 in San Francisco.

“Micromax appears to be seeing a chance and executing its technique nicely. I see native gamers like them having the potential to disrupt Samsung. The issue for Samsung is that they should continuously reinvent what they do. Take Nokia, for example—from gaming and media telephones to music and e-mail as a service, it had strategic concepts for nicely over a decade, and in all instructions,” says Dediu. “Plus they’d their very own platform [unlike Samsung, which relies mostly on Android]. Only a few firms traditionally have had the power to ‘self-disrupt’ and cannibalise their very own enterprise. Does Samsung have what it takes when Nokia, HP and Sony didn’t?”

Cooks and Cooks
Micromax, as an organization, was fashioned in 1991 by Rajesh Agarwal. He was joined by Rahul Sharma, Vikas Jain and Sumeet Arora (all engineering faculty mates) as equal companions in 1999. For practically a decade, the agency bought software program, telecom companies and pc {hardware} to enterprises until, in 2008, Sharma satisfied the others to department out into the cell phone area. Their first telephone, the Rs 2,150 X1i, touted a battery lifetime of practically 30 days and was an enormous success in rural India. They went on to dual-SIM, a function which might emerge as their breakout hit and set up the corporate as a severe participant. As gross sales began skyrocketing, individuals started to take be aware. Non-public fairness agency TA Associates invested $45 million in early 2010 whereas Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar got here on board as its model ambassador.

Most of its homegrown friends are primarily and, in some circumstances, totally, founder-led. Micromax, alternatively, has used its scale and success as a set off to induct senior trade leaders into government positions within the firm.

Deepak Mehrotra, an ex-Airtel government, had been taking part in the position of CEO for the final two years. (Whereas Forbes India was nonetheless reporting on this story, Micromax knowledgeable us that Mehrotra had give up for private causes. It might later prove that he had joined international training companies firm Pearson as its India head.)

Ajay Sharma, the previous head of HTC India, heads the smartphone enterprise. Amit Mathur, the previous head of gross sales at RIM India, leads the worldwide enterprise. Bharat Malik took over the service vertical after becoming a member of them from Nokia. Sony Ericsson government Khaja Muzaffarullah got here on board as the motive force of the nonetheless important function telephone enterprise whereas former entrepreneur Shubhodip Pal turned the chief advertising and marketing officer.

In the meantime, the founders have taken on extra strategic roles within the firm. Sharma is clearly the one making the largest bets. He says he determined to nominate Hollywood bigwig Jackman as model ambassador regardless that an organization dipstick revealed that just about eight out of 10 clients had not heard of him.

“The usual strategy would have been to choose somebody who’s standard amongst 80 % of the purchasers. However I mentioned we have to affect the 20 % who actually matter—the opinion makers and influencers,” he says.

Earlier this yr, he additionally enrolled at Harvard Enterprise Faculty (HBS) for its proprietor/president administration programme which trains enterprise house owners and entrepreneurs over a three-year interval to develop into higher leaders. The set off, he says, was when the HBS teachers had visited Micromax to compile a case research on it. “As they requested us questions for the case research, I had my very own questions for them, together with whether or not we should always go international or proceed increasing in India,” he says.

Sadly, per week into the programme, he needed to rush again after one of many co-founders, Rajesh Agarwal, was arrested by the CBI for allegedly bribing officers for a real-estate transaction.

Agarwal has since resigned from the corporate.

“The divide between the founders and professionals is that this: They handle all of the day-to-day operations whereas we deal with the strategic components,” says Sharma. “I deal with merchandise, technique, advertising and marketing and gross sales with out stepping into issues like retail or channel technique. Sumeet [Arora] appears to be like at after-sales and IT infrastructure with out stepping into, say, what particular spare components must be ordered. Vikas handles all {our relationships} with operators and closes massive offers earlier than passing them on to operations. And finance, which was dealt with by Rajesh, is now cut up between the three of us who’ve at all times been hands-on.”

Whereas on paper this division of obligations might look smart, 4 co-founders and 5 enterprise heads could also be a case of too many cooks until Micromax can proceed to develop at a breakneck velocity for the foreseeable future.
Going worldwide, due to this fact, turns into crucial.

From India, With Love
The partitions of Amit Mathur’s cabin at Micromax’s Gurgaon headquarters are plastered with maps and posters. Amongst them are maps of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, peppered with crimson, black and blue dots and stars, every representing a retail or service presence. There’s a smaller considered one of Moscow too. There are Sinhala (an ethnic Sri Lankan group with its personal language) posters as nicely, for 2 of its entry-level telephones.

Mathur himself is in Sri Lanka, busy consolidating the corporate’s place. Throughout a phone dialog, he says: “In Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, we’re the quantity two participant; six to eight months in the past, we weren’t even within the high 5.”

That is Micromax’s second try at going worldwide. Its first forays, two years again, ended principally in failure when customers in Latin America, Africa and the Center East didn’t fairly take a elaborate to its function telephones.

“Characteristic telephones usually require customisation, which turns into a problem when they’re being bought throughout a number of international locations. We had been prudent sufficient to tug again and consolidate,” says Mathur. “After I joined in January, we determined our gameplan can be to strengthen our presence inside the SAARC international locations. We might leverage our present promoting as a result of most [television] media performs there too.”

And its Bolt line of entry-level Android smartphones might be focused at newer markets way more effectively than function telephones. “Android has eliminated customisation as a hurdle for us,” says Mathur.

Can Micromax Become India's Leading Smartphone Maker?

Subsequent up are Myanmar, Russia, Romania and Ukraine. Like India, these markets too have low smartphone penetration and are steadily shifting in direction of retail gross sales (as in comparison with the operator-subsidised mannequin in lots of western European international locations and the US). Micromax is assuming that as customers are pressured to pay retail costs for his or her telephones, they may have a tendency to position much less of a premium on model and extra on worth.

“In Russia and its neighbouring international locations, the largest problem, usually, is the language. Not when it comes to telephone customisation, however so far as communications is anxious. Nokia used to have an excellent presence however that’s lowering… so that could be a plus,” says Mathur. “However Samsung is making an attempt to take over its share, so you need to struggle them. In some circumstances, there are robust Indian manufacturers like Fly too.”

Dediu factors out that “there’s nothing fallacious with an Indian firm aspiring to develop into a worldwide model. In any case, now we have seen firms from Japan and Korea do it earlier and, later, China. The emergence of Asian manufacturers is the large cultural phenomenon of this century.”

Solely the Paranoid Survive
Until this level, Micromax’s technique has been to identify important market alternatives left untapped by larger rivals, for example, the dual-SIM market by Nokia or the 5-inch ‘phablet’ area by Samsung.

However these gaps are getting tougher to seek out. “Cheaper costs alone is not going to be sustainable as a result of different gamers are launching cheap gadgets. Do you suppose Microsoft [which now owns Nokia] is not going to aggressively value Lumia gadgets under Rs 10,000?” says Forrester’s Gupta.

There’s additionally the blind spot that comes from being a marketing-driven innovator, when your clients can not inform you what they need as a result of they can not think about what they need. “How will Micromax spot the following technology of know-how which may be transportable or wearable? Perhaps as a substitute of a bigger display screen there will probably be no display screen in any respect. How will they compete?” says Dediu. Given the tempo of innovation and competitors within the smartphone area, his questions ought to fret Micromax.

By means of reply, Sharma talks about two of his yet-unreleased potential blockbusters, neither of which is a the rest of a competitor’s technique.

The primary is a hybrid system that mixes two vastly completely different merchandise into one. Yawn, you in all probability suppose. Haven’t these been round for a few years now?

Not like this one: It options two full-scale and side-by-side working techniques and chipsets—a worldwide first. “I need to assault the IT trade from the sidelines,” he says, refusing to disclose the title of this product.

One other creation he reveals is a full-featured smartphone with a battery lifetime of seven days—wishful considering when immediately’s smartphones must be charged a number of occasions a day. “Even then, cell phone {hardware} goes to develop into like PC {hardware}. It’s commoditised—what else are you able to add now?” asks Sharma.

Just like the PCs bought eaten up by the tablets and smartphones of the “post-PC world”, so too will smartphones at some point. What then?

“Why can’t we construct the following Flipkart with out replicating their backend infrastructure? I’ve bought thousands and thousands of shoppers, lots of whom use 5-inch gadgets that are nice for procuring. We’re determining find out how to promote them merchandise although; for instance, a white-labelled e-commerce website whose fulfilment is dealt with by another person and I get a lower out of each transaction,” says Sharma. “Clients, alternatively, will need to use Micromax telephones as a result of they get unique provides and companies.”

He claims to make near Rs 100 crore yearly by charging builders for downloads and unique apps on Micromax’s proprietary Android retailer (which coexists with Google’s Play Retailer on its telephones).

“We’re engaged on an app that may translate a dialog from English to Hindi in real-time, as it’s being spoken. We’re engaged on our personal foreign money so we don’t have to depend on operator billing. We need to purchase software program firms,” says Sharma. “Within the subsequent 5 years, our software program division will earn greater than the {hardware}. The long run lies within the web—I’m 200 % satisfied of that.”

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(This story seems within the 29 November, 2013 difficulty of Forbes India. To go to our Archives, click on right here.)

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