India remains a strong long-term investment bet: Deloitte global CEO

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India was hit by a tsunami—the highly virulent Delta strain of Covid—but the country still remains an attractive destination for long-term global investors, Deloitte’s global CEO Punit Renjen told ET.

“Over the long arc of time, and the long investment horizon, India is a very attractive destination. And it is attractive because the fundamentals are attractive: the talent pool, the demographics, the consumer base, the democratic tradition,” the India-born Renjen said in an interview.

Global companies such as Deloitte won’t change their investment plans even if India seems to have faltered in dealing with the aggressive second wave.

“We have committed that we will double our presence in India over the next few years. This is a good example of putting my money where my mouth is. We’re going to hire between 75,000 to 100,000 additional people over the next number of years,” Renjen said.

It appears that India may have turned the corner in its fight against Covid and the worst may be behind the country.

“I think the numbers on the second wave are coming down drastically, which is a very positive sign. We should hope that the third wave doesn’t come, but we must prepare for it,” he said.

“The US and Europe have been hit by multiple waves. I’m very encouraged by the Indian vaccination programme. India has a massive challenge, unlike anybody else in the world — vaccinating 1.3 billion people in a democratic environment.”

Deloitte under Renjen’s leadership has started a healthcare project — Sanjeevani Pariyojana — with the Haryana government and the impact is already being felt in Karnal.

From May 24 to June 8, 2021, the district of Karnal has witnessed a significant reduction in deaths. The district administration has said that at least 50% more lives were saved since the programme’s inception on May 24; 195 medical students have consulted more than 7,000 home-isolated patients, making over 40,000 calls. “It’s about using tech-led innovation and that too in a uniquely Indian way to help treat people,” Renjen said.

Renjen said the pace of the global economic recovery can at best be described as lumpy and a lot depends on how nations control the virus.

“Some countries that have done a very good job in terms of controlling the virus either through measures like lockdowns and social distancing or through vaccination like in the US and the UK — there recovery has started,” said Renjen.

“My hope is that once we come back out of this virus, we will again start operating more like a global community, and we won’t close borders and take draconian actions going forward.”

Renjen recently played a key role in rallying US businesses and key groupings — the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USIPF), the US-India Business Council (USIBC) and the US Chamber of Commerce along with 40 CEOs — to help India when the country was facing a shortage of ventilators, oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment.

“Everybody on the steering committee realises that Covid is a global issue,” he said. “The virus does not discriminate. Nobody is safe if we are not vaccinated wherever we may be living. The Delta variant is now in 50 countries. So they stepped up to do the right thing. India had helped the US in the fall and the winter and now it was the right thing for us to do.”

Is India still a viable candidate for the China-plus-one model for global supply chains, as the latter has got back on its feet much faster?

“First off, the virus has been quite disruptive to business,” he said. “The supply chain example is one such example, the way that we work and live will change. The virus has also been affirmative, in that it has affirmed digital transformation, or the power of technology to enable growth. India is a very attractive option for global companies. So as global companies including Deloitte reassess their strategies as a result of the pandemic, India, I’m convinced, will feature into their plans like it has in Deloitte’s plans.”

Having steered a global enterprise such as Deloitte during a Black Swan event, Renjen says that for businesses, the-return-to-normalcy path will be a three-step process.

“The way to think about it is on a continuum, the first thing that you have to do is to respond,” he said. “The second is how you start recovering. And the third is how you set up the process to thrive. So respond, recover and thrive.”

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