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Another world of business
- Infosys leads in corporate performance judged by three virtues

This was another Night of January 16: not unlike Ayn Rand’s famous murder-trial play that employs a jury selected from the audience to decide the curious case of a great financier’s mistress who stands accused of his murder, with her defiance of society’s standards as the greatest evidence of her guilt.

BusinessWorld’s Most Respected Company Awards 2003 in Mumbai on Thursday night — a sit-down, chablis-and-French cuisine event attended by the crème de la crème of India Inc — was an equally defiant awards ceremony, challenging the conventional canons of judging corporate performance.

The ceremony — the coincidence in the date with Rand’s play was purely incidental — was unique: corporate India played the jury, voting the best companies in the country not on the measure of profits but on the intangible virtues of respect, ethics and dynamism.

Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, who graced the event, said an award ceremony like this reinforced the sense of optimism that India would soon stand up and be counted among developed countries.

“We are called a developing country — and let’s face it that really is a euphemism for an underdeveloped country. We need to change that perception,” Advani said in an extempore speech in Hindi while appealing for a new partnership between government and business (sarkar aur vyapar) that will ensure that the 21st century belongs to India.

“Awards are all about trust,” said Aveek Sarkar, chief editor of the ABP group, which publishes BusinessWorld. “We need to be responsible.”

The night belonged to Infosys Technologies — which swept the board with five of the 18 awards, including the prestigious BusinessWorld Most Respected Company award.

“Infosys is a shining example of what India is really capable of,” Advani said after handing over the trophy to Nandan Nilekani, CEO of the Bangalore-based software company.

Speaking to reporters later, Nilekani said the award was a very “humbling experience”. “We have a lot more to do to earn global respect — like sticking around for a 100 years.”

Taking a pledge before the corporate chieftains, Nilekani said, "We will strive harder on how we conduct relationships with stakeholders like our customers, shareholders and employees.”

Infosys Technolgies was also voted as The Most Ethical Company, the Most Globally Competitive Company and the Most Dynamic Company.

In the sectoral award for information technology, Infosys shared the honours with its neighbour from Bangalore, Azim Premji’s Wipro Ltd.

Hindustan Lever was the first runner-up in the category for Most Respected Company while Reliance was adjudged the second runner-up.

The survey base of over 200 companies included a large cross-section of top management executives across industries to rate companies over 19 parameters like top management leadership, ethics, transparency, shareholder value, social consciousness, dynamism and global competitiveness, among others.

Hero Honda, which is staving off the strong challenge from arch rivals Bajaj Auto and TVS Ltd for leadership position in the motorcycle segment, took the pole position in the automobile segment. Brij Mohan Lall Munjal, patriarch of the Munjal family, asked son Pawan Munjal to come on stage and help him lift the trophy.

In the banking and finance segment it was the old warhorse, State Bank of India, that earned the title as the most respected company. In consumer durables, there was again a tie between Philips India (which has revived its fortunes lately) and Titan, the watchmaker from the Tata group.

There were no surprises in the fast-moving consumer goods sector as Hindustan Lever bagged the trophy, while the Indian subsidiary of the American giant McDonald’s was awarded the trophy in the food services segment.

In infrastructure it was Larsen & Toubro, while new entrant News Television India (STAR TV) took the pole position in the media and entertainment segment.

Bharat Petroleum was voted the best company in the petroleum and petro-products segment, vindicating petroleum minister Ram Naik’s faith in state-owned refineries which are at the centre of the controversy over the government’s sell-off programme.

GlaxoSmithKline Pharma was voted the winner in the pharmaceuticals, pipping Dr Reddy’s, Ranbaxy and Sun Pharmaceuticals.

Lifestyle International was honoured in the retail segment, Hutchison Max in telecom, Raymonds in readymades and textiles, while Jet Airways grabbed the trophy in the travel & hospitality segment.

The night saw businessmen vying for attention and exchanging pleasantries with Advani, the man who they expect will eventually lead the country.

A K Purwar, chairman of SBI, the country’s largest commercial bank, was seen rubbing shoulders with K.V. Kamath, his arch-rival and CEO of the largest private sector bank ICICI, and Deepak Parekh of housing financier HDFC.

Sunil Mittal of the Bharti group and Anil Ambani of Reliance were seated at the same table and in a convivial mood: there was no sign of the acrimony that has erupted between the two companies over limited mobility telephone services.

Other big wigs who graced the event were Manvinder Singh Banga, head honcho of Hindustan Lever, the papa-son duo of Brij Mohan Lall and Pawan Kant Munjal of Hero Honda, Harsh Goenka from the RPG group, Asim Ghosh, chief of Hutchison Max, Gautam Singhania of Raymond’s, Venugopal Dhoot from the Videocon group, and Zee TV’s Subhash Chandra who smoked his trademark custom-made bidi.

Adi Godrej, who has crafted a spectacular turnaround in his company, also came, but minus his attractive wife, Parmeshwar. Nusli Wadia, the dapper chairman of Bombay Dyeing, appeared relaxed as Gautam Singhania took the award for the most respected company in the readymade and textiles segment.

The aspirational trophy for the Most Respected Company — three women stretching their hands upwards — was designed by Mukul Goyal, a Delhi-based designer.

After winning the second runner-up trophy for the most respected company, Anil Ambani left with his wife in tow, only to find that he had forgotten his precious trophy. He immediately returned to request the volunteers to pack it and send it home.

A.M. Naik, who was good-naturedly ribbed by Nusli Wadia for planning to hive off Larsen & Toubro’s cement business, was earnestly sounding off a senior ABP official to institute a award for the capital equipment industry. It is one of the most important segments in an economy, he remonstrated. What he did not say was that if the segment had been represented, L&T would have had a great shot at the title.

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