Scarcely a week passes without some Indian executives being felicitated by someone or the other. Such award functions are now relatively routine affairs for the various chambers of industry, for our many news channels and for the proliferating print media. Over and above that, we have multiple layers of Government and they too need to be seen doing their bit in felicitating our industry captains.
We have awards for proven business leaders and young ones, for small businesses and for emerging businesses, for socially responsible businesses, for eco-friendly businesses, for businesses using Dell machines and for those using Microsoft software, for businesses delivering transformational impact and also for those promoting trade between India and any number of countries.
So what explains glut of awards? It is certainly not performance that is being rewarded because our research shows over 1, 3 and 5 years, our companies struggle to grow earnings per share significantly faster than real GDP growth. Neither is it philanthropy that we are lauding because as recently highlighted in the World Giving Index, when it comes to donating money we are ranked a dismal 134th in the world (out of 153 countries).
So why then do we dole out awards to executives on a weekly basis?
Like everything else in the world around, award functions need sponsorship to pay for the food, wine and brass cups that are handed out. The sponsors of these awards are usually media companies looking for low cost content with which to attract eyeballs. Publicity hungry companies are usually happy to play ball to provide such content.
However, beyond the shallowness of such supply-side factors lie more profound demand side drivers. Many people are genuinely keen to know which are our best companies and who are our outstanding business leaders. We are a young country with a volatile stockmarket and with very few companies who have been in the limelight for more than a decade. Hence there is considerable curiosity amongst the chattering classes to understand exactly who is emerging as the new titan in our country’s race for wealth and power.
In fact, you can see this process in play not just in business but also in sport. We are looking for heroes and are happy to lionize relatively unknown names who have emerged as new stars. One medal in a second rung sports event, one stellar show in a tournament in the West or for that matter, one acquisition of a Western company is enough to generate gongs at award functions. It is as if we want to win so desperately that in this gold rush even before we can personally get our hands on gold, we are happy to celebrate those who seem likely to get there before us.
Moreover, it is not just you and me who want to see winners. Indian entrepreneurs who have toiled for years to build successful businesses yearn for some social recognition of what they have achieved, recognition which will convince them that after all these years of labour, it is not just a fistful of dollars in a Swiss bank account that is their main record of achievement.
Whilst the public’s desire to celebrate champions is very real and whilst the yearning of the champions for acknowledgement of their worth is just as genuine, the tragedy in all this is that the hijacking of these desires is total. Hence we get treated to the farce of “paid” award functions where some of our less lustrous companies might even be happy to pay for some advertising in return for an award or two to be handed over in front of the TV cameras by a dignitary.
We also have the unsavoury practice of the company which has sponsored the awards function choosing who will win that evening’s award. I once went to such an awards function in London where a database company sponsored the ceremony and choose every single awardee on the basis of how much they had promoted the said company’s products.
In the old India such abuse of awards would have led to the setting up of a committee to investigate the matter. In the new India everybody is too busy searching for wealth and power to care about such an erosion of ethics. After all there aren’t any awards available for that. I can’t help feeling that in this “live and let live” attitude lies both our tragedy and our triumph as a freewheeling (award giving) market economy.