If you have the right talent and that spark in you with some brilliant ideas, then you can now get help in bringing it to life. Established in 1992, ‘Guidance’ is the Government of Tamil Nadu’s nodal agency for investment promotion and single window facilitation. Guidance was set up with an aim to promote Tamil Nadu as the most preferred investment destination by reaching out, helping, and improving the ease and cost of doing business. Since its inception, Guidance has facilitated investments of over Rs. 4.25 lakh crores into the State. The team of sector, policy, and country experts provides round the clock counsel and support to the investors during the entire investment cycle. They also bring together industry, community partners, and various government departments under one roof to facilitate and assist in the approvals, procedures, and regulation, Policy Guidance, Single Window Clearance, Location Assessment, Investor helpdesk (Biz Buddy) and Expansion Support.
What does your work profile entail as the Managing Director & CEO of Guidance?How has your team grown under your leadership?
Last year we rebranded the company name and logo to Guidance from its earlier name which was Tamil Nadu Industrial Guidance and Export Promotion Bureau. We changed the work culture and ethos to that of a private sector organisation. We hired youngsters from private sectors, who had the passion to do public service and see Tamil Nadu grow. We moved from 1200 to 12,000 sqft with a growth of 8 people in our team to 85 now, including our consultants. All this happened over a year. My work profile is to help the State present its most progressive face of industrialisation, so that we can attract investors to Tamil Nadu. A typical day involves meeting investors, convincing them on the potential here, helping those who have already firmed up their minds to get clearances and sanctions of incentives and hand holding them in their entire journey, production and also addressing their problems. I also continue to scan the landscape across the country to keep the State competitive.
My work also involves keeping the industrial ease of doing business at the highest level of compliance, so that the companies can focus on their businesses. Most of them are international investments and many of them are domestic expansions too. We have signed an MOU with the American Tamil Entrepreneur’s Association and have started a Digital Accelerator Program under which the government is giving grants to many startups that have promoters of Tamil origin. This program has just taken off and we will be announcing the first set of companies that will get their grants.
What are the challenges you face?
The challenges are to continue to be ahead of national and international competition in attracting investment into the state. This means continuously scanning the policy canvas to make sure we remain the best. Coordinating with other departments that determine the industrial climate such as connectivity, infrastructure, tourism, social infrastructure is an area that requires much more focus as we go forward as expats are looking at quality of life as an important determinant for their investment decisions. On the industry eco-system, the effort to ensure that the state continues to rise in its innovative energy and adoption of industry 4.0 is a challenging endeavour, as we need to engage with diverse set of stakeholders.
How was your experience in your earlier days as an advisor to the World Bank and at the Ministry of Petroleum and the schemes (PaHaL) you had worked with?
I started out with my Government of India stint in 2017 and left Delhi in 2015 and was in Delhi for seven years. I was with the Department of Post, Department of Commerce and also worked with the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas for five years. Thereafter, I moved to the World Bank from 2015 to 2018 in Washington DC.
The experience in petroleum has been very rewarding. When I joined there, there was a huge subsidy burden of LPG in the country and the fiscal space was limited. Our vision was to transfer the subsidy directly into the accounts of the LPG consumers. My passion has been to deploy e-governance to the cause of improving efficiency, convenience and transparency wherever I have been. We started looking at various solutions and rode on direct cash transfers into the bank accounts of the LPG consumers. That’s when unique challenges came up. The records were incomplete and there were loopholes. Earlier there was no KYC. We started out with a low base of automation and built up a full LPG ID for every consumer. We created portal called mylpg.in which put all the consumers on one platform. Then the question came about the quality delivery aspects of all supply and we integrated it with the Aadhar and direct cash transfer. Since then, every year we have helped save several lakhs of subsidies as the diversion has stopped. It was called PaHaL and it was featured in the Guinness Book of Records as well.
Another interesting program that was highly successful was the Give it Up Program. You would have seen at airports, posters of a woman saying because you gave up your subsidy, a poor woman could benefit. We ended up with about 10 million people who gave up their subsidy. It was a unique philanthropic endeavour andat alarge scale it was very gratifying.
We could represent India at an international forum and three years at the World Bank were really exhilarating for me from the perspective, that we could represent the country with pride and introduce policies and moderate them to suit the needs of the country.
You would have witnessed a lot of investment requests so far? How promising are they and how have the project shaped up?
Companies have been time and again proving that Tamil Nadu is the most conducive place for their businesses in India and in fact, globally. Even during the peak of the pandemic (April 2020 to December 2020), the state outshined by signing 73 fresh MoUs with a cumulative investment of Rs. 60,674 crores and employment potential for 1,00,721 persons. While these are the ones with which MoUs were signed, there are projects in the pipeline that are being evaluated by our team and will come for MoUs with the state. Electric mobility, electronics manufacturing, pharma, renewables and data centers among the key players who have pledged investments here. Ola electric is one such example who has committed to ground an investment of Rs.2354 cr in EV scooters. The largest and most advanced manufacturing facility of theirs in Hosur is a testament to the existing EV ecosystem. TEPL has grounded an investment of Rs.5000 crores in mobile electronics in Hosur. In renewable energy, massive investments have come through companies like Vikram Solar (5423 cr) and JSW energy (6300 cr). The state has also attracted pharma major Mylan to set up production in injectables. The projects are expected to commence as per their plans.
How can one approach you for investments?
We are open 24*7. Google actually lists us as open 24×7 – fun apart, our investment facilitators are available virtually 24×7. Investors can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or even reach out to me personally at email@example.com and the concerned team will get in touch within 24 hours. We are located at Prestige Polygon towers in Teynampet, Chennai and one can even walk-in. For investors’ grievance redressal, our Biz Buddy portal is a one shop stop – a faceless, contactless help desk that resolves any industry pain points in a time-bound manner.
How do you generate leads? What kind of startups and innovation businesses do you think are promising and your views on industry 4.0?
The Investment Promotion team at Guidance is a young and energetic team that follow up with the leads till they get them on board. The team also participates in roadshows, trade fairs, and other investment-related activities globally to put the State of Tamil Nadu in the spotlight. Our work doesn’t stop with signing MoU and the team pursues the companies to get them grounded/operational. The policy team at Guidance helps in tandem with providing necessary financial incentives for the inbound investor along with constantly upgrading the states’ policies. The external engagement team and the country desk officers liaise with diplomats and the trade bodies in this endeavour to showcase TN abroad and attract investments to the state.
How’s a typical work day in your everyday life like?
The day starts with a review of the new Single Window Portal implementation team which we are taking up in a mission mode. This is followed by a session with our employees for a review of upcoming investments. We also have a walk-in hour for any staff to come up and discuss any issues they may have. More than often, the rest of the day goes in talking to various investors who are either planning or have finalised their investment plans. The day is almost always interspersed with meetings at the secretariat. At the end of the day, after office hours, we look forward to spending some fun time together with colleagues either playing some games or in the gym, and before we know it is 8pm. Time to pack up and go home.
How do you take out time to balance family, your other passions and work?
With technology, it has become easier to manage work from wherever you are, so that gives us some flexibility. It’s been a great help as we are always connected, but it also has a downside, as we are always connected to work and your family can feel neglectedtoo. My olderson is working as a software engineer in the US and myyounger son is doing his first yearComputer Science from the University of Maryland, but is here these days taking online classes. My wife is a consultant with the World Bank. So, it’s a challenge to find a common time together at times, but weekends are family time. When the lockdown was announced, my family was stuck in the US and we had not shifted back to India. We had plans but that got changed due to the lockdown. I had gone there in March and when the first flight was announced I flew back from the US to Chennai in June. We closed everything in the US and since then we have beenin Chennai. My older son stayed back in the US, as he started his work there.I do find time to play some table tennis after office hours. We have a Tennis Table in the office and a small gym too, so that helps us to destress and bond with the colleagues. it’s a very flat organisation in that sense, where everyone mingles with everyone.
You’re from the north of India, was it tough settling down in the south initially? Did you face any language issues?
My training district was at Cuddalore and my Collector took me to a sugar mill. I had never been to deep south. The organisers announced I would give a speech and I didn’t know the language then, so I managed to say EnakkuTamilteriyatu, but the public response was very uplifting. They clapped and felt that this guy is atleast trying. That really motivated me and encouraged me. Of course, now being in the field for so many years, the acclimatization has happened very rapidly and knowing the language has been a great help. My elder sister has been cooking a lot of dosas, so I used to love south Indian food. The food was not unfamiliar and the transition was very smooth. Now I can speak Tamil fluently and also read and write, but at different levels of competency.
What kind of movies and music do you like and how do you like to unwind on weekends and holidays?
I go for long strolls with my wife and some quiet time and meditation and that keeps us going. I watch movies, but I don’t have much choice. Wewatch whatever movies our son plays and they’re usually all good. I have varied tastes in music – from classical, to country and western and of courseHindi music.We like to take holidays to places that are not crowded. We love to go to any sea location or even hill station; to placeswhere we can find a lonely spot and be one with nature.