On the occasion of Ahmedabad’s birthday on Saturday, VO! Interviewed the chiefs of three major companies to find out how they view the city’s prospects. All of them agree Ahmedabad is a great place to live, but they also say the city needs to become more “outsider friendly.” People from other places are not too keen to move to Ahmedabad it seems, which results in a perpetual shortage of talent for the city’s corporate houses.
Kulin Lalbhai, executive director of Arvind Limited, is the scion of one of Ahmedabad oldest and most established business houses. An MBA from Harvard Business School, Kulin has lived and worked for extended periods in several cities, including Mumbai and Bangalore, where Arvind Fashion’s garment operations are located. Now he’s based in Ahmedabad and says: “I’m a homing pigeon. Wherever I may go, I always find my way back.”
Ahmedabad is developing fast, but it still doesn’t qualify as a metro, says Kulin, which actually works to its advantage. “The city has a culture that’s great for family life, for bringing up kids. Life is well-paced, safe and hassle free. Over the years, the city has actually become greener, with more open spaces,” he says.
At the same time, Kulin believes Ahmedabad needs to become more outsider-friendly. Bangalore has transformed itself into a cosmopolitan city largely because of its start-up ecosystem, which has drawn people from all over the country. Ahmedabad, on the other hand, has built a manufacturing ecosystem, which works differently on culture. “We are still a bit insular. For one thing, the city is very vegetarian and doesn’t cater to the dietary needs of outsiders. We have a great street food culture, but few fine dining places. For out-of-towners, there are not many places to hang out,” he says.
Rashesh Shah, founder-Chairman of the Mumbai based Edelweiss Financial Services, is a graduate of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A), batch of 1989. He recalls a time when Vastrapur was on the outskirts of the city and Ashram Road was where all the action was. “Ahmedabad is a very dynamic city,” he says. “It was always big on education. Now it’s home to a number of big-time corporates as well. I’m here every month because we have a lot of important clients here.”
But then, Rashesh, points to the same issue as Kulin: “Ahmedabad is a city for Gujaratis, by Gujaratis. I’d like to see other people look at Ahmedabad as a destination, but that’s not happening yet, despite the lower cost of living here. Incubation centres for start-ups, such as the one at IIMA, should contribute to attracting outside talent. And the new Gujarat International Finance Tec-City will eventually draw talent from all over.”
Achal Bakeri’s criticisms are much milder. When we ask the chairman and managing director Symphony Limited what Ahmedabad could do better, he says, “Better traffic management. That’s one area Ahmedabad is weak in.”
Symphony is a global player in air coolers and Achal says one of Ahmedabad’s big strengths is connectivity. The city has always been well connected by rail. Now it’s very well connected by road and air as well. “You can fly to most major international destinations from Ahmedabad. Singapore Airlines, Qatar, Etihad, Air Canada, all fly through Ahmedabad airport. And we have direct flights to two-tier cities like Guwahati, Cochin, Jodhpur too. This is important for business,” says Achal.
Has he ever thought of shifting from Ahmedabad to a bigger city, as many successful industrialists have done in the past? “The thought has never crossed my mind,” he says. “Ahmedabad is home, where I have my family, my friends, my connections. The quality of life here is far better than in the metros. People here are friendlier, distances are less. Ahmedabad has everything that a large city has, without the problems.”