Which of these six books will win the Rs 15 lakh Gaja Capital Business Book Prize 2020?
The Gaja Capital Business Book Prize is back this year to honour authors who chronicle the spirit of entrepreneurship in India. The 2020 shortlist features stories of Flipkart, BigBasket, Hero, and HDFC Bank’s digital transformation. The winner will be announced in January 2021.
The award was first instituted in 2019, and the winner last year was The Tatas: How a Family Built a Business and a Nation, by Girish Kuber. With a prize money of Rs 15 lakh, the award is regarded the biggest business book award in India.
Growth capital firm Gaja Capital was founded in 2004. It has invested in a range of companies including Xpressbees, Chumbak, SportzVillage, Bakers Circle, EuroKids, Carnation, TeamLease, and Bonanza.
See also YourStory’s Book Review section featuring over 280 titles on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and coverage of the Bangalore Business Literature Festival (2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 editions).
The 2020 shortlist includes Big Billion Startup: The Untold Flipkart Story (Mihir Dalal), Saying No to Jugaad: The Making of BigBasket (TN Hari and MS Subramanian), The Moonshot Game: Adventures of an Indian Venture Capitalist (Rahul Chandra), The Making of Hero (Sunil Munjal), HDFC 2.0 (Tamal Bandyopadhyay), and Bottle of Lies: Ranbaxy, and The Dark Side of Indian Pharma (Katherine Eban).
The awards story
“The most important decisions in life and business are taken on the basis of narratives, not numbers. The Indian growth phenomenon is one of the great stories of the 21st century. It needs to be told,” explains Gopal Jain, Managing Partner, Gaja Capital, in a chat with YourStory.
“Narratives inspire and build conviction,” he adds. India has many successful entrepreneurs and businesses. “The world should speak of them just as we speak of the world,” Gopal says. He asks: “Their legends are ours. When will ours become theirs?”
The first edition of The Gaja Capital Business Book Prize award last year drew lots of interest for its inspiring vision, according to Gopal. “This year, despite the pandemic, we have again received a tremendous response from publishers, authors, and the business community at large,” he says.
Though there are awards for businesses and entrepreneurs, there are very few for business writers and journalists in India. “This led us to think of the Gaja Book Prize, which hopes to encourage this fledgeling genre of Indian business-related literature,” Gopal explains. Gaja Capital investments have been supporting entrepreneurship over the last 25 years.
“Since time immemorial, our civilisation has respected the vital link between Saraswati and Lakshmi. When knowledge leads, wealth creation follows,” he evocatively describes.
The world of business is also playing an important role on the global stage. “We live in an age where businesses and companies are threatening to displace nations in the pantheon of human myth-making. Business writing reminds us of how the world is being shaped by entrepreneurs and businesses as much, if not more, than politicians and nations,” Gopal affirms.
“An important insight for Indian business over the last decade is that you don’t have to be western to be modern. Yet most business case studies and books are from economies at a very different stage of development than us,” observes Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, TeamLease, and member of the jury for the Gaja awards.
But there are now green shoots in books about Indian business and entrepreneurs. “This plant needs to be watered, nurtured, and encouraged. The Gaja Book award, with its generous prize of Rs 15 lakh, is an important infrastructure for writing about Indian business,” Manish says.
The jury process
Gopal explains that the Gaja Capital Business Book Prize jury comprises of industry experts, investors, CEOs, and senior members from the areas of public policy and governance in India and overseas. Judging criteria include the overall quality of narration and research, insights, and the ability to inspire and educate young entrepreneurs.
“A good story told well will need to be well-researched, but also relatable and inspiring. The jury will aim to strike a balance between these two important aspects,” Gopal says.
Due to the pandemic, the book awards this year are being promoted more on social and digital media. “We would like to start a conversation about business, entrepreneurship, and innovation using books as a medium,” he adds.
Jury members include Imran Jafar, Managing Partner, Gaja Capital; UK Sinha, Former Chairman of SEBI; Michael Queen, Former CEO of 3i; Neelkanth Mishra, MD, Asia-Pacific for Credit Suisse; Narayan Ramachandran, Former Country Head, Morgan Stanley India; Prithvi Haldea, Founder-Chairman of Praxis Consulting; and Shailesh Haribhakti, author and Managing Partner of Haribhakti & Co Chartered Accountants.
The power of books
“All of us are tired of fast-food equivalent business reporting and simplistic presentation that confuses correlation with causation. Business books have the advantage of spending time on building context,” Manish explains.
“Books also have the luxury of building characters and sharing their backstories. Most importantly, business books are able to capture the romance of entrepreneurship because building a company is not the solving of a sum but the painting of a picture,” Manish evocatively describes.
He sees a good future for books in the digital world as well. “Their future is quite bright actually. Snacking is quite unhealthy. In a world where Google knows everything, knowing is useless,” Manish observes.
“Many key 21st century skills – such as conversational intelligence, political intelligence, serendipity intelligence – cannot be learned by snacking. There are five methods of lifelong learning: relationships, roles, experiences, books, and physical classrooms. My sense is books are a horizontal that will increase the efficacy of the other four,” he explains.
‘Academic’ books and ‘airport’ books on business have separate styles, audiences, and subjects. “Obviously the most interesting business books cross over and I think the biggest growth over the next decade will be in books that combine rigorous research with captivating storytelling,” Manish predicts.
Gopal Jain (L), Manish Sabharwal
The India story
The business literature scene in India is small as compared to other economies. “But while India may not be the most powerful or important country in the world, it surely has strong claims to be the most interesting,” Manish observes.
“What makes us interesting is that more than any other place, the policy recognises that we don’t live in an economy but a society. This gives business books the advantage of a wider canvas and adventure of an emerging market. But the obvious disadvantage is market size – India is not a big market but a small market with big potential,” Manish adds.
“India has oodles of literary talent, which has achieved global recognition, for example, in English literature. We have to initiate a similar virtuous cycle in Indian business writing,” Gopal urges. Indian entrepreneurship and business models need to be written about, critiqued, improved, and celebrated, he adds.
Books in the pandemic era
A prolific reader and a frequent speaker at literature festivals, Manish shares some of the book titles on his reading list during the pandemic. “Among new books, I would say it would be Lights Out (about the cult of imperial CEOs and goofy governance at GE), Midnight Machines (a political history of technology in India), and Naoroji (a wonderful biography of the legend who made the first intellectual case for Swaraj),” he describes.
He also cites Jugalbandi, a history of the BJP till Modi. “Favourite re-reads were Strategy by Lawrence Freedman, India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha, Great Speeches of Modern India by Rudrangshu Mukherjee, and Integration of Indian states by VP Menon,” Manish adds.
Gopal and Manish also offer words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs on problem spotting, long-term mindsets, and institution building.
“Don’t fall victim to the disease historians call presentism — a belief that today’s circumstances are unique, unprecedented, and challenging. Presentism is a form of narcissism and people wrapped up in themselves make small packets. Think Big, Think Different and Think Long,” Manish advises.
The Gaja 2019 prize-winning book on the Tata’s narrates how the pursuit of social wealth has created immense financial wealth as a by-product. “In a world searching for impact, the book provides answers to budding entrepreneurs looking for motivation and successful ones looking for purpose,” Gopal explains.
“We don’t think our entrepreneurs need to be taught risk-taking, that’s a trait that already exists in them. What we need to do is to hone the skills of institution building – the ability to build, large, scalable businesses that harvest those traits and deliver value to all stakeholders while doing so – society, customers, employees and shareholders,” Gopal emphasises.
“We believe India will be shaped more by its entrepreneurs than its politicians,” Gopal signs off.