The sprawling country of 1.3 billion people that produced the likes of Ghandi and built the Taj Mahal has become a powerful influence in the global economy. Yet the perception of the business climate in India, which has also produced highly regarded CEOs among notable Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft and PepsiCo, often does not match its majesty.

Earned or not, India and South Asia are often plagued by a perceived association with pervasive bribery and questionable business practices. India’s infamous Satyam scandal, for example, landed the company a spot on the notorious list of those caught up in fraudulent financial activities—Enron, WorldCom, and Société Générale, among others. Changing that perception has been an enormous challenge for Indian businesses. Fortunately, perceptions are not always based on fact, and as such can be shifted. Sometimes, a tiger can actually change its stripes. Of course, it needs the means to do so.

Among the top 10 largest economies in the world, India has been a cornerstone for the South Asia region’s economy. In a market of this size, cultivating change takes more than just vision. Change will take commitment and activism from across the economy. That’s why Ethisphere elected to work with a diverse set of companies and their leadership teams from this region, all sharing a common goal of actively influencing change in India and South Asia. This September, a new South Asia Chapter of Ethisphere’s Business Ethics Leadership Alliance (BELA) was launched and will serve as the nexus for business and ethics executives committed to a movement that can only be driven by community purpose. Four of the 19 founding “SA BELA” members spoke with me about inspiring change, establishing better practices and tone, and expansion in the region.

Why are India and South Asia so important from a pure business perspective?

Tripti Roy, Ethics Counselor, Tata Steel: First, the Tata Group is headquartered in India and, even as we have expanded to become a global enterprise, we remain close to our roots in India, where the group first started. Hence, there is a deep sense of responsibility towards the development and prosperity of India and indeed Asia. Second, Asia is one of the most rapidly-growing regions in the world and the Tata Group is committed to contributing to this growth.

Mike McLaughlin, ‎Senior Vice President, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, Dell Technologies: It is critically import for Dell and any company doing business in this region to have the ability to export and import talent throughout. The workforce in India in particular is inspiring. Super energized, passionate, and outstanding skillsets.

Atul Kumar, Chief Ethics Officer, State Bank of India (SBI): SBI is the largest banking conglomerate in India with a global presence across all time zones, including many South Asian countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and others. India also shares ancient historical ties with the countries associated with South Asia.

Daniel Trujillo, Senior Vice President, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer, Walmart International: To grow our business profitably, we’re making strategic choices to simplify our portfolio and be more focused. Our emphasis for capital allocation is core for our key growth markets, which include India. More broadly, we have a global technology center in India and the region is integral to our sourcing operations and needs.

What led you to serve among the SA BELA Founding Members?

Tata: The Tata Group is synonymous with ethics, and Tata Group companies such as Tata Steel have been repeatedly recognized by the Ethisphere Institute as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies®. We are committed to remaining at the forefront of driving ethical and sustainable business practices around the world. Serving as a Founding Member of this community will help us achieve that goal.

Dell: We find Ethisphere and BELA to be exceptionally valuable in terms of cultivating best practices. Some of the best ideas can, and do, come out of this community of top practitioners. And while the goal is always to be forward-thinking, the more detailed and deeper we can get as resources to one another, the better tone we can establish and truly move the needle. We think this is a game changer in India and we want to have a role in progressing it.

SBI: SBI has nurtured its gold standard ethos spanning more than 200 years. SBI is the first Indian Public Sector organisation to establish an independent Ethics & Business Conduct Function headed by a Chief Ethics Officer. It has long provided thought leadership to the Indian banking sector. In line with this sterling legacy, we look upon the promotion of a strong ethical culture in the Indian financial space as part of our ethical responsibility for a new India. As a Founding Member, we visualise a positive cascading effect on the sector, certain to be a game changer in terms of normative congruence.

Walmart: The changes in the business environment in India and South Asia have made it more important than ever to have a strong ethics and compliance function within our organization—and in the organizations with which we do business. We are committed to doing business the right way, every day, and to becoming the most trusted retailer in the world in the eyes of our customers, associates, communities, and shareholders. SA BELA will serve as a key platform for us to discuss and assess what we are doing as a company and to work with others to define and advance best practices in ethics, integrity, and anti-corruption.

How do you see the best practices coming out of SA BELA expanding to your ecosystem around the world?

Tata: At the Tata Group, we believe in always implementing the best ideas whether they come from the industry or from academia. The Tata Group has many platforms for the ethics and compliance teams of group companies to meet, and we plan to use these platforms for disseminating the best practices from SA BELA.

Dell: What this offers everyone in the community is a trusted forum in which to share best practices in an environment that is truly unique to the global market. Whether these are local perspective from companies based in and founded in India, or global companies with significant business interests in South Asia, we see close collaboration as the means to changing attitudes and being truly evolutionary. This is a value to us not just as a company built on innovation, but one that has a sense of purpose in doing good.

SBI: Ethics has been a well-researched, practised and valued subject in the mature economies, particularly in the west. It is now gaining ground in other economies too. A trial-and-error approach to perfect our own practices can be meaningfully avoided when you have the hand holding and access to the best resources and practices just a click away.

Walmart: Building and maintaining trust is a core component of our company’s strategy, and our ethics and compliance organization plays a critical role in executing that strategy. We therefore see the best practices developed in SA BELA extending beyond the region, shaping business ethics and trust in our company and in communities around the globe. Leading in ethics and compliance together with the other SA BELA members benefits not only Walmart and our associates but also the communities in which we operate and live.

Taking a step back—in your opinion as a Founding Member, what’s next for SA BELA?

Tata: We firmly believe in the importance of establishing strong independent institutions that will always support industrial growth across the globe, regardless of which particular companies are dominant at different points in time. We see SA BELA as one such institution that will drive the growth of industries by widening the discussion on safe, ethical and sustainable business practices. The next step for SA BELA will be to institutionalize this discussion and to include an ever-increasing list of companies.

Dell: Right now it is about winning hearts and minds. Once we have credibility and have a critical mass of people, then we will become influencers and champions of greater global standards where community expansion should be a very natural next step. We have Dell leadership in India and throughout SA BELA that totally understands that. We need to create excitement and vigilance, and turn that into advocacy to change whatever is necessary – whether that means laws, regulation, policy or public opinion.

SBI: Once SA BELA is firmly rooted in India, we look to its evolution and expansion into other key markets in South Asia.

Walmart: What we can collectively do in our mission to advance transparency and integrity in the business community is limitless. As global partners in SA BELA, we can establish transformative standards for ethics and compliance that will guide business practices in the future.


About the Author:

Kevin McCormack is the Vice President for Global Thought Leadership & Programs, overseeing the development of all global summits, roundtables, webinars and the connection of organizational leadership that contributes and participates in Ethisphere events throughout the United States and regionally in Asia, Latin America and Europe.

Prior to joining Ethisphere in 2013, Kevin spent 12 years at Thomson Reuters, most recently as the manager for Online Content & Partner Relations for West LegalEdcenter, an award-winning Thomson Reuters business featureing the most comprehensive online collection of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) content in the world. Kevin holds a JD from the University of North Dakota School of Lawa and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota.

Kevin is based in Denver, Colorado. He can be reached kevin.mccormack@ethisphere.com.