Ever since the American economy went bust and the European economy has been going down, it’s sad to see my favorite magazine, The Economist, frantically trying to defend the wrong and go wrong by criticising the right. Time and again. Just a handful of weeks ago, in their frantic effort to criticize everything Chinese and everything non-market oriented, The Economist did a cover story called The Rise of State Capitalism (January 21-27, 2012). Basically, the story talked about how economies like China and even India are becoming more dependent on large public sector units and how this is bad blah blah. The obvious supposed scare is that public sector corporations are inefficient, have time overruns, invariably have cost overruns, have ingrained corruption and so on! The real scare is the growing might of China, of course!
Our group is into almost all kinds of consulting activities and we rarely come across a private sector company where an executive doesn’t ask for a bribe before awarding a big contract. Sometimes we’ve even found out that a competing firm has used sleaze to satisfy the client being prospected and thus has obtained the deal. From Enron to Olympus to Accenture, there is no dearth of large corporations which have made the most corrupt of choices. Large companies – whether public or private – always have within them certain ingrained issues. And what differentiates them from one another are systems and leadership. Under a different leader, the same GE could be the world’s best benchmark example while under another, in just a matter of a few years, it could be a struggling joke! The same it is with the public sector. If systems are put in place like the private sector, there is no innate reason why public sector corporations should be inefficient. And if systems go wrong, then you could even have a Reliance being rated worse than a public sector company to deal with.
As a management teacher, at least that’s what I have believed. That the former USSR failed or that China is nondemocratic doesn’t mean that the public sector idea is wrong. The only truth is that governments must know what to plan and what not to. A government, for example, has no business being in the luxury hotels sector; at the same time, in countries like India, the government not being in health or education is a crime. There are wonderful examples of public sector successes and one of them is the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC)! It’s a case study of our times.