Business Network International (BNI) is an American franchised networking organization with around 220,000 members in 8,000 local chapters worldwide. Also known as the world’s leading referral organization, its members have generated referrals of over 8.8 million which was worth $11.2 billion during the last calendar Year 2016.
BNI aims at spreading roots to various states and regions across India, thereby fostering the growth of business entrepreneurship and SME through business networking.
In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld‘s Anurag Batra (Editor-in-chief and Chairman), Graham Weihmiller, Global Chairman & CEO and Mahesh Mac Srinivasan, Country Head, BNI, spoke about SMEs growth, leadership summit, entrepreneurship and more.
Is it your first visit to Kolkata? What has actually changed since your first visit here?
Graham Weihmiller: I have been here four to five times. I visited this city for the first time about 20 years back. What has changed over the last few years is (the pace of) continued economic development and innovation. All the great things about India that I know of such as diversity, inclusiveness, dynamism, etc., are important lessons for us. The interest to continue to learn and develop oneself is also crucial learnings for us.
BNI is doing very well in India and has 300+ chapters. I have also learnt that you have ambitious plans for India which will be your biggest market globally. How are you so confident about its prospects?
GW: We have 338 chapters in India and its growing by leaps and bound, thanks to the growth of our members. I think India is going through a massive economic acceleration and we are excited to support that in every possible way. I think the culture within India to focus on lifelong learning; positive attitude and innovation are very much in line with BNI’s. We are very excited to contribute towards job creation and economic development (in India). My hope is that we create a special ecosystem for entrepreneurs and business communities wherein each member can serve other’s interests and work for the betterment of his chapter.
What are the peculiarities of the Indian market that makes you so optimistic about its future prospects?
Mahesh Mac Srinivasan: What I feel is tier-II and tier-III cities in India have an incredible talent base. Even the business owners there want to reach out across the country and even to the world. For any business owner, it is good to have a wider network in order to expand his operations. By plugging into this engine of BNI, they will be able to reach out to remotest corners of the country. A businessman hailing from a nondescript city can connect with someone from a big city like Coimbatore. This is something which makes me very bullish about the growth of BNI. This is just a tip of the iceberg as a lot of entrepreneurial talent here and people want to connect with the global marketplace.
If you have to give one advice to the prime minister, what will be that?
MMS: My only advice to him is to continue with what he is doing right now. A lot of change is happening in the business community (in India). The most important thing that is happening in the country is we are building the trust. At BNI, that is something we talk about so that the speed of business happens much faster. What the Prime Minister has done for us is building visibility (for entrepreneurs) and now the country’s credibility and profitability have increased. So I think we are on the right track and I am no one to give an advice to such a visionary statesman like him.
You are the perspective of many countries and have seen the entrepreneurial ecosystem everywhere? Any specific learnings that India could derive from any other country and implement it here?
GW: There are a lot of wonderful things happening like a continued emphasis on education, business-friendly climate, etc. I do foresee a lot of change in the Indian economy. I think continuing to focus on helping business centres adjust to that change so that they can benefit rapidly out of that change will be a welcome move. For example, SMEs may not be ready to learn about that changes and adjust to that.
How would BNI help in supporting them?
MMS: Naturally, by being a part of BNI chapters they have access to other business leaders in different disciplines. For example, accounts and individuals in IT can help small and medium sized enterprises adjust to the change that is underway.
What is the major change in enrolling a member 12 years back and now? Do you see any major change in their aspirations?
MMS: We didn’t have a similar ecosystem a decade back like we have now to grow at the pace that we are having now. Firstly, BNI has also evolved itself during this period. During 2015, we didn’t have the requisite infrastructure. So we have built it over the last 10-12 years and are now in a ramp-up mode. Large companies are having resources pan-India. But SMEs can compete on a national scale by plugging into our system. Answering your question specifically, a lot more of young people are now willing to take risks which were not prevalent earlier.
If you have to say one unique thing about an Indian entrepreneur who is also a BNI member, what will that be?
GW: I think they are exceptionally passionate and have the fire (to deliver).
Do entrepreneurs need good political leaders? If you have to give one advice to Donald Trump, what will that be?
GW: I think the leaders of today need to be stewards of their resources and need to think about the common good. I think entrepreneurs can also be leaders across various fields and certainly in public service. One of the great thing about BNI is we don’t get involved in politics or religion. By having that approach, we are able to work across 73 countries, many different languages, political and economic systems. This is because there are universal needs that business leaders have. While we are focussing on how to grow their (members’) business, we are also thinking of (ways too) helping their families to hire more people and ensure job creation. As an organisation of 32 years, we are able to act across borders because everyone speaks the language of working in harmony.
With BNI conventions or leadership summits, what would be unique about it five years from now?
MMS: Maybe we will be holding these events in a stadium rather than at a hotel. The way that our entrepreneurs are connected to the world and the kind of platform such as mobile app they are putting in right now (on their smartphones), their ability to grow their business will transform over the next five years. Just like we need a smartphone these days, a smart business will need a BNI (membership) to stay ahead of the curve.