18 The Indian EXPRESS
NORTH AMERICAN Newsline
JUNE 27, 2008
‘I did not exult when India became a nuclear
power as I feared an arms race with Pakistan’
DR SHAN (SHANKAR) NAIR, co-founder of Nair & Co is an
I believe the Indian American lobby is doing an excep-
Oxford University trained PhD nuclear physicist and Charter
tional job of promoting business ties between the US and India.
Member of TiE-Boston with a background in high-technology,
While it is difficult to pin down specific results from specific
software and accounting. Nair was recently named as one of the 50
initiatives, I believe the lobby's contribution to enabling deals
Outstanding Asian Americans in Business for 2008, an award
to happen is significant. For example, the recent interest of
presented by the Asian American Business Development Center.
foreign companies in setting up manufacturing operations in
Nair, who has lived in 13 countries in South East Asia, Eu-
India to avoid all their eggs being in the China and Vietnam
rope and the Middle East, started his career as a research scientist
baskets is a development that the lobby is actively pursuing at
in the UK nuclear industry and helped develop a code which set
present. This is an exciting new avenue for additional US and
that country’s standard for calculating waste from spent nuclear
European investment into India.
fuel. He was one of the two UK technical experts assisting the Eu-
ropean Commission on its post-accident risk assessment of the
❚ What are some of the areas that you think offer good
Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
prospects for India-US cooperation?
Once the UK power generation industry was privatized in the
Both countries are democracies and our business cultures
early 1990s, he retrained as an accountant within the industry
are very compatible. We could cooperate further in scientific
and left to found Nair & Co with his wife, Vyoma, in 1994.
and technological R&D, increase our synergistic economic in-
The entrepreneur is also responsible for the overall develop-
terdependence on each other as a two-way process between
ment of the group’s policies, strategies and goals. He has driven
equals and at a political level act jointly to calm tensions in the
the company's strong focus on using IT to leverage business ad-
world, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia.
Nair & Co which specializes in corporate tax compliance in
❚ You decided to take up accounting after your stint as a nu-
over 40 countries, today has its headquarters in UK and offices in
clear scientist, and set up Nair & Co in 1994. Now you run a
USA, China, Japan and India and acts for nearly 700 foreign op-
company that specializes in corporate tax compliance. That
erations in over 40 countries.
seems a rather unusual move.
In an interview with SUJEET RAJAN, Nair talks about why he
I was getting into a rut as a nuclear scientist. I wanted to
was never in favor of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, what India
make a complete career change and get out of this rut. I be-
needs to do to address its energy concerns, and if the ‘death’ of the
lieve I have shown that a physicist can generally do anything
nuke deal could prove to be a deterrent in community efforts to
he sets his mind to do!
bolster ties between the two countries. Excerpts:
❚ Do you miss being a nuclear scientist?
❚ The Indo-US civil nuclear deal seems to be dead for now. You
No. I do not miss being a nuclear scientist although some-
were not in favor of the deal from the beginning. Why?
times I miss the excitement of doing basic research. The nu-
I am not in favor of the deal because it would have severely
merate skills gained in this role have been invaluable in spot-
restricted India’s ability to produce fissile material for mili-
ting and analyzing business trends.
tary purposes without imposing any similar constraints on
Pakistan or China, both of whom are nuclear powers and with
❚ Dr A.Q. Khan is again in the news. His nefarious activities in
both of whom India has boundary disputes. Also the
the past continue to confound nuclear experts and give rise to
well-established democratic process in India will ensure that
fear of a catastrophe. Did you ever get a chance to interact
the nuclear know-how remains in secure hands unlike the
case in Pakistan.
No, I have never known him or indeed wish to meet him.
The good news is that it is not easy for a rogue scientist on
❚ For the US it is an important deal, financially at least, as
his own to create damage because the fissile materials
companies here stand to get at least $50 billion in contracts in
needed are hard to get hold of even if you know how to mis-
the long run, if it materializes. Is this a serious financial blow
use them. The main risk is of rogue countries with govern-
for the US, especially with the country in the throes of a tight
ments not accountable to their people getting access to this
Dr. Shan Nair with his 2008 Outstanding 50 Asian Americans
economy and tough global competition?
technology and materials.
in Business Award at The Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
India is currently lacking in electricity generating infra-
structure, which has failed to keep up with demand. A signifi-
this problem although I am not privy to its details. The major is-
❚ Let me turn back to business. Your company does corporate
cant beefing up of this infrastructure is inevitable. sue is to ensure that the long-term radioactive wastes are held
tax compliance work in more than 40 countries. How do you
There are plenty of opportunities for US companies to bid for
in a repository, which cannot affect groundwater. India has
rate India in that area?
work on conventional plants. It, therefore, seems unlikely sufficient desert areas to enable it to take care of this problem
India has a well-established regulatory system and a legal
to be a serious financial blow for the US economy taken as a
itself when the time arises.
system that works and is fair, albeit slower than one would like.
whole since the lost nuclear orders could be made to
It is at the same level as all of Europe and the US.
translate into orders for non-nuclear generating capacity for
❚ Did you exult when India became a nuclear power? What
were your ideals for the nation during your time at Oxford get-
❚ The Indian government has touted liberalization and trans-
ting a PhD in nuclear physics?
parency as two of their mantras for doing business in the
❚ How is India going to take care of its energy problems a cou-
No, I did not exult when India became a nuclear power be-
country. Are Indian companies really up there with the top lot
ple of decades down the road if a civil nuclear deal never ma-
cause I feared this would result in an arms race with Pakistan.
when it comes to transparency?
terializes? Is India doing enough to develop alternate energy
My own ideals were the hope that the nation would realize its
I believe they are up there with the top lot and some Indian
true greatness and potential by shaking off the yoke of being
companies such as Reliance, Tata and Infosys are standard set-
I believe the private sector should be enabled to fill this de-
an underdog, instilled in its psyche from the colonial era. I am
ters. I am also excited to see a crop of new entrepreneurial In-
mand and indeed this is already happening in India. A nuclear
very happy to see this ideal being accomplished today in a ma-
dian start-up companies emerging in the international arena.
power plant has an extremely high capital cost, has a high back
jor way both individually by Indians here in the US and in Eu-
end nuclear decommissioning and disposal cost spanning a
rope as well as by India’s emergence as a major economic
❚ What are some of the areas where Indian companies need to
very long time period and produces returns over decades of its
power in the world today.
improve upon in tax regulations and rules?
operational life. By comparison, a conventional plant like a gas
I do understand the need for the Indian government to
turbine plant has a much lower capital cost and produces re-
❚ The Indian American lobby did a lot to push the civil nuclear
raise more tax revenue to reduce the budget deficit. However,
turns for investors over a decade or so. It is therefore unlikely
deal through, apart from the efforts of the Indian government
too aggressive an approach by the regulators can kill the goose
that the private sector in India would find it attractive to build
and embassy officials here. Do you see the failure of this ini-
that lays the golden eggs. I believe reducing corporate taxes
nuclear power plants. The government's ability to step in and
tiative, even though the lobby is not at fault, as a dampener on
may actually increase the tax take. Also increasing the speed
do this is in any case limited by its budget deficit.
future bipartisan efforts by the community to enhance Indo-
of processing regulatory applications to, say, Hong Kong and
Singapore levels of response could make the environment
❚ Disposing of nuclear waste is a contentious subject. In your
No, I do not see this as a dampener. We are about to have a
much more business friendly and encourage more inward in-
earlier work as a scientist in the UK nuclear industry, you had
new president in this country and there is a lot to play for. The
vestment into India. These are just some areas that could be
helped develop a code which set the country’s standard for
US and India are both great democracies and our interests are
calculating waste from spent nuclear field. Later, you were one
of two UK technical experts assisting the European Commis-
❚ Your father was a diplomat and you have lived in 13 coun-
sion on the post-Chernobyl accident response. What is your
❚ Is the Indian American lobby doing enough to promote busi-
tries. You have now spent considerable time in the West, but
assessment of India’s readiness to dispose of nuclear waste on
ness ties between the two countries? There are a lot of busi-
have ties to Kerala from where you are originally from. Would
a larger scale?
ness organizations now and more and more American politi-
you consider moving back to India given the economic strides
I believe India’s nuclear industry is not large and old
cians and corporate honchos are doing the rounds of India to
the country is making? If not, why?
enough and the high-level waste disposal problem not severe
gauge business prospects and invite collaborations. How
Yes, I would consider moving back to India in the right
enough to have hit this problem in a major way as yet. Never-
much of this is really translating to real business deals at the
business circumstances. However, the cost of property in India
theless I feel sure that a policy must being evolved to deal with
end of the day?
today is an inhibitor.
N O R T H A M E R I C A N E D I T I O N