Times of India-9th April, 2011, Mumbai Edition-India is one of the most favoured investment destinations for US-based Dun & Bradstreet (D&B). However, that is not the only India connection which the world's leading provider of global business information, knowledge and insight, boasts of. D&B, which, to put it simply, collects information to ascertain credit worthiness of companies, also has another strong connect with the Indian market-its global chairman & CEO, Sara Mathew, is an Indian.
Set up in 1841, few people would perhaps know that D&B has had the distinction of employing luminaries such as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S Grant, Grover Cleveland and William B McKinley as credit correspondents before they went on to become US presidents. At present, the $5.6-billion company operates in 200 countries and manages one of the most valuable commercial databases in the world, which contains more than 177 million business records. In India, D&B collects data from 100,000 sources, which it plans to increase manifold in the coming years.
Chennai-born Sara Mathew was in India recently and spoke to TOI on a range of issues, including its Indian business, the economy and the education system. At 55, she is one of the growing breed of India-born professional CEOs who are making their presence felt in the global corporate world. However, she is modest and would rather give all the credit to the Indian education system for her success.
The good education system in India is what has helped me in excelling in my career in the US," she said and added that Indian degrees are highly respected and are very helpful in getting good jobs in the US.
Born to doctor parents, she attended the Presentation Convent Church Park School and went on to earn a Bachelor's degree from the Women's Christian College. Subsequently, she earned her masters in business administration from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Sara also holds a cost accountancy degree from The Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India (AICWA).
Mathew's climb up the corporate ladder in D&B has been gradual but definitive. She joined D&B in 2001 as the chief financial officer (CFO) and went on to become the president in 2006 before being appointed president and chief operating officer in 2007. In 2010, she was named CEO and then assumed the role of chairman of the board in July, 2010. But it was really in Proctor & Gamble, where she demonstrated great tenacity during her 18 year-stay, climbing from the post of a clerk before being appointed as the CFO of its global baby care business.
In India to push D&B's expansion in the country, she said that India is the focus of D&B's growth strategy. We reckon that given the rise in instances of corruption in India, a focused approach to credit rating would go a long way in solving some of the country's current problems.
D&B's Indian business coverage has grown from 700,000 companies in 2006 to over 7.2 million entities in 2011. "In 2010 alone, the company grew its Indian database by 2.5 million and has plans to get to 9 million by end of 2011," she said.
India has a great future, she says. "While challenges are there in the short term, the prospects are bright in the long term," she said. Unlike other credit rating agencies, which rate a company on the basis of information provided by the company itself, D&B rates a company on the basis of data collected from independent sources, she said and added that it is therefore considered to be more reliable.
As for the economy, she feels that it exhibits strong fundamentals and a high growth potential. "Economic reforms and growth-enabling policies would be warranted to facilitate a sustained and inclusive growth. Continued thrust on economic reforms will ensure inflows of foreign funds, which will be crucial for financing huge investment requirements in various sectors in the country," she said.
Mathew feels infrastructure development is extremely critical now for the economy. "This will be important for both-stimulating growth as well as attracting foreign investments," she said. The government, she said, is expected to put special focus on developing core infrastructure sectors. "An environment to attract private participation in infrastructure will only speed up the process," she said.
That's not all. Her recipe includes a sustained growth of agriculture to attain inclusive economic growth, given that agriculture still employs a large chunk of the population. "Addressing core issues such as reducing dependence on monsoon, improving warehousing facilities and removing bottlenecks in the food supply chain need to be high on the policy agenda of the Indian government, she said.
Under Mathew, D&B has implemented a total shareholder return (TSR) strategy, focused on profitable revenue growth, margin expansion and a disciplined approach to deploying D&B's free cash flow. She was also instrumental in the development and implementation of D&B's current international strategy to leverage partnerships to improve D&B's competitive position through the creation of D&B's World Wide Network (WWN). Since then, its international business has almost doubled in revenue, besides expanding margins. Currently, she is leading a transformation of D&B from a data company to a more innovative, digital enterprise, by leveraging technological advances that will allow the firm to expand its reach.