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All attempts to get him to talk of his entrepreneurial facility and accomplishments fall flat as he is full of BNI- right from the word ‘go’ to the parting handshake. No wonder Mahesh Mac Srinivasan is chosen as the President of Asia Pacific Chapters of BNI, the world's leading referral organisation. He is the first Indian to enjoy the privilege. Mac, who was in the city to address the local chapters, took time off to talk of his inextricable involvement and exemplary devotion to the organisation that strives to erase the trade boundaries across the world.

The Yap Call
I moved back to Bengaluru after a decade-long sojourn in the US to set up a company. That was when I heard of BNI from a Malaysian friend -Yap.
I didn’t buy this concept, thinking it was a multi-layer marketing. However, at his behest, I happened to land in a BNI meet in Mumbai and returned a changed man.

What really stumped me at the meet was a coffee and tea vending machine person giving reference of hi-tech IT networking. Though the dynamics foxed me first, the simplicity of the process impressed me immensely. The vendor, who was supplying coffee and tea to the staff of an IT firm, observed the company’s expansion to one more floor and was smart enough to find out why they were expanding and who they were networking with. That is when it snapped in my mind that this kind of direct networking is efficacious and needs no kickbacks and commissions.

On Bengaluru Chapters
To start with, a couple of friends and I mustered a few members and launched the first chapter. Today we have 2000 members and 50 chapters. This steep increase can’t be attributed only to our active advocating but also to the rule that each chapter should have only one person representing one profession. I also acknowledge the role of a team of members who stepped up to contribute to the launching and support of new chapters. For eg., we had a web designer in the first group and to accommodate the second one, we needed to start another chapter.

Indian Scene
By the time the concept reached India, it was already fine-tuned and caught up like wildfire. Now we have set a number of records.
a) Largest chapters of 125 members in the world.
b) Launching the largest chapter (112 members).
c) Highest number of 100 plus chapters.
d) Fostered growth among
71 countries.

Asian Chapters
Our chapters are denser than others because basically Asians are more entrepreneurial in nature. Secondly, they don’t have flourishing job markets like their western counterparts; they have to sell to survive. We structured our chapters in such a way that they foster the growth of many more entrepreneurs. We have an extensive array of streams- right from Vaastu consultants, to doctors, investors and technology specialists.

Meeting Mode
We conduct our meetings in a manner to attract more business for members in an efficient and effective manner. We start the meeting with a trade session & follow it up with breakfast, optimising the interaction time. We found the morning meetings are efficient because one- you beat the traffic and two - you are sure to walk away with deals while your competitors are asleep.

Advantage India
We are now in a ramp-up mode and have the best systems in place. With a high level of discipline, ours is largely English speaking community. Our government is stable. This terra firma is necessary for trade to flourish. We have crossed US $996 million worth of referral business in 2017 alone and expect to cross the $1billion mark this year. Small and medium entrepreneurs have all the freedom to realise their dreams. Gone are the days when one has to be either an engineer or a doctor. Now the youth can pick up business of any kind and magnitude. Our Tier-II and Tier-III cities have great talent base. By joining BNI, they can reach out to any corner of the global marketplace. Large companies have resources pan-India. Even SMEs can compete on a national scale by plugging into our system. BNI is like a gym. People have to come and work out. It is not a get-rich-club. Members have to attend the meetings and build trust, give and receive referrals.

Harsh Realities & New Hope
India is taking giant strides in the right direction. Yet, we must admit our entrepreneur has to work ten times harder than his counterparts to get the basic things going because of the lack of proper infrastructure. With GST and demonetisation in place, we are in for good tax collection and great revenue which will be utilised to improve the infrastructure over the next decade.

Indian as The Leader
At the end of the day it is merit that counts. Two years ago, we had undergone some leadership changes.
I was asked to step up for a few months and I continued from thereon. Change in the leadership often results in loss of efficiency. But here the transitions resulted in a phenomenal growth upwards. Then they noticed that the systems and process I put in order enabled this growth. They sought my help across the Asia Pacific. I refuse to take the credit all by myself and insist that it is a matter of efficient team work.

The Structure
Our CEO Graham Weihmiller heads three market zones- the Americas are headed by Gonzalo, Europe-Middle East and Africa are headed by Andy and I take care of Asia Pacific and have 18 countries under my jurisdiction. We are adding more.

Helping Hand
There are three levels of entrepreneurship. We have
A) The Survival Stage Business: Startups generally take 3 years to find their feet. Through BNI, they can be on their own within 18 months as they get good support from their chapter.
B) The Stability Stage Business: As the trade runs well, the entrepreneur gets into a comfort zone and is likely to become complacent. BNI goads them out of this.
C) The Abundance Stage:
This is where they can give it back to society. Look at K.V.T.Ramesh, who brought BNI to Vizag. He started 5AM Club and is striving to build a healthy society. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to look beyond themselves and start supporting others and do good for the society.

Vizag Scene
We have 357 proactive members and 7 chapters. We have concepts like “Buy in BNI” - source products from BNI members and “Business beyond Borders”- our members go to different cities and countries and participate in trade delegations.

Start Ups
Start-ups, who plug into BNI, are certain to survive as they enjoy the advantage of referrals. Over and above that, we have a colleague system in place. Seasoned entrepreneurs, who have already gone through the grind, guide them and warn them of pitfalls. Our community holds their space while they stabilise.

Women Power
There is no gender bias in our organisation. In Mumbai, certain chapters have 30 to 40% of their members as women. They are fantastic in building relationships and BNI is one of the safest environments for a woman entrepreneur to expand her business through referrals.

I thank those who criticise us. That shows they care. We take all our criticism seriously and mend our ways where there is a need. People who come into our system can use the forum, those who cannot may go for another system.

The Edge
We keep upgrading technology and use it to help our members. Now members can close deals through a phone call. We are innovating. We are looking at BNI Alumni club. We have partnerships with big firms, airlines and hotel to get special privileges for our members. We are putting together global alliances with credit card companies and adding value to our members’ entity.

My True Happiness
When a member comes to me and says, “Thanks to BNI, my business grew five times. I went from a 200 sq.ft office to 2000 sq.ft one.” An artiste member, who was barely articulate, speaks relatively good English and looks confident and has grown his business from a one man show to a venture with 21 other artists working with him. That shows we are impacting and empowering the grassroots too. BNI is not for everyone. Making all entrepreneurs BNI members is not my intent. I want a few good players, who make a difference to the economy and society. We want to do it in our quiet way and create a lasting impact on society and our community. Help the entrepreneur Make in India and take it to the world, though a structure and proven system like BNI is my dream.

Business Network International (BNI) is an American franchised networking organisation with around 220,000 members in 8,000 chapters worldwide. Its members have generated referrals of over 8.8 million worth $11.2 billion during the last calendar year 2016. Started 12 years ago in India, it expanded to 88 regions in the last 20 months and now has 17,000 members.

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