SEPT. 15, 2002
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Q&A: Douglas Nielson
Douglas Nielson, Chief Country Officer, Deutsche Bank, India, speaks to BT Online on what the bank has in mind for India, particularly its plans in the asset management arena. Equity research, as Nielson says, will emerge as a key differentiating factor in this business, and that's exactly what Deutsche is working on.

Long Bond Is Back
The government is bringing back the 30-year bond. Will insurers be the only takers?

More Net Specials
Business Today,  September 1, 2002
Trevor Baylis Interview
"There Is An Inventor In All Of Us"
Dreams are the most extraordinary places where inventions come from. a picture is worth a thousand words and a dream is like ten million words.

He's been a yacht salesman, movie stuntsman, television host and, more recently, an inventor. But it's the last role that has brought Trevor Baylis his fame and fortune. Often called Britain's P.T. Barnum (a 19th century American showman), the 63-year-old high school dropout battled the scientific community's indifference to launch a low-cost "wind up" radio, Freeplay, that became a vital tool in the fight against aids in Africa. In 1999 the self-confessed showman-inventor sold his rights for £2.5 million (Rs 18.73 crore). His newest invention is an electric shoe that allows batteries (of, say, mobile phones) to be recharged by the piezoelectric crystal (a quartz-type compound) in the heel. Now, Baylis-who grew up in Southall, London, and has been to India on a British Council-sponsored tour-wants to mentor young inventors through his Trevor Baylis Foundation. BT's recently bumped into the Jaguar-driving bachelor in London. Excerpts from the interview:

When you think of an inventor, you are supposed to fit a certain type of a stereotype. You seem to defy all stereotypes.

The only way you are going to stop that is by realising that, by saying that, what you are ironically doing is insulting yourself. In other words, you are as much an inventor as I am. You solve a problem and I solve a problem, but what you and I don't catch though is that the way we solved our problems might be so unique that everybody else would like to solve that problem that way. In which case you have to try and protect that solution to the problem by using a patent or something. In certain instances it's better to just go with it. I know that in parts of India the patent system doesn't exist. That makes it hard on us who have to have patents. So unless we get a fairer system where the costs are not so prohibitive, where a patent filed here means exactly the same in India or in China, where you don't have to employ countless lawyers and translators, where it's all one language patent system, it's going to be difficult for inventors. After all, when you fly an aircraft, if your pilot had to learn a new language at every foreign airport, you'll have an accident every hour. The international language for flying is English. It should be the same for patents. The current patent system is archaic.

I invent for pleasure. If I didn't want to do it, I wouldn't do it. It is not profits. It is trying to prove to myself that the wretched thing would work.

When we think of inventions or the ability to create something unique, we assume that it requires more than ordinary intelligence, in fact, genius. What is a high school dropout's views on that?

My view is that you have to look outside the square. In other words, dreams are the most extraordinary places where inventions come from. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a prototype is worth a million words and a dream is like ten million words. You can do what you want in your dreams. The nice thing is that if you can get yourself to a million-word situation in your dreams, you can actually see the thing, sort it-as I did for the radio. Then it's much easier to take that idea and turn it into a prototype. Having said that, it's not just in the domain of engineers. In a chemistry class you come up with amazing chemicals that can be used to cure aids and otherwise. Basically there is an inventor in all of us. You are potentially as good an inventor as I am. It is just the question of you having the guts to do it. The person who succeeds is usually the one who got off his seat to do something.

How did the idea of a wind-up radio come about?

Just watching a programme about the spread of aids in Africa. They said that the only way to stop it was by spreading information and education, which could be brought to 600 million people using the radio. But there was a problem. Most of Africa doesn't have electricity. The only form of electricity available at times is through batteries. But batteries were horrendously expensive, and people were bartering their rice and maize in order to get the batteries. I could see myself somewhere in the darkest Africa in 19th century, wearing a pith helmet, with a gin and tonic in my left hand, listening to some raunchy number on my wound up gramophone with a horn on the top. Thinking mechanically, if you can get all of that noise by dragging a rusty nail over a piece of bakelite using a spring, then surely there's enough power in the spring to drive a small dynamo which in turn can drive a radio. That's how the (wind-up) radio came about.

How did the electric shoe happen?

I was thinking to myself looking at the shoe one wear out, therefore, you must be doing work. You know the body weight, you know the distance it travels, you know the impact load and the approximate velocity. If you put all those together then there's enough in the equation to generate enough power to squirt a little bit of power into a mobile phone. That was pure chance.

What drives Trevor Baylis to invent things?

Pleasure. If I didn't want to do it, I wouldn't do it. It's not profits. It's trying to prove to myself that the wretched thing would work. When I was a child I wasn't making a toy that would earn me profits. I was working on an idea simply because it gave me a lot of fun, which is fundamentally what I do now.

You have to have an ego as big as a truck. Otherwise you get blown away by the first person who comes along.

A lot companies want their employees to be innovative. Is there any process by which it can be institutionalised?

Yes. The thing is that you can get far more done by reward than by scolding. If someone comes up with a bright idea that takes say a million pounds off the production line costs then you might say give him a £50,000 BMW car. Then your accountant says no we can't afford £50,000. Then you say shut up and show him how you can. You get the managing director and the fellow that took the million quid, take him out to the quadrangle, invite the press and they take photographs of the key being given to the guy. Two things happen. You get £200-300,000 worth publicity to the company plus the fact that youngster has got the car and everybody in the company says, ''Shit, I'd like a BMW car''. And they then are inspired to have a go. That's the profitable way forward. To treat people with respect.

What is the hardest part of being an inventor?

Overcoming other people's indifference. You have to have an ego as big as a truck otherwise you get blown away by the first person who comes along. There's lot of envy. When the genie is out of the bottle it's so much easier. People say ah! it is so obvious. Even I could have done that. Or I could have told you that won't work. For me I'm in the bottle with the genie. That's the fun part for me.

Is invention a 9 to 5 kind of a job for you?

No. It doesn't work that way. I don't get up in the morning and say I'm going to invent something! What I tend to do is if I have something which instinctively tells me is a "go-er", and if I am enjoying it enough, I will go with it.

Are you an inventor with a heart? Do you think what you invent should touch the everyday lives of people.

I do tend to think along those lines, but I'm not a do-gooder. So, don't get the impression that I am some sort of a holy child. But every product that I work on, I always try to make it a personal power or a free electricity source. I'm very interested in ecology, the third-world scenario, and disabled people. I think I was a very lucky boy. I have got more than most and it's payback time. Try and help other people bring their ideas to fruition, and if they can make a few bucks, and improve their own social circumstances by doing so, I will help.

Is that the idea behind the Trevor Baylis Foundation?

Yes. It is to be able to take a person's idea and make sure that when the money rolls in, that inventor is not rolled out. Simultaneously, give them a little bit of showtime if that's what they want and try and find the right manufacturers to make sure that the product is made properly and the inventor is not ripped off.

Is the foundation working exclusively in the UK?

No I would like it to be an international affair. I went to India three years ago with the British Council and I know just how inventive the Indians are. It's amazing. I was very impressed with the whole thing. In fact, I'd love to go over and see those guys again. I would like the foundation to work over there and help inventors get off the ground. If we can find some guys in India who are interested in backing the foundation it will be great. Remember, it's about the inventor, and not so much about the people who've put the money in. It's payback's about about people who have made their pile of money and believe that new people coming through should be given a break. And that's fundamentally what (the foundation) is about.

Do you have any regrets...of not having done enough or do you think you could have done things differently?

The biggest disappointment that I had was that I could not represent my country in the Olympic games in 1956. I was a backstroke swimmer. I worked so hard to get to Melbourne and I didn't make it. That is my biggest regret. It's a very competitive sport and I just wasn't quick enough on that day.

Any regrets on the inventions front?

It's frustrating at times when nobody takes up your invention, when you lack financial backers.

Is there any exciting new project you are working on?

Well, it is for me to know and for you to guess (laughs).

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