Doing business in India: no shortcuts

Baptist Press
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Posted: Mar 19, 2014 5:52 PM
INDIA (BP) -- Ram Banergee* has some friendly advice for Americans who want to live -- and do business -- in India: Watch how traffic flows on the nation's seemingly chaotic city streets.

"Indian traffic is like water," observes Banergee, director of business development for the company Adrian Keillor* leads. See "Power couple" story. "It finds the path of least resistance. Maybe it's slow, but it keeps moving. If the same traffic were put into the U.S. system, they'd be gridlocked for hours. That's the way society is here, too. It kind of adjusts. Rather than trying to see what it should be, if you just accept the way it is, you'll find it more attractive."

After nearly two years in India, Adrian is still working on that. When do you go with the flow and when do you take a stand?

It's a crucial education process for any foreigner navigating a new culture. It's especially important for the American president of a business with more than 5,000 mostly Indian employees. A veteran executive, Adrian has managed even bigger operations within the U.S.-based multinational corporation that acquired the Indian company he now leads. But he's never climbed quite as steep a learning curve.

"If I had been offered this job five years ago, I might have thought long and hard about whether or not to take it," Adrian says. "I was running a business 10 times the size of the business I'm running now. I didn't know much about India, but I knew enough to know this was going to be a challenge."

There's no limit to the potential for business growth in India, which experienced major economic expansion beginning in the 1990s. Its huge population, second only to China's, came to be seen by economists and investors as an emerging "demographic dividend" rather than a crushing burden for the nation. Tens of millions of Indians achieved higher education, developed globally marketable skills and joined the burgeoning middle class -- now the world's largest.

"In the next 20 or 30 years, some projections say India could become the world's second-largest economy," surpassing China, Banergee says. For outside companies and investors looking for growth opportunities, he asks, "can you afford not to figure out how to do business with an economy that big?"

Not if you want to prosper in the global marketplace.

"Aspirationally, this society is ready to move on," Banergee adds. "I can see that in the interaction I have daily with people. My driver was showing me his motorcycle. He was very proud of the fact that he bought it. Another person wants to buy a house. You have 400 million to 600 million people ready to migrate up the chain -- all at the same time."

But they face some major barriers.

Many millions of rural people remain mired in poverty. And even the rapidly expanding ranks of urban, educated workers have languished as India's galloping growth has slowed to a walk. Economic growth fell to 3.8 percent in 2013 from an all-time high of 10.6 percent in 2010, according to the International Monetary Fund. The working-age population will grow by more than 200 million over the next two decades. The economy needs to produce at least 15 million new jobs a year to accommodate young people entering the work force.

That's why business pros such as Adrian are so important to India. His company, which is involved in manufacturing, sales and marketing in multiple locations, employs a variety of Indians -- from laborers to white-collar executives. Sure, the company wants to make money, but it also wants to grow and create jobs the nation sorely needs.

Doing that effectively means doing business the right way. No shortcuts. No under-the-table deals. No bribes or kickbacks. That takes determination in a business culture many Indians freely admit is plagued by corruption. But it's a philosophy the company's leadership team is committed to practicing, top to bottom.

"If it takes time, it takes time," states Arundhati Sen,* chief financial officer, who watches the company's operations with an eagle eye. "They will know what this company stands for and we will gain that respect. We're looking at the long term."

Adrian smiles when he hears comments like that from colleagues. The company already was headed in the right direction before he arrived, but he works every day to keep it moving that way.

"I strive to exhibit biblical values," he says. "People kind of know where we are. Whether we formally recognize it or not as a company, our values are grounded in biblical values, and I'm not afraid to say it when the opportunity presents itself. Frankly, I'm looking for something very significant to happen at levels of business leadership or government that would be difficult for most Christians to penetrate."

But he can.

"Being a marketplace professional for God, in my mind, is simply behaving like Christ wants you to behave in the marketplace. I've found that if you look for opportunities to share your faith, He is going to provide them."

Learn more about being a marketplace professional at marketplaceadvance.com.

*Name changed. Erich Bridges is IMB's global correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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