British Companies need new business skills for India

In my job as MD of The Diversity & Innovation Company I have just spent 3 weeks working in India and have witnessed again the formidable challenges which UK companies must address if they want to be successful in India in the post Brexit world.

There are many stories of western companies’ struggles in doing business in India – KFC fried chicken was a hit in China but India likes its chicken roasted. Rajiv Desai, an Indian journalist summed it up well - "Indian businesses often appear to be weak partners … however, they are formidable opponents who can subvert the best-laid plans of international firms." India currently only accounts for 1.3% of Britain’s exports so tremendous opportunities exist. However British companies must ensure their executives really understand the many different India(s) and the attributes and attitudes of Indian society and business which are fundamentally different to the West, before they look to find investment partners in India and start seriously investing in India.

The Immersion experiences provided by The Diversity & Innovation Company in India are tailored to client need and designed to accelerate western executives and managers’ transition through the change curve of adapting to India’s unique challenges. The challenges which British companies must address before engaging with India include:

  • Understanding the fast growing democratic chaos that is India, it’s diversity, and the untapped potential outside it’s cities
  • India’s challenging commercial and societal context, for example the continuing impact of the caste system on business
  • Uniquely Indian concepts in business such as: Jugaad Innovation - how to operate and innovate in a complex and extremely resource constrained environment; and Chaos management - - - understanding the degree of cultural challenge which India provides, and how to communicate effectively; and risk taking.
  • India’s nimbleness and skill in “overcoming bureaucracy” and challenges. India’s Nobel Laureate for Peace 2014 put it succinctly - “India has hundreds of problems and millions of solutions”
  • The legacy of the British Raj, good and bad. Some Indian politicians still blame Britain for many of India’s continuing challenges. Shashi Tharoor, a Congress MP blames a long list of India’s ills on the British and argues that the UK may have to apologise for massacres carried out and other colonial injustices during the Raj. While such an intervention will have to be weighed by the British government as part of negotiating a new trade deal with India, British companies will need to be sensitive in the meantime to the lagging negative impact of British rule

Any British business person who has experienced the late night “eyes closed” dash from the airport along roads with unlit lorries, or the day to day hair raising overtaking on India’s roads knows that the Indian view of risk taking is very different indeed to British views of risk taking. Bruce Anderson, a British journalist, summed up the business challenge aptly - “India copes with stress in the way that its roads cope with the traffic: constant chaos, surprisingly few casualties."

British companies need to invest in learning some serious business lessons before embarking on doing business in India.

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