The International Entrepreneur – Cultural Tips on India: an Interview with Indian Business Author and Journalist, Sandip Sen

This week, I am pleased to interview Sandip Sen of New Delhi, India. Mr. Sen has 32 years of business experience in India and left the business world in order to write about topics that should interest us all, including the environment and banking industry regulation. For a fascinating read, follow Sandip’s blog “What Happens If?”, which is published by the Economic Times of India. I also highly recommend following Sandip in Twitter (@ecothrust).

What do you see as unique cultural characteristics of Indian people that is reflected in India’s business culture?

Taj Mahal

India’s business culture is unique in its food, clothes and environment and it takes time and patience to get adjusted to it. After opening retail chains in over 100 nations McDonald’s had to recreate their entire fast food range as per Indian tastes after 3 years of losses. Now with McAloo Tikka and Chicken McGrill they are doing roaring business in the world’s second fastest growing economy.  Same with clothes. Traditionally Indians like bright hues and only the youth working in multinational corporations prefer pastel and dull shades. Indians will not adopt an American name, or food or clothes or religion or lifestyle easily even if they are decades in America.

Similarly in business, unlike China, Korea or Japan, Indians are more focused on relationships and less on exacting professionalism or high profits. However the most unique thing in Indian business culture is patience. Indian’s have a lot of patience and strangely expect others to have it. So if you have to tap the endless inherent demand of the Indian markets you have to be patient and learn about its way of functioning.

In your opinion, what are India’s most competitive industries in world markets?

Everything is produced competitively in India, but Indian’s are happy to tap domestic markets unlike the Chinese and Japanese who love to export. We make the world’s cheapest car at around $2500 apiece, also the world’s cheapest tablet at $50 apiece. Like in China, the big players come to India (i) to tap the high demand, and (ii) to innovate and create products economically. However India still does import a lot of things because some of the foreign products are cheaper and better.  Broadly speaking anything mass produced is cheaper in China, anything batch produced is cheaper in India. Despite the competition margins are moderate, neither too high nor paper thin.What’s the best way to find potential Indian business contacts?

The best way is to learn the ropes is with an Indian partner in the form of a joint venture. Indian business environment is pretty complex so big multinational companies enter the fray with a tie up with existing Indian companies in the same segment.  You can find potential business contacts in the internet nowadays, and also through social contacts, trade delegation visits, business chamber meets, advertisements in Indian papers etc. Like everywhere else you have to do due diligence on the shortlisted parties before you finalize your partner.

 What do you wish people knew about doing business in India before they arrive in country?

Doing business in India is not easy, but extremely rewarding in the long run. If you come to India, take a deep breathe, plan ahead and enter for a long haul.

From your perspective, what’s the business climate like for entrepreneurs (supportive vs. unsupported, culturally accepted profession vs. not accepted, etc.)?

Business climate for entrepreneurs is excellent, though Government policies are not really supportive. Entrepreneurship prospers in India like in no other country because things are not streamlined and personal inputs are needed to chart plan and modify business strategy off and on. Demand is consistently high despite global ups and downs.