Put “Invest India” on your radar

Looking for the how and why of investing in modern India? The government has created Invest India and their website should be something you visit regularly. It is the best window into a massive pipeline of investment opportunities.

The Invest India site highlights the economic growth story, the young population, rising domestic demand, business friendly governments and rapid infrastructure improvements as just some of the reasons to invest in India.

Is it time to review your India investment and engagement strategies? If not now, when?


5 ways to build business with India in 2021

While Australia sees the “Asian Century” as a huge opportunity, our biggest opportunities are with the rapidly growing economy of India.

Certainly the two Prime Ministers are working hard to build close connections – India’s Narendra Modi and Australia’s Scott Morrison are building a close relationship. Business, trade and education should follow their lead.

Here are 5 steps we should take to grow our trade ties with India in 2021.

Adopt a patient long term view: It is very easy to get MOU’s (Memorandum of Understanding) signed with fanfare in India but too many do not produce any outcome. One way to improve our cultural dexterity would be to take a long term view and apply lots of patience. Businesses should not start out on market entry unless they are prepared to commit at least five years to making it work. Governments need the same longer term perspective. Rushed trade missions, political announcements and photo opportunities amount to very little – we see them as an achievement, but in reality they are just a beginning. Our business executives and even many diplomats do not build patience into their strategies.

Focus on relationships: India is not a short term transaction opportunity – to succeed there needs a longer term focus on building relationships. The first trade meeting in India can be exciting and positive, but from the India side this is just seen as an introduction and they will wait to see if the relationship grows. Even our companies and governments take too short a view when sending people to India – a two or three year stint there is just not enough. Trust and relationship take time. Others prefer to manage the India relationship from offices in Singapore or elsewhere – this is seen by the India side as evidence you are not committed to India.

See beyond the politeness: Indians are among the most courteous and generous hosts on the planet. On top of this, their culture demands that they never provide an outright rejection or “no” statement, even when for us it would be easy to just say “no”. To succeed, our businesses and governments need to dig deeper and fine the reality beyond the politeness.  The dumbest question for a business to ask in India is “can you help me with market entry for my products?” The answer will always be “yes” and you will sit idle for a long time back home until you realise this is not the right question.

Adapt to indirect communications: Like most of Asia, Indians are indirect communicators. Problems are rarely addressed directly and unless you have an ear for indirectness, you will miss the warning signs. In addition, indirect communication creates misunderstanding because the Indian side will always have to agree with whatever you may be asking. Our normally blunt Aussie style is misunderstood over there and can give offence – but you will never be told. This is a two way process – understanding they are indirect, and adopting an indirect style if we can.

Realise that language and thinking are different: One of the big problems in our relations with India is what makes it seem easy – Indians speak English. As a result, whereas our businesses and government when dealing with China, Japan or any other non-English speaking nation will have interpreters and consultants, in India the use of English creates the illusion that communication is taking place. Yet when we deal with other English speaking nations, we factor in their thinking as well – we know Americans speak English but think differently from Aussies. Our biggest mistake is assuming that Indians think like we do.

These barriers really combine two things – the importance of long term commitment to India (minimum 5 years) and cultural differences. If you think long term and study how to adapt to cultural differences, India could become your next big market. 

The 10 mindsets of Indian business leaders

Indian companies are expanding globally, with icons like Jaguar and Land Rover now in Indian hands, and western business executives are going there to gain insights. The real secret of Indian success can be found in ten ways of thinking of Indian business leaders – including the leadership of Ratan Tata (pictured) who made his group a global powerhouse.

Acceptance of change

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon Ltd is one of India’s most successful and wealthiest women: “I certainly believe that everything happens with a reason. I wanted to join medical school and when that did not happen I took up biology instead. And that led me to specialise in brewing. However when I was not accepted as a brew master in India, I turned to biotechnology in a very accidental manner. In hindsight, I am grateful that the brewing doors shut on me and I set up Biocon instead!”

Live in the moment, now

Living more in the moment makes India’s business leaders very adaptable and opportunistic – arrive in Mumbai with an idea and no appointments, pretty soon you will be seeing the people at the top.


Ratan Tata epitomises the Tata Group’s success and ethics: “Some foreign investors accuse us of being unfair to shareholders by using our resources for community development. Yes, this is money that could have made for dividend payouts, but it also is money that’s uplifting and improving the quality of life of people in the rural areas where we operate and work.”

Patience, not anger

Of the great texts of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita is an influential part of the education of so many Indian business leaders: “Delusion arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. Reasoning is destroyed when the mind is bewildered.”

Ethics and respect

My exposure to this began in 2005 when the Chairman and Chief Mentor of Infosys, Narayana Murthy, spoke about corporate governance and morality in business: “We follow one principle – the softest pillow is a clear conscience”.

Problems are a gift

While the west has a fear of things going wrong, in India it is accepted.

The Indian born Lakshmi Mittal, head of Arcelor Mittal: “Everyone experiences tough times, it is a measure of your determination and dedication how you deal with them and how you can come through them.”

Right Words

Ratan Tata expresses his communication style this way: “What I have done is establish growth mechanisms, play down individuals and play up the team that has made the companies what they are. I, for one, am not the kind who loves dwelling on the ‘I’. If history remembers me at all, I hope it will be for this transformation.”

Leaders as gurus

TT Srinivasaraghavan is the Managing Director of Sundaram Finance, a diverse company based in Chennai. TT says that Sundaram is first a family and second, a company. Fundamental to his business is ‘trust’ and what he calls a ‘chain of faith’ that flows from people who trust each other.

Life as a spider web

Indian business leaders know that life is like trying to find your way through a spider web – where does it begin, where does it lead, who can tell? The Bhagavad Gita says: “Better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace.”

Leading by not conforming

Thinking of others rather than “profits first” is one way Indian leaders do not conform. Paramahansa Yogananda: “Business life need not be a material life. Business ambition can be spiritualized. Business is nothing but serving others materially in the best possible way.”

Stephen Manallack is a Director of the EastWest Academy Pty Ltd and compiled the secrets of Indian business success and cross cultural issues while preparing his book for the Indian market, Soft Skills for a Flat World (Tata McGraw-Hill). He has led several trade missions to India and is a Cross-Cultural Trainer. He has just released Communicating Your Personal Brand (Vivid Publications)

Indian PM continues to impress

Brilliant diplomatic and strategic move by Indian PM Modi – he took the unprecedented step of inviting 10 heads of states and governments, from the 10 ASEAN countries, to be chief guests at this year’s Republic Day parade (26 Jan).This is the first time that so many world leaders – from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – will be attending the annual Indian show of its military might and cultural diversity. Modi is one of those rare leaders who genuinely thinks outside the box. For example, despite every expert saying “you will never get a GST in India”, he found a way to get the states on board and now the country has a sensible national taxation in place. When it comes to both diplomacy and serious reforms, PM Modi has the track record in place.

Marvellous Mumbai is on the move!

Modern India moves fast. Mumbai is probably the fastest city. For example – Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said the city will see a transformation in terms of mobility with projects ranging from underground metro and sea bridge to coastal roads, elevated suburban trains and new airports.These include 258 km of metro network in Mumbai and suburban areas, which would be one of the biggest in the country. About 50 km of elevated suburban railway network is being set up.They are also making coastal roads. a new sea link, a sea bridge from Mumbai to New Mumbai, an airport in New Mumbai, an underground metro and – all complete by 2022.

Here’s how modern India is different – in the past such a promise from a Chief Minister would be laughed at by the locals as “never going to happen”. Now, it is happening.


The “split personality” of western investors when it comes to India

Investors in the west have split personalities when it comes to India – yes, they see India opportunities as incredible, but, no, they choose not to invest there. This is all about to change – my post gives 8 reasons for the change.


What if Branson met Gandhi?

They both used creative symbolism to propel their causes into the spotlight – Mahatma Gandhi with his spinning wheel and simple clothing, Sir Richard Branson with balloon flights and other challenges. But what if they met – would they have got on?

(I wrote this in 2013, was published in The Hindu and on my blog early 2018 – and I still get feedback and ideas about this!)

They both used creative symbolism to propel their causes into the spotlight – Mahatma Gandhi with his spinning wheel and simple clothing, Sir Richard Branson with balloon flights and other challenges. But what if they met – would they have got on?

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) is regarded in India as the Father of the Nation, leading the campaign for freedom from British rule, and Sir Richard Branson (1950-) is the British founder of the Virgin business empire, also known for humanitarian activism.

The quietly spoken Gandhi opens the discussion by reminding Branson: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Gandhi explains what this means for business: “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

Branson is nodding and interjects: “No company can train its front-end people to handle every situation, but you can strive to create an environment in which they feel at ease doing as they would be done by.”

As Gandhi continues with the cotton spinning wheel, Branson enthuses: “…it is necessary to give other people the space to thrive, to catch people doing something right, rather than getting things wrong.”

Gandhi is vigorous in agreement: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

But what about choosing the right approach to life? Gandhi sets the scene with: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Branson, the enthusiast, responds: “Look for people who take their roles seriously and lead from the front, but who are not slow to see the lighter side of life.”

In response to Gandhi’s quizzical look, Branson continues: “A company should genuinely be a family, who achieve together, grow together and laugh together.”

Family disputes

Gandhi reminds his colleague that even in families, disputes can occur and anger can arise. He points out: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” As Branson nods in agreement, Gandhi continues: “Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.”

Branson wants to discuss creativity, leading with: “No one has a monopoly on good ideas or good advice, so as a leader you should always be listening. Be visible, note down what you hear and you’ll be surprised how much you learn.”

Gandhi responds with wisdom: “The golden rule is to test everything in the light of reason and experience, no matter from where it comes.”

And leadership? Again, from Branson: “Nobody respects a leader who doesn’t know how to get his hands dirty and innovate personally.” This point of character was so important to Gandhi: “If you have no character to lose, people will have no faith in you”.

Gandhi warms to the theme: “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” Branson can barely restrain his thoughts: “Having a personality of caring about people is important,” he says. “You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.” But Gandhi wants to move from big picture to the individual, reminding Branson to: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Taking pride

Reflecting on this point, Branson highlights the importance of being proud of what you do: “If you make something you are proud of, that filters down to your staff, as well as your customers.” But Gandhi is more impressed with action than words: “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” He reminds Branson that tolerance is a key human value, explaining that he has “…a tolerance for all faiths”.

Glancing at his enthusiastic visitor, Gandhi cannot resist stirring the pot: “There is enough in this world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed” and explains the real source of a happy life: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Branson relishes this shift in the conversation and expands on business in the community: “Take a look around at your community and you will likely see problems that need to be fixed – from reversing environmental degradation to creating local jobs. As an entrepreneur or business leader, you have a role to play in solving those problems.”

Coke deed

Inspired by the great man, Branson sets out a vision: “Coca-Cola sells 1.7 billion drinks every day, from Paris to Mumbai. If a fraction of those consumers were inspired to do something good each time they drank a Coke, the company really would be teaching the world to sing.”

Gandhi almost shudders at the mention of the fizzy western drink, removes his round glasses and his parting words linger in the mind of Branson as he flies home:

“The things that will destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.”

This article first appeared in THE HINDU in 2013

Let’s engage with India

Why get closer to India? About 600 million people, more than half India’s population, are under 25 years old; no country has more young people. Remember the economic impact of the western “baby boom”? It is time the west moved closer to India in trade, culture and tourism. What do you think? As the great Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore said: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”

Stephen Manallack is a Director of India strategy consultants the EastWest Academy Pty Ltd and compiled the secrets of Indian business success and cross cultural issues while preparing his book for the Indian market, Soft Skills for a Flat World (Tata McGraw-Hill). He has led several trade missions to India and is a Cross-Cultural Trainer.