5 essential tips for starting out in India

  1. Prepare for Culture Shock

For most of us, our first one or two trips to India is a culture shock. Chaos, arguments, the challenge of crossing the road, cattle in cities, people everywhere, sights and smells you have never experienced, the sounds of the Hindu temple or the Muslim call to prayer, clothing, facial decorations – most of these arise from an ancient tradition which you will grow to love. But, take your time.  This culture shock is more than superficial – prepare for your inner being and values to be challenged by a different way of life and way of thinking about life. With an open heart and open mind, you will learn fast. But if you make early judgements, you will probably never get to know India.

India is also a land of non-conformity where great value is placed on difference and heritage.  An Indian might continue to wear the clothing of their place of origin, even though they are living and working successfully in a major city. Unlike the west, your Indian host might want to know about your belief in God, your approach to diet or your family values.

  1. Stop Stereotyping

India will not work for you if you bring along your prejudices and stereotyping. Yes, you will see extremes of wealth or poverty – but balance this with the massive achievement of the last 20 years or so when millions have been lifted out of poverty. When meeting with your Indian hosts, it is insensitive to talk about the massive slum you drove past to get to the meeting. Yes, you will see men holding hands and women holding hands, but this does not necessarily mean they are gay – hand holding among the same sex is a simple sign of friendship. Yes, someone is bound to say “yes” when they cannot actually do what they said “yes” to – this is not being deceptive it is just a culture when saying “no” is almost forbidden. Going with an open mind is a key step to success. 

  1. Be flexible about your daily schedule

India is not a 9-5 place, it is more a 24/7 place. Meetings can happen anywhere and anytime, on any day of the week. The line between working life and family life is very thin and the two often merge. We used to say the Indian business day started late and finishes very late – but now most actually start early. Breakfast and dinner meetings are a regular part of getting to know you and prepare for these to go on a bit – breakfast can roll on to 10am and dinner might not even start until 9pm.

On top of the 24/7 approach, Indians will change your appointment at very short notice – sometimes as little as 15 minutes. You just have to expect the unexpected. For example, your one-hour meeting might go for two, and then the person you are meeting with decides to introduce you to the CEO – don’t rush off, you have made a good beginning!

All of this means if you are not a patient person, India might not be for you. Being flexible and adaptable are actually signs your Indian counterpart will be looking for – once they know you are easy to work with, things can progress.

  1. Be Diplomatic and more Formal

Indian society is collective and hierarchical, so it runs with a real focus on formality and politeness in every situation. Formality should last a long time in your relationship, and my guess is only after meeting three or four times should you be informal and relaxed in your manner. This formality can apply to clothing – your host might wear relaxed and comfortable hot weather clothing but you are probably best to be more formal. Addressing someone by their first name is just no-go territory and terms like Sir and Madam are often used – in parts of Indian culture addressing a person by their name is less polite than using these terms.

Indians are diplomatic and therefore are indirect in their approach to communication – maintaining face and relationships is the key so the best answer is given for those purposes rather than addressing the facts at hand. Any bad news will be approached in a very circuitous way, so you might not even realise you have received bad news.

Indians genuinely struggle to say “no”, so “yes” is their default answer. You will need to learn the art of asking open questions where a yes or no cannot be used. I have been offered very specific but totally wrong directions in India – again, the focus is on satisfying the relationship rather than finding the facts.

  1. Be Personal and Drink Tea

Indians are very much into people, they want to like you and hope you will share your personal life with them, so be prepared to talk to someone you have just met about your family, dreams and your diet. Sharing personal information is highly valued, so be prepared to open up.

Sharing a cup of tea is also important – symbolic even. This is a tea-loving country so get used to it. The tea at business and government meetings will be a milky and often sweet substance – just drink it. For Indians, this is all about building the relationship, being a kind host and getting to know you.



I feel sorry for Adani Group, but wonder why they bought in the first place

I kind of feel sorry for the Adani Group. Here they are sitting on Australia’s biggest coal reserve, yet nobody wants them.

But, how did Adani Group get into this strife torn project?

After all, Australia has most of the world’s biggest and smartest coal miners. They all knew about the Carmichael but none of them would touch it. Did Adani ask why not?

No Australian bank would fund it. Did this give Adani pause to think?

Aussie politics was always going to be mixed on this one – yes, er, no. Did these give Adani concerns?

The whole scheme depended on a new railway and a port – right near the globally significant Great Barrier Reef. Promised the “world’s biggest coal mine” our governments offered billions to pay for railway and port. But then it became “just enough coal for Adani’s own power stations”. That’s a long way short of the early promise and politicians are looking for an out. Is this a surprise to Adani?

Importing coal is no longer popular in his country of India, which is moving in a big way to alternatives such as wind and solar. Did Adani factor this into their Aussie plans?

And finally – global demand for coal has taken a hit, demand just fell over the cliff. What did Adani market research tell them about this?

In Australia, Adani Group is lonely.

Adani might be a fine Indian corporation. But here in Australia they seem to have stumbled into something no Aussie firm would touch.

That’s why I kind of feel sorry for them.

Mark Mobius (investment guru) calls for reform of FDI in India

The Economic Times recently spoke to Mark Mobius, emerging markets guru and Founder of Mobius Capital Partners:

What are your thoughts on Indian economy currently?

I think the (economic) growth is still going to be higher than China. We will probably see around 7 per cent, and that itself is a tremendous accomplishment. I know unemployment is a real issue, and this is something that whoever comes to power in the next election, is going to have to address very forcefully. They will have to think how to make it work, and that means making it easier for foreign investors to come in.  ..

4 trends for Indian university students studying abroad

Trend 1

STEM courses (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will remain the top preferences for Indian students for studying abroad.

Trend 2

Unusual course choices to increase – The Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange shows Indian students in the US are now showing a strong interest in off-beat courses like marine engineering, geophysics, game design and development. One main reason behind the shift is that these interdisciplinary courses are not easily available in their home countries. Also, as parents in India become more supportive of their children’s career choices, students are no longer shying away from choosing the road less travelled.

Trend 3

With the ongoing fourth industrial revolution and rapid progress in automation, machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence), traditional job roles are evolving, and new jobs are coming up. Courses such as Robotics, Automation and Mechatronics are likely to witness increased demand in 2019.

Trend 4

The USA, Canada and UK have been the top destination, but challengers will emerge or pass them – including Australia. Plus, spending on tuition and hostel fees by Indians studying overseas has gone up by 44 per cent from $1.9 billion in 2013-14 to $2.8 billion in 2017-18. Australia now has 68,000 Indian students.


Time for my confession

Time for a confession. For most of the time that I have been consulting on India, my advice for those entering the market has been “don’t go to West Bengal and Kolkata – nothing is happening there”. I can say that 100% of my colleagues in this advisory industry have said the same.

But it might be time to change our tune.

I saw the beginning of change when I visited Kolkata three or so years ago.

Bengal has always had what it takes, and I could see it emerging again – a large educated workforce, abundant raw materials, good road, rail and air connectivity with the rest of India and the world and a strategic location as the gateway to the largely untapped markets of the North East of India.

But decades of lethargy at the top, union activity, civil unrest and downright complacency took its toll.

Now leading a new charge into West Bengal are the big names of Indian and global industry such as Mukesh Ambani, Sajjan Jindal, DP World, Coca Cola, Ikea and ITC.

Indian Ocean

Ambani’s Reliance Industries is investing in the state’s digital sector through Reliance Jio, with a very successful foray into 4G telephony in the country. They will connect small merchants with their retail network and warehouses to increase their reach several folds. His group already has more than 500 retail stores in West Bengal.

You can see the results of change – West Bengal’s Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) was $158 billion in 2017-18 while its average annual growth rate from 2011-12 to 2017-18 was about 11.88 per cent. The state is sixth-largest contributor to India’s manufacturing GDP and fourth-largest contributor to the country’s services GDP.

Moreover, West Bengal is also a major producer of petroleum and petrochemical products. Production of natural gas in the state is projected to touch 410.30 million cubic metres in 2018-19.

It is also an increasingly important centre for India’s massive information technology sector. Total IT exports from West Bengal is about $3 billion – the Big Three of Indian IT – TCS, Infosys and Wipro – all have a large presence there.

Food is booming – Bengal is India’s largest rice producer, second-largest producer of potatoes and among the country’s biggest fish producers. The world-famous Darjeeling tea is also grown in the state, which is India’s second-largest tea producer.

Hence my confession.

Time for all of us to take another look at West Bengal and Kolkata.

Bengaluru and New Delhi 3rd and 4th fastest growing office markets in world

Bengaluru (Bangalore) is the third fastest growing office market globally in terms of prime rental values for office space, mainly due to continued supply crunch, a recent survey found.

According to a global study by property consultant Knight Frank, the estimated growth in office rental values in Bengaluru by end of 2019 is expected to be 6.6 percent.

Bengaluru is the “Silicon Valley” of India, employing 35% of India’s 2.5 million IT professionals. But it is also big in food (Cafe Coffee Day), pharma and biotechnology, aerospace, cars, and is home to Ola Cabs (competitor to Uber).

The report evaluates 33 global cities and gives insight on office rental growth – it noted that New Delhi, in fourth position, is expected to see a rise of 6.5 percent in prime rental values in 2019. Delhi is more than a government centre – it is big in consumer goods manufacturing, IT, telecoms, banking, construction, retail and tourism.


Delhi’s Connaught Place

Bengaluru is impacted by demand from the IT/ITeS and the start-up sectors, so the lack of quality space in key markets is pushing the rentals up.


Infosys headquarters in Bengaluru

Mumbai is however expected to see stable rentals in 2019 with an outlook of marginal rental growth due to anticipated supply for 2019 in the prime market.

Where would you locate your India headquarters? One challenge is that with so much regulation and the need to deal with government, wherever your HQ is based, your people will have to travel often to New Delhi.

But options exist outside of these three major cities and it is worth evaluating tier two cities.

Please share your thoughts and experiences…

PM Modi an achiever for India – whether he wins or loses this week

Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept into power in 2014 with the first single-party majority government in over three decades – thus holding out the promise that “things would happen”. With results to come in this week for Indian elections, it is time to ask: Have things happened?

PM Modi has been an achiever for India and his legacy will continue whether he wins or loses this week – with higher expectations from governments, more revenue for governments, increasing digitisation and anti-corruption – and an expectation that India is a global player and needs global political leaders like Modi.


There are four achievements of Modi that have changed and are changing India forever – and for the better.

The first was to show he was serious about ending corruption – his Demonetisation move shocked many, hurt the economy short term but sent a clear signal. Indians had been used to governments paying lip service on corruption – Modi took action. Increasing digitisation of government means less opportunity for corruption.

Second, the world’s biggest tax reform was his Goods and Services Tax (GST), long talked about in Indian politics but it took the skills of Modi to make it happen. Modi was outstanding in gaining state government support, essential to the process. Government revenue is now getting to where it should be. As a result, governments in India are awash with money and can now do things.

Third, Modi knew that the key to improving India’s attractiveness to global investors and businesses was reform of the Bankruptcy law. Since Modi, business leaders who had run their businesses into the ground would be called to order and stripped of control. He was also a global sales person for India – vital in the global economy.

Fourth, Modi has also activated the 29 state governments by financing and introducing competition. Indices, which rank states on the ease of doing business, health, education and water, already creating energy and activity in every state capital.

I am not saying each of these were done flawlessly but given the history of India it is amazing that they were done at all. Yes, there is a lot to be done. But against the odds and expectations, Modi has made significant change to India that will last for decades or more. Win or lose, he has earned his place in history.



“We need to build skills, not walls.” – Telstra Boss

The need for Australian companies to source ICT talent from overseas is stronger than ever, with the local pipeline continuing to fall short.

That was the message from Telstra CEO Andy Penn, who delivered a strongly-worded address at the Committee for Economic Development Australia in Melbourne on Wednesday.

andy penn

“We need to build new skills and capabilities in new areas,” he said.

“We need these capabilities now, but the fact is we cannot find in Australia enough of the skills that we need on the scale that we need them, such as software engineers.

“Why? There simply are not enough of them. The pipeline is too small.”

In anticipation of the impending local ICT talent shortfall – which Penn said he expects to be 60,000 skilled workers short in the next five years – Telstra will this year open a new ‘Innovation and Capability Centre’ in Bangalore, India.

Labelling Bangalore as “India’s ‘Silicon Valley’”, Penn said the move would consolidate Telstra’s presence in India, where it has been operating since 2011.

Immigration negativity

Penn also called for a cease to the “negative commentary around immigration”.

“We need to build skills, not walls.”

He pointed to the associated benefits that come with “a well-targeted skilled migration policy”, arguing this would create – not take away – jobs.

“Skilled migrants also add to Australia’s wealth,” he explained.

“Research by the International Monetary Fund estimated Australia’s migration program would add up to 1% to annual average GDP growth from 2020 to 2050 because it focused on skilled migrants of working age and would limit the economic impact of Australia’s ageing population.”

PM Modi leads India to 6th largest economy in the world with high growth

Things are happening fast under the leadership of the Prime Minister,  Shri Narendra Modi – India is having its best phase of macro-economic stability, becoming the sixth largest economy in the world from being the 11th in the World in 2013-14.

Presenting the Interim Budget for the year 2019-20 in Parliament this week, the Union Minister for Finance, Corporate Affairs, Railways & Coal, Shri  Piyush Goyal said “India is the fastest growing major economy in the world” with an average GDP growth  of 7.3% per annum, the highest ever achieved by any Government since economic reforms began in 1991.

Shri Goyal said  under the leadership of Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, a clean, decisive and stable Government reversed the policy paralysis, laid the foundation for sustainable growth  and restored the image of the country.

New India by 2022

Shri Goyal said that a New India would celebrate its 75th Independence year in 2022 when every family would have a house with access to water, electricity and toilets; farmers income would have doubled; and the country would be free from terrorism, communalism, corruption and nepotism.

This is clearly an ambitious government, and the track record so far proves that Modi does get things done.