Why India?

If you are in business or investment, this question (why India?) will have been asked before. But the answer is becoming more compelling as the following list shows:indiagate

  • India to remain one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Source: International Monetary Fund
  • FDI inflows increased by 37% since the launch of Make in India initiative. Source: Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Government of India
  • Leading investors ranked India as the most attractive market. Source: Ernst & Young Emerging Markets CenterIndian rail
  • India to have world’s largest youth population by 2020. Source: United Nations Population Fund
  • India to be the largest supplier of university graduates in the world by 2020. Source: British CouncilBKC1
  • India has the third largest group of scientists and technicians in the world. Source: All India Management Association & The Boston Consulting Group
  • Rising affluence is the biggest driver of increasing consumption in India. Source: Boston Consulting GroupEntertainment
  • India’s consumer story will be led by its 129 million urban mass consumers. Source: Goldman Sachs Group
  • Private consumption will be four times by 2025. Source: McKinsey Global Institute
  • Centre of global maritime trade to move from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean Region. India and China will be the largest manufacturing hubs of the world by 2030; Source: Lloyd’s Register Marine & University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
  • In next five years, India to have greater economic influence across the Asia Pacific region; Source: Baker McKenzie & Mergermarket GroupIndian airport
  • Over the next three decades more than 350 million Indians will move into cities. Source: McKinsey Global Institute
  • Over the next two decades more than USD 1.5 trillion investments planned for infrastructure. Source: Press Information Bureau, Government of India
  • India registered a record improvement on Ease of Doing Business ranking from 142 to 100 between 2014-2017; Source: World BankGateway1
  • India ranks 40th on Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 2016-17; Source: World Economic Forum
  • 95% of 1.2 bn Indians are under Aadhar scheme: One of the world’s Largest Social Security Program; Source: Press Information Bureau, Government of India
  • Jan Dhan Yojana: Formalization of Savings: 312 million bank accounts have been opened with savings amounting to USD 11.6 bn; Source: Ministry of Finance, Government of India
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST), biggest tax reforms since independence; Source: Government of India

    India is on the move – time to jump on board!

Real leadership to boost Indonesia and India trade

The leaders of Indonesia and India have shown how to lead on trade – committing to boost bilateral trade to USD 50 billion by 2025, from around USD 18 billion this year. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo made the announcement during talks this week.


The boost follows a defence agreement earlier this month for an Indian port and base on an Indonesian island at the northern tip of Sumatra. The deals are confirmation of India’s active “look east” policy and signal a shift which will impact ASEAN.

This leadership is in contrast to Australia’s relationship with India, with trade stuck on around A$18 billion compared to over A$180 billion with China.

Put Indore and MP on your India trade mission list

Indore is the largest city in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and for the second year in a row has won the Swachh Survekshan Survey as India’s cleanest city.Indore 3

Indore is the financial capital of MP, is an education and mineral resources hub and the state has a major agribusiness economy. In addition, India’s IT giants such as Infosys and TCS are setting up major centres there – Infosys is locating an IT development centre in Indore which will employ about 13,000 and TCS is building a campus there.Indore 4

The State of Madhya Pradesh has 75 million people.

Indore holds a highly successful “Global Investors Summit” each year.Indore 2

Definitely another one of India’s “tier 2” cities worth putting on your trade and investment mission list.

India and Indonesia deal signals major shift in Indian Ocean response to China

Indonesia has agreed to give India economic and military access to the strategic island of Sabang at the northern tip of Sumatra and close to the Malacca Strait, an Indonesian minister said last week.

In a typically low profile way, both countries have done the deal in response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative and it signals a major shift in the attitude of Indonesia – it now wants to provide some “balance” to the China move.


Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs and a former military officer, said India will invest in the port and economic zone of Sabang and build a hospital. He noted the port’s 40-metre depth is good for all types of vessels, “including submarines”. In time, he said, the coast guards of the two countries could also work together.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Indonesia on May 31 and no doubt will announce more extensions to his “Act East” strategy.

An Indonesian official accompanying Pandjaitan said his understanding was that besides development of the port, Indian naval ships would be allowed to visit Sabang under the understanding.

The Malacca Strait is considered one of six choke points, or narrow channels, along widely used global sea routes. They are critical for global energy security because of the high volume of oil transported through narrow straits. At least 15 million bpd of oil flows through the Malacca Strait from West Asia and West Africa.

Pandjaitan outlined the reasons for closer bilateral cooperation. He was critical of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, saying: “We do not want to be controlled by BRI.” He also questioned China’s unilateral claims on the South China Sea, noting this includes parts of Indonesia’s maritime exclusive economic zone.

Indonesia had positioned a plan called the “global maritime fulcrum” that is “designed to balance the BRI”, he said. Indonesia and India are big enough that “we don’t have to lean towards any superpower, and this makes India a sensible partner for Indonesia”, he added.

This marks a major shift in Indonesia’s attitude towards China and India. Until recently, Jakarta had been reluctant to seek strategic alignment with New Delhi and was in two minds about Beijing’s role in the region.

More to come…

Mumbai’s BKC increases city profile as financial capital of Asia

Bain & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Amazon – just some of the global businesses choosing office space in the new Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) in Mumbai, adding to Mumbai’s reputation as Asia’s financial capital.


Bain & Company took space in the Capital Building which has attracted large numbers of banking, insurance and consulting companies.


Others with significant offices in BKC include India’s Reliance Industries, Canada’s CPPIB, Singapore-based GIC and Australia’s Macquarie. The rents there are some of the highest in Mumbai.


According to the Business Standard, BKC continues to be the most sought-after micro market for BFSI (banking, financial services, and insurance) tenants.BKC2

The Bandra Kurla area is mid-Mumbai with good access to the airport – and this massive redevelopment at BKC is becoming a hub with outstanding retail, good coffee and so much more.

Like most “new” areas in India, it has a youthful vibe – which you would expect in a country where 600 million people are under the age of 25. All of which means Mumbai will go from strength to strength.

Mumbai is a “must visit” if you are planning on business or investing in India. Big, bold, fast, a dynamic 24/7 city.

Mumbai is the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India. It is also one of the world’s top ten centres of commerce in terms of global financial flow, generating 6.16% of India’s GDP and accounting for 25% of industrial output, 70% of maritime trade in India and 70% of capital transactions to India’s economy.

It houses the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange. It is also home to some of India’s premier scientific and nuclear institutes. The city also houses India’s Hindi (Bollywood) and Marathi cinema industries.

Why doing business in India takes time

Doing business with India is more time consuming. Why? It is mostly because of what researchers call a “diffuse” culture, which is characterized by being indirect.

Most westerners come from “specific” cultures which are very direct in communication and expect absolute clarity in all of their dealings.

You can see that diffuse and specific do not mix that well.


If you rush a meeting in India, you will almost certainly leave with a “yes we can do business and looking forward to it” but then nothing will happen. So, plan for long meetings, do not rush away, make large breaks between appointments so you can go with the flow. Diffuse takes time.

Diffuse cultures prefer to take time, to work around issues, and they link every part of life – work and private, formal and social, all mix together. In specific cultures, everyone rushes from one specific thing to another, they get to the point and keep most parts of their lives (such as work and private) separate.


  • Your social outing with Indian colleagues might go very late – evening meal might not start until  9pm or 10pm
  • Indians will rarely say “no” – preferring “I will try…”
  • You can easily make appointments on the weekend with many contacts
  • A good sign is when your contact introduces you to someone senior to them – which often comes right at the end of a very long meeting…

Of course, for every cultural generalization there are exceptions. And when we talk about culture, it is not about which is better or worse, it is about gaining insight and understanding.

The collision of transaction culture with relationship culture shows how NOT to succeed in India

It is a frustrating pattern. The eager business team arrives in India on their first trade mission, they race from meeting to meeting and sign lots of MOU’s (Memorandum of Understanding) and appoint agents. The three day trip has been a roaring success!

Then, nothing happens.

What is going on here? The collision of “transaction” culture (the west) and “relationship” culture (India) has taken place yet again, with predictable outcomes.

From the Indian side, a high sense of courtesy and a culture that cannot say “no” means the visitor feels great progress is being achieved – while the Indian is also positive, feeling that a valued relationship might develop. Classic misunderstanding.

What is the alternative? Take a long view of India – at least three years – and wait for genuine relationships to develop. Go to India many times, not just once or twice. Put quick transactions aside and build trust. Learn how to relate to a culture that thinks differently.

Given that around 600 million Indians are under the age of 25, the future is bright and you should be there. Just go about it the right way next time.

20 essential tips for doing business with India


Doing business with India? Enterprises in the west are looking at collaboration and business links with India – but it is not easy, requires patience and a lot of understanding. Even NRI’s can find the landscape different. Here are some tips that might help your experience, but keep in mind you will find many variations and contradictions of these points in the very diverse and exciting India market:

The language barrier is real – even English

India has some 26 major languages, but your Indian counterpart will almost certainly speak English, which itself can be a problem – it creates the illusion of communication and understanding. Many of us speak English and think western – your Indian partner speaks English and thinks Indian, so take care to build real understanding. Also keep in mind there are “many Indias” with many different languages and ways of thinking.

You are in a different culture

Visitors to most of Asia and China are visually reminded all day that they are in a vastly different culture. But often, especially in offices, India can appear quite westernised and individuals also give that impression. Better to open your mind and see things and people more clearly, looking beyond the surface level “westernisation” – exploring cultural differences expands your horizons and you will find many charming similarities. 

Dealing with surprises

Indian culture provides masses of room for non-conformity, hilarious and stimulating exchanges and lots of surprises. Diversity of dress, styles of doing business and differing reactions to personal contact are to be expected over there. A major CEO or Government Minister might change their schedule just to see you – on less than one day notice. Your host might want to talk about diet or spirituality instead of your product and it is wise (and fun) to go with the flow, enjoying the surprises of India.

Be patient and you will get there faster

Adopt a patient long term view and for investors India is a 5 to 10 year game. 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 they are just a beginning.

Relationships take time – but they are everything

India is a collective culture which means relationships are the number one factor in success, and building relationships takes time. Many who see India as not a short-term transaction opportunity can find success, but not for long as someone with a better price comes along. A better strategy is to aim for longer success through a 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. Trust and relationship take time.

“Yes” can mean “maybe” or “no”

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 this is clearly the only answer. 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. Within Indian culture built so solidly on relationship above all else, the word “no” is a real relationship breaker and is rarely or never used. “Yes” can in fact mean “maybe” or even “no” and you need to look for the signs. Like most of Asia, Indians are indirect communicators.

Avoid stereotyping

India might be the most diverse country on earth. Religions, beliefs, languages and culture all immensely varied. Keeping an open mind will help you avoid jumping to the wrong conclusions. Your host could have spent many years in the USA or the UK, and have a global outlook – or never have left India and have a regional view.

Prepare for the collective

Most westerners come from a culture of the individual, but the Indians they meet are firmly placed in a collective culture.  A visitor to an Indian company will often find four or five Indians in the meeting, and often it is not clear who is in charge. Many Indian leaders will not speak up or even speak at all in these meetings – in the collective someone else does the talking while they do the evaluating.

It will be slow and fast

Modern India can be slow or fast and it is hard to know which you will encounter. Sometimes delivery seems to take forever, yet on other occasions it is faster than the west. This means to succeed there you need incredible patience, so don’t send your least patient executive to India. Being able to respond positively under both slow and fast delivery is the key.

The visitor can be shocked and unprepared for the speed of modern India. Businesses need to go prepared to deliver on a product or service right now, not just having some idea for a future opportunity. Trade missions from around the world arrive weekly, so they have plenty of choice. Fast and slow, east and west – India is a living and dynamic paradox.

You might find yourself in the queue

The world is knocking on India’s door. Even if you represent a major company, you are not necessarily that important to Indians – the rest of the world is chasing them too, so they have choices. While most western executives are under head office pressure to complete the deal, their Indian counterpart faces no such demand and can walk away in most cases, so be prepared to go that bit extra if you want to create the relationship so necessary to doing business.

Watch out for religious holidays

A simple point often overlooked – check the calendar for holidays and although they are often fun and informing, it can be a hard time to do business. A holiday listed for one day might run for four, so check it out first. But don’t be totally put off by India’s schedule – my own experience has been during both Diwali and Holi in India I was able to get all the appointments I wanted and joined in the celebrations.

The vibrant colours of Indian smiles at Holi

Work harder for specific outcomes

Indians have acceptance of change hardwired into their psyche – they thrive on it. It also means they are less specific in plans and contracts, which can be disturbing for newcomers. Getting the specifics set down can take a long time – but be careful about speaking too bluntly because this can be seen as insulting in a culture of relativity and relationship. And once you have “finalised” the deal, expect a continuing run of re-negotiation (in India things are rarely “set in concrete”) which is consistent with the Indian view of the world and life as constantly changing and vastly unpredictable.

India is many countries in one

Differences are not just seen in the North, South, East and West, India is truly many countries in one and you need to be ready for cultural diversity. While Mumbai is the fast and flashy financial capital, it is also a tough place because everything is done on grand scale and at great speed. New Delhi is more formal and stuffy, also more liveable, and is more than a political capital – it is a powerful business city. Chennai is one of my favourites, embracing that slower southern pace and the values that shine in southern businesses. Regions have varying strengths, so research is the key. Recent moves to allocate Smart Cities across India can provide insights into alternative gateways for you. 

Be prepared for many internal flights

Wherever you are based in India, expect to travel, because there are at least 55 cities of over one million where you can do business, and that’s just the beginning. Plus, the importance of meeting face to face is especially the case in India. Personal and organisational logistics can become overwhelming, so find ways to keep your India developments within control.

Indian airport

Start and end the day late

Indian breakfast meetings can be set for 10am or even later – they are late starters (even though PM Modi has instructed Ministers to be at their desks by 9am). But your dinner meeting at the end of the day might not start until 9pm or later. Hours are long and weekends are for working because “work is life” is the mantra. 

Things will change at the last minute

Despite your expectation, India runs to its own rhythm. One westerner tried to break convention by running an early (6.30pm) dinner meeting, and his guests showed up at 9.30pm anyway. Often you will be called minutes before a meeting to change time or venue – going with the flow is an asset over there.

Expect to be interrupted

Indians like to do several things at once, so expect your presentations to be interrupted by other visitors, cell phones, papers to sign and other distractions. At formal conferences and lunches, cell phones are rarely switched off and often answered at full voice. Western focus and single-mindedness is not an asset in India. My experience is that although my Indian host might seem constantly diverted and interrupted during my presentation, not much has been missed as Indians thrive on multiple tasks at the same time, contrasting with the western single project orientation.

Be more formal

Addressing people by a title and their last name is a good policy in a country where status and formality underpin good manners. Australians, driven by egalitarianism, need to be reminded to focus their attention on the most senior (often also elderly) person in the room and avoid in-depth chatting to junior staff. Casual forms of address can come later, but only once you have really got to know the Indian partner very well. On the other hand, things are changing so fast in India…

Shaking hands with women

Conventional wisdom is no physical contact whatsoever in a business context, but few people over there seem to really worry. A good policy is to wait and see if the woman extends her hand, but if you hold your hand out first it is not such a big deal. Indians are amazingly flexible in these matters, but it is wise to show care.

Don’t read anything into the handshake

In the west we tend to read a lot into handshakes – too soft, too firm, too long and so on. Most of your handshakes in India will be pretty light by western standards, but it is not a sign of lack of interest or indifference. It’s just how it is done over there, almost like a formality to get over and done with. You might think about learning how to do the “Namaste” when greeting Hindu colleagues.


Navigate through the spider web

While the west strives for simplicity and certainty, 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? Consistent with this view, most Indian corporations offer an incredibly diverse range of products and services – whereas western business tends to focus on just one area. In most cases Indian companies are willing to buy from you but are also looking for the deal to include some intellectual property sharing arrangements – think about these before you head over there.

Learn the art of flexibility and patience

Being patient and flexible is an asset, even if you come from a country that likes to be blunt, direct and structured. Most Indian communication is indirect, so it can take some time to work out what the real issues are. India is full of surprises and you cope best through being flexible. Dropping any “one rule for all” approach is a good start.

If you are thinking of going, India’s great thinker Rabindranath Tagore (pictured below) can be your inspiration: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”


The way India thinks about time

How do we perceive time? And what does this mean for my appointments or travel schedule? In the west we see time as sequential, a straight line, whereas in India your host sees time as synchronic, they see the past, present and future as interrelated.

In a nutshell, this approach to time explains why westerners are always rushing about, completing one meeting and rushing on to the next, while your Indian host seems relaxed, not in a rush, dealing with many other things while meeting with you and so on.

Sequential cultures include the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Synchronic is definitely India and probably all Asia.

Anyone who has been at an Indian business function will see this working out – while announcements and speeches are being made, people move in and out of the room, mobile phones ring and are answered (even by presenters), private discussions take place and the scene is a moveable feast. But the western equivalent will ask for mobiles to be switched off, will collectively frown when they ring, will sit and not move – paying attention to the single topic at hand.

On returning home from one of my early trips to India, for the first month or two I told everyone about one of the “disaster” meetings I had in India – while I was presenting my proposal, my Indian colleague was constantly interrupted, taking calls, signing letters, giving instructions and so on. At any time there seemed to be four or five people in his office, all actively doing things and distracting him – or so I thought. But two months down the track I discovered that he had been paying attention, knew what I proposed and even more, wanted to go ahead. Disaster to triumph without even knowing it!

Time – just one of several major areas of cultural difference that we face when engaging with wonderful INDIA.