The great thing about travel is that it allows you to get past stereotypes and to see people and cultures for who and what they really are. As a global business executive, I’m embarrassed to admit that my perceptions of India were largely shaped by Western media and my past experiences with India-based technical support agents dating back 10 years.
I’d read the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal articles depicting India’s growing middle class as an emerging market that was estimated to become the world’s second largest. But my skepticism was fueled by media and news broadcasts that frequently painted a less than flattering picture of India as a developing nation with insufficient economic opportunities for its citizens and an outdated technological infrastructure, resulting in a financially weak middle class.
I certainly never imagined that India’s middle class would have sufficient economic buying power anytime in the near future to be of mass appeal to the world’s leading brands. So you can imagine my expectations when I traveled on business to New Delhi, India’s capital city this past January. I was half expecting the stereotypical snake charmers to be on every street corner. I was not prepared for what I saw.
As I stepped out of the Boeing 747, the enormous new airport surprised me. It was cleaner and more attractive than the one I had left behind in New York. I was also surprised by the amount of English I saw, both in and outside of the airport. Virtually every sign and advertisement was in English. As I was shuttled to my hotel, the thing that caught my attention was the sheer volume of world-leading logos on billboards, office buildings, and shopping malls.
Apparently, Indians also love US and European luxury brands. As we neared the section of town were my hotel was located, I recognized so many technology logos I felt like I was back in Sunnyvale, CA – and not a snake charmer in sight! That night I Skyped my family back in the States and again was surprised to find that the hotel WiFi was faster than that of most hotels where I stay in the US. I spoke to my kids on the other side of the planet without a buffer delay or glitch in the voice or picture quality.
The next morning as I headed to our offices, I was again surprised at how clean New Delhi was. I even saw cleaning crews picking up trash along the roadways and sidewalks. Part of the drive took me on a new, five-lane expressway (think Autobahn) that took me past several newly constructed, beautiful apartment high-rises that reminded me of something you would find in Dubai. As we pulled into our office, I was again struck by the modern, glass and stone exterior of the office tower.
That evening I had the opportunity to meet with Teleperformance’s head of India operations who also happens to sit on a number of economic development committees with the Indian government and Indo-American Chamber of Commerce. I was pleasantly surprised to learn of India’s new, pro-business Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) who is a key reason why US companies have doubled their investments into India in the fourth quarter of 2014. While thumbing through a local business magazine, I couldn’t help but notice pictures of India’s Prime Minister sitting in various meetings with President Obama and the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Cisco, Bank of America and many others.
It turns out that there is a huge push underway from world-leading brands to position themselves to capture their share of the soon-to-be 117-million middle-class households that are estimated to have the buying power of $22 trillion USD (yes, trillion) within the next five years. It also doesn’t hurt that India’s Prime Minister has simplified the visa process, making it easier to visit their country and is pushing hard to reduce red tape and make India much easier for Western companies to do business with.
The week I spent in India was eye opening. Clearly, my perception of India was antiquated and out of touch. While they have just started making these changes and still have a ways to go, the business environment is thriving and outside investments are pouring into the country at a rapid pace. Their middle-class is already an economic powerhouse that is only getting stronger. They have a parliamentary form of government that is familiar to Western companies.
While India’s economic growth may still be considered early stage, now is the time to prepare to ride that wave. Leading international companies are in a race to position their brands to win their share of wallet. Those who wait too long will miss out.
My company has produced an information rich, short video
What do you think? I’d love to hear about your recent experience doing business in or with India.
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