Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fascinated by the way different systems and cultures deal with disasters and crisis situations. Take the Chinese earthquake as an example. Their departure from their “normal” mode of behaviour i.e. closing down any access to politicians, access to western media, providing statistics on the death toll etc has to be welcomed.
I think Premier Wen Jiabao has shown that the Chinese, too, are normal human beings and not the robots who work 24/7 without any signs of emotion to provide us our DVD players and Gap jeans.
Everyone goes on and on about China, but, I for one, have simply not caught the bug to visit the country. I suppose my reasoning is that it simply doesn’t feel like a fun place to go to.
Sure, it may have history, sure indigenous culture is important to note, but the overarching rules that dictate daily life that are laid out by the Communist Party of China (as portrayed in our media) seem a little too strait-jacketed for me and for this reason any effort made by Premier Wen to bring in more openness in China has to be welcomed.
Perhaps the Burmese should take note?
Last week, my firm (www.saffronchase.com) launched the India Briefing Centre – a service that can help British firms crack India. The first being bespoke sectoral briefings and training programmes that can provide executives looking to engage with India, the vital information they require to make decisions. Whilst the focus is on briefings, our mainstay is delivering intercultural training for teams from leading companies visiting India, which we’ve been doing over the past decade in various other guises.
From the moment you land to the moment you return back to your home country, you’ll find India to be a land of contradictions. Because of her shared history with Britain and her contribution to the Commonwealth, it’s easy to make the mistake that the same rules apply in India as they do, for example, in the UK. Whether it’s in the workplace, in emails, on phone conferences, or after hours when you’re socialising with colleagues – if you don’t wise up and realise that the rules are different, you’re guaranteed failure and risk alienating yourself.
Our experience tells us that those contemplating working in India are better off having some form of orientation before they leave. Learn the rules behind creating positive relations with Indians and you’ll be far more successful.
From past experience, the segment that everyone really enjoys in our intercultural training programme, is the 15 minute excerpt of a Bollywood film.
Forget what I said earlier about learning the rules – just watch the latest Bollywood flick and you’ll be fine 🙂
If you’d like to read our press release, you can view it here: http://www.saffronchase.com/SC_press_release_May2008.pdf
I was invited to a glitzy bash (www.awaawards.com) last week by the Asian Foundation for Philanthropy (www.affp.org.uk) at the Park Lane Hilton where women of Asian origin were recognised across a range of categories for their achievements. Among all the stars were prominent people like Sarah Brown, Cherie Blair, and LIZ HURLEY. However, the biggest star in the room – and I don’t think there’ll be any disagreement from any quarter – was Pinky Lilani OBE, whose brainchild this celebration was.
Sitting there at the event, surrounded by women who’d made such a difference, what struck me was that the portrayal of women of Indian origin in the media is dismal but their contribution is absolutely massive.
Just in India, the number of women who are leading politicians, business leaders, social entrepreneurs, engineers, IT graduates outranks the numbers you will find in other countries in the subcontinent. As students of society, this poses an interesting question to which the answer, I feel, lies in the culture of India and Indian people.
Going back to the event, the funny thing was that Liz Hurley – despite being such a uber model type of person was upstaged by her Indian husband – Arun Nayyar! The number of women around that man that evening was unbelievable! On my way out, I bumped into her and asked her if she wanted a lift home 🙂
It astounds me as to the number of people of Indian origin who work in the financial districts of London & New York. We all know of people like Anshu Jain of Deutsche Bank who have done fantastically well to take the best of their Indian heritage and mix it up with the hard headedness found in ample supply in the “West”.
I mention this because the City Hindus Network have asked me and bunch of other people to become mentors to younger professionals across various firms in the square mile. As part of this workshop, I learnt something that should have been so obvious – that cultural values are weaved into our genes.
I was reminded by the City Hindus Network that public service and encouraging a spirit of providing assistance are key elements of our DNA. Something that many cultural overviews provided to executives travelling to India should highlight.
Understanding Indian business culture will take you so far, understanding what makes Indian people tick will take you much further.
We’ve all heard of the Goldman Sachs BRICS report – which looks at the emergence of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa as a counterbalance to America’s economic prowess. In many ways, this report continues to set the agenda when any debates concerning ‘globalisation’ take place in any part of the world. The report has received reams of coverage and has even spurned an industry in books dedicated to the subject.
From my own personal experience, I remember thumbing through the report after we’d started our business to understand this “new” perspective and the advantage that our India experience would provide us in years to come. The analysis presented in this report filled us with confidence and provided greater definition to our business.
My reason for bringing this up, is that at the dinner with the Duke of York (please refer to my previous blog entry), I was fortunate to have met the author of the report – Jim O’Neill. His report can only be described as a seminal moment in our understanding of how the world was changing.
He described the vision of 9/11 on his TV screen as the “eureka” moment that made him question the future of America in setting the agenda in years to come.
Americans are often described as being insular, protectionist, conspiracists etc etc, but my experience at the India Briefing Centre tells a wholly different story. With ever increasing dealflow between America & India, we’re finding an acceptance of all things Indian in the US. In our multicultural training programme, they ask good questions, are curious of the opportunities that India presents to them, and more than anything else, acknowledge, what I believe Jim O’Neill started the ball rolling on, that America & India must work together for the prosperity of their people.
Mr O’Neill – we salute you.
Not wanting to give you the impression that all I do is attend lavish dinners, but the UK’s Ambassador of Trade & Investment – HRH The Duke of York (Prince Andrew) convened a small dinner for 20 in, ironcially, the Chinese Room at Buckingham Palace with key companies to report back on his recent visit to the Motherland. The guest list really did read like the who’s who of business and was therefore privileged to be included.
I thought that HRH played his role as host to a tee. He provoked the group at various points to stimulate discussion to the point at one stage when the new Indian High Commissioner had to step in to bring discussion back on track!
‘Most’ of the British contingent moaned about the usual stuff – liberalisation of the economy, restrictions on our lawyers to practice in India, challenges of bureaucracy etc. I say ‘most’ because out of these companies, Bill Gammell of Cairn Energy, made a fantastic intervention saluting the Indian mindset and enterpreneurial zeal that he had personally witnessed – the basic point he made is that no place in the world is perfect.
Reflecting on the dinner, what sticks out in my mind is the sense that everyone around the table really ‘connected’ with India. I mean, not just the commercial opportunites that arise as a result of her emergence, but ‘connected’ with India and Indian people on a personal level.
I know that everytime I return from India and am waiting for my baggage to catch up with me in Heathrow’s luggage hall, I can’t help but feel that I want to be back in India. Yes, there are challenges. But, the sheer ingenuity of Indian people to overcome these challenges is remarkable and brings a smile to my face everytime I think of India.
On a slightly amusing note, I wonder how the other guests took to instructions on how to greet the Duke of York (“good evening, your royal highness”).
Went to a highly entertaining book launch yesterday hosted by the Hinduja’s for Pralhad Chhabria, Chairman of the Finolex Group, who’s written his autobiography titled ‘There’s no such thing as a self made man’. As is the custom, several worthy individuals spoke at the event (which was packed wall to wall with members of the Rich List) and congratulated the author on his achievements, but the most revealing of speeches was delivered by none other than SP Hinduja himself.
In his inimitable style, SP spoke about an occassion when a university conferred to him, and his brothers, a honorary degree and suggested that the audience would like to hear how they, too, could become billionaires.
He made the assembled audience at the dinner laugh (trust me… it’s all about delivery) by adding that the university had provided him with only three minutes to provide his advice on this subject – a fortune that his family have made over three generations! 3 minutes for 3 generations!
What I found fascinating was that he mentioned two things in his response, which I suppose typify India’s success: (a) the need to focus and (b) to take people along with you in your journey.
Speak with any successful business leader from India, and you’re guaranteed to unearth golden nuggets of knowledge that you can apply to yourself and your business. In my case, I walked away with a greater belief in the virtues of interdependency. In such a dynamic and ever increasingly international world, I don’t think you stand a chance in succeeding by yourself. I suppose Mr Chhabria’s got it right – ‘there’s (really) no such thing as a self made man’!
Many of my colleagues and friends have mentioned that I should start a blog, well here goes (albeit a few years late:)
There’s so much going on with regards to the Europe – India business relationship, that I thought I’d offer my own thoughts on a regular basis. Take for example, the success of Boris Johnson in London’s elections. Do we really think he’ll undo the work done by his predecessor – who, incidentally, had committed to opening up an office in India to promote London to Indian businesses? Despite his personal failings, Ken Livingstone demonstrated he understood the necessity for London to reach out to emerging countries like India. Well, I hope Mayor Boris reconsiders his statements during the campaign and supports greater engagement with India.
People often make the claim that to succeed in relations with other countries all you need to do is become culturally aware. While this is of course is a fine aim, at the IBC we argue it is better to understand the impact of cultural awareness learning.