Wall Street backs Obama.

What can only be described as a coincidence, the two times that I’ve visited New York and DC on business, we’ve witnessed such epic events that if I were less wiser, I would believe that I may have caused them. Thankfully, we know that there are far greater forces at play.

The first time, last year, as we stepped onto the hallowed turf of Wall St, we saw for ourselves the wide reaching impact of sub – prime lending.

This time, as we visited leading fund managers and financial analysts on Wall St, we saw for ourselves the full scale assault on the global financial markets. Despite the loss of a large number of jobs at Lehman Brothers, we were delighted that key figures like Mayor Bloomberg made time to meet with us. It was fair to assume that he’d be busy trying to deal with the crisis that could have such a massive impact on New York.

We, then, moved onto DC, where we met with key figures on Capitol Hill. We met with Senator Shelby, who is the ranking Republican on the influential Senate Banking Committee, who hinted as to the line of questioning he would be putting to Hank Paulson.

All in all, after all the analyst briefings we’d attended, after all the politicians we met, after all the hype we read in the leading newspapers in the US, we kept on getting drawn to the presidential race between Senators Obama and McCain.

I was hoping to gain an understanding on whether Wall St had a preference. Well, it turned out that the majority of people we met said that they’d like Obama to succeed BUT couldn’t actually see him winning. Most of the people, drew our attention to middle America (…one CEO referred to them as “white trash”!), who’ll find it difficult to get over the race issue.

My experience on vacation to the US MidWest earlier this summer confirms this view. In my opinion, if Obama wants to win, he needs to do the following:

1. Communicate that he understands the gravity of the financial crisis that we are currently experiencing and then let the current administration get on with what they’re doing. Political interference by either candidate will not be taken well.

2. Make sure the American people understand that McCain belongs to the same ideological family as Dubya. Connecting McCain with the current President will serve him and his campaign for change well.

With about 40 days to go, he could do it. He landed some big blows in the first televised debate last night. Let’s hope that he holds his lead.

Manmohan Singh & The Civil Nuclear Deal

Any visitor to our planet who hadn’t been prejudiced by the cliched images in the media and school lessons on imperial history, would look at India’s landmass, population, economic status and automatically assume that it was a key player on the world’s stage. Well, now it is and we must applaud Manmohan Singh for his conviction and follow through on this policy.

Prime Ministers are, mostly, known for one thing during their premiership – whether its Blair, Vajpayee or Clinton, but it seems that Manmohan Singh has bucked this trend and emerged as a leader with two significant achievements to his credit.

Firstly, the liberalisation of the Indian economy (with all its benefits) and secondly, to gain the confidence of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to allow India to participate in nuclear trade (which may bring India closer to energy independence).

The first time I met Manmohan Singh was when the Congress were in Opposition. I walked away with a regard for his intellect and for his personality, that makes him the erudite gentleman that he is. My second meeting reinforced the image that the media had created of him as ‘an accidental politician’.

In my view, the fact that the Indian lobby has arm twisted the NSG to put aside its rules, carefully developed over 40 years, to the benefit of India, and India alone is a significant victory, not only for Manmohan Singh, but for the Indian establishment. The greater victory is that the NSG have agreed to do this at a time when issues related to the transfer of high technology are being tightened and also when non-proliferation has become ‘the’ issue concerning geo-politics today.

Given the US’s need to bring some balance to South Asia by countering Pakistan, I don’t see the ratification of this deal as a huge problem. They’ll probably need to introduce an India specific bill to amend the US Atomic Energy Act.

Tips on Doing Business in India

I attended the UK – India Business Council Inaugural Summit in London last week and need to record my praise for their team, and in particular for Sharon Bamford and Karan Bilimoria, CEO and Chairman, respectively, for pulling off an event with such style. Whilst I could not attend the star spangled dinner that evening, I am informed that, once again, they pulled out all the stops for their guests. To mark the international expansion of Kingfisher Airlines, Vijay Mallya trumped his competition by giving each guest a free (economy) round trip ticket to India! I can’t really complain, I won the Jet raffle prize of two free tickets to India earlier that day 🙂


The audience at the conference seemed genuinely interested in India and what surprised me was that the vast majority of those I spoke with already had made inroads into the sub-continent. It didn’t matter if you were a one man band, a SME or a large multinational. They were all at it.

However, the one thing, I did pick up was that India was not a simple place to do business. In response to this, I offer the following five tips to make your lives easier:

1. Treat India like you treat Europe. It’s just as big in size, and has more people. If you treat India in regions, it may make your lives easier.

2. Take some intercultural training before you go. Indian’s may be familiar with English, but the softer aspects of doing business in India are often the most crucial. You need to know what signs to look out for. There’s some great books and some equally good training programmes out there.

3. Appreciate that India is not a command economy / dictatorship. By this I mean, please don’t compare India to China. Both have their advantages and weaknesses. In India, democracy runs deep. Naturally, this extends to every aspect of life and can slow decision making. But be assured, once a decision is made, it’ll probably stand the test of time.

4. India isn’t cheap. Your notions of picking up bargains (business or pleasure) belong to an era long forgotten. From the simple things such as hotel rates, internal flights, even entertainment, be prepared to pay – sure not London or New York rates, but nevertheless rates that aren’t what you may have been lead to believe.

5. Finally, in my view, India is THE land of contradictions. So much wealth, yet, so much poverty. So many educated people… so few quality educational institutions etc etc. Bear this in mind when visiting India.

The UKIBC summit reminded me of the reasons why we formed our business – India is the place to be, it still makes my pulse race faster. Well done, UKIBC.