Cal Poly MBA India Trip
Final Reflective Blog
July 15, 2013
Since coming home to the U.S., I have been asked repeatedly by family and friends if I would return to India. About 99% of the time, I have responded with, “I don’t know.” As of right now, I still do not know. What I do know is that I consider this trip to be one of the most eye-opening and educational moments of my life thus far. The country of India is an entirely different world from what I have grown up in. All of the pre-departure meetings, book reports/blog posts, and discussions with individuals who have already been there, cannot fully prepare you for what you actually face when you first get off the plane. Every sight, smell, sound, and taste is an attack on your senses. You encounter so much all at one time that your brain cannot process it fast enough to catch up. For me, I felt I was numb to my surroundings a majority of the time. I witnessed everything, however I am still in the process of trying to understand all of it. To be honest, I do not think I ever fully will. However, from all of this activity and confusion I learned one very important lesson: STAY HUNGRY. Never stop pursuing your goals; because if you do, there is someone right on your heels ready to take whatever it is you were after.
In this final reflective blog, I will attempt to answer a number of the questions posed on pg. 12-13 in the GSB 563 syllabus to the best of my ability, and at the end I will return to the final statement I made above.
The most important thing I learned, in regards to the country and its position in the global business environment, and how it all ties into my MBA coursework would be jugaar. This word best describes what is taking place within the country. In terms a westerner might understand, I took it to mean, “innovation even with scarce resources and opportunities.” There are countless examples of this phenomenon throughout the country. Indian entrepreneurs and innovators are living and breathing this word every day as they adapt their business models to fit with the Indian market that is dominated by a strong culture and customs. For example, Biba clothing is a dominant force in the women’s apparel market because it continues to innovate with new products and materials that blend modern styles with classic cultural styles at prices that are affordable to the female Indian consumer. The company is not a multi-national that came into the country and set-up shop. It was created from humble beginnings and has grown into a major brand because its founder, Meena Bindra, adopted the practices of jugaar. At the time of its founding, the fact that a woman was running her own business was rare but her persistence and knowledge of what the Indian female consumer wanted is what allowed her company to grow and continue to thrive today.
The importance of continuing to innovate, and persevering even when one faces a lack of resources or opportunities is a lesson that cannot be taught in a business class. Over the course of my one-year program, I learned many of the fundamentals that make a business successful. Yet, you cannot teach innovation or perseverance in the face of obstacles. That can only be acquired through actual experience and Meena Bindra’s company, Biba, serves as an excellent example. This ties in well with the question of what Western product or service could be successfully exported to or offered in India. I think a lot of different products and services could be sold within the country. I felt while traveling around the country that Indian consumers are hungry for Western products. Despite this realization, for a Western product or service to thrive in the country, those who are attempting to introduce it must be aware of all the differences and difficulties that abound within Indian. Nothing is easy or straightforward, therefore a Western entrepreneur or company must adopt the practice of jugaar to make it work. Just because a Western product or service does well in the west, it will have to overcome significant challenges to be just as, or more successful in India. Groupon India, is a great example. The company is huge in the U.S., but within India it has had to adapt to different cultural phenomena in order to work. Like Biba, it has adopted the practice of jugaar and made the appropriate changes to how it operates to obtain a solid supplier and consumer base. For instance, many Indian companies were apprehensive about signing on with the company, Groupon India overcame this apprehension by signing up one of the largest and most prestigious Indian hotel chains, Taj Hotels, to show that they were worthy of notice.
In conjunction with the question from above, what Indian product or service that could be successfully offered to or imported into the U.S. is would have to be its commitment to customer service. The service we experienced in the country was incredible. Lemon Tree Hotels is the first company that comes to mind in this regard. This was also the most striking “best business practice” that I took away from our visit to the country. U.S. customer service is good, but Indian customer service is amazing. The hotel chain takes customer service to an entirely new level. They made sure that we had everything we needed and even went above-and-beyond when abnormal requests were made, like obtaining medicine for certain trip participants. They greeted all of us with a smile and friendly demeanor; and never balked at one single request. This would never happen in the U.S. So many American employees feel entitled to their paycheck and feel that bending-over-backwards to address a customer’s need is below them. What an opportunity for a U.S. entrepreneur. To provide customer service on the same level as Indian customer service in an attractive and affordable environment would revolutionize a number of traditional industries. Not only the hospitality industry, but healthcare, restaurants, and many more come to mind. With India, service is king because in a country of 1.3 billion people, the customer is king. If you do not make him or her happy, there are plenty of other places for them to take their money. That is a lesson many U.S. businesses could learn.
In summation, two of the lessons that developed economies can learn from emerging economies are innovation through adaptability (better understood as jugaar), and striving to provide unparalleled customer service. If done correctly, these two practices could easily set a U.S. company apart from its competitors. In comparison, many developing economies cannot easily adopt U.S. practices for numerous reasons. These include: cultural practices, infrastructure and resource requirements, education, access to capital, etc. Constraints like those just listed represent the major hurdles facing developing economies as they continue to try and break out on the global economic stage. In my opinion, it almost seems easier for U.S. companies to learn valuable lessons from emerging economies than it is for emerging economies to fully adapt the U.S. business practices that have proven so successful over the past 100 years. For those U.S. entrepreneurs who are ready and willing to learn new ways of doing things, there is a wealth of opportunities. It is up to them to take advantage of these lessons or else foreign companies, like Biba, Lemon Tree Hotels, and Puravankara will become much more dominant than they already are.
Returning to may actual day-to-day experiences in the country. When I first arrived in New Delhi, I was immediately hustled by a taxi driver. He tried to sell me on a $150 taxi ride to the hotel, unfortunately for him I have traveled quite extensively before and understood what was going on. I was able to safely, and cheaply, remove myself from the situation and move forward on the trip with no other troubles. I fully understand that one of the goals for this trip was to test my flexibility in dealing with this type of situation; especially if I were to be sent over by a company I may be employed with in the future. Prior to the trip I was fairly confident in my abilities to navigate abroad, I still feel this way. Even though India is an incredibly diverse and chaotic country, remaining calm and flexible is imperative if you are to succeed there. Being open to new experiences and situations allows you to operate smoothly and effectively. Learning to let go and be more open was slightly challenging for me. I like order, and chaotic situations can make me a little anxious. However I was able to overcome these constraints and really enjoy myself on this trip because I knew that I would not survive unless I let go and embraced the chaos of the situation.
There were no real moments where I felt uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone. Other than getting over the initial shock of seeing India for the first time, I fully enjoyed myself and the program as a whole. One of the cultural differences that surprised me at first was the lack of personal space. The Indian people believe that an open space is theirs for the taking. For example, as an American I maintained a good amount of space between myself and the person standing in front of me while in a line. On numerous occasions, another Indian person quickly took up that space with no regard to the fact that there even was a line and that their taking of the open space was even allowed. When explained to me, the whole concept made sense. With a population of over 1 billion people, if you do not take advantage of an open spot, then you will end up getting nothing.
This all goes back to the statement I made at the beginning of my reflection. The most important thing I learned on this trip is to STAY HUNGRY. For me, India represents a country of people that are hungry for success; they want a better life for themselves and their children. If you do not continue to innovate despite a lack of resources or opportunities, and if you do not continue to pursue your goals, then someone who is right on your heels will take up that open space and get the very thing you stopped fighting for. What surprised me most about India was the extreme poverty abundant throughout the country. By the end, I saw it differently. There may be poverty, but there are also many opportunities as long as you are willing to practice the concept of jugaar and stay hungry. Our visit to Puravankara represented this well. The founder of the company, Mr. Ravi Puravankara, started out with absolutely nothing. He ran away from home, became educated, and worked his way up to the top. Now, his company is building affordable apartments for a growing middle-class, which is striving for more opportunities and the promise of a better life. One of his beliefs, as quoted by his son, “I’m not in the business of selling you four walls and a roof. I’m selling you a lifestyle.” It is imperative that one stays hungry and open to new possibilities and opportunities if he or she plans to be successful in this world.
Regardless of all trials and tribulations, India means opportunity.