Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 26: Planning for India

I have been in India for almost two weeks now. This visit has turned out differently from any of the other times, as a clear agenda emerged during the course of the visit which set up my plans for my eventual return to India. This was always on the cards, agreed. But it was always difficult to see, and to reconcile various objectives that competed for my time overall was proving difficult. However, this time, various interactions during this visit gave me rather obvious pathways to achieve both of my objectives - to find a permanent solution to the business I run and to map my next few years into a different role and reality.

On those two counts, the visit has gone well so far. I have made some significant progresses on both counts. There were usual surprises, and my optimism was defied. Besides, more than once, the limitations of my own proposals were laid bare in front of my eyes, and I had very little to defend. In my opinion, I did put up a fairly brave front, but, as I know from my heart, this India is very different from the one I know from my childhood and other people know from BBC, and the imperious standpoints of some of the businesses I represent do not go down well with the Indian aspirations and estimates of self worth.

As I said, it did help that I reconciled to the fundamental limitations of the business model I am trying to promote, though I am still convinced about the underlying value proposition for such a business. In summary, I would still want to build a world class English Language training chain which makes available world class English language training at an affordable price to Indian consumers and help transform their lives. I am convinced that this is going to make good business, and this isn't a charitable enterprise I am talking about. The big problem I have so far faced is one of imagination. I have come to suspect that many British businesses have a fairly limited view of the world, and despite the talk, they are completely unable to imagine business models that will work in India.

And, in my opinion, this leads to the failure of British businesses to make significant progresses here. I have heard from senior officials at UKTI that they find India 'daunting'. I have met businessmen who felt 'lost' and decided that they would not be able to do business in India. I have been told that it is difficult to do business in India because people are dishonest, a remark I took exception to and reminded the person concerned that as I would not attempt to judge the entire Irish society from what Iris Robinson did, one should not draw conclusions about India from the behaviour of few individuals that one met.

I think the key problem that British businesses in question face is one of commitment. They just simply can not make up their mind what they want to do, and are, therefore, unable to make the necessary commitments and investments required to be successful in the Indian market. In the particular case I am involved, it is more a question of the approach to the business itself as much as it is a market question. Training as trading does not work; it is a different business, which needs to be set up in line with its own unique dynamic. However, I have seen the companies making the mistake of doing too little, being extremely impatient and having a very limited planning horizon - all sure recipes for a resounding failure in a market like India.

I think the fact that I am making some progress this time is because I have accepted these as facts and now seeking out local businessmen who can take the business forward in India. After having worked for more than three years establishing a training model for English Language in India, it made no sense for me to walk out. And, I have now stuck a formula which will allow me to grow this business - while giving a modest return to my own employers - and achieve the scale and objectives that I originally set out for.

This will also demand one commitment from me: Return to India. I am more or less setting myself up to return to India and live in Mumbai, at least for a period of a couple of years, later this year. I am planning to divide my time on a few projects while I am in Mumbai, because I think this is the best way to get the maximum from myself. First, I am planning to set up a world class leadership training company, which will service the Indian corporate houses to help their executives achieve an understanding of the emerging realities of the workplace and develop a new set of skills required to adopt. Second, I shall develop this business of English Language training and create the model which will allow us, finally, to take a world class training programme to the remote areas in India, at an affordable cost. Third, I shall pursue my various research interests at the same time, and would want to build up a small company which will offer go-to-market advice for Indian and Asian markets.

My planned date of return is somewhat around July, and I am planning to set up shop in Pune. I have somehow bought William Dalrymple's metaphor that India is driven by South and West India while it is being dragged back by the East and the North. Though I know that the realities are changing, and soon, Bihar may become the growth story in India to everyone's surprise, I am quite impressed by Pune as a city and know that my India experience needs the necessary diversity of working out of as many different Indian cities as I can.

I am fully aware of the impacts of cross-border migration, having attempted this twice earlier in my life. And, this time, the decision to come back to India is not just emotional, though such a dimension will invariably remain. However, this time, it is the hard, economic opportunity, backed by my sense of optimism about the future of India and the sense of urgency about addressing the human infrastructure issues that will facilitate this development, is pushing me to take the plunge. I am now fully committed to make this transition and beyond the weighing-of-options point.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

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Will be to arrive where we started
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