One of the primary factors that attracted me to the UB/Towson M.B.A. was the opportunity to study abroad in one of the Merrick School’s global field study courses. In January 2012, thanks in large part to a Wright Global Scholarship, I enrolled in the course to study emerging markets in India.
The prospect of studying in India excited me due to the country’s status as one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world. With a population of over 1.2 billion, the world’s largest democracy is a vibrant, diverse subcontinent filled with opportunities and challenges. An expanding, well-educated middle class serves as the engine for widespread economic growth. At the same time, this still developing country suffers from chronic infrastructure problems and pervasive income inequality. Our pre-trip preparations gave us insights into these opportunities and challenges and provided a foundation for the business trips and cultural experiences to come.
Seema Iyer associate director of the Jacob France Institute and the lead faculty member for the course, made sure to provide us with some historical context as a foundation to help better understand the Indian economy. Additionally, Professor Iyer is an American of Indian descent who has spent a great deal of time traveling and visiting relatives in India. She selected readings that gave us a broad overview of Indian history, culture and business practices, then supplemented them with her own personal insights on Indian culture and provided us with invaluable travel tips and pointers on how to effectively and appropriately interact with our hosts.
During our several classes held in Baltimore, we learned about the impact of years of British rule on the Indian people and how decisions made after India gained independence in 1947 influenced the Indian economy for decades to come. In the early 1990s, many of the restrictions on India’s economy that had been in place since shortly after independence were loosened, leading to a period of increased foreign investment and rapid economic growth. Gunjan Bagla, a well-known expert, consultant and author in the area of conducting business in India, indicates that there are several areas of opportunity in India. He states that manufacturing, defense, infrastructure, consumer goods, knowledge-based services, real estate, and training and education are sector leaders. Many of the site visits on our trip were to companies directly involved in these areas.
In mid-January, 10 fellow students and I were off on a fast-paced, intensive trip to India’s technology and financial capitals of Bangalore and Mumbai, respectively. In Bangalore, we learned about logistics and supply chain management from Lloyd Sanford, an American expat who started his own company in India. Armapal Chadha and a colleague from Ernst & Young gave an overview of the business climate in India as well as the regulations and legal structures that must be navigated. Milind Nirmal of Parsons Brinkerhoff discussed the state of Indian infrastructure, the importance of public-private partnerships, and the need for more comprehensive transportation planning.
On our second day of business meetings in Bangalore, local partners from Korn/Ferry International discussed the evolving nature of executive recruitment and the increased costs of top-tier management in India. We also had the opportunity to visit Intel’s Indian headquarters where we learned about the unit’s focus on hardware and software design, were briefed on the company’s plans for corporate responsibility, and received an especially informative presentation on marketing products to Indian consumers.
Our busy days of site visits and business meetings were punctuated by nights of white-knuckled autorickshaw rides through the congested and cacophonous streets of Bangalore in search of chicken biryani, ice-cold Kingfisher beers, and deals on souvenir pashminas and silk scarves. While in Bangalore, we also managed to squeeze in time to visit a Hindu temple with a giant stone Bull Nandi shrine, the wooden palace of Tipu Sultan, and the Lalbagh botanical gardens.
After, three days in Bangalore, we boarded a plane and were off to Mumbai. Upon arrival, we boarded a bus for a quick tour of the city that included a stop at the Gateway to India and a visit to Mani Bhavan. This one-time home of Mohandas Ghandi now serves as an inspirational museum celebrating his life, work and teachings.
The next day we continued our site visits, stopping first at the U.S. Consulate where we received an overview of the geography, demographics and politics of the regions surrounding Mumbai and the country as a whole. Marsha McDaniel of the U.S. Department of Commerce outlined some of the issues U.S. companies often encounter in India and the services her office provides to help deal with them.
During our second Mumbai site visit, we had the privilege of meeting with senior management of Lupin Pharmaceuticals, including the CFO, Ramesh Swaminathan, and the president of Novel Drug Discovery, Dr. Rajender Kamboj. They discussed, among other topics, the importance of efficient supply chains to maximize profit and the critical need to manage intellectual property effectively. On our second day of site visits in Mumbai, Ashutosh Limaye of Jones Lang LaSalle explained the status of commercial and residential real estate in various regions of India. In the afternoon, we visited Tata Consulting Services to tour their facilities and learn about business process outsourcing, both in India and globally.
Throughout all of our site visits, several key points about doing business in India came up again and again. A healthy respect for Indian culture, an understanding that western ways will not translate easily, a focus on communication and an awareness of Indian consumers’ acute price sensitivity are all requirements for success in India. The need to find trustworthy Indian partners to help navigate the many regional markets is critical. Limited infrastructure, confusing property rights and a tendency to value relationships over legal contracts can make doing business in India challenging. The large and growing Indian middle class is not only an amazing opportunity for global firms producing consumer goods and services, but also an indicator of shifts in the Indian economy from a low-cost center for business process outsourcing to a more knowledge-based regional hub of economic activity in Asia.
Marc Lennon is a current UB/Towson M.B.A. student and works for the University of Baltimore as the grants and contracts specialist for the Office of the Provost.
Pictured below UB students in India at Intel Co. site visit.
Left to Right: Mario Borgerding, Dean Darlene Smith, Marc Lennon, Justin Castro, Sarah O'Donnell, James McEntee, Tasha Smith, Farida Fares, Caroline Edwards, Seung Jon Lee, Aditya Raval, Casey McCants, Photo Credit: Seema Iyer