Archives for posts with tag: Ashok

Trawling through the Internet, I came across a report on McKinsey Insights that spoke about the gender diversity still gaining ground in Latin America as well as our advancing society. I wondered whether it is a good idea to have a good women boss around or some incompetent person with his qualification being simply male. Am I turning metrosexual raising this question? No, not really – just trying to convey a point, as growing up in all boys’ school in Delhi, relationships with girls and women were an aspiration in my all-male cohort.

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In that school we had women teachers, and mine were excellent. Later I had male teachers and they too were excellent. That Indian school was rather hierarchical – teachers gave orders and students obeyed, and certainly submitted homework or else… I think that early training to follow women as well as men made me rather open to learning from, taking orders from and reporting to women, just as comfortably as to men. I have never visited Latin America and cannot comment on their situation, but I suspect early exposure to some kind of gender diversity in positions of power could help overcome resistance to taking orders from women.

Women As Managers:

I have had women teachers and have worked under a woman manager only once. My personal experience is that they can be very good managers. Additionally, they are just as susceptible to bias as any other human, just as managers of either gender may be susceptible to bias based on other factors, such as race, sports group, club membership etc. My own feeling is that a good manager minimizes biases in favour of good management, and therefore a logical extension is that since women can be good managers, they can work with unbiased attitudes to the extent human. Similarly, in a biased environment, such as an otherwise all-male environment women are just as likely to succeed as  I suppose any other biased situation.

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Do Management Rules Differ Based On Gender?

Most of my work experience since the late eighties has been in or with Japan-owned companies. In my early days in Japan, women recruits from the same university as a male counterpart were assigned very different nature of tasks, and it bothered me. Gradually over the last 25 years I have seen this gender discrimination reduce, but fellow male Japanese workers who are in their forties still speak openly about gender-based roles.

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In Hitachi however, I notice that younger managers in their twenties are less discriminatory in their mindset about gender based assignment allocation. So, I think these things take time. Certainly Hitachi benefits by accessing a greater proportion of a declining Japanese population for their managerial cadre. I think in Hitachi’s case the Human Resources Department made conscious efforts to promote gender equality to opportunity. Such forward looking HR Departments can help others improve over time. The Indian situation is better than Japan’s with visible role models, for example in finance industry, heading leading banks such as State Bank of India, ICICI Bank or Axis Bank. If these banks found it prudent to place the best person for the job at their help, surely others should too!

I think the gradually increasing visibility of women in positions of senior management is successful in propelling more in the same direction. The snowball effect is encouraging. It is even more encouraging that in the realm of business this has been entirely based on merit, rather than reservation. Perhaps development programs across the world that rely on reservation need to be reconsidered in the light of this success case. Something to study about!

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The last few days saw onions touch a price of INR 80/kg, which actually brought tears to the eyes of commoners and added enough oniony spice to the jokes spreading on all social media platforms. The most common of all commodities went out of bounds for the common man against the backdrop of a sudden plunge last month by the India Rupee (INR) to the US Dollar (USD) to about INR 69 per USD. Here, our old friend Japan became a Good Samaritan and decided to more than triple the existing bilateral currency swap agreement to USD 50 billion.

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The intent of the entire proposal was to bring stability to financial markets, and it seems somewhat successful in contributing towards the same.  India was in need, and Japan came to its rescue like a good friend. The next important task though is to tackle the underlying causes for the rupee depreciation and one of them is the current account deficit. The Economist stated in one its articles on August 24, 2013 that “the longer-term solution to the balance-of-payments problem may be to ramp up India’s manufacturing sector, and thus its industrial exports. But that will take a big improvement in the business climate, not just a cheap currency. Despite the rupee’s 27% tumble in the past three years there is scant sign of global manufacturers shifting production to India.”

The Government of India desires to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP from the current 15% to 25% by 2022. However, we have certain well recognized factors that are limiting manufacturing, viz; infrastructure, excessive bureaucracy, high cost of capital, land and labor, which are pushing even our local businessmen to go abroad rather than strengthen a manufacturing base at home.

Here again our old friend Japan is quite keen to address our infrastructure issues, where it’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Infrastructure (METI) has adopted infrastructure systems exports as a thrust area with the help of Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, which are leading world class machinery manufacturers. The capital hurdle could also be resolved provided an acceptable Public Private Partnership policy is brought in. the Japanese banks are looking for promising projects to finance.

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I believe, India’s excessive bureaucracy and the labor issue are quite interlinked but the point is that the centuries old caste system has ingrained a preference for thinking rather than doing. Those who can, “think”, prefer not to get their hands dirty with implementation because their belief lies in the fact that getting hands dirty is for the lower castes.

Thus, the brainiest of engineers eschew production and manufacturing related work, preferring jobs in finance, consulting or even software development – work that can be done from comfortable environs. Those who can’t – get stuck in labor but because there is no pride in being at the bottom of society, the labor is just not willing. The Japan International Cooperation Agency is trying to bring in pride to India’s manufacturing and is supporting a leading management program at India’s premier Indian Institute of Management Calcutta called VLFM (Visionary Leaders for Manufacturing).

Alas, Japan cannot yet offer solutions to our land ownership and transfer complexities that perplex even the longest serving businesses such as the Tatas. Neither do they have a solution to our British inherited legacy of excessive bureaucracy. The politician and the bureaucrats – the two pillars of government need to address these. Centuries old problems cannot be swapped in a jiffy; hopefully they won’t take a century to resolve.

I assume the title made your eyebrows twitch, but I considered writing on this topic as I recently heard of a marriage being called off due to the last minute additional dowry demands from the groom’s family – despite a considerable dowry, which included cash and other valuables given well in advance. Actually, I sum up below my side of the conversation.

As a child I grew up reading almost daily in the news about the abuse of dowry for the breaking up of many marital alliances, including in many cases death of the bride as well. Dowry is a common practice across the globe; yes it is true, but sans the killings so common in India. Certainly, it was not in the news in places like UK, USA and Japan, other countries that I lived in the past. So, why has dowry system in India evolved from a loving parental gift into a social monster? This bothers me.

Why Dowry?

My understanding is that the dowry system started from the early civilization and was given as a gift from the parents and family to the daughter to help her set her new home after marriage. It also acted as a sustainability factor for unfortunate situations where the bride had to survive alone. I cannot oppose dowry to the extent of it being a voluntary support, or even when it is a pre-agreed contribution. However, it is when expectations continue to rise unexpectedly that I believe it takes on a monster’s role.

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Is dowry relevant?

In contemporary India where marriage is getting out of the arranged format and women have stepped out of the role of home-maker to working individuals, is dowry relevant?

Dowry in the sense of gift or support to start up a family is relevant but often times I still hear about the “price” to marry a boy, depending on his academic qualifications or job. This I find funny, and interesting. It does make economic sense to me, but takes the joy out of a loving relationship I expect!

Personally I feel that the dowry contribution (or what could be thought of as start-up seed capital) could come from both the ends of the family – the bride’s and the groom’s… and it need not be limited to family; contributions can be made from any well wisher across the globe.

I found in France that the idea of gifting to the married couples has grown intelligently. Friends, family and the extended family members bring gifts for the couple as per a list made by them. It rules out the option of repeat and useless gifts, and helps kick start the life of newlyweds. What a great idea!

The Muslim society gives meher to the bride, which is a combination of money and possessions from the groom. Meher is given to ensure that the bride remains loyal and the groom can extract her exclusive use for himself.

Suicides and killing women for dowry – how much more do we intend to bear?

Killing is inhuman – we all agree to it, but I am appalled by the blind eye Indian society tends to turn to it when it is in the name of dowry killing. As I mentioned, I have been reading about this for decades, and society is yet to address this abuse. Why do we fail to understand the fact that dowry seekers cannot be curbed with mere Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Amendment Ordinance or Laws coming in existence?

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Expectations of Marriage

In India, marriage as an institution has always been revered as a pious union of man and woman, wherein they get together to celebrate life. The expectations out of the relationship should be decided well in advance, like how many children they plan to have or where do they wish to live after marriage. Similar to this, if there are any specific demands by the groom or his family, they should make it well in advance to give time to the bride’s family to arrange for it (and even decide whether they can afford that relationship or not). There should not be any last minute surprises springing out of the box to blackmail the bride’s family in front of the society and trying to extract benefit by abusing the situation.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the men in Monpa tribal society need to pay a bride-price before the wedding to the bride’s family. It usually is a show of status and a way of describing that the groom can take responsibility of the bride for her entire life. The bride-price is not generally given in the form of cash, and is neither decided by the groom’s family nor by the bride’s, but a hired middleman or negotiator. This makes things easier for both the bride and groom to live happily without asking for more in future or making sudden and irrelevant demands.

The embedded idea that dowry can be a perpetual money-making business seems like a poisonous weed. It must be pulled out from the roots. Let us not destroy the sanctity of marriage by demanding dowry perpetually and making the pious relation merely a business transaction. On the other hand, any voluntary gifts from family and well wishers to help the newlyweds start a beautiful life seems like a pure, loving as well as intelligent business decision.

We sat on the edge of our seats in the cinema theaters while watching Bhuvan’s (Aamir Khan) team play its last cricket match in the movie Lagaan, despite knowing the fact that India will win. Why did we do that? It was a plain scripted match in the movie, so why was there so much of thrill and excitement about the same. We still watch the same movie over and over again with the same fervor as the first time, even when we remember each and every move of the Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Team 11.

Half my children’s generation has grown up watching World Wrestling matches between those Hulk Hogans, Shawn Micheals and The Undertakers, regardless of knowing that every punch thrown or even those TLC (Table, Ladder and Chair) matches in the same are scripted. So, why is there so much of Gung-Ho about the spot-fixing happening in IPL, when it had and has been promoted as ‘Entertainment Ka Baap’ (= Father of Entertainment) by its airing partner, Sony Max. Why are Fast pacer S Sreesanth and spinners Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila being bestowed with Life Bans for spot fixing?

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Any façade that in the international business that IPL has become, cricket was more of sport than World Wrestling, came off when Ajay Jadeja, Hansie Cronje et al were caught in match fixing. My own conjecture is that the play-off slots too are pre-decided, and who will or will not make it is pre-scripted. This is similar to the laughter we hear in our favorite sit-com shows on television. Irrespective of whether the jokes are funny, the audience at home hears the laughter. Similarly, irrespective of any proven sports ability, the audiences at home or in the stadiums see what the organizers want them to see.

As we have seen over this season of IPL 6, Team Rajasthan Royals have “performed” real well and have qualified for the Play-offs, regardless of its team players involved in match fixing and “under-performing”. It might be a different matter that there are parallel organizers, the official IPL and the unofficial underworld. The problem is created because there are two conductors, whose intentions do not coincide. Hence, it is bound to become a way of making money by scripting it like a movie, when the matches are tagged as entertainment.

County cricket is tagged as a serious affair; so are ODI and other forms, hence charting out Life bans to the likes of Ajay Sharma, Danish Kaneria and Hansie Cronje were justified; ten years later when T20 has degenerated to mere entertainment, a ban on Sreesanth is not justified (perhaps it is a part of the drama). Superficially, the ban is just a way to cover the suddenly uncovered but usually ever coveted parallel conductor here. If we consider the parallel with politics – Bangaru Laxman of BJP (India’s leading opposition political party) was caught accepting a 100, 000 rupee bribe (approx USD 2,000 at current exchange rate) He was despised not because he was corrupt, but for two other reasons:

a) He got caught and

b) The amount was so small.

Now, Sreesanth is “caught” for charging Rs 60 lacs for performing badly in one over. Here, the 6 million rupees (approx. 110,000 USD) taken is a lot of money for me and most people I know. It would exceed lifetime earnings of many in India. Yet in the entertainment world of cricket, this sum being relatively small or large is still unclear to me. Should he have asked for more? Was he despised and therefore released to the police for undercutting others who charge more? There are many such questions that remain unanswered.

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To the point of MS Dhoni or Harbhajan Singh being blamed or counted responsible for his arrest is away from my area of understanding. The motive for targeting Sreesanth this time is not clear. However, I remain convinced that there are many more players, bookies or the parallel conductors that are engaging in entertaining cricket and will continue doing so.

People in our country still follow cricket as their religion and live in the state of constant denial that IPL is a scripted game. I can still understand that Sreesanth reigns the Twitter trends list, but I am amused by the seriousness offered to this by the main-stream media. Times of India and Hindustan Times make it a headline issue, while IBN Live covers it on a jungle fire scale. I don’t think it does deserve that much of news space or air-time. However, if this scheme of scripting business is followed in the world of international business, I hope it makes it as friendly and loved as the world of Cricket.

Provoked by Justice Sotomoyer’s observation of dealing with her atypical “imposter syndrome”, in a recent Business Standard Op-Ed piece, Shyamal Majumdar writes, “The ‘imposter syndrome’ – Even high achievers often dismiss their success as some fluke or luck, and not the result of their own competence.”

This got me thinking. Internet based research revealed that, “The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

Imposter

Analyzing this wiki definition, I feel that at least partial description of “imposter syndrome” in the West is simply being realistic. After all, in my case I am sure what I am today is also a function of the bosses, colleagues and subordinates in the teams that I have worked in, as well as suppliers, customers and well-wishers in the extended environment. Thus, it is difficult to find a purely self-made individual. Hence, I believe that my success can be attributed to luck, fortune and timing.

I remember my days in Toyota, when our domestic market share in Japan in the segments we operated was increasing from 40 to 44 %, while Nissan’s was in decline. Sitting in the smoking corner during lunch, one of my colleagues made the observation that“managers and executives at Nissan are just like us, from the same classrooms of the same universities”.  In many cases, the choice between the two companies was made purely on geographical reasons, while choosing their office locations in Japan. Yet, one company is rising and the other is declining. Certainly, decisions taken by our seniors were instrumental in the current success and failure, rise or decline, but the fruits that WE were enjoying (or not, as in Nissan’s case) were more a matter of providence”.

Back then, my Toyota colleagues and I shared the perception that we were part of destiny.

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I remember another instance of a junior, call him Taro for now, who joined us from one of the leading private universities in Japan, Keio. Being assigned to an operations group that was very busy with re-structuring, his seniors could not mentor him sufficiently. They just did not have enough time. His development as an executive dragged, until he was transferred to an administrative job. There, under appropriate mentorship he became like a fish taking to water. He was admired for his attention to detail, his confidence grew and he started commanding respect. Different circumstances, different results, same person. Taro would not internalize failure changing to success purely to his competence.

I dedicate my own competency development to being a function of luck, timing and hard work. What about you?

I can picture child labor returning. My daughter is a college sophomore hunting for internships. My high school senior son, seeking university admission is counseled that his lack of internship experience puts him at a disadvantage and he is only 17!

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I remember the time when as a returning sophomore at Williams, a freshman asked me about my summer holidays. I had spent the over 3 month vacation at home in Delhi, mostly relaxing with friends. My day started with a sumptuous breakfast that was followed by another round of sleep, wake up and meet friends, have lunch followed by an afternoon siesta and then again hang out with friends until dinner. My freshman American friend Hal was shocked. It was so unlike an American student’s summer break, often used to earn sufficiently for term-time pocket money. I was glad India was not fast paced then.

A few years ago, one of the students from Williams contacted me during her summer break, asking to meet me. When I met her at home, I learned she was already doing an internship with a leading consulting firm. What a shock! Americanization of the Indian summer break was at my doorstep.

My family has not remained untouched by this new-spreading norm and last summer I had to see my daughter spending her entire vacation as an intern in Gurgaon. It has become a norm in the current times. However, the internship is an added bonus on her resume while she sends off her cover letters. Proof of success is yet to be confirmed.

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As my son applies to study Engineering at foreign universities, he was told that many successful applicants at leading programs demonstrate their interest through internships they have held. Does that mean that 16 year olds are interning at General Electric (GE) now? If not GE, well somebody must be accepting them. What starts as a favor to a friend’s son, will well soon enough open the floodgates for survival of the fittest.

This trend of organized child labor or internships is certainly advantageous and helps the youth in making informed choices based on firsthand experience. But will they not be sacrificing their youth experience, is one concern that still rings my thoughts…

The Schumpeter column in the recent Economist, “Mammon’s new monarchs” describes the emerging world consumer as king. It seems that Western companies are interested in knowing how to appeal to emerging world consumerism and compete with home-grown domestic rivals. Consultants from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) advise companies to jump in early. I agree that going in early can be useful, but according to my observations, this is not essential nor a panacea.

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Consider the automobiles industry – Honda started early in India, in 1998. Toyota started shortly afterwards in 2000. Their early start has certainly helped. Honda’s City and Toyota’s Innova enjoy stable market leadership in their respective segments. Though many thought Renault-Nissan to be a late entrant to India (over a decade later than Honda), given that automobile ownership is still at the lower tail of the S-curve, it still has potential to emerge a winner. Renault is already doing well with its Duster shining in the market this year.  The same applies with Volkswagen, which really kicked off with the Polo in 2010. So, coming in later, even a decade later can be okay. On the other hand, in the absence of quality offerings, coming in early is not a cure-all as Fiat has failed to learn in repeat attempts at conquering the market.

Similarly, in the appliances arena, Hitachi that started early in the upper end high quality air conditioner segment, continues to enjoy aspiration status. Panasonic that is just starting its big bang could yet do well. LG may have made early inroads, but eventually quality shall become the priority of the consumer. Already, at the “non-frugal” end LG finds it difficult to attract the well-to-do. Experience with air conditioners also demonstrates that starting early is fine, but quality is perhaps more important.

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My own feeling is that when deciding market entry into emerging Asian economies, companies shall do well to concentrate on two things. Firstly, they need to get the price point right and match local tastes, while matching the quality expectations. This is where Hyundai succeeded with Santro. The second point is to focus on a core competency. So, for example, Daimler Benz did well to first start with its Mercedes E-class, a core competency yet economically right for India. It’s A-class is only now being contemplated, over a decade later (the price point is no doubt more suitable, but not what Daimler is more commonly associated with).

Many people try to bring out a single point solution, such as “start early”. This pithy advice can result in disasters as the Fiat experience in India demonstrates. Instead, international business strategy needs to concentrate on what sells (the buyer’s desires), and what can be sold (the seller’s competency), which are perhaps more important to conquer the Asian consumer.

Last week I was invited to the Embassy of Japan in Delhi for the pre-launch reception of Suraj – The Rising Star. What is that? Exactly the question I asked my wife when she told me we were invited. Now I know the answer – it is the title of a cricket based cartoon, inspired by the Japanese baseball anime hit Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants) of yesteryears.

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Many years ago when I was in Toyota, I was asked to review the Japanese program Oshin for possible sponsorship to telecast in India. Ambassador Sakutaro Tanino had been approached, because it seems that Oshin was run once, to popular acclaim, but could not finish as a series for lack of funds. Sponsorship for Oshin was never revived, but since my review work I have been convinced that quality Japanese programming could be well received by Indian audiences.

In my previous entrepreneurial business promoting Indo-Japanese cultural and business relations, I often shared opinion that it would be people to people contact that would get the two nations closer. There was talk even then, about 10 years ago of translating Japanese Manga (comics) to the vernacular. Now Kodansha, the Japanese publisher has made the localization happen, a fantastic leap for international business – who said you can’t make money out of culture.

Sarbjit Singh Chadha

Indian enka singer, Sarbjit Singh Chadha who was at the embassy reception told me, “Ashok, I used to follow the original Japanese cartoon when I lived in Japan. Believe me this will have wonderful lessons for Indian youth on the importance grit when facing life’s challenges. According to Colors, which will air the program, the series will present viewers an inspiring story of a young boy who dares to chase his cricketing dream.

Newly appointed Ambassador, Takeshi Yagi, was excited about this development in cultural exchange. Talking to Itochu’s honcho in Delhi, Mr. Ichiro Shimizu, I learnt that the original series featuring the Giants was popular in his days. He is in his 50’s. Alas, contemporary Japanese youth that has moved from TV to smartphones for entertainment does not get that some education he complained. Fortunately, a vast majority of Indian youth still access television. Moreover, since it is a remake, I hope that they have additionally adapted it for smartphone viewing.

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Actress Karishma Kapoor who was at the reception said she will make sure that her son who is a budding two and a half year old cricketer shall watch from 10 AM every Sunday. I, too, plan to be in front of the box on 23rd December when it debuts. Time will tell if I am able to sacrifice my golf every Sunday. 10 AM also clashes with my son’s karate class – perhaps its time to invest in a recording device.

アショク アシタ

I read recently in the Economic Times that Unilever finds innovations that have marked its growth in India, are now more relevant than ever, in recession hit parts of the world such as Europe.

As the Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, has rightly mentioned, “Learnings” from India such as lower price points for products in smaller packages or sachets, is gaining acceptance in the European market, poverty has returned as the local economies continue to reel under recession.”

It is transferability of such learnings that makes knowledge of international business practices so valuable. I remember my time in Toyota where we applied our learnings from implementation of kaizen principles for just-in-time (JIT) logistics across countries. Thus, Oman could benefit from learnings from Poland, and in turn teach a lesson (or two) to Australia and South Africa.

According to the newspaper, Paulman, also highlighted the success of the affordable water purifying product, Pureit.The product entirely developed in India, is now being sold by Unilever in at least 15 other countries, where according to him, it has become a popular brand. “

This reminded me of the concept of “reverse innovation” that was popularized by GE. Why is it called reverse? Previously, innovation occurred in developed markets, and products were sold across the globe. However, those markets are now saturated, or even in decline as Unilever is discovering. Undiscovered markets lie in populous emerging markets like, China, India and Indonesia. Thus, there is profit to be made by innovating for these markets. And, what sells here can also be sold in the fast-becoming-poor markets of the developed world. Learning frugal engineering has become so important that Carlos Ghosn of Nissan Renault invested USD 1 billion for starting a greenfield factory in India.

I suspect, eventually, as this becomes the mainstream model, the “reverse” will then be dropped from the nomenclature.

Most of my writings to date have recommended a course of action on a general basis that challenges the status quo of International business in the current scenario. However, earlier today, when I read The Economist’s recent article on Hitachi, I was gladdened to see that President Hiroaki Nakanishi is following my prescriptions, points that I made repeatedly to my then boss Mr. Yasunori Taga, the Chief Executive for Asia (CEA).

When I had joined Hitachi India, the sub-continent subsidiary was controlled by Hitachi Asia in Singapore. Despite my strong desire to relocate to Singapore, I remember telling Mr. Taga (against my personal interest) that it would be difficult to control an emerging economy like India from a developed city-state Singapore. President Nakanishi, finally upgraded Hitachi India to a regional Head Office in 2011.

I also agree with Nakanishi’s reported goal of attracting the best talent and allowing them the freedom to move around across business units. Other MNCs would do well to adopt this strategy. I often see foreign companies preferring to do things “their original global way”.  It takes some longer than others but eventually they have to adapt to local ways. It is either adapt or accept losses.

What can be true about human talent is also true about products. International business giant McDonald’s is good at this. It adopted vegetarian menu for India right from the start, and additionally was quick to give up the mutton offerings, substituting them by the more popular chicken. It has taken longer for America’s Kentucky Fried Chicken, or more lovingly known as KFC, to abandon its “original recipe”; they now serve only “Indianized” versions: spicy chicken or fiery grill chicken. The choice is between “hot” and “very hot”.  Hitachi’s appliances business unit has its own development center outside Ahmedabad, in the rapidly industrializing state of Gujarat. GE, Denso, Bosch etc. are leading global companies that are going native and understanding India better.

As European, especially German, companies look to Asia to grow business they would do well to heed these points about local talent and local products. Remember Brand India is noted for affordable products and superior global managers. Hitachi took over 50 years to learn such important lessons for doing business in India. Fortunately for European followers, they have a visible short-cut.

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