Essay on Secrets of Doing Business in India

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The secrets of doing business in India
By Tim Hume , for CNN February 3, 2012 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)

(CNN) -- For foreign executives, doing business for the first time in India can be a bewildering experience. There's the new -- different business customs, bureaucracy and the dizzying scale of the population -- but also the familiar. "You'll likely be dealing with people who speak the Queen's English, and who graduated from top Western universities," said Jitendra Singh, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "You can get lulled into a false sense of security -- "but for people dressing a little different and talking a little different, they are just like me,'" he said. "That's a completely false premise. There are all kinds of nuances in the culture, implicit cultural norms that we don't know about until we run afoul of them." As the world's second most populous nation, with more than one billion people, India is projected to become one of its biggest economies. It is tipped by PricewaterhouseCoopers to nearly draw level with the United States by 2050. "For companies with any kind of global interest, the writing is on the wall that they need to have a strategy for India," said Singh. Read more: Doing business in China But Singh said that for Western companies rushing to enter the Indian marketplace, it needs to be recognized that the country is a very different proposition -- both in terms of business practices and consumer preferences -- and must be treated accordingly. "One of the common pitfalls in addressing the Indian marketplace is simply dusting off something you might offer in your home market," he said. "Indian consumers are very different -- enormously value conscious and very, very finicky." Holding to too high a price point could be fatal for foreign businesses, as Indian consumers have less capacity to pay than Western consumers. But by making their products affordable to the mass market, businesses put them within reach of hundreds of millions of potential consumers. The companies that fare best in the Indian market are those that customize their products to the particular preferences of Indian consumers, according to Singh. A case in point was the success of Korean auto manufacturers, he said. "In the West, it's almost unheard of to have a driver, " said Singh. "But in India, labor markets being what they are, you can get a full time driver for a relatively modest wage, and even with a small car, you may want a chauffeur. This will clearly have ramifications for the design of the car -- the customer wants more space in the back." Business practices are also different in India, and many foreign businesses underestimate the bureaucratic hurdles they will encounter, according to Pawan Budhwar, associate Dean of Research at Aston Business School and co-author of "Doing Business in India: Building Research-Based Practice." The secret, he said, was to factor in a realistic amount of time for delays. "If the website of the ministry says it will take 13 weeks to get the required certificate, it's not realistic it will take 13 weeks," he said. Budhwar said that often the reason for the bottlenecks was bureaucrats expecting a pay off. "That's why they're delaying things, although no one will say this out loud," he said. "If you have a local player, they can perhaps better handle local