Despite getting an upset stomach by the end of the very first day, the first day’s meetings on this India Chazen trip were to say the least enlightening. From meeting with Dr. Khullar, Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce, to having lunch with Mr. Analjit Singh, Chairman of Max India, at his home, I had learned from these respected leaders a few key lessons about India:
- The widening in inequality gap does not necessarily mean that the rich is getting richer at the expense of the poor; in fact, all three speakers today all believed unanimously that general living standards are improving even for the poor, and it’s just that the rich is getting richer at a much faster rate.
- We are in a way lucky to be living and, in some cases, doing businesses in an economy as homogeneous as the U.S. India is on the other extreme end of the spectrum. While Mr. Singh described India as “heterogeneous”, I think many foreigners would accept “chaotic” as a closer way to describe this country. In the context of doing businesses, there is simply no one-size-fits-all solution, and product differentiation and market segmentation are ever more important here in India. Mr. Singh believes that, however, no matter how you slice and dice the market, there is enough population in each segment for local businesses to prosper. (Naturally, I asked myself, “How do conglomerates, such as Tata, emerge?” We’ll find out soon later this week!)
- Poor infrastructure is holding the economy back. For example, it took us FIVE hours to commute 125 miles. That is an average speed of 25 miles per hour! The unreliable sources of drinking water and power are also concerning.
To fuel this elephant, political reforms are necessary. Unfortunately, as Dr. Khullar mentioned, political reforms take place very slowly in this country. Let’s hear more on this from other speakers on this trip. Next stop: Taj Mahal!