India Chazen Trip – Epilogue

Prior to the India Chazen Trip 2011, I must admit that I knew very little about India’s economy other than the fact that it is one of the four BRIC countries. What makes it so? From riding auto-rickshaws alongside automobiles to getting lunch delivered through the six-sigma dabbawalla, Indians enjoy their unique way of living. These local consumers, albeit earning only USD$1219[1] on average in nominal income, total over 1 billion in headcount and together they fuel a strong domestic market demand. This demand coupled with the government’s traditionally protectionist policies against free inflows of foreign investments gave rise to the booming of globally competitive Indian-owned enterprises such as the Tata Group. While domestic demand is growing robustly, all the business leaders who had met with us unanimously agreed on a few pressing issues that the nation is facing.

Poor infrastructure

  • Water – No major city in India is known to have a continuous water supply and an estimated 72% of Indians still lack access to improved sanitation facilities[2]. The World Health Organisation estimated that around 700,000 Indians die each year from diarrhea, hurting the India’s very own labour force.
  • Electricity – According Mr. Vikram Limaye, the Executive Director of IDFC (Infrastructure Development Finance Company Limited), only half of the country has access to electricity. Power outages are frequent across the country. Recent coal shortage is further exacerbating the problem by reducing energy supply and residents in Delhi reported power cuts for 4 – 5 hours each day[3]. Mr. Limaye estimated that India needs at least 100K MW more in power supply to adequately meet demand. Given that a 1000-MW power plant typically costs about USD$1B to build, a hundred of these plants, or USD$100B, would deem necessary.
  • Transportation (roads, railways, and ports) – According to Mr. Limaye, most goods are transported by trucks in India. Unfortunately, congestion is severe, hampers reliability of transport, and ultimately increases transportation costs of goods[4]. Capacity constraints of railways and inefficiencies in port operations are other major concerns.

Mr. Limaye noted that investments in infrastructure amount to 8.5% of India’s GDP, of which 40% comes from the private sector. Improvement in infrastructure, while slow, tends to focus on return on investment. As Mr. Adi Godrej, the Chairman of the Godrej Group, had pointed out, India has managed to do well without good infrastructure. Mr. R Gopalakrishnan, the Director of Tata Sons, also kidded about India’s “just-in-time infrastructure”.

 

Widening inequality gap

The dichotomy between the rich and the poor is a growing concern. However, Commerce Secretary Dr. Rahul Khullar clarified that the gap is widening not because the poor is getting poorer, but because the rich is getting richer at astonishing rates. In fact, he believed that the general living standards for the country are improving rapidly as a positive result of economic growth.

Unfortunately, the number of people living in slums in India has more than doubled in the past two decades and now exceeds the entire population of Britain, the Indian Government has announced[5]. The tour through the Dharavi slum, housing over 1 million residents at the heart of Mumbai, vividly impressed in my mind the agonizing need to fight poverty. To continue the list of pressing issues that Indian government needs to address, lack of affordable housing is no doubt of high priority.

 

 

Inflation

Despite being one of the world’s largest producers of fresh fruits and vegetables, wheat and rice, etc., domestic demand for food is outpacing supply and India is rising as a major food importer[6]. In addition to the demand-pulled inflationary forces, depreciation of the Indian rupees has made import prices more expensive, further fueling inflation. Rising wages and increasing fuel and raw material costs are also hitting the economy hard[7]. India’s central bank has increased interest rates 13 times since March 2010 in an effort to hold down rising prices. The latest inflation rate figure has fallen from double digits to 9%. However, the Indian government is cautioned against increasing rates further because of the weakening economy.

Despite the issues aforementioned, all of the business leaders that we had met are bullish on the Indian economy. In addition to betting on robust domestic demand, they believed that India’s healthy dependency ratio (the proportion of children and elderly to working-age adults) is the secret ingredient to the country’s success: India’s steady supply of the labour force will help it outgrow China, which is suffering from a shrinking working population due to its one-child policy. I further believe that Indians’ entrepreneurial spirit and creative mindset can further differentiate Indian enterprises in the global economy, as evidenced by successful examples such as the world’s cheapest car, priced just under USD$2,000, developed by Tata Motors.

In conclusion, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go on the India Chazen Trip and meet many influential business leaders. I was not only impressed by the breadth and depth of their insights on the Indian economy, but also the consistency of viewpoints across the guest speakers coming from diverse backgrounds. The consensus is to be bullish on Indian economy and urge the government to accelerate reforms that help address burning issues, such as poor infrastructure, that are holding the economy back.

Turkey: A tale of two countries

After a week of classes, happy hours, and catching up with friends, I finally have a chance to reflect on our week-long adventure in Turkey. And after much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Turkey remains a country of extreme contrasts.

Nearly every company presentation highlighted Turkey’s striking GDP growth and shrinking inflation rates (see chart below), and the undeniable fact that Turkey is positioned (both economically and geographically) to be a growing center for trade and prosperity.

However, outside of the company presentations and powerpoint slides, I was continously struck by the overwhelming sense of conflict – the mix of decaying apartment buildings and new high rises, ominous daily prayers booming throughout the city and packed nightclubs blasting dance music, or burger king restaurants next to street stalls serving roasted chestnuts.

Our last official day of the trip (Friday) was clear evidence of this contrast. In the morning, my project group visited Endeavor, an innovative, global non-profit that identifies and supports local entrepreneurs through access to their wide network of experienced mentors. During this meeting we heard of Turkey’s growing start-up scene, high levels of social media uptake, and exciting new ventures, including SocialWire (a social shopping tool), 41? 29? (a successful digital marketing agency), and PeakGames (a rapidly growing social gaming group).

Later that day, we visited a completely different organization – MUSIAD, also know as the Muslim Businessman’s Association. This group of leaders from SMEs throughout Turkey serves as an industry body to offer support and networking opportunities. However, the undertones of the video presentation, prepared remarks of the presenters, and unwavering support of the current government, clearly demonstrated the ultra conservative viewpoints of this group. Moreover, when asked about the role of females within their organization, minimal evidence was provided other than a statement that female members are admitted without dues.

So, there you have it. Turkey is a beautiful, intriguing, powerful, country of contrasts. I had an amazing time on my first visit – a perfect mix of education, site-seeing and good times with new and old friends, and I will definitely come back again (but this time during summer so I can take advantage of the beautiful outdoor dining and clubbing opportunities.)

India – Final Reflections

As we sat in our final meeting with top advertising agency Mudra Communications on January 4, they asked us one simple question, “How do you portray an ageless civilization that was the birthplace of 4 major religions and 300 ways to cook the potato?”  Then they asked a more personal question – what would we take away with us from India when we returned to our daily lives in New York City.

Stephanie already summarized the top 5 truths (or Paanch) they said we should remember about India in her post below.   I’ll add a little bit more detail since I find them to be fascinating, simple and extremely relevant based on our 14-day adventure in Delhi, Agra and Mumbai.

1.Bacchat – Frugality: The key to this is that it’s defined by Brahminical restraint and has nothing to do with affordability.  Mudra’s employees said that haggling is the national pastime of India.  They explained how nothing is wasted, and how a Tabasco bottle would then be used as a water bottle and then a plant holder before being tossed into the garbage.

2. Ji – Hierarchy: There are 4 religiously debated topics in India: actual religion, Bollywood, Cricket and Politics.  The respect for hierarchy in Indian culture helps explain why the film industry holds so much power (though it’s only a 2B industry).  It also helps us understand the dynastic democratic politics in India.  The Nehru–Gandhi family has been dominant in India since independence in 1947, though that seems to undermine democracy.  Jawaharlal Nehru was the first prime minister of India starting in 1947.  He was followed by his daughter Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated and followed by her son Rajiv Gandhi, who also was assassinated. Now, Rajiv’s widow Sonia Gandhi – who happens to be a white, Italian-born, Christian – is the president of Congress. India may be an accepting country, but the power of the dynasty certainly plays a large role in how she has been able to maintain power.  The Caste System has been outlawed in India and holds little power in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi, but it unfortunately continues to be strong in the countryside where a majority of the population lives.  

Photo taken from MJPerry.blogspot.com

3. Juggad—Inventiveness A solution for every problem: Mudra employees explained that this concept started because of scarcity in the British colony.  Now, the concept means that Indians find a solution to any problem. This ranges from business solutions to everyday issues like a father fitting his 5-person family on a motorbike or a rural family using a washing machine to churn buttermilk. 

4. Masala – Co-existence:   Masala simply means a mixture of spices, and most of us know this term because we’ve eaten Indian food.   This is my favorite tenant about Indian culture because it allows for an open, thoughtful society.  Mudra employees described “a remixed India, where citizens preserve the old culture and embrace good new ideas as ‘modern’ and dispel bad ones as ‘western.’ ” That elicited a chuckled from the Westerners in the audience.  One great example is McDonalds.  India is the only country where there is no Big Mac.  Instead, there is a Maharaja Mac with Chicken.  India’s McDonalds also pioneered the idea of having a vegetarian and non-vegetarian side of the kitchen.

5. Thali – Non-linear structure: One basic distinction between the US and India is the fact that US culture was founded on the principles of Christian ‘progress’, whereas Indian culture is deeply intertwined with Hindu principles of circularity and re-birth.  India’s non-linear structure is clearly seen in cities that have grown organically and without a central planning grid, and the way that traffic is free flowing and yet still functional.  Mudra said Indians have an “affinity for negotiated disorder.”   They showed us an amazing ad put out by Nike about how an impromptu Cricket game could break out in the middle of a huge traffic jam.  

On a personal note, I will take away a new love and appreciation for Indian culture and a continued passion for travel.  This trip taught me that you really can’t understand another culture until you visit the country and speak with the people.  We bloggers try to explain our experiences through words, but there’s nothing like seeing with your own ideas, tasting and smelling with your own senses and truly embracing another culture with your whole heart.

Day trip to Bursa

Half asleep, we depart from Istanbul at 6:45am for a day trip to Bursa, the forth most populous city in Turkey and home of Ozdilek, a top 10 towel manufacturer and shopping mall and movie cinema developer.

After a quick stop at a local Ozdilek mall along the way (how fitting!) we arrive at the Ozdilek headquarters and are greeted by the company Chairman himself, Mr. Hüseyin Özdilek. Mr. Özdilek is a warm, genuine man who smiles as he speaks to us in Turkish (big thanks to Gozde for being a superstar translator!) and leads us on a tour through his impressive factory and tells us of his journey to building a successful company, including future plans for global expansion and opening additional Ozdilek branded stores.

Inside the Ozdilek Towel Factory

After the tour we visit the birthplace of the iskender kebap, (in my opinion) the a tastier version of the doner kebap. In short, the iskender is prepared from thinly cut, grilled lamp basted with hot tomato sauce over pieces of pita bread and then served with melted butter and a thick yogurt.

Delicious iskender kebab

Stuffed from lunch, we embark on a chilly tour of downtown Bursa, including a visit to the burial place of the founder of the Ottoman empire and a stroll through the Silk Bazaar.

The amazing group!

On the bus ride home, we enjoy a Bursa specialty of candied chestnuts (delish!) and make plans for the evening, which include a visit to nightclub Anjelique, with gorgeous views of the Bosphorus.

Speaker Profile: Ali Sabanci of Pegasus Airlines

On Wednesday we had the pleasure of visiting Pegasus Airlines, one of the fastest growing airlines in the world, Turkey’s first low-cost carrier, and brainchild of CBS alum Ali Sabanci.

Mr. Sabanci is the charismatic Chairman of Pegasus Airlines and a proud member of Sabanci Family, a wealthy Turkish dynasty. He attended Tufts University as an undergrad, worked at Morgan Stanley for 2 years and then attended CBS. After graduation he moved back to Turkey to join the family business, starting as a teller in the family owned bank, Akbank, before purchasing Pegasus airlines for around $12m (apparently less than what Ali paid for his house!).

The decision to initially re-join the family company in a customer-facing position demonstrates Ali’s strong commitment to understanding the customer. In fact, Ali credits much of the success of Pegasus Airlines to knowing what is really important to the consumer – safe, reliable flights to multiple domestic and international destinations (and not free food or other perks which are provided by key competitor, Turkish Airlines).

Ali also asserts that his company’s key competitive advantage is a supportive “low cost” culture driven by strategic incentives (including a 10% profit sharing scheme) and an overarching philosophy that employees are “family members” and customers should be treated as “guests.”

Additionally, Ali stressed the importance of hiring and working with those that “know more than you do” and maintaining independence from the family company.

Turkven, Tayfun and Turkish Baths…oh my!

A sunny, but chilly Monday morning began with our first corporate visit of the trip to Turkven, Turkey’s largest private equity group with €500 million of AUM. The presenter, Selim Kender, CBS alum and Principle at Turkven (and formerly the Head of Fortis Bank Leveraged Finance in Istanbul) gave an informative presentation about Turkey’s economic growth while we sat in a beautiful conference room overlooking the Bosphorus.

During the Q&A session he highlighted Turkven’s selective due diligence process (only 30 out of 3,000 companies are selected for due diligence), and the common traits of the group’s 15 investments, such as Migros (Turkey’s Walmart) and Domino’s Pizza (e.g. market leading position, strong management, etc.).

Ahead of schedule, we enjoy traditional Turkish coffees and teas at a beautiful waterside cafe called Bebek, surrounded by locals playing rowdy games of backgammon and checkers.

The view from Bebek

Our next stop is back to the hotel to hear from CBS Alum Tayfun Bayazit. Mr. Bayazit is an experienced finance professional and was formerly Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of Yapi Ve Kredi Bankasi AS. He spoke to us about the history and current status of the Turkish banking system, including his view that the banking sector (which consists of 3 state-owed banks, around 30 private banks and just a handful of internationally owned banks) is “very much unpenetrated” and that he expects further consolidation in the future.

When asked about SME access to finance, Mr Bayazit noted that “every Turk that is born is born as an entrepreneur” but that in the past SMEs had little access to finance and that only recently have banks begun to rediscover this segment as a profitable investment opportunity.

After a quick nap (I blame you, jet lag!) a group of us departed the hotel for a uniquely turkish adventure…a turkish bath at an original Hamami in downtown Istanbul. Thoroughly scrubbed, foamed and massaged, we then meet up with the rest of the crew for a delicious multi-course dinner at CavitTurkish. The adventures then continue at Taksim (yet again!) as we celebrate Viral’s birthday late into the night…