Lessons Learned from Business Meetings (Part 1 – Mumbai)

Iris Chen ’15

HDFC 

Our first Chazen meeting was with Deepak Parekh, the Chairman of HDFC Bank Limited. HDFC is the fifth largest bank in India by assets and largest private sector bank in India by market capitalization.  Mr. Parekh is a trusted advisor of the government and the head of  a huge and well respected corporation (side note: in India, you are supposed to address officials as Mr. and Ms. as part of business etiquette).  I expected our meeting with Mr. Parekh to be very formal and conservative, but I was pleasantly surprised about how open and honest he was.  As an advisor to the government, he talked about the recent government change in the last few months and the given first budget coming up from the full government.  There is a Make in India initiative–manufacturing used to be 30-40% of GDP and now it is 12%, which is the reason why the Indian government is pushing manufacturing to improve jobs in India.  Mr. Parekh emphasized investing and manufacturing, and expects more foreign direct investments from the U.S. (especially in defense) over the next couple of years.  It was fascinating to hear the viewpoints of such a prominent figure in the Indian government.

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CBS students with Deepak Parekh, Chairman of HDFC

Future Group

Future Group is a private Indian conglomerate that focuses on retail stores, fashion, food manufacturing, and CPG.  While CEO Kishore Biyani could not make it due to a family emergency, we still met with the VP of strategy and communications who gave us the history of Future Group and the way the company expanded from a small shopping mall in 1999 in Mumbai to a a huge conglomerate of consumer products.  Future Group learned to integrate the look, touch, and feel of Indian bazaars with that of modern retail.  For example, customers prefer buying some products loose like grains of rice and the company implemented the same shopping technique into its stores.  Through this presentation, I learned that it is very challenging for any company to understand all consumers in India. There are so many cultures, religions, languages, income levels in the country and in order to be successful, a company has to match all these requirements.  Future Group learned to overcome these challenges in many ways–for example, the company celebrates 72 festivals every year since every festival in India is an opportunity for consumption. Before this meeting, I didn’t understand the many problems that Indian businesses faced when trying to expand throughout the country.

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All Future Group locations in India

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Tata Sons

I was very excited about our meeting with Tata Sons.  I had heard and read so much about the conglomerate Tata Group, but never had the opportunity to experience any products or services firsthand.  We met with R. Gopalakrishnan, the Director of Tata Sons, at the Taj President Hotel, which, not-surprisingly, is owned by Tata.  So to all the readers out there who don’t know what Tata is all about (I had never heard about the company before business school), Tata Group is an Indian multinational conglomerate with seven business sectors: communications and information technology, engineering, materials , services, energy, consumer products and chemicals.  It is also the most trusted company in India and is family-owned. The company is also highly philanthropic with many endowments and philanthropic trusts and is very well respected in the business community.  The meeting was very enlightening and it was wonderful to hear R. Gopalakrishnan talk about the business from when it was founded in 1868 to present time.  I learned that while Tata is in a lot of industries, it will not invest in alcohol, beer, movies, or defense (making bombs or guns) because these sectors are not part of their philosophy.  Throughout the Chazen India study tour, I noticed that the Tata logo was everywhere from the water and masala tea I drank ever morning (Himalayan Water and Tetley Sons), to the automobiles on the street (manufactured by Tata), to the hospitals we toured in India.

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CBS Chazen India MBA students meeting with R. Gopalakrishnan, Director of Tata Sons

“At Tata, it’s not what you speak but what you do.” – R. Gopalakrishnan

Unilazer Ventures and UTV Media

We had a last minute meeting with Ronnie Screwvala, Founder of Unilazer Ventures, a private equity company, and UTV Media, a media and entertainment company owned by The Walt Disney Company. Ronnie spoke about his successes and failures as an early entrepreneur in India, and the challenges of finding a media company and growing it substantially to be eventually bought by Disney.

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CBS students with Ronnie Screwvala, Founder of Unilazer Ventures and UTV Media

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Tata Memorial Hospital

Our meeting at Tata Memorial Hospital was with Dr. Shastri, the head of the oncology department at the hospital and one of the Chazen organizer’s family members.  Tata Memorial Hospital is a specialist treatment center for cancer and is regarded as one of the leading cancer centers in India.  Dr. Shastri explained one of the cases that was conducted in the hospital–the hospital conducted cost effective cervical cancer screening by “visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA)” test.  The test was effective in reducing cervical cancer mortality rate to low income women.  I was very impressed by the numerous cost effective methods that this hospital invented to treat low-income patients.

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Dabbawalas

Our last meeting in Mumbai was with the Dabbawalas in Mumbai.  They came to the Tata Memorial Hospital to present and as I mentioned in my previous post, I was most excited to visit the Dabbawalas.  I was most interesting in learning how the company is able to acheive six sigma efficiency through their everyday delivery. We met with a spokesperson from the organization as well as three actual dabbawalas. Through this meeting, I learned that there is standard pricing for all meals irrespective of weight, distance, and shape of each meal.  Dabbawalas earn around 7,000-8,000 INR ($113-$129 USD) per month. There has also been zero strikes in the company since each dabbawala is a shareholder of the company.  I learned that each dabbawala group is like family; they eat together everyday (no one starts eating their lunch until all members of the group are present), work together, and if one person makes a mistake, then the entire team must join together and take ownership of the mistake.  Most of these dabbawalas are illiterate and come from low income backgrounds, but they are committed and passionate about working as a dabbawala.

I asked the question, “Are there any female Dabbawalas?” The answer surprised me since there are female dabbawalas. While the work is very laborious, if the weight is too heavy, other members of the team will help the other team members.  The same goes for older Dabbawalas who can’t carry too much weight.

I came into the meeting with Dabbawalas with questions and curiosities.  I left the meeting with much more respect and understanding.

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Management Principles of Dabbawalas
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CBS students with the Dabbawalas

 

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