Lessons Learned in India

By Clare Premo ’16

Our time in India was quite eye-opening in terms of business lessons learned.

Perhaps the most common refrain we heard, and one that gives me the greatest hope for the future of the country is the major opportunity for economic growth that lies ahead. This is due to a combination of intrinsic factors in India, as well as international developments that make India relatively more attractive. For instance, India’s youth cohort is extremely large and there is a massive number of millennials ready to work. This robust addition to the labor force stands in contrast to many developed nations that face an employment crisis as the population reaches retirement. Furthermore, the slowdown of China and other emerging market nations mean that India is an increasingly attractive place for foreign direct investment. Since India is not a commodity economy and has a massive consumer base, it should be able to capture investments that are leaving these other countries in search of a better combination of stability and returns.

Another common discussion point was the stark gap between rich and poor and rural and urban. Even as millions of Indians enter into the middle class, there is still a vast chasm between the rich and the poor in the country. This occurs both in major metropoles where 5 star hotels neighbor massive slums, as well as in more geographically dispersed dichotomies between urban and rural areas. Finding ways to lift the fortunes of the poor without triggering even more migration into the already overpopulated major cities will be a major challenge for India going forward.

Another issue that came up frequently in conversations was the importance of investing in reliable infrastructure. From our conversations with Airtel, we learned that telecom is perhaps the most developed form of infrastructure thus far, and one can observe this given the widespread penetration of mobile phones across the country. The train systems are also quite extensive, partly due to the British colonial heritage. However, critical systems like water and sanitation are still underdeveloped, and the lack of these feed the healthcare crisis. It will require significant investment from the public and private sectors to bring these basic pieces of infrastructure up to snuff to promote a healthy workforce. Roads, airports and ports will also require continued attention in order to enable movement of goods and people and to power commerce.

We also noticed the contrast between conglomerates and entrepreneurial ventures in India. Most of the major companies there are diversified corporations, often partly family-owned, that reach across many sectors. These include Tata, Reliance, and Airtel. However, it seems like the next stage of breakthrough growth will need to come from new companies with the ability to hire new workers. In order to employ the millions of people entering into the workforce, the Indian economy will need to nurture start up firms. But the paradox is, most young people aspire to work for one of these well-regarded companies, or to find reliable employment in the very large public sector, and are loathe to try their luck at starting a new company or working for an unproven one. The Indian culture is more risk averse than the American one, and working for a failed company is seen as a personal shortcoming rather than just the way the business world goes. So long as young people shy away from small, innovative companies, India will struggle to incubate the kind of enterprises that grow and create jobs. Fortunately, the national government is promoting a program called “Start Up India” that provides loans to poorer people in order to give them funding for new ventures. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a trend that helps supercharge the next stage of economic growth.

Finally, all of these business lessons are moot if the environmental situation continues to worsen in India. Climate change poses a serious threat to the future of the country, and is already wreaking havoc on commerce and productivity. India is in the unenviable position of figuring out how to industrialize and develop while limiting greenhouse gas emissions and other polluting actions. It will be a major challenge to find clever ways to both grow the economy and shrink the environmental footprint, but it’s absolutely critical to create sustainable development.

Final Days in Delhi

By Clare Premo, ’16

The morning started with a meeting with the ruling political party, the BJP. We met with the party spokesman and learned more about the political direction that Modi and the party are taking the group. It was interesting to glean the adoration that group has for Modi, and to learn about the initiatives to get 60 million poor people signed up for bank accounts to help cut out corruption and to bring them into the formal economy, as well as the “Make in India” campaign which attempts to bring in FDI to create jobs for India’s particularly young workforce.

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Directly after, we drove around to see some of the colonial and governmental buildings in Delhi, followed by lunch at an outdoor Thai restaurant. That afternoon we visited the Qutub Complex, a UNESCO heritage site that comprises the Qutab Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world, as well as the oldest mosque in IIMG_0432ndia. The colorful gradients of stone used to build the place were absolutely gorgeous.

The last activity of the day was shopping in the handicrafts market called Dilli Haat where students put Managerial Negotiations to work while bargaining for souvenirs.

The next morning we visited a Fortis Healthcare hospital. Fortis is a healthcare network of 55 hospitals, plus other specialty service providers, that serve urban areas in India. Form our guest speakers, we learned about healthcare in India, medical tourism, and the complexities of treating such a large population with relatively low healthcare investment from the government. There’s a significant divide between private and public and urban and rural healthcare in India, as well as a disproportionate share of the worlds disease burden. At the same time, there is great opportunity because Indian doctors can treat issues with much lower costs for manpower and infrastructure. This leads to competitive prices and high efficiency for people who are able to afford the system (well off nationals or medical tourists), but still leaves doubts about the swathes of people who fall out of this exclusive circle. Much remains to be done to bring this people into the healthcare system.

Our final company visit of the trip was with the chairman of Airtel, India’s foremost telecom company and one of its top conglomerates. It was fascinating to hear about the connectedness that mobile has brought to all stratas of Indian society; everyone, rich or poor, urban or rural, has a mobile phone. The area for growth lies in data usage, as Bharti Airtel and its competitors try to get consumers to use 3G and 4G on their smartphones. We also learned about the company’s unique business model, which leverages their tower infrastructure to enable other carriers to utilize the same towers, bringing in additional revenue and boosting margins significantly. Finally, the company touted its high disclosure standards, which are particularly notable in a country infamous for its corruption. The evening ended with a mixer at the hotel for Chazen students, local CBS alumni and admitted students, generously hosted by alumnus Varun Gupta, class of 2010.

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The final day was dedicated to some sightseeing and relaxing after 11 days of Chazen. The group went in the morning to the Akshardam Temple, the second largest Hindu temple in the world yet one that is only about a decade old. This spiritual-cultural center is amazingly ornate and beautiful, and it was great to hear more about India’s primary religion. In the afternoon, a small group explored Old Delhi in tuk tuks while others reposed at the luxurious hotel. To be honest, I stayed in the hotel because of the horrible pollution encapsulating Delhi. The city’s pollution has surpassed the level of Beijing and is truly hazardous, with particularly dangerous particles. I believe that most students were quite dumbfounded by how bad the smog situation is. The government is taking steps to ameliorate the situation (e.g. Instituting an odd/even license plate trade off) but combatting pollution will be one of the most significant challenges India faces in the near- and long-term. On a more upbeat note, we ended the trip with a fabulous dinner at the highly regarded restaurant Varq in our hotel. It was a great way to appreciate the hard work of our amazing organizers Divya and Nikhil, and to celebrate the new friendships and memories forged over recent days.

Sightseeing in Jaipur and Agra

By Clare Premo, ’16

On New Year’s Day we flew from Mumbai to Jaipur and checked into our hotel. The transfer took most of the day, but we had a special Rajasthan treat awaiting: thali in a converted palace. Thali is a type of meal where a person has a silver platter and then lots of curries, sauces, and meats are put into little bowls and piled onto the platter. Then naan, roti and rice are added to create a fantastic, if overly filling, meal! During dinner, many of us got intricate henna drawn onto our palms, and after we finished eating we moved to an outdoor courtyard to listen to some traditional music and watch dancing and a puppet show.

The next day, we spent the morning sightseeing around the city of Jaipur. We saw the astronomy center and City Palace before venturing out on our own into the city’s chaotic bazaars to do some bargaining for souvenirs. IMG_0374Crossing the streets in India is quite the feat and we got lots of practice during our meanderings around the city. In the afternoon we went to speak to the founder of Jaipur Foot (BMVSS), a remarkable NGO that helps provide prosthetic feet and legs free of charge to disabled people across India, and in dozens of other countries around the world. The organization has developed a remarkable yet extremely low cost prosthetic foot and knee that enables crippled people to live a normal life, particularly in a place like India where physical movement is absolutely critical for the ability to earn a living. Our talk occurred primarily in the middle of the waiting room, surrounded by folks waiting to get fitted, and was a stark reminder of the poverty in this still developing country.

The next day we went to the incredible Amber Fort on the hills of Jaipur. We had the incredible experience of going up the mountain on the backs of elephants, a bumpy ride that I will not soon forget. As we climbed the switchbacks, enterprising souvenir hawkers followed along the path, tossing blankets and other wares onto the elephants in hopes of a willing buyer. We finally entered into a majestic gate to see this gorgeous fort that was also the palace for the kings of Rajasthan in this imperial “pink city.” IMG_0344The magnificent gardens, mirrored ceilings and stonework were wonderful to explore, and just as fun to see again as the setting for the Bollywood movie we watched as we continued the journey onto Agra. The final treat of the day was a great dinner at Peshawri. This included top quality Northwest frontier food and was my favorite meal of the trip so far. Although we are all feeling a little stuffed from so much delicious but heavy Indian food, it’s so hard to turn down just one little taste when there are so many tempting dishes to experience. New Years resolutions can wait until after the trip, right?

The next morning we visited one of the great wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. This place exceeds expectations and is true an astounding monument. Built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, it was constructed as a mausoleum for his late wife and is a testament to eternal love. The inlay wood in the marble is remarkable, and the perfect symmetry is a particularly interesting aspect of the site. Nearby, the Agra Fort is a remarkable red sandstone structure built in the 16th and 17th centuries and is like a city within the walls. Even today, much of it is used by the military. We spent the afternoon driving to Delhi, checking into a luxurious hotel and settling in for the final leg of the trip. We concluded the night at Khan Market, feasting on kebabs that young locals consider the best in the city.

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Adventures in Mumbai

By Clare Premo ’16

Greetings from India! We are here in Mumbai and have been having a great set of company visits and city excursions. Most people arrived on Monday, when we checked into our lovely hotel situated on the city’s famous harbor, the “queen’s necklace.” We dove right into Indian cuisine with a small welcome dinner at a local seafood joint, and rested up in preparation for the official kick off the next day.

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Marine Drive and the Bombay Harbor

The morning commenced with a walk to the Gateway to India and the famous Taj Mahal Hotel, two Mumbai landmarks. Our first company visit was to Reliance Brands, a subset of one of India’s largest conglomerates. We learned about the retail sector and the new Indian consumer, as well as why it often makes sense for foreign brands to work with a local partner when expanding into this market. Next up was HDFC, India’s largest housing lending group. Our speaker provided a macro view on the Indian economy and dove into the particulars of the housing market here. We had a welcome dinner feast, and I was lucky enough to receive a surprise chocolate cake in honor of my birthday 🙂

To better learn about the city’s geography and history, we were treated to a guided city tour, leading us through the Fort neighborhood which is the center of Mumbai commerce. We saw amazing British and Art Deco architecture and learned about the time periods of imperial rule and post independence. From there, we lunched at Moshe’s, a popular cafe, where Moshe himself explained about restaurants and food culture in this city. Our next visit led us to Unilazer: we met Ronnie Screwvala who established and divested India’s largest media conglomerate, and who has since shifted attention to founding a non-profit, creating a VC fund, and investing in soccer, among other things. His crisp articulation of the opportunities and challenges across many sectors of Indian business was astounding and prompted a robust Q&A session. We finished the day at Bombay Cuisine, a trendy fusion restaurant.

20151231_120227Our final full day in Mumbai started with a meeting about the dabbawalas. These amazing messengers pick up 200,000 home cooked meals from houses on the outer reaches of the city, carry them 70 km, and deliver them to individual offices. They do these utilizing a complex system of codes and carry these lunches via bike, rail, and on foot. They are so amazing that they have been six sigma certified, all without the use of any technology. The afternoon featured small group visits to Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum. We walked through the commercial and residential areas and although the poverty was sobering, the energy and industriousness was incredible.

Now that everyone is mostly over the jet lag, we are ready to do New Year’s Eve up big! Cheers to 2016, and to the next leg of our journey!

Getting Ready for India

Clare Premo ’16 – India

I’m rushing to the store for last minute items, but instead of Christmas gifts, I’m scrambling to get the last odds and ends for an epic trip to India! It’s hard to believe that I will be on the other side of the world in just days, but I’m really excited for all that lies ahead. Our trip planners have done an absolutely outstanding job of putting together a great itinerary, with hour by hour schedules that will help us make the most of our time in four cities over ten days. We will be meet in Mumbai, fly to Jaipur, travel to Agra, and end in Delhi. This is an ambitious timeline but I think it’s going to be so great to get a taste of all of these diverse locations.

While in India, we will meet with nine businesses across a variety of sectors, including Reliance Fashion, HDFC, Unilazer, Moshe’s, Dabbawalas, Jaipur Foot, BJP, Fortis and Bharti Airtel. I’m really excited to meet with executives to hear about their companies, to learn more about the business climate in India today, and to get their impressions of what’s coming in the future. I participated in Chazen Indonesia last spring, and I was blown away by how interesting and candid our business meeting speakers were; I learned so much from hearing about their hopes and concerns for the country’s economy. Based on that experience, I have really high expectations for these meetings and think that they will be incredibly informative, especially since so many of our classes feature cases that take place in India and this will help bring those studies to life.

Of course, the cultural immersion aspect of Chazen is going to be fabulous as well. We will be visiting old forts, the Taj Mahal, exotic markets, a Mumbai slum, palaces and more! I anticipate that our time out and about will be overwhelming in many ways with over the top the color, people, smells, and energy: I’m picturing colorful saris, lots of Bollywood music, and delicious Indian food!

Lastly, I’m really looking forward to getting to know our group. We’ve already had two in-person meetings and an active GroupMe thread, but there’s nothing like travel to help b-school students bond. The social component of a Chazen trip is quite powerful and it’s amazing how close you feel to your new friends after just a few days together. It won’t hurt that we will get to ring in 2016 together!