Last week, the Mayor's International Business Programme travelled to India as part of its #LondonIsOpen campaign. Nurole COO Oliver Cummings joined Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and a host of other fast growing London tech scale ups.
Here's a snapshot of what he learnt as a first time traveller to India:
The regions of India are as varied as the countries of Europe and Africa. India is one country in name but on the ground it’s key to avoid generalising because every region has its own unique characteristics. From how people look, the language they speak and the food they eat, to the cultural practices they follow and the weather they expect, the regions are clearly differentiated in many ways.
Mumbai is the business centre, Bengaluru is the technology centre and Delhi is the political capital. While London offers a unique combination of industries in one location, India’s mega cities share the spoils. If you are planning to open up shop in India, it’s key you pick the right city for where your customers are.
It's a two way street. The UK is the largest investor in India but as much as we are interested in the opportunities offered by the huge Indian market, Indian businesses are also looking to invest in the UK and are already doing so signficantly (they are the fourth largest investor in the UK).
Strong family and cultural ties bind India and the UK. Within our delegation it was amazing to see how many Londoners have family based in India. Similarly, amongst the business leaders we met, many also have family based in the UK. I have been fortunate to have travelled to many parts of the world, and not all of them hospitable, but the warm reception we received everywhere we went places Mumbai and Bengaluru firmly in the category of great cities where I would be happy to live and work.
The UK's education system plays an important role in international trade. Many business leaders we met had spent some time in the UK's education system, so felt well disposed towards the UK and comfortable investing in it as a result - an important reminder of the critical role the UK's education system plays in favourably positioning the UK on a global level.
Education is driving change. As you drive through the streets of Mumbai and Bangalore, everywhere you look there is evidence of the value being placed on education. South Korea is a paradigm of the extraordinary economic transformation possible thanks to an emphasis placed on the importance of education - it feels like India is following a similar path. To get into the top universities in India now requires nothing short of 95% - with the running joke that it will soon be 99.9%.
“Traffic” doesn’t do it justice. Having spent time in Mexico City, Nairobi and Manilla I have seen some traffic jams in my time but India's cities compete with the best of them. Solving this infrastructure will be a major challenge for its economy to succeed. A couple of kilometres can easily take a couple of hours - don’t expect to cram back to back meetings if you have to travel between them!
The pace of development is electric. A quick scan of the horizon when driving through the city reveals an extraordinary array of buildings going up before your eyes. A visit to the WeWork office in Mumbai could be a visit to a WeWork on the West Coast or in London - a hive of energy, filled with smart and driven entrepreneurs looking to build the next big unicorn. The 81 acre eco friendly Infosys campus we visited with over 25,000 employees and 50 buildings rivals any modern technology giant's campus.
Progress is not linear. Home to more than a million people and located in prime Mumbai, Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum. It is home to an economy approaching $1bn which includes recycling, leather goods, pottery and plastics. The government have started to build high rise buildings in an effort to accommodate people living there in better style. However, the new buildings are unpopular as they are seen to destroy the strong sense of community currently enjoyed by the residents.
An opportunity conundrum. I spoke to one senior exective at a multi billion dollar India headquartered international business who succinctly captured the conundrum by explaining that, despite having extensive presence and connections on the ground, they are not yet ready to focus on the domestic market because competition is so high and the reward is small, relative to other international markets. Yet with its enormous population and rapid pace of development, nobody can afford to ignore India for long.
Be direct. Recurring advice we got from Indian business leaders is that the first couple of minutes of a meeting are the most critical. You have to get to the point quickly, much more so than in other business environments. If you don’t connect in those opening minutes, you likely never will - but once you build a relationship, you can expect your partners to walk through fire with you.
#LondonisOpen. In an age where the media like to focus on what is wrong in the world, the stories of our Mayor and our Deputy Mayor are inspirational. The Mayor's parents arrived from Pakistan in 1968. Brought up as one of 8 children in a three bed council flat in South London, he qualified as a solicitor focused on employment and discrimination cases before becoming an MP and Mayor of London. The deputy Mayor's story is no less impressive - he came from India with £200 to his name in 2001. By 2012 he featured in The Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune of £90m after founding RationalFX. Travelling with them was an opportunity to witness first hand how passionate both are about London and how well they represent us.
Nurole would like to thank Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, and Rajesh Agrawal, London’s Deputy Mayor for Business, as well as Sara French, Alban Remy and Evie Griffin at the Mayor’s International Business Program, and Kim Hayward and Arbinder Chatwal of sponsors BDO, who provided the most fantastic insights into this exceptional country and the amazing opportunities it offers. At Nurole we are looking forward to helping organisations seeking Indian geographic and functional talent to connect with some of the amazing board members, chief technology officers and other business leaders we met during the visit.