I just returned from a ten day business trip to India. During my trip, I learned many lessons about life, business and people in India. Hopefully, you will find these lessons of value in your business and personal life.
- The importance of generosity of spirit: Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, has Portia express a famous line in English literature: “The quality of mercy is not strained.” By that, Shakespeare implied that you cannot fake generosity. People are either kind or not. When I arrived in Mumbai at 4:00 AM in the morning, Emile Goveia, the Managing Director of The Covenant Group in India, was waiting to greet me. There were hundreds of people at the airport waiting to greet friends and family. When I walked out of the Customs Area, Emile was standing in the front row, smiling at me. He was a welcome sight. He had been standing there for two and one half hours to welcome me to Mumbai. This was the first of many small kindnesses Emile bestowed on me throughout my visit.
- People work hard and then some: The work week in India is, typically, six days and often consists of 12 -14 hour work days. During my trip, we flew from Mumbai to Delhi, the equivalent of flying from Toronto to Atlanta. Our flight to Delhi left at 2:30 PM after a morning of meetings in Mumbai. When we arrived in Delhi, we drove one hour for a dinner meeting with the senior executives of a major financial institution. We returned to the airport for an 11:00 PM flight to Mumbai. I was back in my hotel at 2:00 AM the next morning. Later that morning, when Emile picked me up at my hotel, he looked refreshed and relaxed. So many of the people whom I met in India were grateful for the gift of work that they truly enjoyed. Seventy percent of Mumbai’s 23 million people live in slums or on the streets. The poverty is overwhelming. For someone like Emile and our other associates, the ability to rise above poverty and provide a quality of life for their families is deeply appreciated.
- The people of India are resilient: I was in Mumbai on the anniversary of the terrorists’ attack in which 170 people died. Security was very tight and life went on as usual. The people of India face so many challenges environmentally, economically, socially and politically. Yet, they seem to have learned to deal with adversity with equanimity. I was constantly struck by the serenity on the faces of people as diverse as beggars and street urchins to senior executives of major financial institutions.
- India is a land of entrepreneurs: The best opportunity for the people of India to raise themselves from poverty is entrepreneurship. India has a population in excess of 1.1 billion people. The majority of the population is under age 20. On or before the mid-point of this century, India will be the most populous country in the world. One of the major challenges will be to create enough jobs for young people. The entrepreneurial sector is very strong and growing. Entrepreneurs range from micro businesses in the slums of major cities to huge family businesses that operate in many areas of the economy. The best entrepreneurs are opportunity providers. They have a vision of a better tomorrow and shape the environment to realize their dreams. In the process, they create employment opportunities for others.
- Patience is required to do business in India: The traffic in cities like Mumbai is horrendous. One day, it took us two hours to drive 15 km. People deal with shortages of water, food and fuel. They do so with humour and grace. If there is frustration and impatience, it is rarely evident.
It was a privilege to visit the great country of India. I cannot wait to go back.