One of the biggest challenges for multinationals (and international business scholars) is untangling the enormous institutional and cultural differences from country to country. Perhaps the most complex business environment, and one which multinationals are increasingly engaging with, is the world’s largest democracy – India.
Often Western firms, particularly those from former British colonies (such as Australia) mistakenly assume that India’s similar administrative background will make business easier than in other developing and transitional countries. The existence of a sizable English-speaking population exacerbates this preconception.
Quickly they discover that that life on the ground is dramatically more complex (and frustrating) than they expected. India is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, pluralistic society steeped in thousands of years of traditions and burdened with layer upon layer of bureaucracy. It is also a nation undergoing incredible rates of change, and these changes are impacting on different layers and generations of society in very different ways.
This can make every element of international business more difficult, whether it be starting a business, choosing a location within the country (and a city), negotiating with public officials, hiring workers, securing supply lines, distributing products, adapting designs, or shaping a marketing message.
It would be tempting to through up one’s hands and say “this is too hard”. But, with the world’s largest middle class, a huge pool of skilled workers, and more than a 6th of the world’s population, India is too big an opportunity to ignore. Firms need to learn and learn fast.
One excellent starting point would be the India Reborn documentary series which has been running recently on Australian television (on SBS). This four-parter has done a fantastic job of surveying a broad range of issues in an even-handed and fascinating fashion, juxtaposing the experiences of a broad cross-section of India’s society. Below are a series of short teaser videos that should give you a feel for its approach and content.
Unfortunately, I can’t find an on-line version of said doco. The more web-savvy of you may be able to find it. Alternatively it is supposed to be coming out on DVD very soon. It has this blog’s seal of approval as a means to (slightly) reduce your cultural distance from this labyrinthine environment. There are also numerous moments where the globalisation process is wonderfully illustrated (but I’ll leave them for you to discover).