By Bryan deRegt
India was quite an experience that I never thought I would have in my life. This idea became clear to me when I stood in front of the Taj Mahal. Besides realizing how amazing the building was, my only thought was “Wow, I am actually at the Taj Mahal.” I have seen the statue of liberty, the tower of London, the David, and many other attractions. I figure I will see the national monuments in Washington DC at some point and places like the Eiffel Tower. The Taj Mahal was always a place I would not go because I never thought I would find myself in India. Now, I can say I have seen the Taj Mahal without having ever even seen the White House.
The India trip was a main draw to the Cal Poly MBA Program for me and now looking back, I think it lived up to my expectations as the best part of getting my degree, both in what I enjoyed the most and what taught me the most. My only experience with India prior to this course was living with an Indian roommate. He was born in America but his family still followed many traditional Indian cultures. That little experience was nothing compared to what I witnessed when in India and really reshaped how I view India and Indian culture.
When comparing to other MBA courses, India had a few things stand out that made me really think about what I learned in class and how it applies to the real world. The most interesting connection I made from the India class was to my Marketing Research class. In the class, we focused on the analytics of marketing and what makes customers loyal to a brand. We analyzed department stores in the United States and found a wide variety of customer loyalty to different brands but found that the qualities that lead to loyalty are having excellent products and even more importantly, having excellent service to the customer. Customer service is the area that India goes much beyond what Americans will do for their customers.
Indians have very high customer loyalty from what I witnessed and heard from the different businesses that I visited. This makes sense because the customer service was of the highest quality in the majority of establishments. The Lemon Tree Hotels were the best example of the service that we came to expect in India. Immediately upon arrival, employees were taking our bags and marking room numbers to bring them to the room even as I arrived well after midnight. Then, throughout the trip at breakfast, anything I could ever need was quickly brought to me whenever I asked. This continued beyond just breakfast as any employee was happy to help in any way possible. This type of service is always appreciated and I know that if I am ever in India again that I will definitely book my stay at a Lemon Tree.
With service being so important to Indians, there are some Western products that I am surprised have no become more popular. One such product that I think could be successful in India is a MenuClub type service. Family meals are a very big part of the culture but no one always has time to cook a big meal. Food delivery service with many different restaurant options could allow for families to order a full meal and still have a traditional dinner without the hassle of cooking. Additionally, deals could be tied into the service so the Indian attitude of wanting to beat the seller could still be met. I think this is an idea that could make money although would probably be slow in the beginning and take a few years to really penetrate the market and would have to be aimed at younger individuals to start.
Bringing a Western product to India is not the only money making opportunity though. India has some products and ideas that could make money if brought to the United States. One night for dinner we went to a village place that had cuisine from many different regions around India and each individual could get food buffet style from anywhere they wanted and even try from a multitude of regions. In addition to the food, there was dancing and attractions such as a puppet show. A place like this could be very successful in the United States. It would be a fun family outing that would be different than the usual things that Americans do on a daily basis. The food could either remain traditional Indian cuisine as Americans tend to enjoy trying different cultures or could be switched to have foods from different US regions. The buffet style food with many different options would allow everyone in the family to eat something they like which I know is a problem for my family at a lot of meals. In addition, the fun after the meal would keep families at the venue for a longer period of time. If they sold drinks as well, families would spend more money as they hang out for an extended period of time. This could be a fun new idea if brought to the United States.
In addition to bringing the restaurant idea to the United States, all companies in the US could learn from the practices of Indians. In India, there is an attitude to always say yes and try to be helpful. This can cause some problems like when asking directions because people will tell you where to go whether they actually know or not. However, in business, this can be a very good policy when dealing with customers. In the US, many companies are quick to say no when a customer makes an odd request or wants something changed. By saying yes, whenever possible, it sticks in that customers mind and leaves an overarching positive experience with the company. I know I would be a frequent customer to establishments in the US if I was treated with the same level of hospitality that I received almost universally in India.
The say yes attitude is something that is in Indian culture but I believe it is also something that is aided by being an emerging market. Indians are very hard working and trying to move to that next level in society. The US does not have this same drive and instead has a very high sense of entitlement. I was amazed to find out that the staff at the Lemon Tree was mainly comprised of interns with college degrees. These individuals were working hard in positions that I think many American college graduates would feel was below them. The big lesson I saw from this is that it is ok to start at the bottom of an organization even if you have an education that makes you feel like you should be starting higher. With enough hard work and skills, no matter where an individual starts they can probably emerge and reach the higher levels.
While the United States as the developed market has the entitlement issue, developing markets like India have their own constraints. The biggest constraint I witnessed to the Indian market was the lack of infrastructure that causes problems in all facets of businesses. The biggest issue I noticed was the roads and driving in general. India has roads and plenty of them but they are not organized as well as the United States. I think this plays into the lack of any driving rules that were easily noticeable as we traveled which in turn leads to large amounts of traffic. Whenever we visited a company, it always took a long time to go a short distance because of traffic. Better infrastructure could drastically cut down these traffic delays in my opinion. Besides the roads, more housing and utilities are still needed. These are all expensive projects that the government will have to fund for India to truly emerge as a world power. And as long as the government has these additional expenses, it puts an extra strain on the Indian economy that does not exist in developed nations.
The lack of infrastructure is one of the main issues I would have if I ever was asked to move to India for a job. Going into the trip, I thought there was no way I would even consider it but after spending time there, I think I may be open to the possibility for the right job. However, I would have some conditions. In order to consider, I would have to be set up with acceptable living quarters and have a driver because I would never consider driving myself around India. It would not be safe for me or for others. If those conditions were met, I now think that I am flexible enough to live in India although it would still be difficult. The most difficult issue for me would be food as I tended to not like the food during the trip but if I was living there, I think I could survive cooking my own meals and occasionally ordering some Domino’s which I was thankful was an option occasionally on the trip.
The meals were by far the area where I was most out of my comfort zone. I am a very meat and potatoes type of meal person. I do not eat salads and am as far from a vegetarian as probably is possible. Therefore, when many of the meals in India only had vegetarian options, I did not really eat besides bread and rice. Even though I was not one of the more adventurous eaters, it still taught me a lot about myself being around these meals. Most importantly, it taught me that in any business situation, no matter what food is served, I can find enough to eat to get through the meal and that is what ultimately matters to conduct the business. Other areas that affected my comfort zone was the lack of alone time that I am accustomed to having at home and initially, dealing with people from such a different culture and with different attitudes.
When meeting people in India, it taught me my most important lesson from the trip and changed me as a person. I learned that although cultures and customs are very different, people are ultimately very similar. This was learned in many different times throughout the trip whether it was talking to people on the train ride, during business visits, or just walking around the cities. However, the time it was most obvious was during the cricket game against MET. I had no idea what to expect when Cal Poly mixed with MET for a cricket game, but what I learned was that the MET students were not very different from Cal Poly after all. Some students were very competitive and wanted to be the best. Some students had no idea what they were doing. Some students were just trying to be helpful to the Cal Poly students and did not really care about the score. This is very similar to what I would expect it to be like if a group of Americans were trying to teach MET how to play baseball or football. Outside the game, when getting to talk briefly with MET students, we were able to find common ground and talk in the same way I would talk to a random American I just met. By learning that people are not very different after all, I changed as I am more comfortable talking to strangers because although everyone is different, I know that a common ground can be found.
Overall, India was a great experience. It is an experience that I will never forget because my outlook on India has completely changed. From watching the news and pictures online, I had an image of India that was not correct and now I feel like I have a good understanding of Indian culture and an idea of how India actually looks. Now, instead of just a third world country that is attractive to US business, India has a new meaning. For me, India is an emerging market that will have an impact on my career down the line. I am not sure how it will affect my career. It might be doing business with an Indian company or even in India. More likely, it might just be working with Indian individuals in the United States. Either way, the trip will leave me better prepared when that time comes. Even if India does not end up affecting my work life, if I travel back to the country, I won’t be surprised this time how safe I felt the whole time and that I would forget I was in a developing nation a lot during the trip. It truly was an experience that cannot be replicated.