Later this week, I’ll be attending an event hosted by the Oxfordshire International Business Club, entitled ‘India: From the Insiders’ Perspective’ (for details see OIBC India Event). A number of high-profile speakers will present, and the event has attracted a lot of interest. India continues to appeal to international businesses looking to outsource manufacturing and services, or tap into the huge and fast-growing base of affluent, middle-class consumers – despite having posted disappointing economic growth figures earlier this year.
In the 1990’s, along with Brazil, Russia and China – the other so-called BRIC countries, India emerged as a major economic power. But while the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country – once known as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ in the days of the British Raj, has enjoyed a phase of phenomenal growth, recent figures indicate a slowing down of its economy, with growth dipping to 4.7% in the financial year 2013-14.
This second straight year of sub-5% expansion compares with around 8% in previous years, but there is reason to be optimistic about the future; the country has a new government and a new Prime Minister – Narendra Modi, who has pledged to boost growth. Many economists are optimistic and expect to see an increase in investment, and the creation of more jobs following the landslide election of Mr Modi.
India at a glance
- Politics: In 2014, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ousted the long-governing secularist Congress Party in an overwhelming election victory. India is a multi-lingual federalist state and the world’s largest democracy.
- Economy: Although India’s economy has slowed of late, many analysts expect this to be just a blip. The country has a large, skilled workforce, though it still suffers from corruption and poverty in places.
- History: India was under foreign rule from the early 1800s until the demise of the British Raj in 1947. Partition separated the sub-continent into present-day India and Pakistan.
Doing business in India
The sheer scale, rich cultural diversity and complexity of India make it impossible to give generic advice to those travelling there on business. Language, social caste, religion, regional customs and traditions, are just a few of the factors that will inform a visitors approach to communications, behaviour and etiquette.
As the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions; Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, religion in India is characterised by diversity and tolerance.
The official national language of India is Hindi, but different states have their own regional languages and dialects. In international business, English is widely used.
Discrimination on the basis of caste is illegal, but hierarchy continues to play an important part in Indian business culture and can be frustrating to outsiders.
- Meeting and Greeting
- Indians greet one another with the ‘Namaste’, but in an international business meetings, use a handshake.
- Use formal titles to address people you know – Sir or Madam for people you don’t.
- Give and receive business cards with your right hand, and treat them with respect. Consider having your own cards printed in Hindi on one side.
- Meetings and Negotiations
- Set meetings well in advance, confirming in writing and by phone.
- Indians are punctual but will always put family issues ahead of business.
- Always greet the most senior person first, and begin meetings with non-business conversation.
- Negotiating can be a slow process while trust is being established.
- Avoid confrontation or being pushy.
- Keep in mind that Indians do not like to give an outright ‘no’ for fear of disappointing. Listen out for other terms which may mean the same thing.
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