My learnings from seminar about opportunities in India for Norwegian companies

Hi everyone

It has been a while since I wrote about the seminar regarding opportunities in India for Norwegian companies. You will find my report here and a summary of the panel discussion here.

After the seminar I have spent quite some time reflecting about it. What did I actually learn there? Is India a success story for Norwegian companies? If not, what can be done different?

Like most other things in India, I don’t think it is any very simple conclusion to any of those questions. If we ask whether or not Norwegian companies presence in India is a failure or not, I’m quite sure that the answer will be fixed. It is no doubt that some Norwegian companies, like the Kongsberg Group, who spoke at the event, have been in the country for quite some time and also do quite well there now. Telenor is about to do well there now. They recently won a license in Myanmar. I can only guess, but it is probably not a wrong guess that their experience from India have helped them in getting this license and that it will also help them to operate well in that country. But I still feel that the presence of Norwegian companies in India in not at all that huge. If I remember, right, I was told that in Mumbai only, there are about 5000 French people! Haven’t counted the number of Norwegians, but I would guess hardly more than 20-30. And when I read Norwegian newspapers and listen to Norwegian business people, India is not really the country I notice the most.

Why is it like that? One reason I think, is that India has been named as a “difficult” country to do business in. It feels much easier for Norwegians to do business in markets that are closer to our home soil. The difficulties in India are probably, at least to some extent, true. But instead of saying it is difficult I would maybe say that it is different. Most of the speakers at the seminar mentioned the diversity of India, and that companies have to plan for long term in order to have success in India. This is something I really have to agree to. But I think it is more to it than that; in order to succeed in India you have really be prepared for the unexpected and to be able to take quick decisions. And I really wonder if that fits with the usual Norwegian model of management. If you look at the most successful Indian companies, or rather corporations, most of them are family owned.  The patriarch of the family is also the CEO of the company. And he (mostly a he) is the one who will make the final decision. I’m just not sure if Norwegian companies, where consensus management is quite important, manage to make decisions quick enough when some big shifts happen.

For many years I have been very interested in sailing and have followed a number of the around the world races. I read a book about the Norwegian challenge “Innovation Kværner”. The title of the book, written by the captain of the boat, was “Responsible for the irresponsible”. He wrote that when you sail a race around the world you just can’t prepare for everything that can happen. But what you can do is to prepare for how to handle unexpected situations. This is exactly the same as what I think is important if you want to do business in India.

Two other things I took back from the seminar is the Norwegian naivety and the importance of understanding the market or rather the culture you will be working in.

If we take the naivety first, I absolutely agree with those that say that Norwegians are naïve. We like to think that things are exactly the way they look. But this is very rarely the case. And maybe even more so in India than in many other places. It is absolutely possible to live in India and think that it is a heaven, with a driver, a maid, a couple of people cleaning your home, air-conditioned car and office and so on. But that is just the surface. As Dr. Amit Kapoor so brilliantly said it, India is much more than that.  And in order to succeed in India you really have to dive below that surface and to understand the country and the people there!

Any thought or suggestions?

Talk to you soon

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