Panel discussion at Indian Seminar

Hi everyone

Yesterday I wrote about the first part of a seminar regarding opportunities in India for Norwegian companies. That blog post triggered a number of comments, which I’m surely very happy about. Part of the fun in writing a blog is to get people to comment on what you write and to be part of a good discussion. Hopefully there will be even more comments on this post.

The panel discussion started off with an introduction to the business that Telenor and Kongsberg Group do in India. Both of these companies are quite large companies (at least large in a Norwegain scale) and they have both been in India for some time.

Hilde M. Tønne, EVP in Telenor Group gave us some very interesting insight into their operation in India. Even after having been there for a number of years she said that they are still in the middle of building up their business there. Right now Telenor are doing very good in India. They are in six telecom circles, which she described as being in the “growth region of the growth region”. However, Telenor had to learn about India the hard way. They anticipated that India would be very much like the rest of Asia, which was totally wrong! In order to get success in India they had to have a very clear message, which in case of Uninor, Telenors brand in India, is to be there for the masses. Telenor had to work extremely innovative to balance their cost structure with the aim to deliver to Indian working classes. When they started up in India, they considered India as one country and didn’t realize how diverse it actually is.

Pål Helsing from Kongsberg Group said that they had a quite different approach when they entered India. But they have been there for a much longer period than Telenor (more than 30 years). Kongsberg Group already had their IT-infrastructure in place when they entered India, so they didn’t had to do the same investments as Telenor had to do. The biggest challenge for them initially was communication he said. In order to cope with that they had Indian colleagues working in Norway for quite some time. This helped very much in filling the communication gap. One challenge in doing this is that these people became very attractive when they went back to India and that a high degree of turnover had to be expected. This fits very well with my experience from the IT-business. You have to have a plan to overcome the communication challenge and you also have to have a plan for how to cope with retention.

Both the companies stressed the importance of having local management in India. Being global, acting local is a statement that Kongsberg Group uses. They also both said that their companies are so large that they can cope with the situation of high turnover. This will not be the case for smaller Norwegian companies. Here it would have been very interesting to hear what smaller companies like Devant have done to succeed in India. These companies will probably have to have a quite different strategy than the large companies have.

The panel discussion was rounded off by Torgeir Reve asking all the participants about what are the biggest pitfalls for Norwegian companies in India. Harald Nævdal was quick to state that the Norwegian culture is naïve and that this will easily be a huge threat. It is important to have some basic understanding of the culture you are working in. The representatives from both Telenor and Kongsberg Group stressed that it is important to be patient and professional when you work in a company like India. Anthony D’Costa mentioned the fact that Norway is not part of EU as an issue. Norway is being considered as a small country and will not be the one that is most interesting for India to deal with. Amit Kapoor also mentioned that companies have to be there for a long term and also to understand the diversity of the country. Where in India you decide to establish actually depends on what kind of business you are in and your strategy for the country.

I had planned to finish this blog post with some concluding words. But it has already been quite long, so I will create a different post with my reactions from this seminar.

Talk to you soon