Today I had a day of true Indian experiences: I walked barefoot on the Indian street to get into the Hindu temple, stepped into an Indian wedding engagement party, saw a local corporate hospital, stopped by the mall and visited with a wealthy family in their home. I saw the full spectrum of Indian living, from the commoner on the street to the 5% through the home visit and the shopping experience (street markets vs. a mall). It was a fascinating day and introduction into the business aspect of our Learning Expedition.
Apollo Hospital: After lunch, our group split into three sub-groups, each going to a different afternoon experience. Assigned to the “high income” group, we started our afternoon with visit to a corporate (private) specialty 700-bed hospital. Even within the hospital, throngs of people milled through the hallways and in the waiting rooms. Our conversation with a radiologists shed some light on the Indian healthcare system versus our own US healthcare system. The annual cost of healthcare of an Indian is $54 and for an American is $8,000. Why is there such a discrepancy? The doctor, part of Apollo since it opened in the early 1980s, completes 60-70 CT scans a day on one machine six days a week. His counterpart in the U.S. will complete 15-20 CT scans on one machine five days a week. The ability of the Indian healthcare system to scale has been better than the U.S. The volume of patients is much higher and it appears although the infrastructure costs are similar (this is one of the best hospitals in India with state of the art equipment), the revenue generation from patient volume and utilization of the fixed cost infrastructure is higher in India. However, we also learned only 20-25% of the urban population has health insurance and even though a full check-up is only $70, that is requires 2-3 months of savings for the middle class and is beyond the reach of the poor.
Retail Mall: Next stop was a retail mall, which I can say looks like an American mall. Two interesting points on the mall. First, with the barrage of poverty seen whilst driving around Chennai, it is amazing a Western mall replica exists. Inside, many patrons are wearing western dress (outside all women are wearing traditional saris), enjoying a very modern movie theater and shopping in all of your favorite stores. Even the young pre-teens, tweens and early teens hang out at the mall, just like in the US. Second, our tour guide was very enthusiastic about businesses that to us, were commonplace in the US. He was excited for us to speak with the manager of Coffee Day, an Indian franchise coffee joint, similar to Starbucks, and with the shop attended at Bellve, a medspa that focused on “age management” or anti-aging and physical appearance issues (think weight-loss supplements, anti-wrinkle cream and procedures to reduce stomach fat that are completed in the mall). Although we are used to these industries, they are new to India.
High Income Household: From the shoe-less street person to the upper class of India. We visited the home of a local business owner. After inheriting the business at age 20 when his father died, the husband increased the printing and packaging business from 20 employees to 250 with contracts with Walmart and Target and expanded the business to include industrial real estate development and rental. Although the home was modest by US upper class standards (a three bedroom, one bathroom, apartment), the family clearly had much more wealth that what we had seen outside on the streets, including a maid. We chatted about the family business, the husband and wife’s arranged marriage at the age of 20 and 19, their son’s application to US business schools (he is considering Tuck!) and their new “bungalow” (stand-alone house) that they would move into in 4 months. We also were fortunate enough to view and try on a few pieces of the wife’s on hand jewelry collection (the better stuff is in the safe), which was an amazing collection. These pieces of jewelry were retail store window case worthy pieces, the pieces you look at and say “wow,” but know you could never afford, and remember this is the stuff that is safe to be at home. I can’t imagine what her wedding jewelry looked like or any other pieces she has acquired that deserve to be locked up. I also think of this jewelry, where one necklace could easily be $100,000, and contrast that to the Indian reality outside of their apartment walls. Truly a country to diverse means.
We finished our day with an Indian-style chinese dinner at the Madras Cricket Club with three local Tuck alumni.