Impressions of India

Hot Wheels: The Magic School Bus

Since our learning expedition touched down in Chennai a couple of weeks ago, our primary source of transportation had been the minibus. It isn’t your average minibus. It is a rather spacious 23 seater. The minibus has a milky white paint job and even comes with beige curtains to shield its passengers from the blistering Indian sun. It has both a driver and his sidekick. This sidekick is responsible for opening/closing the door, dealing with security guards at our destinations, and making sure that all passengers are comfortable (this can also include distributing bottled water).

We relied extensively on the minibus to get us from point A to point B in Chennai, Agra, and Delhi and rarely made use of taxis, public buses, or rickshaws. Not only was it a comfortable and reliable form of transportation, but we were also able to take in some of the unique sights and sounds of India. Fortunately, we had Prasad and Mahesh (I-India educational trip organizers) in addition to Professor Sundaram to answer any questions that might have arisen as we peeked out the window.

Sights: As we ventured from one point to another, we endured large amounts of traffic on the road. Motorcycles with an entire family on it, large crowded buses, and midsize cars were all vying for a place on the narrow road. It would not be unusual for some 2-3 cars and multiple motorcycles to share a two lane road. Every now and then, you would also see a large cow roaming the side of the road or even simply ‘chilling’ in the divider between opposing sides of traffic. You would then pause and ask yourself, “How on Earth did these cows not get hit by any moving vehicle?” We quickly learned that cows are sacred in India and have a special role in the Hindu mythologies. Consequently, no one would dare kill a cow even if accidental. Could this be where the expression “holy cow” comes from?

Sounds: There was one pervasive sound that was continuously heard on the roads: the honking! And when I mean continuous, I really do mean non-stop. It seemed as though drivers would literally drive with one hand on the car horn. Given how densely populated the roads were and the amount of congestion, I guess it is only natural that you would continuously honk. Moreover, it was not unusual for many of us to go back to the hotel and continue to hear the honking!

Hot Wheels, our primary form of transportation

Hot Wheels, our primary form of transportation

The comfortable interior of our minibus

The comfortable interior of our minibus

A little traffic never really hurt anyone

A little traffic never really hurt anyone

Categories: Chennai, Delhi, Impressions of India | 2 Comments

Day Five

Today – our fifth day, and halfway through our Learning Expedition – we left Chennai for a flight to Delhi, and then a bus trip on to Agra. The Chennai leg of the 2012 LE didn’t disappoint – the variety of experiences from the company visits, the cultural tours, even the food (maybe for this group, especially the food!), have been an education: eye-opening, thought-provoking and rich.

For me this experience has been as much about the people as the places – the warmth of hosts has been so amazing, and our wonderful guides, Mahesh and Prasad, make us feel so taken care of! But I also value the opportunity to get to know a group of second-year students better, and to share this experience with them. And I cannot forget the alums! How truly special it was to see Ravi and Vishala after quite a few years (we will not tell how many!), and Jayakanth and Arun again – so soon, and in their home country. Having dinner with four alums in Chennai, and looking forward to seeing a handful more in Delhi in the next few days, is a wonderful benefit of the LE.

Tomorrow will be an amazing, once in a lifetime experience: the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and then a village visit. I don’t know if it will be the highlight of the LE for me – I’m not sure I can compare this day to the insight of Kumar Ramanathan’s presentation of marketing Vodafone in India, the tour of the TI Cycles manufacturing facilities, or experiencing the beauty and serenity of the Kalashetra dance academy. Everything has been so uniquely different, and so uniquely rewarding. I look forward to the next five days!

Categories: Impressions of India | 2 Comments

Chennai – High Income Lifestyle

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.

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Categories: Chennai, Impressions of India | 1 Comment

We’re in India….

Sundaram Informal Headshot

Tuck is back in India, under the auspices of CGBG’s learning expeditions. I am, along with my colleague, Becky Rice, thrilled to be leading a team of enthusiastic, energetic, accomplished Tuck ’13s that is rearing to go!

During the next ten days, we will take in an amazing array of experiences, in the process starting to wrap our minds and hearts around a complex country with an ancient culture. We will visit companies, temples, media, government, politicians, the parliament, and world heritage sites across both the South (Chennai) and North (Agra, Delhi) of this vast country.

It is a cliché, but true, that India offers an astonishing set of opportunities and challenges for global leaders looking ahead to the next few decades. With its 1+ billion people — not even counting the ones yet to come — if the average Indian will, forty years from now, earn just one-quarter of what an American earns today, that would imply the addition of over $20 trillion in GDP annually. Or, the equivalent of one-and-a-half times the current size of the US economy every year.

The fundamental contradiction is, while this growth will bring with it mind-boggling amounts of wealth-creation, it will also bring with it mind-boggling stresses on natural resources, social inequalities, and economic policy-making. Not just in India, but around the globe. The managerial challenge becomes, how can future leaders help make this growth happen in a way that is purposeful, inclusive, and sustainable, and yet create value?

Taking head on, grappling with, making sense of such contradictions lies at the heart of Tuck’s 2012 India Learning Expedition. Over the next ten days, we will be blogging about all this, and more.

We sincerely hope you’ll join us on our expedition!

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