CEO on Doing Business With India, Ahead of Presidential Visit

The CEO of the UK-India Business Council discusses her thoughts on the way the British do business in India, compared with their American counterparts.
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The CEO of the UK India Business Council, Ms Sharon Bamford, sat down for an exclusive with Huffington Post to discuss her thoughts on the way the British do business in India compared with their American counterparts, and a forthcoming glittering summit which will mix business with sport.

The UKIBC Summit will take place October 29th 2009 in London, during an official state visit to the UK by the President of India, Pratibha Patil.

Ms Bamford described the date as being " A significant day... we want to send a message to India that we're right behind you, as business leaders from the UK and India gather for the summit."

At lunchtime that day, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and President Pratibha Patil will formally send a symbolic baton on its way round Commonwealth countries before it arrives in New Delhi, India for the Commonwealth Games October 2010. The launch will take place at Buckingham Palace.

The summit will close with a black tie/national dress dinner with guest speakers Dame Kelly Holmes and Lalit Modi of the Indian Premier League. "Dame Kelly is a wonderful role model for young sports people round the world, and Lalit Modi has challenged all the models of sport. Through sport you have partnership, you have impact on society and you have profile on a world stage." There is an Indian extravaganza planned for Trafalgar Square the same evening.

The A-list attendees for the summit are an indication of how the UK and India are ramping up their business dealings. They include Vittorio Colao, Chief Executive of Vodafone Group, Gerry Grimstone , Chairman of Standard Life, John Pearce, Chairman, Standard Chartered Bank, Sir Stephen Green, CEO, HSBC, Anil Shrikande, President, Rolls Royce India, Lalit Modi, Managing Director, Modi Enterprises, Apurv Bagri, Chairman, Metdist, and Kris Gopalakrishan, CEO, Infosys.

Corporate India will meet corporate UK to look at how global businesses have adapted to the shift from western to eastern economies. One of the sessions will examine key political issues and compare the benefits of accelerating the reform agenda with taking a more measured approach.

Sharon Bamford explained that Britain's "key strengths are financial, professional, banking and education sectors," and it is these areas which are being developed in India. "But," she said, "there are liberalisation issues which mean we can't do more... we are willing to work with India when we have more opportunity and the reform agenda is addressed."

"We need to get out of this silo mindset of automotive and engineering, there are some great companies now looking at water treatment and power solutions in rural areas, bottom of the pyramid stuff. Freeplay has licensed the wind-up radio, for instance."

Among the summit's speakers is Professor Tim O'Shea, Vice Chancellor, Edinburgh University. "Professor O'Shea will announce that they are... entering, developing and deepening the relationship with India and the market."

Ms Bamford elaborated, "education is fundamental and vital to India's future, for by 2025, half of her population is predicted to be under 25. Education is a business opportunity but it is a sensitive area because it is about the development of a nation. The Indian education system is over structured"

She talked of several British universities that are forging strong bonds with India.Aberdeen University is allying with private sector Yes Bank, Oxford and Cambridge Universities are working hard on their ties too. Ms Bamford highlighted Cambridge's commitment.

"They spend three weeks in India with their Vice Chancellor building business relationships...India needs partnership in higher education, there is a huge need for universities and it cannot achieve that on its own."

Ms Bamford noted that the US has already made great inroads into the same market that the UK is developing.

"British universities need to be building those relationships and really understanding and getting representation in that market... the U.S. is very switched on... Harvard is an outstanding example of very innovative work."

Ms Bamford said that bio-technology and health care are growth areas the U.S. has penetrated. She cited the "visionary and large scale facility with hospital, medical training, research and hotel type facilities in one campus" concept pioneered by America's John Hopkins health care group in association with Indian partners. The UKIBC CEO described the Americans as 'very innovative; the American way and the British way of doing business are very different... we are relationship people... that works... but we have been resting on our laurels when it comes to India, we haven't had that same focus, that same follow-up, that same strategy that Americans do so well. The US has always had a strong position and is a great competitor."

The UK, Ms Bamford indicated, competes with America in the Indian market "by targeting the whole supply chain network. For instance Rolls Royce and BAE systems are both positioning very well in India with great technology and great commitment."

But, she said that an Indo-US nuclear deal known as the 123 Agreement signed in 2008 "has offered a huge deal with the US, a huge message and a huge relationship building exercise." Huffington Post asked Ms Bamford where experienced Indian entrepreneurs are investing their money.

"India has cash reserves that we don't. We're seeing a huge interest in acquisitions in the UK... There is consistent traffic from India to the UK in bio-technology, technology transfer and partnership in research and development... the UK punches above its weight in terms of patents and academic citations."

Sharon Bamford welcomed the recent Indian election results; "the mandate means that it will be easier to drive reform through. With the A team at the top, (PM) Manmohan Singh, there is continuity. I already have a very good working relationship with the key Indian ministers I deal with, Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal. India isn't an in -- and -- out, quick business trip kind of a country. It needs planned action, it needs objective-setting so that India can see you're coming back, you're in for the long term. What I respect about India is the philosophy. I have confidence in the intellectual leadership; they will take their people with them, they will not rush this."

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