Saturday, September 15, 2012

Incredible India!

I set out to write this blog as a start to finish description of the Weekend MBA trip to India.  It rapidly got lengthy and I knew I would never finish it fast enough to post here for class.   I have published that more detailed description in my personal location.   It is a work in progress.   If you are interested in more please follow this link:

This blog is my overall impression of the trip.   India is a place many of us have read about, seen in movies, or perhaps on "The Amazing Race".  That can provide a glimpse into it but when you visit India you experience India.

India is not a neat and tidy place.  It is vibrant, noisy, colorful, crowded and a place that makes you think.  You see contrasts of the very poor living in conditions that only provide the most basic of shelter or comfort.   Surprising close you might see the homes of the upper middle class or wealthy.   There is a mingling of all kinds of people as you travel around the country.   There was also an emphasis on service with people providing high quality services of various kinds with a pleasant manner and a smile.

The city of Chennai was our first visit.   It was active even at 4AM when we drove from the airport to our hotel.   The bus passed through red lights with barely a pause.  Our visit the next day to the T.Nagar Market was quite an introduction to the country.  It was crowded, noisy, smelling of flowers and spices.   There were all kinds of goods for sale with shops crowding up to the curb.   The pedestrian traffic is often forced into the street and makes for an interesting experience for a visitor used to the more orderly system in the USA.  The street are crowded with people, bicycles, auto rickshaws, cars, trucks, buses, and sometimes animals.   This makes crossing the street interesting and possibly hazardous.  If you cross the street the traffic will tend to flow around you and the drivers seem adept at avoiding obstacles.   The sound of horns is constant.

Chennai is growing with people moving into the city and it getting more crowded.   There are many infrastructure needs with sidewalks to fix and a metro rail to finish.   I was struck how much trash there was all over the place.  It surprised me that the city or state government had not taken an initiative to try to clean it up.  I suppose that cleanup like that is not a thing that the politicians would promote as its not a grand item like building the metro rail.   The city also had a booming IT corridor that is helping employ the engineers and others that comprise the growing middle class.   Traveling around the city on our air conditioned bus drew attention and people would look curiously at us.   If you caught someone's eye and waved you would usually get a big smile and wave in return.   This would occur throughout our trip.

The trip took us to Delhi which was more orderly and appeared to have more investment in infrastructure and general cleanliness of the city.   We visited our first major tourist site there, Humayun's tomb.  This is an impressive red sandstone structure from the Mughal period and is the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent.  If you never visited another you would be suitably impressed.   Our trip took us to more when we drove south to Agra.   The trip itself was 4 or 5 hours of honking horns and a constant array of sights along the road.   Upon reaching Agra we visited the tomb of Akbar the Great a even more impressive tomb of a similar style to Humayun's.   After that visit we passed the Agra Fort a sprawling structure that we did not visit.   Finally we visited the Taj Mahal.   Pictures and discriptions don't do it justice.   It is truly impressive.   I had always thought it was in a rural area having seen the gardens around it.   It is actually right along the river in Agra.   The rural impression is simply that the gardens are so large it you don't realize there is a wall around all of it and its within the city.

The purpose of our trip was not sightseeing.   We visited the National Management School who hosted and guided us on our visit.   We visited Cognizant a major IT consulting company.   We went to the campus of Larson &Toubro and learned of the long history the company has in India for infrastructure and many engineering type of projects.  They are also getting into the IT space with L&T Infotech.   There was a visit to the Renault Nissan factory that I missed due to being sick.   The not for profit eye hospital Sankara Nethralaya was especially impressive for the work they are doing providing eye care, including surgery, to the poor.   While in Delhi we visited Airtel, India's largest mobile phone carrier.   There was much to learn about how business and marketing takes place in India and the CXO dinner was a good opportunity to network with executives in business. 

India was such an interesting experience and I glad I had the opportunity to visit.   The people are friendly, the food is good, and the atmosphere is dynamic.   India has many challenges such as its growing population, corruption that is too prevalent, and dysfunction in politics and government.   Still many changes have been made and the country is more and more ready for business and the positive growth that it can bring.   The country is more open than ever to foreign investment and result is growth.   We should keep watching as India is open for business.

Thanks to everyone on the trip and especially the faculty and staff on both sides of the world who made it all happen.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

India: 10 days is not enough

I’ve done a decent amount of traveling both during college and after. Most of my travel experiences have been as a backpacker with only a travel guide to help me find a hostel to sleep in, tell me how to get to the sights I want to see, and give me a few local phrases. I rarely booked hotels in advance, traveled in a group, or had a set itinerary, and I believed this allowed me to get to know the place I was visiting on a deeper, more real level.  So I was skeptical about our trip to India and thought it would be a typical executive business trip that would just show us a bubble of beauty in India, I thought we would not have the chance to explore its real culture. I was wrong. Very wrong.
Even though I recognize you need more than 10 days, 30 hours of lectures and a couple of books to understand the complexity of India, what we got from the Weekend MBA Program was excellent, a good balance of education, business, culinary, social responsibility, history, tourism and culture.
We started the trip in Chennai, a city of 9 million people which, according to Forbes magazine, is one of the 10 fastest growing cities in the world. Right away we took a bus to the downtown and walked by the central market where we were immediately in contact with a diversity of flavors, colors, languages and people in a city which is more chaotic than I have ever seen, and paradoxically works. During the following days we had the chance to visit companies from different industries such as automobile, computer, technology and healthcare that gave us a deep look into this broad industrial base city. We had a lecture at a local university and shared time with local MBA students. We visited touristic sites, tasted great food while eating straight with our hands and enjoyed the night life.
In Delhi, we visit Airtel, the fifth telecommunication company in the world. We had lunch in the company cafeteria, the first I’ve ever been to where there was a live band during lunch hour. It was impressive how the competitive level of the company was balanced with a festive, fun, and energetic atmosphere. Of course, in Delhi we went shopping in various markets as well. I am not sure if we had good deals from a local perspective, but we were so proud of the way we were able to bargain in the end. We visited the Taj Mahal, Humayun's Tomb and other monuments. There was such a high level of planning and perfectionism in the structures that was such a stark contrast with the unfinished infrastructure projects in many places around the parts of the country we saw. Overall, for 10 days we continued to enjoy the amazing food, the night life, and the sense of peace and security which seemed to be infused in the culture.

As a result of this trip, I have a greater respect for Indian people and their sense of adaptability and tolerance to face challenges in a reality with few of opportunities for everybody. India made me realize how lucky we are in other parts of the world and appreciate our reality more while at the same time understand that having or not having a certain reality doesn’t need to be what determines a culture and the way of life. I don’t know if I am truly on the path to understanding Indian culture, but this trip definitely taught me a lot. I remain intrigued about India and hope to one day further explore the country and its culture.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal

            I realize the word "pilgrimage" carries with it a spiritual connotation, yet I can't think of a better way to describe our journey to the Taj Mahal.  It felt like the kind of expedition one would need to take to appreciate a destination of such significance and beauty.  We had to leave early- literally at sunrise.  The trip was long- I can’t remember the last time I was on a bus for so many consecutive hours (unless you count the trip back from JFK to Albany- but we’ll leave that one for another day).  It was hot- I think everyone was pretty much drenched in sweat by the time we arrived.  It was crowded- I have never seen such traffic before in my life (I don’t think I’ll ever complain about traffic on 787 again).  We needed to stop and take breaks along the way.  These weren’t just rest areas- there actually are a couple of smaller sites you needed to see before you arrived at the big one.  But it was something we all did together.  I think each of us appreciated it just a little bit more because of that.  I personally feel the adventure to the Taj Mahal is what it was all about.  When you first look upon the structure, you can't help but be in awe of its grandiose elegance.  You need to look at it from afar for a while to really take it all in and appreciate it what it is you're seeing.  There's an optical illusion of sorts associated with the Taj as well- as you walk towards it, it actually looks like it's getting further and further away. I saw it as just another opportunity to really appreciate it before you get inside it.  Because once you’re inside, it kind of loses a lot of its majesty (“This is it?  Really?”).

            After taking some time to reflect back on the journey I can truly say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience (as awesome as the Taj was I really can’t see myself going back- sorry).  But it was the journey that we all went on together made the payoff that much more rewarding.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Through the lens of my classmates

India needs no introduction to me as I was born and raised there. And even after coming to the United States 12 years ago, every trip back to visit friends and family has been enjoyable. This trip was however very unique for me. I was thrilled at the prospect of visiting India with my classmates, to most of whom it was a land far far away. Having lived on both the continents, I knew for sure that the culture and general atmosphere were as much separated as the physical distance between the two lands I have known and loved. In retrospect, I guess now all my cohort members would agree.

Throughout the trip, it was a fun experience to observe my classmates watch the happenings around us. Be it walking in the crowded marketplaces, shopping in crowded stores or just watching the street side snake charmers, it was simply different. The juxtaposition of livable infrastructure with the not-so-livable slums was appalling to many, and so was the haphazard traffic and the continuous cacophony of honking vehicles. Clear disregard of traffic rules, presence of stray animals on the roads, and a whole family of four travelling on a bike without a helmet, to which I was hitherto immune to, suddenly became amusing scenes to say the least, and I couldn’t help but agree as I looked from the perspective of an American traveler in India.

After the initial general chaos settled into our minds, the experience of being in a place that is so different began to sink in. The heat and the humidity started becoming “expected” when we ventured out. Everyone began to look beyond the chaos. The animals on the street could be ignored, crossing the street became an adventure, and auto-rickshaw rides became a pastime. Street-side shopping was an entirely different experience for our group while in Chennai, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the bargaining expertise gained in Chennai put to great use while in Agra and Delhi.

One lunch everyone will remember for a long time was the Banana Leaf lunch at a local joint. Substituting a leaf for a plate was novel for most of my fellow travellers. Traditionally hands are used for eating this meal, however we were offered minimal silverware to bring our comfort level to positive territory. The traditional Tamil Nadu cuisine may or may not have been palatable to all, but in the courage department everyone did Anthony Bourdain proud. Even small acts of trying out paan (a betel leaf preparation) together with some friends has become such good memories.

The company visits – Cognizant, Renault-Nissan, L&T and Airtel were all good learning experiences but most of us would agree that our visit to Sankara Nethralaya was a real eye-opener. The focus on selfless service and innovation within limited resources to provide world class care, especially for the have-nots, touched all our hearts. The enthusiasm with which we were shown around the campus was amazing, and it was such a humbling experience to meet Dr. Badrinath, the great man behind the institution. While many a companies can claim corporate social responsibility, this institution has been founded firmly on those principles.

We were very lucky to have NMS folks help us with the arrangements in India. We all enjoyed the small treasure which was a wonderful dance program put together by the very friendly NMS students. My thanks go out to Don for being the captain of the ship, counting heads all the way; and to Sanjay for this huge effort, expert guidance and making us feel at ease with his sense of humor in the most demanding situations. And above all to the opportunity to know my classmates better. Here’s to remembering the good times together in the Raj Park basement hangout. Two “Thums Up”.



As I sit to write my blog from India I find it both easy and hard to do all at the same time.  The images and memories all come rushing back at me together and it becomes easy for me to get lost in them.
 India was both amazing and depressing.  The people were incredibly polite and nice, always going out of their way to make us feel welcome and at home.  The hotel staff bent over backwards making sure we had everything we need, even keeping the bar open passed closing time so we could continue having fun.  Our travels had us out at all hours of the day and night, and although I only saw a few police officers, I always felt safe.  The history and beauty of the buildings was breath taking, the Taj Mahal, Humayaun’s Tomb and the Lotus Temple were incredible.
For all of the beauty that India has there’s also a sadness to it.  You can’t account for the poverty that you come across constantly.  The begging that you encounter will break your heart but unfortunately you have to harden yourself to it.  A mother carring a naked baby followed us for three or four blocks asking for money and as much as we wanted to, we new that we couldn’t give her any and that was hard to do.  On one of our bus trips we were headed down this road and there was a beach on one side of us and for lack of a better phrase a ghetto on the other, it was a surreal looking out the windows at complete opposites.
What I will remember most though is the time spent with my classmates.   Sitting at JFK with Joe, Amanda, Dave and Cathy, the excitement of our journey in front of us,  toasting  our trip while waiting for our plane.  Smoking cigars, drinking and telling stories in the hotel bar.  Wandering the streets, taking in all the sights and sounds while I was almost run over twice.  Finding a Cricket batting cage where Joe was able to take a swing at it.  Being at the Taj Mahal with Chris in his Superman shirt and the look on the small child’s face when the parents made her take a picture with him.  Shopping and negotiating the cost of everything. Harsal haggling prices from the bus with someone selling their wares on the street. Amanda, Cathy and I sitting next to each other on the plane home, barely speaking for 13 hours and all of us being fine with that.
Lastly I would like to thank Gautam for acting as a tour guide and making the trip truly enjoyable.  I wouldn’t have made it without all of your help, so thank you one more time.—Jim Agostino

I survived crossing the streets of India!!!

I survived the streets of India!!! 

We left NYC on a Friday night and arrived in India on Sunday morning.  Twenty hours of travel time so we were a little tired on our arrival.  We napped and by that evening we were ready to start our adventure.  We left the hotel in search of a place to exchange our US dollars to Rupees.  We went around the corner from the hotel and found a very fast paced street where we actually had to learn how to get across the street. There were few traffic lights and we really had to follow our classmate (guide) and do exactly what he did.  Motor cycles with three and four people went zipping by at tremendous speeds while  the little yellow and green rickshaws, some of them over packed with six passengers, came very close to hitting other vehicles stopping inches away.  My head was swirling a bit from the noisy street, the different smells and the many colors of the buildings.  There were also some poor folks who were suffering from polio that were panhandling on the sides of the streets. There were others just laying there who looked completely fine but was also panhandling.  They politely smiled up at us and then requested money for food. It was very hard to pass by and not stop and give them anything.   

Our trip to India was to mainly visit the following companies:  Sankar Netralaya (Eye Hospital; Healthcare), Larsen and Tubro (L&T) (Engineering; Heavy Machinery; Manufacturing), Cognizant (Software; IT; Services), Hyundai (Automotive; Manufacturing; Assembly Plant), Airtel (Services; Telecomm).  We also visited with, and had a class at, the NBL School and were well received by our host school.

The most interesting company that I visited was the Sankara Nethralaya charitable eye hospital in Chennai.  It’s a not- for- profit hospital that performs numerous eye surgeries daily to both Indians and foreigners.  What impressed me most was the mobile hospital which consisted of two huge buses that were totally retrofitted with all of the equipment that is needed to perform eye surgeries.  The mobile hospital is used to reach and serve poor people in some of the most remote regions of India.  Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital is known for their affordable eye care and great research and other services that they provide to the poor.

Another fascinating place that was not on our list but was quite thrilling was the Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple in New Delhi.  It was the last day of the trip and the temple was about an hour away from the hotel.  We were by now so accustom to traveling for long hours that we did not notice that we had arrived.  The bus pulled up on the side of the street and to our left we saw these beautiful structures and well manicured compound that looked totally out of place.  The magnificent architecture looked like something out of an Ali Baba movie.  I could not believe my eyes. I was smiling from ear to ear.  The site was truly breathtaking.  I could not wait to get in because we were told that the true beauty was inside.  Well, we all had to wait for about three quarters of an hour for them to open. We finally got in and ventured to the main building. I could not help but notice that the air was clean compared to the other places we had visited.  After leaving our shoes at the “shoe drop”, which was quite the norm, we headed into the magnificent building.

Words cannot explain and no cameras were allowed inside so one definitely must visit. You must experience the splendor of it all for yourself.  It’s like trying to explain going through some of the rides at one of the Disneyland attraction a hundred times over.  You just can’t. The lawns were well manicured, the people were very pleasant, the statues and exhibits were meticulous. There was gold everywhere.  I felt very calm and wanted to just sit and absorb all that I was experiencing.  This was the one place that I visited in India that even now, I can actually close my eyes and hear the water running and feel the breeze on my face.  I truly enjoyed the experience and would like to revisit with my family. It was well worth the trip and the wait. I know the Taj Mahal is highly rated but one must also add the Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple to their bucket list.

Although there was a lot of poverty around us it did not seem to bother the natives.  There was always someone on the streets either wearing pretty Saris and Dhoti or not dressed appropriately at all.  People just side stepped the poor folks on the ground. Everywhere I looked I saw people sleeping on the sides of the street or panhandling.  The lovely beach strip was blocked and littered with shanty homes that even had lights and water running to them. This seemed to be the norm for poor people to live this way.  It was heartbreaking.  I actually inquired about the living conditions and was told that the government do supply homes to the poor people but some of them would sell their homes and go right back to living in a shanty.  There must be some way that the government could stop them from selling their apartments or charge the ones who purchased and are living in the apartments.  

My most memorable time in India happened on our way to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal.  I got sick on the bus.  My stomach was not doing well again.  It kept swelling up and I kept burping like crazy.  I had taken some over the counter stuff but it was not working. I had to inform the group.  The bus pulled over and we were able to find a pharmacy and a doctor’ office.  The doctor’s office was unlike any other that I’ve ever seen. It was actually a hole in the wall but seemed efficient. He was just finishing up with another patient when we walked in and he was able to assist.  He was very attentive. The first thing he did was take my blood pressure and then he started asking a lot of questions.  He then gave me some pills and told me in an Indian accent to stay away from the highly seasoned foods.  One of my classmates had run over to the pharmacy and had also picked up some other medication.  I took everything.  I wanted to just make the sensation stop.  This trip was getting harder for me.  I love Indian food and was looking forward to the authentic Indian food but I was told that I needed to stop eating it.  For the rest of the trip I ate mainly plain white rice and the Granola bars which I had brought with me. 

What an experience!  Even though I had a bad stomach my visit to India was fantastic.   The trip was well planned for us to experience a little bit of everything in a short space of time.  The WMBA program team and NMS really thought of it all.  We were actually able to visit six different industries where we met and conversed with professionals such as the CEO and Executives and were well respected. We experienced north and south India through a world wind sightseeing tour and we were able to visit some of the greatest places on the earth.  Two of the places from my bucket list, The Taj Mahal and the Bahá'í Lotus temple, were scratched off. I also must say that I enjoyed eating the delicious food on the banana leaf and a variety of delicious Indian cuisine but that’s another story.  I could not have planned a better trip and pulled it off without losing anyone.  Thanks to my cohort and the many host that made it all possible.

Friday, September 7, 2012

India: A study in contrast

An opulent Sheraton hotel that would not be out of place in Las Vegas… less than a mile and half from a beach where people live in cardboard slums.  Roads shared by all manner of conveyance – including ox- and camel-drawn carts, and ultra-luxury automobiles.  An eye hospital whose community outreach cataract surgery recovery room reminded me of a World War II-era ward, but whose surgical techniques and technological equipment are cutting-edge and world-class.  The peaceful reflection of the Bahá'í Lotus temple contrasting with the teeming crowds of T. Nagar shopping area. 

These dichotomies are not out-of-place in the chaotic miasma that is modern India.  While visiting, I was continually reminded of all the extremes that exist in our world.  For example, we visited the Nissan/Renault plant and marveled at the modern efficiencies of the line operations in the same week that India experienced the most massive power outage ever to occur in the world.  From what I observed, the Indian people embrace and plan for differences with a flexibility and grace that is admirable.  On returning to the US, I was surprised that people here were more concerned about the blackout than those experiencing it! 

One thing that was consistent, though, was the focus on relationships evidenced through the hospitality we experienced and each company’s emphasis customer service.  I was quite impressed by Cognizant’s 2-in-a-box and 3-in-a-box models, where they include relationship support with the businesses where consultants are placed instead of just sending the technical employees in on their own.  By reaching out and trying to understand the customers’ businesses, Cognizant has been able to grow their relationships beyond short-term contracts into highly sustainable growth. 

While I may never visit India again, I will take these lessons with me and appreciate even more some of the stability we take for granted here.

O India!

O India!  To be honest, India is not a place I would ever have considered visiting, but the experience proved to be a great learning lesson, not just from the business perspective, but also from the humanistic.

At  first glance, your senses are bombarded by noise, crowding, pollution, smells, and chaos.  Audible, tangible, and visual chaos.  We were quite appropriately warned that if we cherish our systematic organization, we should be prepared for a shock when we entered India.  That couldn’t have been more accurate.  An activity as mundane and routine as crossing the roadway was an out-of-culture experience!

However, Indian culture also thrives on and demonstrates profound hospitality and polite manner.  Personally, I was not prepared for the level of service afforded to us on a daily basis, from our National Management School hostess that took us immediately under her wing to guide us through a crowded and disorienting early morning airport arrival in Chennai, to the daily assistance from practically every Indian citizen encountered. 

At our company site visits, we were able to see a more Westernized organization and calm to a degree.  Upon entry into L&T InfoTech’s massive and beautiful facilities, it was evident that the class was in for a treat.   From the very first contact with the company hostess, who was expecting us and received us with sincere interest and hospitality, to the final question and answer session in one of the modern classrooms, to the tour of the executive access only skywalk, company representatives and executives treated us to a professional and enjoyable experience and gave us a look inside a premier Indian engineering company.

In parallel with other observations of the country in general, L&T offered examples of service orientation, hospitality, innovation, creativity, flexibility, adaptability and cultural tolerance.

The concept of  collectivism  was evident in the call center we visited.  In cubicle spaces typically occupied by one person in America, Indian people tended to sit closer together, and occupy two to a space.  I saw many empty cubicles, and those with occupants always had two or more employees collaborating, discussing, or just working together.   In sharp contrast to the collectivist social norm of India where people are used to dealing with and adapting to the chaos of masses packed into precious small space, Americans tend to cherish and occupy more personal space.  Rarely will you see an American work cubicle environment where people choose to work together in close quarters for any length of time.  This affinity for collectivism is what makes the Indian culture ideal for workers that thrive in a team work environment.  Collaboration is expected and welcomed,  tolerance is inherent and adaptability is the norm. 

Another memorable site visit was to the community eye care clinic.  It quickly became evident that compassion, free care for the impoverished community, and world class quality in the provision of that care are indeed possible.  I’ve never seen a more organized, well run clinic environment, where clients could expect the same level of service (or better) than that would be found in a fee-for-service private health care provider’s office.

While the chaos and disparities are perhaps the noisiest memories, the biggest learning lesson to come home with me is that we have much to learn.  Societal norms already in place in a country with a massive population, young and upcoming professionals, and a developing education system all equate to great potential for business.  As more and more business and global economy enters India, and with the right pace of implementation and sustainability,  the better for business and for the country of India.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Diverse India

Diverse India-
Though I am of Indian Origin, I have visited few places in South India. I realize difference between northern & southern India as we visited 2-cities which are extreme end of country -Delhi, in North & Chennai in South of India. Our visit to India began in Southern India- Chennai (earlier called Madras), Tamil Nadu, where English & Tamil are preferred language than Hindi, the national language. Most of conversation with auto driver, sales men at street would be in English, since most of us did not know Tamil.

Indian being secularism, one can see different religion being practiced and different religious worship places close to each other.

Shopping experience is always great in India as one can see crowd of people shopping all time with feeling of festival every day. Shops were filled with customer all time and did not feel of any economy slowdown . We  could visit and see the famous silk cloth stores -Nalli & Sundari in Chennai. Most of South India Silk is produced in Kancheepuram is also known as 'Silk City,  which is close to Chennai. It is amazing to see big departmental store, store of specialty goods, small shops and street hawkers selling different goods. Walking in crowd and traffic is also great experience.

During  our trip we visited companies having local & global presence from different sector - Nissan-Renault-Automative industry, L&T Construction- Heavy Engineering & Construction & L&t Infotech &  Cognizant-IT Software, Sankara Nethralaya - Eye Hospital in Chennai & AirTel- Telocom company in Delhi.

Chennai, India is similar to Detroit, US with large automotive companies from Nissan-Renault, Ashok Leyland, BMW, Daimler,Hindustan Motors,Ford, Hyundai, Mitsubishi,Royal Enfield,TAFE Tractors having manufacturing & assembly plants because of its strategic location to India coastal region, Sea Port and huge supply of Engineering graduate, skilled labor.

Engineer at  Nissan-Renault mentioned that most of the automotive parts are provided by local supplier in Chennai help their production and roll-out new model every 4-month. Their market being African, European & Indian market which helps company in sound economic position is today's global economy slowdown.

Introduction and showcase of projects completed and L&T really amazed me as L&T is able to deliver to India economy. L&T Heavy engineering & Construction
involved in important government work like dams, road, power plant, aerospace and specialty industrial equipment manufacturing. L&T though expand several area, its main revenue comes from construction business in India helping country infrastructure requirement. Some projects like rods, bridges and power supply are delivered on BOT concept - Build, Own till recover cost e.g toll on highway and transfer to India highway Authority/government.

Visit to Cognizant, IT company was not new to me, but help me understand company's effort to be global software consultant companies.
Visit to Airtel, Delhi- company from Communication sector was different for me. With huge demand for growth in India & African Nation, communication industry
in India has great potential

My most liked company visit was Sankara Nethralaya also known as 'The Temple of the Eye' not-for-profit charitable Eye Hospital in Chennai, India. They perform more than 100 eye surgeries giving vision to rich & poor at their facility in country. The center also has mobile hospital developed with help of engineers from IIT, Chennai, which is use to provide service in remote region of country. They are able to manage their research, eye care, hospital and other services and low affordable cost to poor people.

Meeting with CEO's & other executives of different companies in Chennai, India at Corporate Dinner at Surana & Surana facility arranged by NMS was also great experience to know some insight of corporate world. We were able to interact different executive one-on-one during dinner.

Visits to famous church in Chennai, Tomb of  Mogul, Akbar the great- at Sikandra, Taj Mahal-Agra, Modern-Lotus Temple, Delhi The Baha'i House of Worship (bulid by L&T Construction, Akshardham Temple in Delhi.

Our trip really include diverse experience with - Company visits of different industrial sector, sightseeing places of different religion, difference experience of south & north  people of India & food variety.

Thanks to  to Sankaran Raghunathan, Sundari from NMS, Prof:Sanjay, Prof:Don Purdy,Prof:Ray, team of Cohort Class of 2013 and other for making India Trip a wonderful experience.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Civics and Corporate Social Responsibility - this Missing Piece?

I considered myself to be “international” in thinking. In fact, I was quite excited when Don Purdy shared that we were going to India. I have traveled abroad on a few occasions and looked forward to a place vastly different from western culture. I am worldly – I mean I love Indian food and exploring different cultures. Sounds like the statement of a middle class ethnocentric American, which is exactly what I turned out to be.

The preparation for this trip started months before our departure – applying for a visa, vaccinations, medications, learning about the people and international business practice. This is peppered with enticing thoughts of the Taj Mahal, gold leafed Hindu temples and the pull of an exotic culture that you believe to be so vastly different from western lifestyle.  In addition, we hear about the exploding middle class in India and how their economy is one of the fastest growing in the world.  All of these things together provide context for our visit.  However, none of this prepares you for the shock of being on the ground inside a country with the second largest population in the world.

My first two days of observing the environment, culture and people was overwhelming. It was a mix of excitement for being some place different with sadness for what I perceived as a government failing to support its people. Where is the prosperity we heard about, the middle class, neighborhoods and sidewalks? The problem was, I needed to shift my thinking about what living actually was to other people. That middle class didn’t equal suburbia and SUV’s.

Chennai, our first destination, is a city that lacks infrastructure, clean water, refuse containment and adequate housing.  My first day walking around the city, I was startled by the children and women begging in the street – not just for money but for food as well. The crumbling roads and sidewalks as well as the garbage on the streets seemed surreal. It was difficult to understand how this could be the case. Yet, a short ride out of town and a turn into a technology park and one sees state-of-the-art structures and corporations. World leaders in industry – Infosys, L&T, TaTa, just to name a few. These are the corporations earning hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, in revenue.

Visiting several of these corporations and meeting company leadership was a great aspect of the trip. We had the opportunity to ask questions about human resource policy, finance, management practice and market strategy, however something I thought needed further discussion was corporate social responsibility. I struggled with this, how could I ask a question about the community and its condition without sounding condescending or ethnocentric? What responsibility do these corporations have to support the local community? It was difficult to know.

L&T created a public relations museum about their company, about innovation and infrastructure, about engineering and giving back to the community. Upon examining their examples of giving back, one can see their local investments as “shallow”. Some examples of giving back to the community included: sponsoring a cricket match; building a daycare for their workers; hosting company gatherings; and giving to name the wing of a hospital. Without the latter, all other examples do not improve the lives of those in the community who are not employees. How is a company like L&T, that builds water purification plants, airports, bridges, etc., thrive in a community where clean drinking water is not available? Support for energy and infrastructure were not examples of their contributions to the community nor was food or affordable housing.

There seems to be a disconnection between the haves and have-nots in India. Those who are educated and fortunate to be educated and working are taken care of by corporations – they receive pay that raises their standard of living and in some cases housed, fed or transported to and from the corporations. But those who are seen as have-nots, are not supported by robust social services. One did not see many not-for-profits nor heard about government programs that support individuals who do not have food, water or shelter. The second-fastest growing economy in the world can’t provide services or won’t?

There are several reasons far beyond my understanding that create this environment, but one can make a few observations. First, there are so many people that even the government could not tackle the need of the vast numbers. Second, the poor and middle-class of India have a strong dislike for politicians. Very few vote in elections and therefore one might believe that politicians would not pay attention to these members of society. Third, there is a saying of “live and let live” about the people of India. If one is born into a poorer life that is one’s lot in life and an effort to move you out of that social class is not important. And finally, unlike business in the United States, there is not pressure by peer corporations to invest in communities to compete for business.

The last thought on this subject of CSR or corporate responsibility came from a student at the National Management School. He commented that in order for India to move forward, to stop the brain drain to other countries or to entice industry leaders, researchers, entrepreneurs to come to India, their needs to be a sense of civics  - civics in terms of how people relate their lives to their communities, towns and regions. The sense that by investing in one’s community is investing in the future is not imbedded in India’s culture.  It is this missing piece – the social responsibility and civics – that will need to change for India to solidify its place as a leader in the global economy.  

Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital ... the Temple of the Eye!

“What strikes me most about India is not the tremendous difference between wealth and poverty which exists in our country, the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest but more than that, the gap between the sublime nobility of character on one hand and the total degradation on the other. This strikes me as the most glaring contrast about India.  When I come to an institution as this it replenishes my faith in the future of India.  It makes me feel that I am in the midst of human beings who are human and who will one day make this country proud by their dedication, by their sense of discipline and by service to their fellow men.” - Speech delivered by Late Sri Nani A Palkhivala (Eminent Jurist & Former Indian Ambassador to the USA
Our journey and adventure through India was filled with rich experiences.  The richest and most humbling experience that I had was our visit to Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital, which means “Temple of the Eye”.  Back in 1976 Dr. Sengamedu Srinivasa Badrinath, an ophthalmologist native to India who did his residency in the US, decided to take the road less traveled upon.  Dr. Badrinath could have lived the American dream as defined in modern American culture; instead he lived his own dream, to make a difference in the world, to help his fellow countrymen, and to dedicate his life to all of human kind through his expertise in the field of ophthalmology.
When you think of some of the most selfless people in human history names like Gandhi and Mother Theresa come to mind.  For me the image and name of Dr. S.S. Badrinath is now included.
What is impressive to me is that Sankara Nethralaya is not just a charity to help the poor, disabled, and less fortunate.  Rather it is an institution created to sustain its own existence by having a for profit pillar of the organization where the profits are used to serve those that cannot pay for eye care and surgeries and in addition to that to produce world class research and technology.
During our visit to Sankara Nethralaya we witnessed eye care being delivered in a more advanced and sophisticated way compared to the United States.  Sankara Nethralaya pushes the limits to meet the needs of the patients they serve by developing a high tech mobile surgery unit comprised of two vans where cataract surgeries could be performed in remote areas of India where there is no power, clean water, or clean air.  The barriers they were able to overcome to do this are impressive.
Articulating the challenges that Sankara Nethralaya and the entire country of India face when it comes to eye care can be summed up in a few “eye opening” statements:
Ø  There is one eye doctor per 900,000 Indians
Ø  60% of the blind in the world live in India (India accounts for 1/5 of the world’s population)
Ø  One major issue that Indians have is that they don’t have access to eye care in rural India because they cannot afford to get transportation to a major city for eye care.  The cost of transportation is $1.20 USD, equivalent to one day’s pay!
Ø  Educating people of the symptoms and need for eye care
Ø  Fundraising & Resources
As we pulled away in our tour bus from the nano bio-technology research center I thought to myself how this one man’s life work has made a positive difference in the lives of so many people.  His selflessness and dedication to a good cause is to be truly admired.  He is a real hero.  The visit to Sankara Nethralaya was an excellent experience for me to reflect on my purpose in life, how I can give more, and what I can do to make a positive difference in the world each and every day.
A living HERO ... Dr S. S. Badrinath

Nani A Palkhivala
Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital “Temple of the Eye”
Below: Patients rest in the free eye clinic after surgery
Below: Sankara Nethralaya Research Center

Below: Dr S. S. Badrinath speaks to the U Albany MBA group

Below: Here I am sitting on an exam table in the free eye clinic manufacturered by Janak a medical equipment manufacturer in Mumbai that the company I work for purchased back in 2009.  A perfect example of having a "personal connection" regardless if you are 31 hours from home on the other side of the world.
Below: picture of a man with a vision disablity begging on the side of the road.  every person in the 3 minutes that i saw him gave him some money.
Below: we met in the waiting room of the free clinic to have a round table discussion about Sankara Nethralaya
While the (orange) building is not related to Sankara Nethralaya it is a great image of the high end eye care clinic and ultra modern architecture that you come across in India.  The other picture is literally right next door to this building.  How about that for contrast!