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The Indian Entrepreneurial Spirit

Jun 11, 2016 | Entrepreneurship

Anyone who lives or has spent considerable time in the UAE is well aware of the contribution of Indian entrepreneurs in the country and across the Gulf. These entrepreneurs have indeed played a significant role in the development of the economies in the region, and so in this article, we take a closer look at the particular business mindset and ambition behind it all.

Let’s start back home with the present economy of India, whose entrepreneurs are in fact making their country the fastest-growing one in the world, set to outpace even China. This year the Indian economy is expected to grow by 7.5% according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a figure that will continue its rapid rise in the coming years.

The business and entrepreneurial spirit of the country is certainly at the foundation of this growth. India has a booming startup ecosystem fuelled on a potent mix of generous funding and emerging technology. Indians are encouraged and nurtured to compete in business, with bold initiatives like StartUp India – launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January 2016 – providing investment for startups, a lowering of patent fees, a reduction of red tape, and a long list of other carefully thought-out measures to remove barriers and encourage the entrepreneurial commitment.

As at December 2015, eight Indian startups were part of the billion-dollar valuation “Unicorn Club”.

Such approaches have added a great deal of incentive to an already buzzing environment for those who are considering new ventures. For example, in 2014 there were 3,100 startups in India, and according to the Economic Survey of 2015-2016 there are now around 19,000 technology-enabled startups. And to be clear, some of these startups are already major global players: According to the report, as of December 2015, eight of these belonged to the “Unicorn Club” (startups valued at $1 billion and upwards).

Success at Home and Away

As I touched on at the outset of the article, that Indian entrepreneurial spirit is extending itself far beyond its own borders. Indian entrepreneurs are indeed doing what they do at home equally impressively when they move countries.

For example, there’s a disproportionately large number of Indians working as CEOs in foreign headquarters for Fortune Global 500 companies – an export of talent that India is rightly proud of.

If we look more closely at the United States, we see some very interesting stats as well. It was recently reported by the National Foundation for American Policy that India leads in terms of the number of immigrant founders who have forged billion dollar companies in 2016.

And currently making headlines for their skilled leadership at two of the world’s biggest companies are Indian-born Sundar Pichai, Google’s current CEO, and Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO.

Now back to our part of the world, there are so many examples of Indian-born captains of industry that it’s hard to narrow the list down to a handful of key players. But for a glance at the cream of the crop we can take a peek at the Forbes list, compiling top Indian leaders in the UAE. Among these we see M.A.Yusuff Ali, Managing Director of LuLu Group. Ali, who relocated to the UAE in 1974, is now the 24th wealthiest Indian in the world. Another giant who excels in retail is Micky Jagtiani, Chairman of the Landmark Group, a major player dealing in a range of goods from home furnishings to fashion. And of course there is B.R. Shetty, founder of UAE Exchange and NMC Health, who has a stake in just about everything from education to FMCG to IT and beyond.

In the United States, India leads in terms of the number of immigrant founders that have forged billion dollar companies.

The list goes on and on. From P.N.C. Menon to Sunny Varkey to Azad Moopen – just about every major sector in the Gulf has an Indian personality leading in some capacity.

Making Business a Lifestyle

So what’s in the DNA of Indian business that has the right stuff to make a company not only work but truly excel? This of course is very hard to pinpoint and in many ways becomes a bit of a philosophical discussion, so better to simply look at some of the key aspects of the Indian business culture and see what sort of insight that may give us.

For starters, Indian entrepreneurs are, broadly speaking, highly networked with individuals they feel are relevant to their company, and they tend to do business with people they like and get on with on a personal level. Following on this is a certain “politeness” or “respect” required in etiquette. For instance, outright saying “no” can be regarded as rude, and helping each other out professionally – as one would a friend – is very common.

And so whereas in some countries and cultures there is a clear line between work and friendships or close relationships, in India it’s common to blur this line. It’s not considered inappropriate to discuss family, to mix business with pleasure, and to make business relationships also personal relationships. In a similar way that family businesses often get by in whatever economic climate surrounds them, entrepreneurs who use warmth, genuine connection, and who gravitate to positive relationships can fare well by creating a support network built on this type of trust and rapport.

Whereas in some countries there is a clear line between work and friendships or close relationships, in India it’s common to blur this line.

Another major factor in the success of the business culture is that results are seen as everything – sometimes beyond process. In working with Indian directors you may have noticed that being almost “ruthlessly” goal-driven is a big part of building the company. After all, there’s no point in compromising on what you are aiming for, and no one benefits when goals are missed.

There is also the Indian work ethic, which is often the true definition of grit and stamina. Perhaps this links in with that goal-oriented behavior, where the mindset is not about “trying your best”, but rather “doing what is necessary”. And while working beyond the 9-5 is very much the norm across all employee levels, the stamina and persistence of the Indian business manager is legendary, with 60+ hour work weeks all too common.

Embrace business fully

It’s hard not to be reminded of that very common question: “Do you live to work or work to live?” For those wishing to go it on their own and build their own companies, the advice should probably be “make your work a part of your life and your life a part of your work.” And while fair to say that focusing on the business success of any single culture can open up the doors for a good amount of debate, with reference to making the choice to have your work be a big part of your life, the ambitious entrepreneur can certainly take a page from the playbook of many of those highly successful Indian entrepreneurs.

In other words, perhaps don’t force the work-life separation out of fear that you will be living to work. Rather, find the balance that allows you to seamlessly integrate your work into the patterns of life – not making it a separate challenge from everything else going on, but rather making it part of the overall challenge. I think this is the best way to comprehend one of the key success factors of the Indian entrepreneurial mindset, and one that can be applied to the success of any entrepreneur who is willing to commit to the cause of charting his or her own path in the world of business.

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