Delhi, Day 5-6: Speakers galore

I’m always humbled by the quality of guest speakers we are treated to as part of the CCMBA program.  It’s clear that the program staff and administrators really take their time in courting truly significant leaders in global business, rather than just chasing current “big names” in business/management.  While there’s nothing wrong with “big name” speakers per se (hearing Paul Volcker speak was probably the highlight of my time at the University of Delaware), I love the fact that the guest speakers chosen for our program are as approachable as they are impressive.

Hari Rajagopalachari – PricewaterhouseCoopers

Mr. Rajagopalachari started off day five with a discussion of the ‘facts’ of India.  I was impressed by the breadth of information provided, not only on CIA World Factbook type of information, but also cross-country comparisons.  Specifically, the discussion of “demographic dividend” India is experiencing was very informative.  It’s one thing to talk about how India is a relatively ‘young’ country in terms of the working-age population, but seeing the graphs of India vs. Japan vs. United States really drove the point home.  The slide showed that if you plot age (older on top, younger at bottom), India today looks like a ‘normal’ pyramid, with the base being the high number of younger workers.  Contrast that with the United States which is a bit top-heavy (the Baby Boomer generation), and Japan which is extremely top-heavy (due to negative population growth).   These charts show that India has an amazing opportunity for growth in the next several decades, but also will need to figure out whatever social programs they will be implementing before their demographic distribution starts looking like the U.S. or Japan.  If precautions aren’t taken, and programs well thought out, India would face the same problems that Social Security in the U.S. is currently facing, where there aren’t enough young people to sustain the math of the payout structure.

I really wish I had taken a picture of that slide…

Nandan Nilekani – Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDIA)

Nandan Nilekani

After reading Imagining India by Mr. Nilekani, I was greatly looking forward to this presentation, and he did not disappoint!  The majority of the speech discussed the issues that India is currently facing in moving toward “developed country” status, as well as the opportunities that India’s “demographic dividend” presents.  Mr. Nilekani was also gracious enough to answer a fair number of questions from the class, of which quite a few were about the Unique Identification project that India is currently trying to implement.

One of the things that’s hard to appreciate about how difficult the Unique Identification project will be to implement is defining who exactly is a citizen of India.  From my topical understanding of the project, I hadn’t thought about how you actually screen 1 billion people to determine who should be able to collect benefits as citizens, and who should be excluded.  Given the magnitude of that type of analysis, I think the strategy that the UIDIA is pursuing in enumerating everyone first makes a lot of sense.  Giving everyone a number in the beginning, then sorting out citizenship status, cannot be any worse fiscally than the current situation of not being able to uniquely identify anyone!

Listening to the discussion of the Unique ID, and the parallels of this project to the Social Security Number in the U.S., I’ve got a new appreciation of how lucky the U.S. was to implement the Social Security Number before anyone understood how important the number would later become.  While the S.S. number was never meant to be a unique identifier outside of providing Social Security benefits, it’s now the de facto means of identifying everyone in the U.S., and for the most part works quite well.  If the U.S. were to attempt something like this today, I have no doubt that partisanship and paranoia would keep the project from ever getting off the ground.

It will be interesting to see if/how India will be able to pull off the same feat.  All I can do is wish you well Mr. Nilekani, you’ve got a long road ahead of you!

Anoop Prakash – Harley-Davidson India

Anoop Prakash

Stanford undergraduate.  Marine.  Harvard Business School.  Consultant at McKinsey. Vice President at LexisNexis.  U.S. Small Business Administration.  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Listening to the introduction of Mr. Prakash, I damn near choked.  Here is a man who appears to be just a few years older than myself, yet has already has a career full of accomplishments and impressive companies on his resume.  Not to mention his current role as Managing Director of Harley-Davidson’s venture into India.  Needless to say, as if I wasn’t already interested in how Harley-Davidson was planning on entering India, Mr. Prakash’s resume gave me plenty of reasons to pay attention!

For an hour long presentation, this discussion seemed to end as quickly as it began.  Mr. Prakash discussed in detail Harley-Davidson’s strategy in entering India, “Pure Harley.  Pure India.”  More than just a marketing campaign, this slogan outlines Harley’s vision of bringing the “true” Harley experience to India, offering a full range of 12 motorcycles (with full-sized motors, no little scooters here!) at launch.  I found it very interesting how Harley isn’t attempting to straddle the line between being a very “American” phenomenon in terms of open-road leisure riding, guys wearing black leather, and making tons of noise to somehow changing that experience to somehow be more “Indian”.  Rather, Harley-Davidson is looking to maintain the same lifestyle branding as in the U.S., the same “Made in the U.S.A.” quality, while still showing respect to the burgeoning luxury market in India through marketing materials and communications.

Coming into the presentation, I had my own presumptions about the possibility for success of a brand like Harley-Davidson in India.  I mean, when problems with road infrastructure so obvious, who would buy a giant motorcycle?  It’s not like you can open up the engine inside the big cities, with a couple million people surrounding you!  Even if you could ride the bike to its limits, who in India can afford one (especially with the 100% foreign tariff applied)?  This was an ignorant viewpoint on my part apparently, as Mr. Prakash stated that there is something like 3.5mm kilometers of highway in India, and ‘a lot more money in India that’s unaccounted for than any of us can imagine.’  Well then, carry on Harley-Davidson!  Two-wheelers are very popular in India, due to the small size and low-price, but Harley is in a different league altogether and it will be interesting to see if India will embrace the ‘Leisure riding’ concept…

Atul Midha – Giorgio Armani

Atul Midha

I don’t know if by the evening of day six we were all getting punchy, or Mr. Midha just looked that good in his Armani suit, but when you see the MEN in the audience fawning over a male speaker, uh, something weird is going on.

Nevertheless, following on the heels of the presentation from Mr. Prakash about Harley Davidson, Mr. Midha spoke of a lot of the same concepts relative to the luxury market in India.  However, unlike Harley-Davidson, I think Armani’s entrance into the Indian market makes a whole lot more sense.  Yes, $3000+ suits and $800 shirts don’t necessarily seem to make sense in a market where you can have a local tailor custom fit a suit for 1/10th of the cost or Armani, but at the very least there’s potentially a market of 1 billion people who would like to wear nice clothes!

One interesting parallel between the Harley-Davidson and Armani presentations is the concept of massaging the Indian market to understand the brands as they stand today, rather than trying to modify the brands to be more “Indian”.  In the case of Armani, Mr. Midha spoke of Indian consumers coming in with bags full of cash, and yet still trying to procure a discount, if only 10%.  Discounting is something that would hurt brand perception as a luxury/status good, and thus is not done by Armani anywhere in the World.  Also discussed was the importance of having the full line of Armani available as in any other region of the world, with local retailers allowed to pick and choose between the lines to tailor to local tastes.  If the perception was that Armani was ‘dumping’ last year’s lines to India (or any other country), this would hurt brand perception around the world.  Both were interesting points to me, as fashion merchandising and marketing has never been something I’ve given too much thought to before!

Finally, as part of the Q&A session, questions about branding with respect to property development and other non-clothing avenues for Armani was raised.  With the Burj Khalifa now open in Dubai, and Armani having a huge presence in the building, the class was generally wondering if Armani was concerned about brand overexposure.  I was shocked to hear that Armani itself does not pursue these opportunities; rather, it’s consumer demand as a ‘lifestyle’ that has business partnerships presented to Armani.  It just goes to show, you might not be able to buy brand value like Armani currently holds, but you can definitely sell it!  And if you’re not careful, you become Ferrari, and embarrass yourself by putting your name on computer parts, watches, and anything and everything else!

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2 comments to Delhi, Day 5-6: Speakers galore

  • syed

    The Armani store in Delhi brought someone over from Paris to work the sales floor. The kind lady was gracious enough to talk to us at length and even told us that she had an MBA in luxury goods! needless to say I would be slightly disappointed if my MBA landed me a job as a sales representative for Armani in Riyadh. Then again, if I was doing my MBA in luxury goods that would be exactly the kind of job I would be looking for, maybe.

  • I don’t know…based on the cost of Armani, and working on commission, I bet salespeople can make a ton of money. Why strain yourself doing spreadsheets when you can hang out with famous/rich people all day, and make money just by telling them how good they look in an Armani suit!

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