Over the past two years, I’ve been cranking away on my MBA at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. I’m almost finished (cheers to that!) and to cap it off, had the wonderful opportunity to travel abroad for a first-hand glimpse of how business is done in other parts of the world. Given its importance as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, as well as my exposure to the many multi-national firms in RTP, I chose to pack my bags for India and the UAE!
I LOVED my time in India. I didn’t know what to expect, so everything (the food, the clothes, the people, the culture) was fascinating. We started in Delhi and ended up in a small city on the southwest coast called Kochi. The difference between the two areas is similar to the difference between Manhattan and the mountains of North Carolina…two totally different worlds. Along the way, we visited a number of companies, and had the opportunity to talk with Indian businessmen and women who themselves had worked in the US at some point in their career. Their perspective was invaluable.
From a business perspective, the country represents a huge opportunity simply due to the sheer number of potential consumers. However, it was clear as we were driving around that an enormous amount of infrastructure development must take place in order to reach the currently unreachable. India’s main roads are congested (there really are cows everywhere), rural areas have poor access, urban areas are seriously constrained and railways and airports are at capacity. Currently a powerful barrier to economic development, the lack of physical infrastructure is slowly being transformed into a massive opportunity via public-private partnerships.
While meeting with GMR Group, the infrastructure enterprise that is paving the way for the development of the Delhi International Airport, I learned of the word “jugar.” In Spanish, this means “to play”, but in India, the word means “to come up with a creative solution for a problem through whatever means necessary, an innovation of desperation.” This is the spirit of innovation! I never would have understood this without visiting India in person, but “jugar” is everywhere. The infrastructure challenges are staggering, but amazing things are happening in crowded, barely air-conditioned offices on every corner. The philosophy of jugar reminds me of what must have been in the hearts of the leaders of North Carolina in the 1950s as the vision for the Research Triangle Park developed – the desperation that brings about the greatest of innovations.
From India we traveled to Dubai. I was stunned by the stark contrast between the two countries. Wealth practically seeps out of the sand in Dubai! Culturally, the dichotomy between, and peaceful coexistence of, traditional Arab culture and imported western culture is striking.
From an economic standpoint, the transformation of the city over the past 2 decades is wild! Dubai’s openness towards resources and human capital from around the world has effectively turned the city into the port of entry for the Middle East. During a dune bashing escapade (yes, we did have some fun) I asked our driver about growing up in Dubai and the changes he witnessed as the city rose out of the desert. In his mid-thirties, he casually noted that when he was a young boy, he and his family were still traveling throughout the UAE on camel-back. My jaw dropped and he laughed– reconciling that image with the super swanky skyline of Dubai today was nearly impossible.
Economic development in the UAE works practically like clockwork. In addition to financial resources, the country benefits from having a small set of consistent ruling families with one vision, which has effectively skyrocketed select areas (Abu Dhabi, Dubai) through the development process. From a business perspective, the UAE’s regulatory environment is well streamlined. All business ventures must be sponsored by a local Emirati family (out of the 9 million people living and working in Dubai, only 1 million are Emiratis), and while it takes a lot of research and time to build effective relationships and connections, the process appears transparent. There are rules that must be followed, and people abide by the rules in order to make their businesses succeed.
All in all the trip was a fantastic experience because I learned the things you just can’t get out of a book. I encourage anyone with a similar opportunity to take it!