By Randall Mang
Mumbai – India may be one of the world’s warmest cultures, but when it comes to talking business, overflowing hospitality can quickly give way to sharp questions.
That was one of the lessons learned on day-one of a five-day trade mission led by the Information Technologies Association of Canada (ITAC). Supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and EDC, the week-long mission put nine Canadian small and medium sized companies in front of a host of India’s largest enterprises in three cities: Mumbai, Bangalor and Dheli.
Events kicked off January 19 at downtown Mumbai’s Taj Vivanta hotel where Consul General Richard Bale and representatives of DFATD, EDC, ITAC and Ontario’s trade office offered insight into India’s complex business environment and rising trade opportunities.
Ottawa-based technology entrepreneur and India trade expert Raj Narula, who put the mission itinerary together with ITAC, described painful lessons he learned on his initial foray into India in the early 1990s. More important, Narula pointed out that since then India’s business climate has come a long way. He says with commitment and the right partners on the ground, India is ripe with opportunity for Canadian firms.
Bringing cost efficient goods and services to India’s 1.25 billion people is just part of a national business plan that is expected to see India’s economy maintain a 5.5 per cent to 8 per cent growth trajectory over the coming years. The magnitude of that concept is brought home to us through a visit to telecom giant Reliance Jio, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited, India’s largest integrated private-sector firm.
Following a one-hour bus ride through Mumbai’s vast suburbs, highways and slums, we arrived at Reliance Jio’s sprawling campus, which is stunning both in its scope and modernity. Here, the company is preparing to roll out its pan-India 4G broadband Long-Term Evolution (LTE) wireless services. This high-speed digital backbone will soon deliver a plethora of wireless services in the education, security, finance, entertainment and other sectors.
Earlier this year, EDC struck a landmark $500-million financing arrangement with Reliance to help Jio fund its expansion plans. The loan has a repayable term of 10 years and encourages Reliance to extend opportunities to qualified Canadian suppliers. So far, Reliance has issued over $300 million of contracts to Canadian business that made the grade.
Our Reliance hosts extend the utmost hospitality, including a hearty lunch of vegetarian cuisine served in the campus restaurant, where all employees dine. Afterwards, it’s time to get down to business.
Seated across the table from 10 senior-level Reliance Jio purchasing agents and department heads, each Canadian firm is given three minutes to deliver a pitch. The services offered are varied – construction management software, VOIP technology, and data mining and reporting, among them.
Questions and answers are exchanged rapidly as Jio’s team politely probes and assesses offers one by one.
A presentation by an Ottawa-based software firm that provides real-time monetization and subscriber management software to companies including Telus, T-Mobile and Vodafone, grabs the Jio team’s attention.
The session quickly heats up, transforming the room into a scene from Dragons’ Den. Several Jio decision makers pointedly challenge the presenting firm’s representatives who hold their ground by offering crisp answers. When the questions subside, everyone in the room breathes with audible relief.
Shortly afterwards, the Canadian company receives the word: they have been invited back for second round. Their account manager isn’t celebrating yet. While he is relieved that his team passed round one, he says that winning Jio’s business will be a journey.
Exportwise is a publication of Export Development Canada