Cutting through the complexities of doing business in India – a country of paradoxes

By Sunit Jilla, intercultural expert, Farnham Castle Intercultural Training

India has become a prime target for FTSE 100 companies – with British companies such as JCB (J C Bamford Excavators Ltd) reaping the benefits of conducting business in this land of contrasts.

Ranked 14 out of 189 countries by the World Bank for ease of doing business, India is a country in transition and is effectively several countries in one. It has 22 languages and, of its 1.2 billion rising population in 29 states, about 45 per cent are aged 15-25.

A paradox in which the modern and traditional co-exist – and where extreme wealth sits alongside abject poverty – being open minded and understanding and respecting religious and regional cultural diversities are vital for UK companies seeking to trade there.

India’s wealth of opportunities for western countries includes investing in recycling and water sanitation and setting up call centres. Although Hindi is the national language, English is most commonly spoken in business.

Follow these tips to maximise the wealth of trading opportunities:

  1. Hospitality and family are very important and it is very important to build trust with your Indian hosts. Business contacts and colleagues will expect you to develop relationships with them and their families, and not rush straight into business dealings
  2. India is very status driven – hierarchy plays an important part so find out who is senior and who is junior and who is expected to speak at business meetings
  3. Indians like to save face and will convey messages without trying to cause offence. This may make communication challenging so ask open questions to find out exactly what is being said
  4. India’s infrastructure is struggling to cope with its rising population so don’t expect to be able to schedule multiple meetings due to logistics challlenges
  5. Expect delays and be patient – time is viewed differently in India so you need to be flexible. If a meeting overruns it is considered disrespectful to leave before it has finished
  6. Practice your negotiation skills – negotiating is an integral part of  the Indian culture where challenging everything from hospital fees to the price of vegetables is expected
  7. Be prepared for bureaucracy – everything takes longer than in the West
  8. India is a very diverse country in transition, so be prepared to change your views and avoid a ‘one size fits all’ stance. Whether dealing with Microsoft or the government, adapt your approach accordingly
  9. Never underestimate the role of religion. Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism and Jainism are the main faiths and it critical to remember and respect key festivals such as Eid, Ramadan and Diwali
  10. Be aware of the thriving Indian caste system, even though it’s unlikely that you will come across it in professional dealings, it is still prevalent in traditional Indian culture

For more information call +44 (0)1252 720419 or visit

Sectors: Education & Training
Countries: India
Topics: Getting Started
Export Action Plan