Saturday, December 23, 2006

Vendor Hunting In India

When I met my old manager for lunch a few weeks ago, she had recently returned from a two week business trip to India. The agenda was to size up the different outsourcing vendors who were in the fray for a sizeable multi-year contract. The relationship with the current vendor was souring rapidly. I asked her about her impression of India and of the businesses that she had gone to assess for fit with the company's needs.

Most of the positives were around the great tradition of Indian hospitality and how she had been treated like a queen. Maybe that scored even higher than it would have otherwise done because she is African American. She must have been pleasantly surprised that our colonial hangover does not predispose us to elevate fair skin over dark.

I hated to burst her bubble by telling her about our national obsession with fairness and products that claim to enhance it. I did not tell her that desis are savvy enough to look past skin color when business deals are involved specially if the customer is a woman and a gorgeous one at that.

Being her first trip to the country, she had not known what to expect but having been able to fly too and fro between a number of cities left her impressed. She had not counted on travel within the country being as simple. She could not stop gushing over the hotels all of which were among the best in the city in question. Between airports, chauffeured cars and the swank office complexes, she had tasted the best slice of the Indian pie - she realized the experience had been far from holistic.

As far as the actual purpose of her trip, she was not quite sure if she had accomplished what she had set out to. The facilities had been visited, the big honchos and the line managers had been met with . Did she feel more comfortable about recommending one outfit over the other based on her on her impressions ? She did not know. She was considering making a follow-up trip in 2007. I asked her what the high points of her trip had been. "The food and the jewelry" was her immediate response. I noticed the three strand pearl necklace she had on. "I got this from Hyderabad" she told me.

She may fare better on the second trip if she is able to sift out the many distractions that India presents to a foreigner visiting for the first time.
Familiarity may however promote too intimate an understanding of the country and its unique challenges that could come in the way of dispassionate decision making.

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