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Friday, February 09, 2007

Tips to play in another country

A different country, a different situation but the underlying game and rules remain the same - be it in business or in sports. The expectations sometimes border on the unreasonable and its people who play up challenges and make it seem bigger than it really is. A game of cricket can become a much bigger issue, if emotions and political interests become vested in it. For instance, an India-Pakistan match can become a matter of national prestige instead of just remaining a game.

Former cricketer, Sanjay Manjrekar agreed, "It's a huge challenge for, I think people outside the cricketing world, I mean they perceive it to be the toughest and it's a huge challenge. But I can see Pakistanis being reasonably comfortable in India because it's very similar to Pakistan." The current Pakistan cricket team have a lot of fresh, and relatively inexperienced players, so "they they don't carry the emotional baggage that senior players would carry into India and they don't carry that intimidation. Kamran Akmal showed that in Mohali. He wasn't bogged down by India because he hardly had played against India. I think experienced leadership is important for Pakistan, because Pakistan as a team has always played well when they have a good leader. So perhaps that is where experience is lacking."

Lacking experience is not something that Indian corporates can complain about. They are racing across the world, in pursuit of good deals and acquiring companies on foreign soil. Is it culturally very difficult to operate in an alien environment? Chairman of Wockhardt Limited, Habil Khorakiwala told CNBC-TV18, "I think initially, the first acquisition, which we made 5-6 years back, we felt the cultural difference and it took us quite a while to understand how to manage a business."

"But since the two other acquisitions which we made, we find it very smooth going - for the simple reason that the process of management is the same, whether you operate in India or in Germany or in UK and as long as you follow a principle of management and establish a broad cultural identity of your organisation, I think it is possible to adapt to the social culture. I think organisational culture is quite distinctively different from the social culture that one operates in."

Learning more about local conditions and having inside knowledge will always help operate in an alien climate. Doing one's homework well helps. Khorakiwala explained, "Well I think our basic purpose of acquiring companies is to access the knowledge of that market from the people who are operating in that market. You know your product in your business but you still do not know the market you operate in. Therefore, it is extremely important to have people who have experience in that market."

Manjrekar agreed, "I think this is something that I have felt very often with Indian cricket. Suppose India is touring Australia. What's the harm in having a local Australian and a good student of Australian cricket or a good cricketer, who has been brought up in Australia, who knows the conditions in Australia well and is actually being employed as consultant to the Indian team."

He elaborated, "On a tour of Australia, he gives or reveals all the secrets of Australian conditions because there are a lot of basic mistakes that the visiting teams make. For example at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Steve Waugh won the toss and decided to field first because he had some local knowledge. Now the Australian team hadn't employed a consultant but they were willing to question the locals and the same can happen with the Pakistan team, when they came to India. They can know more about Mohali even before they leave Pakistan."

After studying your turf, so to speak, on which your going to battle it out. There could still be an air of uncertainty about how to take on domestic heavyweights. Khorakiwala said, "I think it's how you can look at it. If you feel that you are going to compete with them head on, I don't think anyone can really win."

"Therefore, one has to really work on a strategy and I call it the judo strategy - you know it's about using the weight of your bigger giant (opponent) to your advantages. I think even in business, whether it's Pfizer or within the generic space also, we are new to the international market or within the Indian market also. So one has to recognize one's limited strength and the competitor's strength and if you develop a strategy, which they don't even notice, you are competing with them and slowly creating a niche for yourself."

Constant innovation will keep organisations and sportspeople on their feet. Khorakiwala said, "I think it is extremely important and there is no doubt about it. Especially in our pharmaceutical industry - whether you are in the drug discovery space or you are in the generic space, innovation and R&D is absolutely a must and what has happened in India, luckily is, that some of the companies have gone this route and what we are seeing today is that success."

Successful superiors could also be great mentors, if they set about motivating the younger people on their team. Manjrekar explained, "Javed Miandad has already tried several times. There is one problem, which is that great players aren't necessarily great motivators or great coaches, so Javed Miandad has still to prove himself as a good coach whereas Imran Khan is a great motivator, but he has set himself different goals in life so cricket is not his first priority now."

Khorakiwala agreed, "I think some of us have been investing enormously in the future and that is why one sees the result in research, in getting into new markets and these are high-risk situations and that is where it is paying off."

He added, "In our industry, as I look at it today, I think our key competitive advantage is our ability to acquire a company and turn it around very fast in a foreign country. We have made three acquisitions. We learnt with the first one and I think the second and third went exactly as per our plan. We have senior managers, operating in different fields. So our effort is, every time we acquire a company, the specialists go into each field and correct a situation."

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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