Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A student's published op-ed

It’s been nearly a month since 26 honors students at IU’s Kelley School of Business have returned from halfway around the world, Incredible India. But the memories are still fresh as they return for fall classes at IU Bloomington. Many are hearing the stories about the frantic Delhi traffic, India's mushrooming business development and a exotic culture that is millenniums old.

Clara Houin, one of the students you’ve already met along the way, continues to share her recollections. Her article, “Visit to India is a cultural shock; IU student finds a world of contrasts during a 10-day summer program,” appeared in yesterday’s (Sept. 9) South Bend Tribune.

I encourage you to look at her article, which is available online at

It also is pasted below.



Before Aug. 2, I thought I knew all about India. I had studied the languages of Urdu and Hindi for over a year, researched the culture, did group projects on the history and learned what not to eat or drink.

Yet with all this preparation, the country did not cease to surprise me. When I deboarded an eight-hour flight from Brussels, Belgium, to New Delhi, I had the cultural shock of a lifetime. The food, culture, sights and businesses that I experienced more than 7,000 miles around the globe will shape me and my career immeasurably in the years to come.

Indiana University offered a summer program for 26 students of the Kelley School of Business, including myself, who wanted to broaden their horizons to the businesses and culture of India. Our group spent 10 days in India, where we visited many cultural and business locations in and around New Delhi and Chennai and the Taj Mahal.

My first memories in India are a blur of very bright colors and throngs of people. It is very difficult to fully articulate how many people make up the population of India except to say that there is rarely a minute that goes by when one is completely alone.

Our first jet-lagged day in India was spent touring the capital city of New Delhi. We visited the famous war memorial for fallen Indian soldiers, entered several different religious sites and saw government buildings. We toured a Gandhi museum that also was the place where he lived the last 144 days of his life.

It was extraordinarily moving to witness a place where such an inspirational man spent his life.

The following days did not prove any less moving. In India, poverty is an unavoidable part of life, and the dichotomy between the rich and the poor can be very hard to bear. Every day our group was bused around the dirty and crowded streets, and at night we slept in five-star hotels.

All of us felt very humbled, and somewhat saddened, after our first few hours in New Delhi. However, any poor spirits that our group had were lifted on our second day in India when we journeyed seven hours to witness the majesty of the Taj Mahal. It was paradise on earth from the second I stepped into the Taj complex. If ever in India, a visit to see the beautiful white inlaid marble work of the Taj Mahal is a must.

After the first couple days of sight-seeing, our Kelley School group was able to connect with several prominent business and political figures of India. One evening, in New Delhi, we were hosted by a member of the Indian parliament, Deepender Singh Hooda.

While in New Delhi, we also visited the car factory of Maruti-Suzuki and toured one of the newest industrial complexes in India. At all of the locations we were graciously welcomed, and had many of our questions about business practices in India answered.

Following our time in New Delhi, we traveled to Chennai in southern India where we also visited several businesses. These included Allsec and Infosys, two of the most prominent Indian companies to date. Representatives from these prestigious businesses explained more about the operations of call centers and information technology than I have ever known.

In India, I was able to enjoy excellent spicy food, inexpensive shopping, experience a unique culture firsthand, and most importantly broaden my business horizons.

It was a trip that I would recommend to anyone, and one that I will never forget."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Kelley MBAs say, "Meet us on the road in India."

While most of this blog has focused on the Kelley School of Business and its undergraduate program’s trip to India, there’s also a highly respected MBA program to discuss (It’s ranked 18th worldwide by Business Week).

Its Godfrey Center (pictured here) has historically been a place where many international students, including many from India, have come to study business.

Forty-one percent of the 2008 class is from outside the United States. Outside the classroom, the school and IU offer numerous opportunities for international students to express themselves culturally and find their niche in Bloomington.

Through its Kelley International Perspectives, Kelley MBA students from all corners of the world share in the exploration of new cultures, planning full-immersion international study trips to Chile, China, India, Japan and elsewhere.

Kelley’s MBA Program will be participating in a series of MBA Fairs throughout India in September and October. Prospective students can register in advance by visiting the tour's web site:, however, advance registration is not required. Also, visit the MBA Tour website for registration fee information.

Representatives from the Kelley School will be available at each fair to answer your questions and provide you with additional information about the MBA Program.

You’ll find the India tour schedule online at

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Speaking Hindi

Clara Houin, pictured here, is from Plymouth, Indiana. Located in north-central Indiana, it had an estimated population of 11,025 in 2006.

Some will tell you that it was where the first retail outlet of the now-defunct U.S. retailer Montgomery Ward opened in 1926. Last year, one of her neighbors became the first person from Plymouth to become Miss Indiana.

In one of the earliest blog entries, you met Aashish Batra, another Kelley School student, who is from Delhi, India, said by some to be the third largest city in the world.

Both of them speak Hindi.

“Before Aug. 2 of this year, I thought I knew all about India. I had studied the languages of Urdu and Hindi for over a year, researched the culture, did group projects on the history and learned what not to eat or drink,” Clara says. “Yet with all this preparation, the country did not cease to surprise me. When I de-boarded an eight-hour flight from Brussels to New Delhi, I had the cultural shock of a lifetime.”

Batra previously had been one of about 60 Indians in a cultural exchange program and he says that that he saw the Kelley School class as a good way to repeat the experience, only with “so many good professors on board.”

But now, he admits, he has seen his home country through the eyes of Clara and many of the other 26 honors students on the trip. Batra, who plans to return home after getting his IU degree, appreciates seeing first-hand what Americans think about India and how they reacted to what they saw.

“That’s completely the purpose of the trip – how you see the Indian economy,” he says. “You’ve always studied the American economy yourself, now you have an opportunity to study the Indian economy … This gives me a chance to get into the American mind and study the Indian economy.

“We’ve got to learn a lot from each other,” Batra says.

He enjoyed going for a rickshaw ride with fellow students in Delhi’s chaotic streets and seeing their reactions to the wandering cows and other curiosities.

Houin, who plans to minor in India Studies at IU, has always been known as her family’s “Indian princess” because of a birthmark on her forehead, which has since been removed. As a result, “it’s been in my subconscious … I’ve always been interested in India,” she says.

Growing up in Plymouth, she says that her parents have always raised their children to be open-minded and have a world view. Despite all that she did to prepare for the trip, what she learned back in Bloomington paled in comparison with what she saw.

“There’s a lot more reality to it that I never had even imagined – the poverty, the filthiness, the real raw stuff that these people have to deal with everyday,” she says. “I’ve seen the pictures of the beautiful architecture and the lovely clothing that they make here. Coming here has really enlightened me on how different everyone else in the world is from people in the United States and how they have to deal with the harshness of life.”

When the group visited a special economic zone in Manesar, Houin surprised the host by presenting the Kelley School’s gift to him in Hindi.

“I have never been so intellectually and emotionally impacted by an academic experience before in my life,” she says. “India made me appreciate just how much the rest of the world is in need of foreign investment, and I plan to invest my future in broadening horizons for countries like India.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"The long bus rides were never boring"

Last year, I had the privilege of sitting down with a gentleman whose generosity has enabled many students at Indiana University and the Kelley School of Business to enhance their education by going abroad.

IU alumnus Ed Hutton, a prominent philanthropist and businessman from Cincinnati, in 2003 gave $9 million to establish an endowment for a university-wide International Experiences Program. Last year, he added $400,000 for the Kelley School's efforts.

"It's one thing to read names in a geography book and it's another thing to be there," the Bedford, Ind., native told me, adding that it's especially important that today's young people, including many from small towns, understand the world around them.

Alexa Adler, who is the third person from the left in this photo at the Taj Mahal, now has the same world view as Mr. Hutton.

"I thought the trip did a great job of showing us both the growing business world in India as well as its social and welfare issues," Adler said. "Being able to visit places like Maruti-Suzuki and Infosys helped (me) to better understand what we have been learning in class about India as an emerging market and how it connects with and works with business in the U.S.

"However, the experience we had at Hand in Hand, and all of the interactions we had with the people of India were most significant to me," she added. "India was completely different from anywhere else I have traveled. The culture was colorful and exciting, the people were extremely friendly and it was eye opening to see a world very different from my own.

"The long bus rides were never boring because there was so much to see and observe just staring out of the bus windows. We really learned a lot on this trip but experiencing the people and culture, and observing everyday life was what I found to be most meaningful."

Thanks again, Mr. Hutton.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My thousand words

We've heard it said that numbers tell the story. Today, with humble promotion, we passed the 2,000 readers mark. Thanks.

Also, U.S. News and World Report today issued its annual report, "America's Best Colleges." It reported that IU's Kelley School continues to offer one of the best experiences for undergraduate students, including those who want to start their own companies. Kelley is No. 2 in the Big Ten, No. 7 among publics and No. 11 overall.

IU moved up three spots to 30th among public universities. The Bloomington campus' study abroad programs were recognized for involving "substantial academic work for credit -- a year, a semester, or an intensive experience equal to a course -- and
considerable interaction with the local culture."

Anyone who has followed this blog will understand why that's true.

Also today, a good friend and editor, Rex, gave me fine advice when I asked him about this, my first blog. He said simply, "shorter."

You're probably familiar with the proverb, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

With that in mind, here is a link to an Indiana University gallery of my photos taken on the trip. You'll find it online at It's also a link from the title line.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Horn, please

In India we found a remarkable form of gentility, commonly seen on street signs and even vehicles everywhere, that is rarely seen in the United States.

We’re not talking about bumper stickers or the huge billboards that Chennai is known for.

Sumit Ganguly, director of the Indiana University India Studies Institute, professor of political science and holder of the Rabindranath Tagore Professorship in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at IU Bloomington, once told me that this was something left over from British control.

It allows Indians to make strong suggestions without being confrontational.

For example, on the back of nearly every large truck, you’ll find it written: “Horn, Please; Use Dipper at Night.” This encourages a frequent honking by everyone on the road as a form of communication. While we learn how to properly use lane position – stay on the right except to pass – in India driving is done through constant merging of traffic and the changing of positions.

The use of the horn, particularly by large trucks and buses lets everyone else on a motorcycle, bicycle, rickshaw or even a car who’s coming through – and it’s usually another bus or truck.

Yet, only once in three years have I seen the middle-fingered salute. Notice the use of the word, “please,” on the trucks.

As Kelley School instructor Jeanette Heidewald observed last year, “The road flows like fireflies swirling ever forward, never touching but always seeming ready to end up in one big pile.”

This year, when we were on a tour of a factory, the sign on the back window of a car in front of us offered direct, simple instructions: “Follow Me.”

Then there are the street signs and many of them seem to take something of a personal interest in others. The closest thing you’ll see to them in the United States are the signs in construction zones, which tell you that fines are multiplied for speeding there, or the reminder that “Daddy” works there.

You’ll never see the sign Rosanna Bateman photographed: “Man at work.” I think the Department of Transportation might take offense.

In India, they address social issues as well as traffic laws. A favorite one from last year came courtesy the Faridabad Traffic Police. Its straight-forward message to cyclists was, “Hell or Helmet: The Choice is Yours.”

Another sign now seen twice in Faridabad – on the road to Agra from Delhi – has a poignant message for people passing through this place when it isn’t monsoon season: “Water is precious; Use it With Care; Do Not Waste a Drop of It.”

I also liked this simple plea to help the environment: “Save lives; Plant trees.”

In the U.S. people are rightly concerned about drivers’ usage of cell phones. On a stairwell at Infosys there’s this sign: “Please avoid cell phone usage on stairs.”

Undergraduate director Kathleen Robbins discovered this unique appeal to smokers: “Save your breath for more shopping.”

It's economic stimulus meets public health policy.

A professor's observations

We are back in Indiana now, but the vivid memories of India are fresh. During our adventure to Incredible India – the tourism bureau didn’t overstate things – it often was a time of sensory overload, much as a strongly spiced masala over chicken, lamb or paneer (a form of cottage cheese).

Over the last dozen dispatches, I’ve focused on themes and locations, but there was much more to comment about and in these next few articles, I’m going to empty the notebook and also share the insights of others on what may be mundane to some Indians but exotic to others elsewhere.

First up are these thoughts from Professor Jamie Prenkert about our first day in Chennai:

"’The story of Chennai is the story of British colonialism,’ our guide Ravati said as we set out on our tour of the city. The evidence of her statement included numerous buildings with architecture from the colonial era, as well as the story of the city's ‘new’ name, changed from Madras to Chennai in the mid-1990s.

“Chennai sits on the Bay of Bengal and boasts one of the world's largest and longest urban beaches. The city has begun what appears to be a huge project to beautify the waterfront, with what we in the U.S. might call a ‘greenway.’

“It looks like the end result will be impressive; however, public works projects in India have a way of lingering for years with little progress. Public services also lag with regard to sanitation and trash removal, which in turn leads to unsafe pollution levels in the city's two rivers and the bay.

“So, when we exited the bus to take a walk down the beach to look at the surf, looking was the limit of our experience (except a few quickly dipped toes and fingers). Not only is the water not particularly clean, but the riptides make swimming a dangerous proposition."

The photo posted with this dispatch, taken by Professor Vijay Khatri, shows what it looks like just off the Marina Beach.

“We also stopped at two significant religious sites," Prenkert continues. "First, St. Thomas's Cathedral was constructed to commemorate the death of Thomas, the apostle, who -- according to legend -- came to Chennai to spread Christianity, but angered the local Hindus and was ultimately killed here. The cathedral houses his remains and several relics, as well as an icon of Jesus on a lotus pedestal (a pose usually reserved for the Hindu gods) and a Virgin Mary in a sari.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hand In Hand

Last night, the group had dinner at a beautiful beach resort on the Bay of Bengal. Due to the gray and rainy disposition of the weather, plans for a meal outside were scrapped for one inside the dining room. It was a nice buffet meal that included food items from the garden as well as the sea.

Just up the road from the resort is a fishing village, where many, including young children, venture through the inter-coastal waterways on flat boats to drop down their nets.

In order to do so, they must go down into the water. Nobody uses fishing waders here. The nearest Cabela’s store is on the other side of the planet. Even TV fishermen Roland Martin and Bill Dance would have to admit that it’s hard work.

It’s also hard to imagine that any of the locals have spent much time within the walls of this resort.

For the second year in a row, the Kelley School has arranged for students to visit a rural community here in South India. Hand In Hand (, one of many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helping to fight the practice of child labor in Tamil Nadu, is taking us there.

The organization’s vision is a world “where all children are in school, poverty is eradicated, women are empowered, where democracy stems from the grassroots, where healthcare is for all and where development is sustainable.” Obviously, these are goals for many worldwide, but here the challenges are steep.

What Darjeeling is to tea, Kanchipuram is to silk. While it is primarily known as the “Golden City of a Thousand Temples” – our guide, Beulah, tells us there actually are only about 160 of them there – this is where you can find a terrific deal on an embroidered sari or similar garment. Nearby is the small village of Thirumangalam Kandrigai, where Hand In Hand’s micro-financing efforts are underway.

Typically, silk merchants approach skilled crafts people and pay them by the piece for each embroidered work they complete. Since they’ve provided the raw material, the merchants stand to profit from their sales.

The saris can take several days of detailed hand work to complete.

Interestingly, those who are the focus of these self-help efforts are women. Hand In Hand organizes the women in the village and provides them with business and skills training, provides them with cheap credit and helps them build sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families.

Women receive the loans because the company found that they were more likely than men to spend the money on the business and thus are more likely to pay back their loans. Hand In Hand helps more than 280,000 people in the area and was started about four years ago.

At the same time, Hand In Hand has established schools and sought to strengthen those run by the government in order to prevent children from becoming laborers.

Unfortunately, we were unable to visit one of its schools this year. Last year’s group was able to see a school, where many children were learning to read and write as they entered their teen years.

About 10,000 people live here in several types of traditional housing, including grass huts. The streets here are carved from the earth, lacking rock or pavement, and are shared with the local livestock. While cows are considered sacred, that hasn’t prevented some young boys from placing a rope around the neck of small calf, so they can lead it around like we would with a dog.

Apparently, some houses have some form of running water, but many get their water from faucets that emerge from the ground along the side of a road. Women literally use their heads here as we see several carrying water in buckets like a crown.

Due to the monsoon season, most are unable during this time of year to do their embroidery work. Hand in Hand has been instrumental in supporting for the demand of a concrete building for the embroidery artisans, which was provided by the local government. It helps them do their work during rains.

A few students have found a good deal on a sari here, much to the delight of local villagers.

Also bringing delight are the visitors. Many of the children are glad to have their pictures taken and even more excited when they see their beaming faces on the digital camera screens. As we drive away, many of them jump and wave.

The cynical among us may question the long-term value of this experience on a group of business students, but previous Kelley trips to India have silenced some doubters.

Alumni of similar trips abroad led some students to establish the Kelley Microfinance Initiative. This spring, a group of students traveled on their own to the African country of Ghana to lay the groundwork for a partnership with an NGO called Women in Progress. Like Hand In Hand, it seeks to alleviate poverty through growth of small women-owned businesses.

During the previous school year, Kelley students organized several fundraisers for Hand In Hand. Several of this year’s group indicated that they want those efforts to continue.

During their meeting with Hermantha Kumar Pamarthy, managing director of Hand in Hand Micro Finance Ltd., this year’s group presented him with bags of good, toiletries and an envelope of money they had collected among themselves.

As they did a year ago.

"The bagful of eatables have been distributed personally by me to the students of Poongavanam School, our Residential school in Putheri, Kancheepuram, on the 11th August itself and needless to say the students were delighted," Pamarthy said in a follow-up e-mail.

As I embarked on creating this journal, I also included an interactive survey for you about what would be the most memorable experience of the trip for these young people. Most of you – 56 percent so far – suggested that it would be at the Taj Mahal. That assessment probably remains true.

But if asked what experience will mean the most looking forward, many will tell you it was when they met the families who sold them the saris in Thirumangalam Kandrigai.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rocks of ages

After a day of looking at South India’s future, it was time to again be more reflective. Our next to the last day was to be focused on the region’s diverse cultural heritage. Our first stop for the day is Dakshina Chitra, a center at Muttukadu, 25 kilometers south of Chennai, on the East Coast Road to Mamallapuram, which is home to historic temples we’ll see later.

Dakshina Chitra literally means “a picture of the south,” which is true of this place about the people from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka and their cultural, art and architectural traditions.

Located on 10 acres overlooking the Bay of Bengal, this living history museum is popular with school groups, not just those from the Kelley School of Business. A good estimate would suggest that there are at least four different school groups here today and the fascination that the local young people have with us is nearly as strong as it is for the people with painted faces, the potter and magician doing tricks in the open-air auditorium.

Many in school uniforms take long looks at people in our group, sometimes giggling in delight. Some even approach us and ask for autographs.

Several Kelley students pursue autographs of a different kind. Clara Houin and others seek out the artisan who does the Henna tattoos. Even Aashish Batra, our student from Delhi, gets a tattoo – probably the first one the artist has ever done with an IU logo. Others found more souvenirs made by local crafts people.

After lunch, our guide Ravati took us to Mamallapuram to see its well preserved temples carved out of stone. Many of these monuments were built between the seventh and ninth centuries and are classified by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

First on our agenda, though, is Krishna’s Butterball, a giant natural rock perched on a hillside. Amazingly, it’s a great place to pose for pictures (see the photo above), but you can't help but worry a little bit that the big piece of granite could move at any time.

It also makes "The Rock" at IU Memorial Stadium a pebble by comparison.

Local monkeys (who are considered sacred along with the cows) compete for attention on the reliefs of elephants carved into Arjuna's Penance. We also saw the aptly described Varaha Cave Temple.

Heading about a half mile further to the south, we come to the Five Rathas, a set of monolithic granite structures which imitate temples originally built of wood. Also on the list of World Heritage Sites, they are among the oldest examples of their type.

Here, as students and others browse through the ruins, a group of people are hard at work cleaning them using architecturally accepted practices. This area has been known since the seventh century as the home to many skilled stone carvers.

Today, Mamallapuram is a place where sculptors come to have contemporary works shaped by hand. It's where I read sculptor Stephen Cox came to have his visions made into reality. One of his works, "Mantra," which rests in the garden outside the British Council's building in Delhi, took more than a year to complete, with 20 carvers working at Cox's studio in Mahabalipuram.

The community's stone carving legacy is part of its future and not just its past, as evidenced by the numerous shops and informal studios that we saw from the bus.

The highlight of this visit, for many, is the famous Shore Temple, which is carved from a single piece of stone and has stood for more than 1,400 years.

Many have a realization as we head back towards Chennai and our dinner at the Fisherman’s Cove beach resort – tomorrow will be our last full day in India.

Within the gates of Mahindra World City

In the eyes of many, including the World Trade Organization, India is considered a “developing country.” Its democratic form of government is little over 60 years old and construction is a constant wherever you look nationwide, including in Delhi, where preparations are underway for the Commonwealth Games (think an Olympic Games for former British colonies) in 2010.

But the pace of this change can be amazing, as evidenced during our visit Thursday (Aug. 7) to Mahindra World City, a “special economic zone (SEZ)” being developed on 1,500 acres about 30 miles away from Chennai.

Located on the Coromandel Coast known for its many ports and harbors, this new city is rising from the marshland and already is home to more than 30 major companies, including Braun, BMW, Kryolan Cosmetics and the TVS Group of companies. It is India's first operational SEZ that has been approved for three different economic sectors -- services and manufacturing, apparel and fashion accessories and the automotive industry.

Like the SEZ that students visited near Delhi, Mahindra City strives to combine facilities for business with those for leisure, retail and even residential housing. The difference is that it has the backing of the Mahindra Group, a $4.5 billion conglomerate with business in autos, farm equipment, telecommunications, software, financial services and other sectors.

The landscaping is lush, yet orderly. The streets are clean and obviously contain the necessary drainage to withstand the region’s heavy monsoon rains. Unlike other growth areas I’ve seen over the last three years, there are no shanties or tents – obviously other arrangements have been made for construction workers.

Our bus pulled up to Infosys Technologies, a global IT and business services company with more than 40 offices and development centers worldwide. Take one look at its front building and it’s hard to believe that this campus is less than three years old. When it was announced in June 2006, the company announced that about 25,000 people will eventually be employed here.

Within its gates, another city is going up on nearly 130 acres. Already, there are 6,100 employees here.

In addition to office buildings, there will be the 1,000-bed hotel for corporate guests and employees, a small strip retail plaza, bowling alley, billiards hall, a cricket field and other exercise facilities. We had lunch in an enormous dining hall, whose food court contained some familiar brand names, including Domino’s Pizza (which is better here than at home), as well as a plethora of Indian food offerings. This infrastructure is necessary, given the lack of similar offerings outside the Mahindra City’s gates.

Wikipedia has an interactive map of the place online at

Last year, students from the Kelley School visited another Infosys’ facility in the Chennai area. It, too, was impressive with its sprawling campus and similar offerings, but this is a development on hyper-speed.

Back at IU Bloomington, the university administration has undertaken an ambitious goal of developing new buildings for research, the sciences, the arts, IT and residences for students. Progress for this growth at home seems slow by comparison to what we are seeing here.

One student agreed, in response to a question from one of our hosts here, “I think the campus looks a lot like a beautiful college campus from America. Probably, this would be the prettiest school and there’s a lot of schools in America.”

In many ways, Infosys and Mahindra City are analogous. Infosys was started in 1981 by seven people with just $250 (U.S.) Today, it is a global leader with revenues of more than $4 billion.

Some folks back here in Bloomington might even specially appreciate the vision which led to all this. Many of us familiar with the story of industrialist Bill Cook, who started his multi-million dollar medical products company in his east side apartment. The Cook family of companies now includes those in commercial services and real estate. Yet, it’s said that Mr. Cook remains accessible to the people who work for him. A new IU Press book this fall will reveal much about the man.

Infosys’ chief founder, N. R. Narayana Murthy, served as CEO for 21 years before stepping down in 2002. Since then, he has served as the company’s non-executive chairman and chief mentor.

Despite his place on Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest people, I am told that he continues to live in the same simple home he’s lived in for years and that you’ll often see him waiting in line along with everyone else in the company cafeteria.

We didn’t see him today during our lunch. But we did think this item written on a cubicle white board was most interesting: “Work is fine if it doesn’t take 2 much of your time.” A company executive explained that the company sees that it’s important to balance work with people’s personal lives.

Mahindra has successfully developed India's first World City at Chennai. After this milestone, it has two more such projects coming -- at Jaipur and Pune.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Inside the call center training room

In the interests of full disclosure, as I write this on the morning of Aug. 11, I sit in my hotel room near Kennedy Airport in New York City, where 23 of us await flights to Chicago. Last night, after about 24 hours of travel from India, we arrived at Kennedy Airport only to learn that our original connecting flight to Chicago was canceled.

Due to computer issues and some long days, this blogger has gotten behind in providing you with details of the Kelley School’s adventure in the land of silks, spices and sacred cows. Please keep reading this blog, because we don’t want you to miss a thing. There are many more stories to tell.

As mentioned in the previous posting, on Thursday the students learned about BPOs – Business Process Outsourcing – up close.

On our way to India, among the many in-flight entertainment options was a movie called “Outsourced.” The romantic comedy is about a man who is coerced into training Indian replacements for his U.S. colleagues working with him at a novelties company call center. The leading man moves to India to train a group of villagers there on how to deal with Americans and sell them "kitsch to redneck schmucks."

His Indian assistant asks him, "Excuse me. What is 'redneck'? What is 'kitsch'? What is 'schmuck'?" And what are these products? American eagle sculptures. Wisconsin cheesehead hats. Branding irons for hamburgers. Of course, it wouldn’t be a comedy about India if there weren’t cows involved too – one finds its way into the call center.

Typical of other films in the genre, he’s like a like a fish out of water, but as you might expect, he gets the girl and develops a tremendous admiration for his Indian colleagues, who ultimately get outsourced when their jobs go to China (For more about the film, go to

It’s a funny story, but as we knew, far from real. Our first stop Thursday was at Allsec, a BPO in Chennai we first visited last year. Walking into the lobby, we saw evidence of how hard they work to familiarize themselves with American culture. A framed photograph of the “Man Who Could Fly” – Michael Jordan – is proudly on display in the reception area.

Most people may think that offshoring of call centers and similar operations is a new phenomenon, but the first such operation was established by Pan Am in 1956. Today, almost 70 percent of U.S. customer service takes place over the telephone. General Electric was the first company to have a call center in India – Kelley students saw it last year (Today, it’s a sold-off subsidiary called Genpact).

At Allsec, we were shepherded into a typical classroom and greeted by “Sandy,” “Amanda,” “Gregory” and “Richard.” There are about 35 school chairs in the room, which is wired with a computer and whiteboard.

The company was started in 1998 with 40 employees. Today, it has more than 3,000 employees at six locations, including those in Chennai and Bangalore and even one in the Philippines. Most employees have a 48-hour work week.

Sandy opens the discussion with an analogy. It’s about two parents of a child. They both work and have hired a babysitter.

“What this mom does is she appoints someone else to take care of the baby,” she says. “This is what outsourcing is all about. An outsourcer is a client who appoints someone else – that is the company – and that company does the job for the client.”

She is quick to explain the difference between a “call center” and a “contact center,” the latter includes functions such as Web support, e-mail and other non-verbal forms of communication.

But it is Indians' view and “neutral” use of the English language that makes India such an ideal foreign site for American call centers, points out Gregory Manoj, also known as Gregory Watson, in a tongue that clearly sounds American.

“The way you see most of us speaking right now is not the way we normally speak,” he says. “We’ve been trained to talk like this so that we’re easily understood by somebody who we speak to over the phone.

“For us, English is what we call a received pronunciation. English is not our mother tongue, which is why to get somebody for whom English is their mother tongue -- like a Britisher, an Australian or a person from Ireland -- it would be very different for them to change their native accent, he adds. “With this added advantage, it makes it easier for us to adapt to difference kinds of clients from different countries.

“What comes to people as an actual talent comes to us as a scientific process.”

It’s probably similar to the linguistic training that TV anchors get. You'd never know that NBC anchor Brian Williams was from New Jersey. For the record, students liked hearing them do their various English dialects.

Greg points out that working in a call or contact center is seen as a full-time career. He’s been at in the industry for about five and half years and his supervisor, Richard, has been with Allsec for seven years. One of other trainers in our session is a college-educated physicist and someone else I met in Chennai previously was a lawyer before going to work at a BPO.

“To get into a call center, you have to be an undergraduate (degree holder) and that is a very strict requirement,” he says. “The quality of labor available for this particular industry is highly skilled, which is why you find operations in banking, for example.”

The stereotype of a call center – in the U.S. or India – is that of a “boiler room.” As you would expect, the room is filled with cubicles. It’s clean. One side of the room is decorated with a Hawaiian theme, including palm trees, tiki idols, sea shells and leis.

On another floor is a room with photos of team leaders on sheets of paper with a bulls-eye on them – workers get to review their boss this way. There are also pictures of American presidents, but there’s no indication that they want to be involved our electoral process.

Allsec has been growing. On Aug. 1, it acquired i2i Telesource, which employs about 1,500 call agents in 13 locations across the country. This and other future efforts may lead to more “rural BPOs,” located in smaller communities, doing non-verbal work (such as medical transcription), Richard says.

Which brings us back to “Outsourced.” Maybe, some day, art will imitate life.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Destitute, Devout and Dignified

The concept of an all-nighter is very familiar to college students, which came in handy as the group prepared to move on to Chennai. Our flight was scheduled for 6:30 a.m., which meant that we needed to leave no later than 4:15 a.m. from the hotel. Since we had not returned from our dinner hosted by Mr. Hooda until around midnight, staying up was an idea on everyone’s minds.

Even those who slept a few hours were tired and looking forward to getting a few winks on our two and a half hour flight.

Unlike domestic flights in the United States, our crew at Jet Airways was diligent to offer cold towels and bottled water before we left the ground. A full breakfast was served, complete with an omelet, hash brown potatoes, two chicken sausages, rolls with butter and jam, yogurt and, of course, coffee, tea and juice. Upon our arrival, we were met by our tour guide and proceeded through a half-hour of traffic to our hotel.

After a few hours to recharge our batteries, we were again met by the tour bus for a drive through this vibrant city located in southeast India on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Chennai’s population is about one-third the population of Delhi, but keep in mind that we’re still talking about 5 million people. It’s India’s fourth largest city.

Many more live outside these official government figures in grass houses and other simple structures nestled throughout the city, including behind our hotel. As I write this, I am enjoying my morning tea in air conditioning that is at times too cold, in a room with all the creature comforts. Looking out my window behind the building, I can see people working hard to hand pump their water for the day, which they carry to their homes snuggled tightly against each other. All have either tin roofs with debris on them or a simple tarp. My guide book says that 40 percent if its population lives in slums, which I am sure is at least an accurate assessment.

I’m not saying that Chennai is an unattractive place. In fact, its colorful character is always on display, from the many billboards to its many reminders that this is a tropical city. Even in rainy season, much of Delhi was brown and drab in comparison.

Just as before, our ambitious schedule here is made fuller by the heavy traffic most Westerners have never seen before. Cars and trucks shared highways with foot traffic, people on bicycles, motorcycles and farm tractors, and others pushing carts. Horns get more use than brakes here.

Most everyone is tired. The bus takes us through this sprawling city and our guide, Ravati, describes buildings that once were used by the British before India’s independence in 1947 that remain very much in use today.

Among the most poignant stops is Marina Beach, considered the second longest beach in the world. Old Saracenic buildings across the Kamarajar Salai, the main road, highlight the former role of the British Raj. It and some of the fishing families who live on it were victims of the 2004 tsunami, which took about 200 lives here.

Students also went to the Basilica of San Thomas in Mylapore, a section of the city that is home to its urban elite. Built in 1898 and now surrounded by a tenement created in order to relocate fishermen away from living on the shore, this Catholic Church claims to be one of the only churches to be built over an apostle’s tomb. According to legend, the apostle Thomas is thought to have been one of the first Christians to reach India and preach here. He is believed to have lived his last years here in a cave on the same hill where the church is located and died in 72 A.D.

Nearby, they also visited the Kapleeswarar Temple, believed to be where the goddess Parvati became the wife of Shiva, according to the Hindu religious belief. According to our guide, this myth often is told and retold about this and other temples across India. Notables feature of the building include a 120-foot-tall gopuram, the pyramidical shaped temple top, bronze carvings of the 63 Shaivate saints and a Punnai tree that is considered holy and is one of Chennai’s oldest.

Outside many of such places attracting tourists are beggars. At times, they are children who often gesture from their stomach to their mouth and simply implore “please.” It’s heartbreaking to see them, but often to respond to their requests brings much more, unwanted attention. What follows is an account provided by Professor Prenkert.

Leaving the temple, a woman approaches the students. “Dollars” are what she wants, not rupees, India’s national currency. As students try to avert themselves back to the bus, our guide tries to oversee. Ravati, who the chaperones first met last year, is a beautiful woman and a gracious mother of two children. She works hard to support her family, along with her husband, who works in a city hundreds of miles away. They see each other once a month.

Ravati tells the begging woman that she will her give rupees if she leaves the students alone. At first, the woman is not in any way satisfied -- she is looking for a bigger haul. Finally, she relents, not wanting to turn aside all the money.

It is obvious that all of this embarrasses Ravati, who is afraid that our first-time visitors’ impressions of her country are being framed by this begging woman. She has nothing to worry about, as all of us see Ravati’s quiet dignity and kindness.

Next, inside India’s BPOs, business processing organizations, know better to some Americans as outsourced business operations. Perception, as we will see, is not always reality.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Getting Down to Business

After two days of touring important cultural sites, including Monday’s memorable trip to see the Taj Mahal and Red Fort at Agra, it was time to focus on learning first-hand about Indian business and economics.

With the assistance of Deepender Singh Hooda, MBA’02, an influential member of India’s Parliament, arrangements were made for students and faculty to see two examples of how India’s governmental investments in manufacturing have contributed to the nation’s economic expansion.

In the morning, students toured the thoroughly modern Maruti/Suzuki 300-acre auto production facility at Gurgaon. The company, originally a joint venture between the Japanese automaker and the Indian government, today produces about 60 percent of all autos driven in India. More than 5,000 employees work to produce 2,300 cars a day, making it the most prolific car maker in Asia outside of Japan and Korea.

Many of the cars are sold for between $5,000 to $7,000 and get about 40 miles to the gallon.

Within about a half hour, we saw the entire auto-making process, from blanking steel sheets and pressing them into body panels, welding them together and, ultimately, saw a car put together.

After the tour, company officials met with students and answered their questions. Today, it would have been easy for them to cancel the visit. At the same time that Kelley students were onsite, a contingent of executives from Japan were visiting. Signs in Japanese welcomed them and the importance of their visit was obvious.

Since last year, Maruti/Suzuki has placed more of an emphasis on energy conservation and the environment and today the company claims to be one of the top 10 greenest companies in India.

Signs touted these messages throughout the sprawling factory: “Conserve Energy - Save Now or Pay Later,” “Save Energy - This Means You” and the most direct, “Save Water, Save Money.”

Another sign motivating employees to work hard had a double meaning that probably was lost on most of them as well as plant managers: “We Pledge To Make PMS Way of Our Lives.”

Afterwards, we traveled about 20 kilometers to Manesar to see a vast planned business district that’s been under development over the past decade. In October 2006, another group of Kelley students met in India with Jairam Ramesh, the minister of state for commerce, who oversees India’s monetary policy and who has been given the charge to direct the nation’s special economic zones initiative. When they toured an industrial development in Manesar that is part of this effort to improve the country’s infrastructure, it was obvious that much remained in the planning stages.

In addition to manufacturing facilities, the planned development also will feature housing and schools for employees and their families, a golf course and social club and retail. It’s a concept that’s been successfully employed in China, another emerging economic powerhouse.

What a difference a year and half can make. Many large companies based in India and those from abroad, including Honda and Baxter (which has facilities near Bloomington in Spencer), have constructed sizable facilities and many more are on the way.

Following the company visits, students had an opportunity to experience a free-market economy in Delhi’s Dilli Haat, an open-air market featuring crafts and arts from all over the country. No prices were posted. All were set through negotiation between the buyer and seller. Needless to say, some readers of this blog can expect to see some gifts purchased today.

But perhaps the highlight of the day was a reception and dinner hosted by MP Hooda (“Deep to many of us”) at one of Delhi’s trendy spots, Tabulasar. Located at the top of an urban mall, it features a DJ spins “house” music, subdued lighting and a mood that makes it impossible not to chill out.

Due to his current busy schedule, Deep can’t stay very long. Regional elections are coming up and there’s been several major issues recently in parliament. After a few words to encourage students that they’ve made the right choice in selecting Kelley, he’s off.

It was a happy bus of students heading to our home for another few hours. At 4:15 a.m. Wednesday, we’re off to the airport and our flight to Chennai.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

On to Agra and the Taj Mahal

The time difference between Indiana and Delhi, India, can sometimes be jarring. Monday morning at about 7:30 a.m., I tuned the television to ESPN -- yes, the sports channel but with an Asian orientation -- to find a live broadcast of a game from Yankee Stadium. It’s almost 9 p.m. in New York. On the plane, I’ve ironically been reading a book, “Memories from Yankee Stadium.”

According to the book by sportswriter Scott Pitoniak, the first game at the “House That Ruth Built” was on April 18, 1923. On Tuesday, the stadium will be the site of the final Old Timers game as it is scheduled to be demolished early next year. Less than 90 old and the sports shrine will soon be no more.

By comparison, now we will be taking what is expected to be as much as a five-hour trip to see the Taj Mahal, which Shah Jahan built for his wife, who died at age 39 during the childbirth of her 14th child. Completed in 1654, the “Taj” remains one of the wonders of the world and a World Heritage site.

Students indeed have been most excited about seeing the place where Shah Jahan, the next to the last of the Mogul emperors, laid his wife to rest. Because of the long drive through Haryana and into Utter Pradesh provinces, a distance of more than 200 kilometers on heavily traveled and congested roads, we set out early.

In addition to the business and economic information that students have received in their class in the Kelley School of Business, they’ve also learned about the culture and religious beliefs of India. One thing they learned about was the Hindu religious system and its gods, including Shiva, “the Destroyer.” Not that anyone on the bus has converted to Hinduism, but as our schedule for the day began to blow up, some could have joked about the role of a higher power.

Traffic was heavy as usual on the first work day. Watching pedestrians weave across four lanes of traffic and avoiding cars in the process was like seeing the old video game Frogger played out in real life. Within the first hour, we were out of the city and into the lush countryside.

Soon, our drivers decide to pull to the side of the road for a “routine check” of the tires. We stop at a service station. Shortly, we are back on the road, but within 15 minutes, what our drivers feared comes to pass. Not one, but two tires need repair, which takes an hour and half. The tour company drives out from Delhi with another bus tire.

As we get within a few kilometers of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, something else happens which for a while raises questions about whether our group, which has traveled more than 6,000 miles to get here, will get to see what they’ve come for.

Local police have directed our drivers to take a detour. Today is the culmination of a major, month-long festival, Kailash Mela, which attracts tens of thousands of additional people to this city of 3 million each year.

Perhaps weighing in the minds of the authorities is the fact that the day before, about 150 people were killed in a stampede at a temple far away in Himachal Pradesh. Apparently, the authorities are concerned about a similar situation taking place in Agra and have closed all major streets leading into the heart of the city.

As we meander through a series of country roads and villages, another two hours goes by. After making it into the city, we were turned back at nearly every opportunity. It’s a sea of people everywhere.

In the morning, we were scheduled to visit Shah Jahan’s Red Fort at Agra, the palace where he lived the last years of his life as a prisoner. After a lunch break, we were to visit the Taj Mahal in the afternoon.

Like Jahan, we were now asking ourselves if we prisoners of time. The sun sets here at about 7 p.m. Thankfully, we finally found our opening, and after a quick lunch, we met the drivers who would take us to the Taj.

Because of concerns about pollution, gas emission vehicles are not permitted within a small radius of the Taj Mahal. Electric vehicles are customary, but we opt for the more exciting horse and rickshaw ride.

In the Taj Mahal, the traditions of Indian Hindu and Persian Muslim architecture are fused together to create arguably a perfect work of art. The mausoleum’s symmetry, along with its luminescence, have to be appreciated in person, as the students now realize.

In addition to seeing one of the most beautiful places in the world, students now find that they also are desirable. Indian families and individuals come up to students and ask if they can take their picture with them. Babies are held and smiles are repeated. It seems like many people want to know who these people are from Indiana.

Before setting back for Delhi, we also tour Jahan’s Red Fort.

It is now monsoon season here. The humidity each day has been more than 85 percent, making the 95-degree heat seem like well more than 100. But the weather has been cooperative. The rains come, but wait until we’ve seen what we’ve come for -- memories that will last a lifetime.

At the “House that Shah Jahan Built.”

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Our first day in Delhi

After six hours of sleep, we were ready. Amit was our guide for a tour of Delhi today as well as Agra on Monday, turning our air conditioned bus into something of a time travel vehicle.

As we embarked on our tour of India‘s capitol and its third largest city of more than 15 million people, the sharp contrasts were evident between New Delhi, the spacious, planned city completed under British rule about 60 years ago, Old Delhi, a centuries-old urban center punctuated by medieval street markets and narrow streets.

Because it was Sunday, traffic was relatively light. Most Indians are given this day off, after working the previous six and a half days. But for some, poverty is a 24/7 phenomenon, such as for those who we saw showing under a water pipe leaking between two buildings.

As we passed through the gate into Old Delhi, most of the stores were closed but thousands of people were on the streets, looking at the many pre-owned items for sale on sidewalks. This is a culture which values knowledge and dozens of booksellers are out with their wares.

The bus carried us through Old Delhi, past its historic Red Fort and around the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India.

Along the way, Amit highlighted the symbiosis existing among Moslems and Hindus in this multi-cultural society. On one side of the mosque, remains a successful Hindu business community that sells spices, textiles and other soft goods. On the opposite side is a thriving Moslem community with business selling autos and auto parts and other hard goods.

Our first stop on this blazingly hot day was at Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, one of the most popular Hindu shrines in Delhi. Built around a central courtyard, the building’s main shrine features an image of the goddess of well-being. Amit, a Hindu, explained his religion’s beliefs such as its trinity of deities. Among its pantheon of other gods include the monkey god, who he says represents many bachelors today.

We continued our bus tour and drove past the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh temple featuring a golden dome, as well as many government buildings and monuments.

“I like the fact that as much as we’re observing people, they’re observing us,” noted Drew Giovannoli, a student from Connecticut.

After taking a brief walk around a park surrounding India’s memorial to its lost solders, we returned to our bus and drove past places of even deeper meaning to Indians -- cremation sites for Mahatma K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru - the first Prime Minister of India -- and Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi (no relation to the father of India).

Called the Raj Gaat, Gandhi’s cremation site is one of the most visited sites in Delhi, along with Birla House, where this hero of bringing social change through non-violence lived for the last 144 days of his life and where he was felled by an assassin’s bullet.

The meaning of this place was not lost on students. Here, they literally retraced Gandhi’s final steps, leading up to a garden monument marking where he took his final breaths.

“They had the footprints leading up to the martyrs column. I thought that was really moving -- just to think that’s where he walked and all of the great thing that he had done throughout history,” said Laura Keyton, a student from Kokomo, Ind. “It was sad in what it represented, but at the same time I feel like they celebrate it so well.”

Megan Walsh, a student from Zionsville, Ind., agreed with an observation that Gandhi’s death and its pivotal time in history is comparable to the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and how many Americans responded to them.

“It represents a destruction in how things were going and a big change in how they had to handle things,” Walsh noted. “I feel it is very similar because the World Trade Center, when those towers went down, represented a change in what we had to do as a country.

“I think when Gandhi died, the government realized this was a change. He’s no longer here and we have to act on what he wanted because it was so important to him,” she added.

To close out the day, students toured the ruins around the 230-foot-tall minaret, the Qutab Minar, and the mausoleum of emperor Hymayun, a World Heritage site.

Tomorrow, we see the Taj Mahal. Due to the length of the day, our next dispatch will come on Tuesday.

The long and winding route

An often quoted line from Charles Dickens still seems appropriate, despite its clich├ęd nature.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

In describing our 34-hour odyssey here, it’s important to say that everyone has arrived safely, other than a few pairs of sunglasses and a Cleveland Browns hat. Before we arrived in that chaos that sometimes is called India, students saw striking contrasts between U.S. and India business models for the airline industry.

We embarked on this adventure on Friday, Aug. 1 in early morning darkness. The chartered bus from Bloomington set out for O’Hare on time at 6 a.m. A handful got on board at the Kelley School but the majority of students did so at Teter Quad. About two hours up the road, a group of Hoosiers, many wearing IU apparel, took over the Golden Arches in Purdue country. This will be the first of at least two McDonald’s on the itinerary.

Traffic the rest of the way was smooth, as we arrived at O’Hare with plenty of time to spare before our scheduled 12:55 p.m. departure.

The U.S. airline carrying us to New York quickly opened two counters for us to check in our large group, but it became immediately apparent that its personnel did not know what to do with us. We were told that not everyone in our group was confirmed all the way to Delhi. Half of us would need to take a direct New York to Delhi flight, while the other half of us would take a different flight that changed planes in Brussels. Obviously, that couldn’t happen.

“It’s only a receipt. It doesn’t mean that you’re confirmed,” the U.S. airline agent initially told our leader, Rosanna, a petite but strong willed person holding a thick stack of ticket receipts she’d received from the travel agent.

After several phone calls and conferences behind the counter, boarding passes started to flow. To some, boarding passes were provided only for the New York flight. For others, passes were provided for travel all the way to Delhi. All would be fine, we were told, when we arrived in Gotham.

After the now customary 40-mintute delay on the tarmac, we quickly made up most of the time an otherwise uneventful flight. Along with drinks, passengers were offered for $4 a choice of chips, trail mix or a small package of cheese and crackers. Upon arrival, all of us found the gate for our connecting flight, but no one was around to help us resolve the boarding pass issues. After all, the next flight wasn’t for at about four hours.

Moving forward to little more than an hour before takeoff, we encountered another challenge. When the airlines updated their IT infrastructure, they failed to include new data, including our flight number. This made it difficult when boarding passes had to be created for those arriving in New York without them. The more than 20 others with boarding passes generated in Chicago needed new boarding passes to be printed with the name of our new carrier on them.

Needless to say, the flight was delayed, but for about 30 excellent reasons.

From this point forward, all of our travels will be on the Indian carrier, Jet Airways, and its people calmly dealt with our dilemma in a calm and professional manner.

There are many reasons why Jet Airways has been named in surveys as one of the world’s best airlines and they immediately became apparent, starting with the cold, refreshing towels stewards started passing out. When the flight was delayed by the air traffic control, out came the drinking water.

Before takeoff.

Then there were the printed menus. We had three choices, an Indian meal featuring shrimp, a western meal of chicken in brown gravy and an Indian vegetarian meal. All included a fresh salad, prepared deserts and silverware – yes, silverware.

Not only is there in-flight entertainment, but there was a 64-page in-flight entertainment magazine, which included feature articles and interviews with actress Kate Hudson and director Rajit Kapoor and descriptions of close to 100 Hollywood and Bollywood movies, other international films and television shows available for viewing. There also were listings for more than a three dozen music CDs.

It was like having Blockbuster and iTunes stores at your seat.

In the morning, in the bathroom, laid out for anyone to use was a selection of toothbrushes, razors, mouthwash, cologne and deodorant. Just like home.

“I liked that they had a good selection of movies and really nice service,” Welton said, speaking for several of her fellow students.

Upon our arrival at New Delhi’s airport, students were welcomed with flowers placed around their neck. Even thought it was 2 p.m. when we arrived at the hotel, no one complained when its staff came around with fruit drinks to celebrate our arrival.

It’s been said that life is not about the destination, but the journey. That’s clearly true, but everyone is excited about what they’re going to see now that they’re here.

“A bunch of us talked about that last night and we really want to see the Taj Mahal. It’s an interesting monument. We’ve always seen it (on TV or in books), but it’s different to go there,” she said. “But we also want to see the daily life of people, the stuff you don’t get to see in the movies … we want to see how they interact with each other … to go to one of those markets that we saw in class.”

On Sunday, they’ll see Delhi first and its past and future.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An appetizer

Everyone got a little taste of what’s coming last night.

A group dinner arranged for students, faculty and staff at one of Bloomington’s Indian restaurants, Shanti, gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other better.

Over samosas, deep-fried patties stuffed with potatoes, peas and spices (pictured here), Butter Chicken, Lamb Korma, a vegetarian dish and a flat bread called Naan, all the students were introduced to chaperones.

M.A. Venkataramanan, who I’ll refer to from this point further as Professor Venkat, offered welcoming remarks about his hometown, Chennai (formerly Madras) and some sometimes serious, often humorous, advice about what not to eat, personal safety and “representing Kelley,” particularly when they met with business and government officials.

India, he said, is a place where people don’t like to say no, but the extent of their kindness obviously is affected by the manner in which it is received. Previous students have heeded his words well, since they’ve had opportunities to meet with Indian cabinet officials and national business leaders and see places most Indians have never seen in person.

It will be interesting to see what arrangements our friends have made for us this time.

I got to know the three of the four students who are assigned to me – Courtney, Dana (who you see enjoying the samosas) and Brian. The fourth person, Aashish, is back home in India and waiting for us.

Because I respect their privacy, I won’t reveal too much about them and about our conversations. I’ll leave that to them and their Facebook pages.

However, I will say that I’m impressed by the fact that all of them have traveled extensively around the world. After recounting all of the places she’d been, including in Africa on safari, Courtney added a couple of minutes later that she’d also been to China.

Aashish likely will be popular on this trip, particularly because of his vast familiarity with his country’s customs and culture, particularly those aimed at 18-25 year-olds. He’s from Delhi and his father still has family in Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located.

Last year, it was fun traveling with his friend and fellow cricket player Royan, who I was “responsible” for as a chaperone. I fondly recall last year how Royan, a vegetarian, was looking forward to returning home to India, a place where he’d find more for his palate. We traveled to India last November and after three months of maneuvering the American fast food scene, he was ready for home cooking.

In an e-mail exchange, Aashish says he feels the same way, especially since he’s already back home. "I hope to see all of you soon here," he wrote as a comment to this blog. "I am sure you will like my country, a country with a slight difference."

Perhaps he can join Royan and our other Group Five friends this fall when we have our planned reunion at the Bombay House, Bloomington’s other Indian restaurant. Royan can fill us in about his summer internship with a major investment firm with offices in Mumbai.

For Courtney, Dana and Brian and the others, everything will be new. It will be a week somewhat outside their comfort zone, without certain foods, a lot of bottled water and experiences they’ll never forget.

And perhaps some bargains at Delhi’s Dilli Haat craft market and Chennai’s Spencer Plaza mall. Everyone, no matter their national origin, likes a good deal.

Note: If you’d like to learn more about Venkat, you can read a bio about him at

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why travel to India?

Originally, it was an item in an IU syllabus: “BUS X293 Honors Seminar in Business (3 cr.)”

“This course will introduce students to the general concept of emerging markets throughout the world and will focus on that of India,” reads the course description. “Students will study the economy, government, and policies of India as well as its culture and history. Students will be required to travel with the group to India August 1-10.”

This Friday, the 26 students enrolled in the course will discover how what they’ve learned in class compares with the reality.

In times past, international studies simply used to involve taking classes from international scholars on IU’s faculty. The many area studies and related language programs have brought the world to the Bloomington campus. Over the last decade, many U.S. business schools, including Kelley, have started to provide students with increased global access.

Today, more than a third of the 4,000 undergraduate students in the Kelley School will have traveled abroad by the time they complete their studies, including an increasing number to emerging economic markets such as India.

"The idea is to expose students to rapidly growing markets that are really shaping the future of global business,” Kelley Dean Dan Smith told me awhile back. “We want students to not just read about emerging market countries. We want them to go and experience them."

More companies recruiting at Kelley are saying the same thing. Employers have told faculty members that they want people with global experience who can work in operations abroad. Others simply want people who have a better understanding of the world around them.

India is expected to be one of the world's fastest growing economies in the next three decades. Its middle class is expanding rapidly and it is considered a strong “consumer market.” It also is the world's largest democracy.

Thirty-one percent of India's population is below the age of 15 and 64 percent of its population by 2020 will be in the age group of 15 to 59.

“It has been a great cultural and business experience,” says Vijay Khatri, assistant professor of information systems at Kelley. “It is interesting for students to see how the context of the business affects business performance. It also helps students appreciate what they often take for granted. Understanding another culture also -- I hope -- broadens the perspective of the students.”

M.A. Venkataramanan, chair of Kelley's undergraduate program, adds, "Students have communicated with me about the profound impact they have had from the trip. Several of them are moved by the poverty and elated by the optimism as well as kindness poor people have exhibited during the trip. They have organized fund raisers for India and developed a deeper understanding the meaning of taking care their community here. Several students have gone on international internships and are looking for entrepreneurial opportunities across the globe."

A former business dean I was fortunate to meet, the late IU president and chancellor, Herman B Wells, once said, "The campus of Indiana University is not just in Bloomington, or even the state of Indiana; it encompasses the four corners of the globe."

Truer words than ever.

Note about photo: M.A. Venkataramanan poses for a photo with students at Dakshin Chitra.

Friday, July 25, 2008

In just one week ...

No price tags on merchandise in the bazaar. A tasty Punjabi leavened bread called naan.

Henna tattoos and colorful saris. Bollywood musicals. Elephants.

A country school for children who have been child laborers. The call center from where people offer credit cards. A village which receives micro-financing so it can produce its own clothing for sale. One of the world’s largest car manufacturing facilities.

A rising star in India’s parliament. One of the world’s most successful consulting and information technologies companies. Traffic like nowhere else in the world.

Beginning on Friday (Aug. 1), I will be joining more than 30 honors students and faculty in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business to this land of many questions and contrasts and an emerging economic powerhouse. We will return 10 days later.

We will leave Bloomington on a bus to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport at 6 a.m. (3:30 p.m. in the afternoon in our ultimate destination, Delhi. At Chicago, we’ll get on a flight to New York, where we will depart on an international flight to Delhi that will probably stop in Brussels for fuel. By the time we arrive, it should be about 11:30 p.m. in Delhi and 2 p.m. Indiana time the following day (possible flight delays not withstanding).

Yes, it is that far away.

For most of the chaperones on this trip, this will be our third trip to India with Kelley students, which their parents should find most reassuring. Undergraduate Program Chair M.A. Venkataraman, better known as “Professor Venkat,” was born and educated in Chennai. Professor Vijay Khatri also is returning to his homeland. The new director of the program, Kathleen Robbins, has traveled extensively worldwide. Professor Jamie Prenkert and Rosanna Bateman -- who handles all the logistics for the school’s international experiences -- also have gone to India three years in a row.

This trip will reinforce close relationships that have been forged by these and other Kelley faculty and staff to provide a personal and engaging experience for students.

For others, including me, this will be more of an introduction. But many of the Kelley students I met last year on my previous India trip continue to stay in touch with me through Facebook and occasional meetings on campus. I look forward to forging more of these friendships and regaining an appreciation for college life, 20 years after getting my IU degree.

It has been amazing to follow their progress. They include a university trustee, the founder of a microfinance organization, a student government leader, several Kelley and Wells scholars and many other outstanding young people with interests beyond financial reports and stock projections.

This blog will serve as a travelogue for our incredible Indian adventure. It not only will contain my thoughts, but also those shared with me. I plan to write daily and hope I’ll also be able to include photos.

Salaam alaikrum, “peace be unto you.”