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.

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