If you follow this blog regularly, you have probably read about some of the recent events that the student body has organized, including Fuqua Idol, Dancing with the Faculty, etc. It’s difficult to be a student at Fuqua and not be involved with an event. My foray with organizing a student event came with the latest chapter of the India Business Forum.

Picture of the audience at the India Business Forum
The audience seemed very engaged during the India Business Forum.

The India Business Forum, a.k.a. IBF, is an annual fixture that puts a face to the oft-discussed India growth story. This year’s event, Building Organizations for a Billion People, brought together four accomplished business figures to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing mangers doing business in/with India.

The talks at the event offered many insights and lessons. Below are some of my key takeaways:

Think Long Term

India is not a market for the short term. As Satyen Patel, a seasoned executive who led at Pepsi and Nike, pointed out, the risks and challenges of operating in India are very real. However, as Patel found out through his many ventures in India, organizations that commit to the country and take a long-term view of the market tend to make good returns.

The Value of Being Local

It isn’t surprising that investors want to be in India to invest in the up and coming companies. However, the start-up ecosystem in India is not nearly as evolved as in the U.S. That creates interesting opportunities and challenges for PE and VC outfits in India. Dimple Sahni, a Fund Principal at Hattery, spoke about how she mitigated this challenge by spending time in India to understand the local culture of doing business in the region.

Social Mission Drives Good Business

Putting social good at the center of a business model is great for starting new businesses that make a huge impact. Manoj Sinha, a co-founder of Husk Power, spoke about starting and growing a company with the vision to setup power plants in remote areas that have never had electricity. While Sinha and his team continue to tweak the operations and strategy, the vision has resonated globally and kept them focused on the organization’s true calling.

Organizations Need to Learn to Manage India

Picture of Mr. Swami Raote at the India Business Forum
Mr. Swami Raote spoke about the challenges J&J faced in India

India is not one market but highly heterogeneous — there are 58 distinct socio-cultural and economic regions in the country. Organizations that recognize and address this tend to do well. Swami Raote, Managing Director of Johnson & Johnson India and ASEAN, spoke about the challenges J&J faced in India despite the company’s 50+ years of history in India. However, the recent focus on segments, challenges faced by consumers, and staying true to J&J’s credo have guided the company to become a billion dollar business in India.

There is a lot one gains from events like the IBF. It is not often that you get to listen to and speak with high profile executives who have tremendous experience and insight into roles and markets that business school students aspire to be a part of. What makes the experience even more rewarding is organizing the event to bring together great speakers and aspiring leaders, while learning a great deal in the process.