Working for an Indian Conglomerate

Growing up in India, the Aditya Birla Group (ABG) must have been one of the countable few companies I should have known about as a child. Tata and Birla names were often used synonymously with anything that was considered rich and grandiose. However, never once did I imagine that I would work for such a magnificent conglomerate as ABG in my first major business project during my MBA studies at the Fisher College of Business.

Living up to traditional Indian values, the ABG group welcomed us with impressive warmth and generosity. The team was accommodated in ABG’s guest house with exclusive chefs, cars and chauffeurs. We were given separate workspaces in their Bengaluru office and were accompanied by employees to every client location at which we had an interview. And, during work hours, the team enjoyed tea/coffee at regular intervals, served right at our desks! Seeing employees have group lunches in an exclusive ‘cafeteria’ area inside the office was unusual for my American counterparts.

The most exciting part of the business experience was working from a meeting room right next to Kumaramangalam Birla himself on the day of our final presentation!  Presenting our findings to such top level management as the VP of Consumer Insights of ABG groups and Managing Director of the Chemicals business and receiving their feedback and appreciation is an unforgettable first business project presentation experience. Thank you, Fisher and the GAP program, for giving me this wonderful opportunity!

Exploring Switzerland and Munich

The last week has been filled with a plethora of cultural experiences that have been both enlightening and delightful. The journey of our most recent week first took us to Geneva, Switzerland. The most amazing part of the trip was the train ride to Geneva. We travelled through the hilltops above Lake Geneva, enjoying breath-taking views of small towns near the lake with the Alps just beyond. Geneva was really cool, but it was difficult to thoroughly explore the area given the down-pouring rain we had the whole time. The best part of Geneva was taking a trip to the CERN research facility, which was something I have always wanted to do. It was definitely a nerd activity, but was exciting to be at one of the most influential research labs in the world where CERN scientists created the internet, the large hadron collider, and discovered the Higgs Boson. CERN is also featured in the book and movie Angels & Demons.

Passing Lake Geneva
Passing Lake Geneva
View from above in Geneva
View from above in Geneva

After Geneva, We headed to Zurich for the rest of the weekend. I think the team definitely enjoyed Zurich more, if only because it didn’t rain quite as much! It had a wonderful city center and it was very enriching just to walk around aimlessly. Unfortunately, all of the shops are closed on Sundays, so we weren’t able to partake in a shopping excursion. We found an awesome café though, and sipped on delicious coffee and tea while taking in the local culture. The café appeared to be a favorite among the locals, which convinced us it was the real deal. We also had dinner at a fondue joint called Swiss Chuchi, recommended by an Hungarian girl working at our hotel. She said it was traditional Swiss cuisine, so we had to try it. It wasn’t the ideal cuisine with beach season coming up, but was worth it to get a flavor of the culture.

Limmat River in Zurich
Limmat River in Zurich

We headed back to Munich Sunday night ready to dominate the work week. Monday night, we went to a traditional German restaurant where we ate weiner schnitzel and ragout with asparagus and dumplings. It was the best German food we have had so far. Tuesday, we were able to find a gym nearby that wasn’t too expensive. It seems that Germans don’t exercise the same way as Americans. The gyms we’ve found have been small and costly. Working out at this German gym was certainly an interesting cultural experience. After the workout, we needed some carbs so we went back to our favorite Italian restaurant, and it was just as fantastic as the first time. The next day gave us a taste of German culture that we hadn’t sampled yet. We were walking through the city center and stumbled upon a huge market (called Viktualienmarkt) with tents filled with all types of food, drinks, and gifts. It was so interesting to walk around and see all the different things that the local culture offered. We then happened upon the original Hofbrauhaus, and, of course, we had to stop in. After a drink and a pretzel, we checked out the English Garden a bit more and got to see a spot on the river where people surf. On our last full day in Munich, we took a trip out to Dachau Concentration Camp. This trip was sobering. It was surreal to be seeing a large Nazi concentration camp and a key war area of World War II. The site definitely did a good job at communicating what happened and of presenting the information in a way that allowed us to learn a lot. Nonetheless, it was quite an experience to cap off a week full of cultural immersion.

Hofbrauhaus in Munich
Hofbrauhaus in Munich
Surfing in Munich
Surfing in Munich

GAP Germany, Week 2 Business Blog

After a relaxing (but expensive!) weekend in Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland, we returned to Munich late Sunday night. The weekend left us refreshed and prepared for a work week (mostly) dedicated to preparing our slide deck and developing our market entry recommendation “story” for the client.

Monday was a national holiday in Germany, so we decided to redirect our focus from contacting more distributors, department store buyers and industry-specific organization (Chamber of Commerce and Industry, US Consulate, etc.) experts, to honing in on a clear direction for our strategic recommendation.

Side Note: As a team, we would suggest creating a similar “inflection point” for consulting-based projects; pick a time to cease the research phase of the project so that you can focus on delivering a solid recommendation/slide deck to the client. At a certain point, there are definitely diminishing returns gained from more (aka excessive)research and/or outreach. With that said, collectively choose that point carefully and thoughtfully and make sure you cover your bases!

On Tuesday, the import manager from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry unfortunately had to cancel our meeting; however, we were able to chat over the phone later in the week. His recommendations and advice were very similar to those of our previous contacts in Germany: securing a meeting with a distributor or department store buyer without visiting a large trade show, marketing your product prior to said trade show without having contacts in the intended city of entry with proven sales data in hand or a full assortment of product to show in the (unlikely) event of meeting with an interested buyer, is incredibly difficult in Munich, let alone Germany.

However, despite this less-than-encouraging feedback, we have at least received this same consistent market entry message from our in-country meetings and conversations. We believe that our market research, competitive shopping and meetings thus far have nonetheless adequately prepared us to deliver a quality, valuable recommendation to RG Barry.

(Another) Side Note: Make sure you do your homework beforehand! Spending time in Columbus and the first week in Munich researching the market, industry and potential meeting partners put us in a favorable position to deliver value to the client even without executing exactly what we hoped to achieve. Although we still plan on recommending a specific tiered market entry strategy, remember that it is completely okay to give the client an honest “do not enter/do not do it” recommendation. Initially, they may be disappointed, but, in the long run, they will be very happy that they did not waste time and money on an unprofitable or impenetrable market.

We are excited to review our first slide deck “draft” as a team on Friday and will adjust as necessary before our presentation next week. We have a lot left to accomplish, but are looking forward to a fun weekend in Prague until Sunday night!

Danke Schoen,

GAP Germany Team


Soaking Up Gaborone’s Culture

This week, we went out to dinner to a local African chain called Spur. Spur is very similar to the US chain Chilis and serves basic staples such as burgers, steaks and ribs. Our server suggested that we try the burgers. Being that we were hungry and looking for something easy and quick, we agreed. Note the word “quick”!

About 30 minutes later, we heard a bell ding and noticed our order sitting in the window, waiting to be collected by our server. She, however, did not notice, and we waited another five minutes before she finally brought our food. We quickly ate our meal, had our plates promptly cleared from the table and then proceeded to wait for another 45 minutes before we finally walked to the front of the restaurant to ask for our bill. It then took the staff another five minutes to locate our server, identify who had what meals, and then pay for our food. With process improvement on our minds from a long day’s work, needless to say, we were less than impressed by the staff and their inability to understand our needs and meet our demands. Unfortunately, this level of service seems to be a standard in the food service industry and is one thing that we are looking forward to leaving behind when we return to Ohio at the end of the week.

To conclude our time in Botswana, we enjoyed two fun activities in Gaborone.  For lunch, one of the sales team members took us out to a local establishment which specializes in Setswana specialties.  We tasted dishes like Guinea Fowl Stew and Goat Seswa with dumplings, pap, rice and a local kind of salad.  After lunch, we went to a craft store where we were able to buy souvenirs made by local craftsmen.  Then, for dinner, we took our project sponsor and Barclays project lead out to an Indian restaurant called Embassy—one of the best restaurants in Gaborone.  With the project complete, it was nice to relax and enjoy the company of some great new friends.

There are some things which we will miss about Botswana—the nice people we met and good cheap Setswana food—but it is going to be nice to be home after several weeks.  We all hope to come back here again at some point in our lives.IMG_1371 IMG_1373

Final Countdown – Presentation Week

It’s hard to believe that three weeks have come and gone.  This last week in country at Barclays in Botswana has been full and exciting.  We have been working hard to pull together our findings and recommendations into a deliverable that can be left with the client so they can begin to implement some of our recommendations.  In the first few days of this week, we held meetings with several stakeholders to review our findings and recommendations with them in order to build buy-in and to correct any assumptions or add information that we may have missed.  These were great sessions.  While there was not always perfect agreement, we received lots of great feedback that helped us craft our final recommendations and presentation.

By Wednesday night, we had finalized all of our materials and began preparing for our final presentations.  Thursday, we printed handouts and reports with our findings and recommendations.  On Thursday afternoon, we were given a great opportunity to meet with Managing Director, Reinette van der Merwe, to discuss some of our findings and recommendations.  We were very pleased that she seemed excited by our work.

On Friday morning, we presented our work to the entire Corporate Management Committee.  We all had our own sections of the presentation, and worked to perfect our storylines.  The committee was very impressed by our findings and recommendations, and it sparked some great discussion in the Q&A portion of the presentation.  We are very optimistic that our work will lead to some exciting improvements at Barclays Bank of Botswana.

On Friday afternoon, we also had a community outreach event where young people from Botswana came to meet with us and ask questions about how to pursue careers in business.  Our team shared our professional experiences and stories for how we came to study at Fisher.  Following this event, we had a reception where we had one-on-one conversations with the youths who came to the event.  The young people in Botswana are very driven and want to be successful.  It was inspiring to see so many of them working towards their dreams to pursue opportunities in business. Botswana surely has a bright future!

This GAP project in Botswana was an awesome experience. We’ve had the great opportunity to work with some wonderful people. We had incredible students from the University of Botswana on our team and so appreciate having had the chance to work with them.  Our project manager on the client side, Thandi, has been supportive and given us all the resources we needed to complete this project.  Finally, it has been a fabulous experience working with Jeff Davis, a Fisher alum and the executive in charge of the project.

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Its a cultural thing

Every place, country, family speaks of culture. China is no exception. The country contains  an array of unique things and places that you stand in awe of the moment you realize you becoming a part of it. The pictures picture speak a thousand words.

We have Amazon, there its the TMall and JD (aka Jindong). TMall has a ambassador of its own – a cute one too.


The Bund – The Clarke Quay of China. Behind the team are the skyscrapers of Pudong.


The Great Wall – the torchbearer of China’s history.


The Forbidden City – Once upon a time in China, there lived a king…


The Water City – Xitang- where you immerse yourself in a world of dreams.


Then, I sensed something that brought people even closer together: food! In China, regardless of the dish you are eating, it will be served in such a way that you sit together, sometimes prepare it together and always share it, be it BBQs, hot-pots or duck feast. Eating and meals in China bring a feeling of togetherness. Being a vegetarian, I did not have the liberty to try all the dishes, but what I did enjoy and what will stay with me is that feeling of togetherness. I cherished being with my team of twelve people, all having laughs together.


The outcome? You return to the US with happy memories and a strong project deliverable.

Customer decision making survey

Through the Global Applied Program (GAP), I had the wonderful opportunity to visit China for the first time in my life. And as mentioned in my cultural blog, I planned to take this opportunity to learn both the cultural and the business environment of China. I was part of the marketing team of the project. And on this blog I am going to share and reflect on the experience our team had while we were trying to conduct consumer survey in order to learn more about the customer decision making process.

Malls/Supermarkets – Talking to the Sales Representatives

As part of tIMG_0352he project, we planned to conduct in depth interviews with our target consumer to understand more about the consumer’s decision making process. Our first step was to gather some basic product information and currents trends in the market by talking to the sales representative at the malls. But contrary to expectation, the sales representatives were not very open in sharing information with us when we  approached themCapture as students. Therefore, we immediately changed our strategy and tried the role play of a young American businessperson looking to purchase an air purifier for his office with the Chinese student acting as his assistant helping him understand the different models and standards of the purifiers. Although this strategy helped us with the sales reps in understanding the different products in the market, surprisingly the sales representatives would not allow us to take pictures in the stores. Instead, we had to discreetly take pictures. Above are some of the picture that we took while in the stores.

Malls/Supermarkets – Talking to the Consumers

After being somewhat successful in talking with the sales representative, we decided to try our luck with some of the consumers shopping in the malls and supermarkets. From my perspective, talking to these customers was the single biggest hurdle we faced during the entire project. To give an idea of how challenging it was to talk to a consumer, we visited a total of five malls/supermarkets and approached nearly 40-50 people. Only three of them responded to us, and all three were non-Chinese residents currently living in China.

WeChat – the Savior

In the end, the only way we successfully gathered data on consumer behavior was through passing our survey on WeChat.





Food, Language and Travel

Through the Global Applied Program (GAP), I had the wonderful opportunity to visit China for the first time in my life. I planned to use this opportunity to learn both the cultural and the business environment of China. It has been exactly two weeks since we reached China. And, everyday has been a unique experience. On this blog, I am going to share and reflect on my cultural experience.

Food:bubble Tea

I am a vegetarian, and, as some of you may know, China is not the most vegetarian friendly place. Combine that with the language barrier… It can be very hard to find good, vegetarian food without the help of a local friend. I remember our very first evening in Shanghai. We went out forStreet Food dinner and it took us 30 mins to Scorpionorder plain rice and vegetables. Later that night, we took the metro to roam around the city and got lost. However, we had the hotel card with us and were able to find our way back without much trouble. Fortunately for us, we had Hong and Aaron for the rest of our time in China.

Although I have food restrictions, I enjoyed trying new dishes and snacks like the Bimbimbap, the hotpot, the Pocky sticks, the cheese tart and the bubble tea.Bullfrog Legs More than for myself, I enjoyed watching the rest of my team experimenting with all kinds of food. In the US, I’ve been exposed to beef, pork and chicken (maybe some lamb every now and then). But, in the last two week I have been exposed to many dishes: Bullfrog Legs and Peking Ducks and street food such as  scorpions and seahorses.

Roasted Duck









One of our first touristy visits was to Peoples Square, a large public square in the Huangpu district of Shanghai. From there, we hopped a double decker tourist bus that took us to all the famous and historical places in Shanghai. The tour also included a ferry ride in the Huangpu river and a visit to the Oriental Pearl Tower


The Oriental Pearl Tower is not just a tourist attraction; it has historical importance as it was the tallest building in China until 2007. The Pearl Tower has15 observatory levels, with the highest level at 350 meter. We also went to the sightseeing glass floor which gives a 360-degree view of the entire Shanghai. There is also a revolving restaurant, a rollercoaster and a game arcades area in the
tower.Tour Bus

During the second week of our project, we went to Beijing where we visited the Forbidden City. Located in the centre of Beijing, the Forbidden City was the Chinese ImpOriental Pearl Towererial Palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the city consists of 980 buildings and covers 180 acres. After doing some research on the Forbidden City, I found out that it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

We also woke up at 4:00 one morning to wBeijing Flag Ceremonyatch the flag raising ceremony at Tian’anmen Square, Beijing. The ceremony is conducted every morning, exactly at sunrise. The entire ceremony lasts for three minutes. It is said that it takes about two minutes and seven seconds for the entire sun to rise above the horizon, and the flag is raised slowly to coordinate with sunrise.

Lastly, before leaving Beijing, we visited the Great Wall of China (a two hour car ride from Beijing). I had always heard and seen pictures of the Great Wall, but being there and seeing it in person was a completely different experience.Forbidden City

So far it has been a great two weeks/ I look forward for the last five days and plan to visit the famous World Expo site and the Yu Garden in Shanghai.

Great Wall of China















The final week in China

In the final week of our in-country experience, we consolidated the information that we had collected over the time we spent in China, specifically in Shanghai and Beijing. From the primary marketing research, there were some interesting results. Our Chinese experts on the team mentioned that the Chinese tend to trust foreign brands more than local brands when it comes to health conscious products such as air purifiers. They also hypothesized that the Chinese have huge trust, perhaps the greatest trust, in US brands. However, when asked on the survey, we learned that the Chinese do trust foreign brands, but that the US comes in third on the list after Germany and Japan in terms of air purifiers.

Another interesting research fact was the consumers’ choice of place/brand for purchase of replacement air filters. This choice is different from the mindset of Americans. Air purifiers are somewhat of an expensive investment, therefore, the Chinese are highly cautious when replacing the air filters. They want to make sure that the filter does not damage the purifier and will not void their warranty in any way. Therefore, they go to the same retail outlet through which they purchased the air purifier originally and also go for the same brand as that of the purchased air purifier. There is also the issue of education/product knowledge. In fact, 75% of the respondents were not aware that the air filters need not match the brand of the air purifiers. This was shocking to us. In order to break into the Chinese market, we would have to change the perception of the consumers and make them more open minded towards purchasing generic filters.

Furthermore, we learned that consumers do not really trust any government standards for the filters, but depend more on word of mouth from family and friends or blog posts from trusted sources. Analyzing this information, t became clear that our client had to establish a presence in China.

From these insights, our main conclusion is that in order to gain market share in the Chinese market, our client would have to first, educate the consumers on the usage of filters, and second, promote their brand extensively. Consumers need to be more aware of the performance and compatibility of our client’s filters with the existing air purifiers and make the brand more acceptable among the Chinese consumers.

A Potpourri of Regulations

There you go! Out comes another one of China’s efforts to lure MNCs. This time, it is patents and trademarks. About a fortnight ago, China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The purpose was to promote the recognition of a system for the international registration of trademarks. Not even two months ago, the government had released and implemented a new regulation called Cai Guan Shui 18 reclassifying aWIPO logoll e-commerce sales as part of general trade as opposed to the hitherto usual classification of cross-border trade coming under Parcel Composite Tax. A list of “eligible” import products was also    issued. Businesses whose products were not on the list made up their minds to pack up.

In less than six months, over 60 circulars have been issued to promote trade and e-commerce. In such a constantly changing environment, international companies may sometimes feel at a loss as it is difficult to predict how long-standing a regulation will turn out to be. Formulating business strategies becomes difficult as a result.

It all started about four VAT in Chinayears ago. A tax reform started with the objective of replacing Business Tax (BT) with Value Added Tax (VAT). The argument was that BT was an ineffective system that taxed businesses at each stage of a supply chain regardless of whether or not that stage added any value to the product. The VAT system was supposed to remedy this problem. VAT has gradually covered all cities and provinces in mainland China, as well as multiple business sectors.

An effective recourse, then, for American companies looking to do business in China is turning to agUS-China Business Councilencies such as US-China Business Council (USCBC). This non-profit has had a presence in China for over forty years and keeps abreast of all the relevant regulations, as well as the Chinese market. Over 200 US based companies are members. Alternatively, consulting companies such as PwC and E&Y can be consulted. In addition, products can be sold through “bonded ware-Bonded Warehousehouses” as opposed to non-bonded ones. A product stored in the former is still considered “in transit” and hence no taxes are paid on it until it is shipped out to a customer. The bonded warehouse provides a great advantage: international companies have a quick “out” in case unexpected regulations pop up and continuing business becomes unfavorable.