The Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) recently hosted an evening during its India Week, where a panel discussion took place around India South Africa relations. Michael Bratt attended to find out more.
Consul General, Dr KJ Srinivasa was guest of honour. The Indian economy, he says, is “one of the bright shining stars of the world economic landscape”. As the sixth largest economy currently in the world and the third largest by purchasing power, the country boasts some impressive stats.
- India has been the fastest growing economy since 2014
- Corporate earnings are expected to grow by 20% in the 2017/18 financial year
- GDP is expected to grow by at least 7.5% in the coming year
- The country had over 1 400 new start-ups in 2016, with an investment of over $4 billion
- Exports are growing by 18% year on year
- Inflation is on the decline, touching 3.5% in March 2017
Strong government reforms have helped drive the process, particularly for the middle class. Initiatives include building affordable housing and improving the tax system, a focus on inflation by the Central Bank of India, a strong push by government towards digital transformation, and attracting investment from foreign companies through tax incentives. The new government also believes that start-ups are the way forward, offering them a three year tax exemption and keeping taxes low.
“The overall Indian economy is poised for a big takeoff and we believe that we will become the third largest consumer economy by 2025… Our prime minister is very optimistic that we would remain the world’s fastest growing economy and we grow five-fold by 2040 through a series of policy measures and initiatives we are taking,” said Dr Srinivasa.
Official book launch
The highlight of the evening, aside from a robust panel discussion, was the official launch of a coffee table book, ‘India & South Africa Trade & Investment Partners’. The Iconic Group, the owner of Wag the Dog Publishers (which publishes The Media Online and The Media, among other titles), was involved in conceptualising, creating and producing this offering.
Sandra Gordon, CEO of Wag the Dog Publishers, spoke at the event about the process behind the creation of the book as well what she learnt along the way.
“Indian people have a love of the printed word and recognise its power,” she explained. Admitting that perseverance was required by the book’s contributors, Gordon added, “The seriousness with which the featured companies in the book participated was a revelation to me. I’ve often had to do corporate profiles in magazines and online publications before and it’s often difficult to get people to take the matter seriously. Not one of the individuals that we spoke to, from the biggest Indian companies operating in this country, didn’t co-operate fully and give us access to their top people and to photograph their premises.”
A robust panel discussion
The focal point of the evening was a top-notch panel discussion on India and its relationship with South Africa. Govin Reddy, editor of the coffee table book, said that the one thing that hits you about India is its size. “The population of South Africa’s three biggest cities, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, is less than Mumbai.”
Surprisingly, Reddy also revealed that India is only South Africa’s seventh biggest trade partner. “Given our strong cultural and political ties, the gap shouldn’t be as wide as that.” He would like to see South Africa export more manufactured goods, as opposed to raw materials, and also commented on the dire situation South Africa finds itself in with its growth rate. “We have our problems and we have to look at that … We cannot get growth and cannot get unemployment sorted out if things are happening behind our backs which undermine us.” Which was a clear allusion to the Gupta family’s influence on the country.
Yashika Singh, head of the religious department at SABC, said India is a place of cultural integration, like South Africa, and provided some insight into the ethos of Indian people. “They live and work with heart. Their ethic is heartfelt. They will go out of their way to help you… because for them service to humanity is a wish from God. And they are unapologetic about living in harmony. They celebrate their life with fervour.”
Her advice? “We need to celebrate who we are as Africans so we can rise to the occasion. We look to India as a partner, for skills and development, and technology, but also India can look at us for what we have to offer.”
No stranger to doing business in Africa is ex-Tata Africa CEO, Raman Dhawan. He said credit needed to be given to the leaders of India and South Africa who rebuilt the relationship, after it was destroyed by apartheid.
“It is the time again to choose your partners well. When you choose them your country also stays safe. And it is an important aspect that every leader should choose. Everyone can play a role in bringing leaders from business from around the world to interact on a one on one basis with leaders here in trade and commerce to understand each other, that would make a huge impact,” he said.
He also commented on the lack of direct flights between the two countries as well as the issues around visas. His parting advice, “Don’t take a timid approach to investment in Africa. Be courageous and invest. There is great potential lying there. And likewise, we are talking about India being a shining light in a dreary global economy… like anything in life the captain of the ship has to be very good and that is where India is very good as it has someone who is very progressive and works which makes a big difference.”
Bobby Madhav, head of trade and structured trade and commodity finance at FNB, took attendees through the journey of introducing the banking group into the Indian market. The bank decided to enter the market due to its large population as well as the linkages like history and culture that the nation has with South Africa. One very noticeable thing for Madhav was how big the market is; 254 banks operate in India with one, for example, having 1 100 branches and 160 000 ATMs.
His lessons and advice:
- Understand the space you are going into including the regulations and the culture. “You may be an Indian from South Africa going to India, but you’re not Indian. This was very different”.
- Work with local partners to help acclimatise.
- Look for and approach South African companies in that space, as they are easy to get as clients as they are familiar with your brand.
- You have to be smart with technology. Often other markets will be technologically ahead of South Africa.
- It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work at it.
He also encouraged attendees to learn from the Asian nation saying, “If there is one country willing to part with its knowledge, it’s India”.
The final speaker was Dr Nthabiseng Legoete, founder of Quali Health, who as part of her MBA visited India. Her three takeaways for attendees were:
- There doesn’t have to be a disconnect between being efficient and treating people with dignity and respect.
- Use a production line method for your business, where everyone has a miniscule role, but they perfect it and can do it quickly and efficiently.
- Leverage technology to increase efficiency and profitability.
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8