MBA Alumnus Sheds Light on Business Adaptation in India
May 22, 2017
“India is like an onion,” MBA graduate Harsh Singhania ’86 told a gathering of Isenberg MBA students on a recent visit to the school. Outsiders, he said, often fail to see the diverse horizontal and vertical segmentation within both the country’s population of 1.2 billion and its middle class of more than 300 million. By and large, India’s consumers prefer low-cost, no-frills phones, autos, and other technology-driven offerings, remarked Singhania, who is Managing Director of the Indian conglomerate JK Industries. The multigenerational family-run business sells automotive products, cement, paper, insurance, education services, and other goods and services.
In India, low-cost preferences—favored by both consumers and producers—drive a business culture that fosters frugal innovation. That, noted Singhania, includes groups of semiliterate women with cellphones who create microenterprises.
More than in the United States, India’s central and state governments, Singhania emphasized, are “active facilitators” that set ground rules and policy parameters to help narrow the striking gaps between socioeconomic strata. India may have the planet’s biggest middle class, but “many of our factories are in remote tribal areas that are extremely underdeveloped,” he observed. Corporations, including his own, he added, are active partners in societal betterment through economic development and charitable and educational initiatives. JK, for example, pioneered day-care facilities at its business sites and is a key enabler of a university in Jaipur and a pre-K- to-grade-12 school in Kolkata.
“I wouldn’t trade my Isenberg MBA experience for anything.”MBA at Isenberg
“I wouldn’t trade my Isenberg MBA experience for anything,” insisted Singhania. “It gave me tremendous perspective in marketing, OB, finance—you name it. “I got the MBA because I didn’t want to be seen as just another family member in the family business—to be viewed as just my father’s son.”
A high point that the Isenberg graduate will always remember: a team project where he and fellow MBA students devised a strategy for marketing the then nascent Pontiac Sunbird. “It was a GM project where we competed with other schools,” he recalls. “General Motors lent us a Sunbird, which each team member got to keep and drive for a few days.“ Singhania has an enduring friendship with that team’s faculty advisor, Isenberg marketing professor Marc Weinberger. He also stays in touch with another Isenberg marketing professor, Easwar Iyer, who has visited him at his headquarters in New Delhi.
Change and Adaptation
“It is important to stay updated in the face of change in this connected, globalized world,” Singhania advised. For India, that includes 400+ million internet users (35% of the population—up from 15% only two years ago). “We are the world’s 2nd largest smart phone market, with probably more access to cell phones than TVs,” he said. “Our start-ups are technology-enabled in everything from food services to our own versions of Amazon and Uber. We are the world’s noisiest democracy with voter turnout of more than 70% in five states.
“We talk about imploding but India will never implode,” he continued. “That’s because we are innovative—adaptive by nature. “Sometimes we are not so good at executing, but we are uniquely resilient—in both business and policymaking. Social impact and hunger for change—they drive our businesses and policy makers to action.”