Taj Mahal By Marc O’Bryan and Stephen Allison

Our visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra was undoubtedly one of the biggest highlights of the trip. This wonder of the world, which attracts over one million visitors per year, was truly a magnificent sight that not many Americans get to experience. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and shed light on some very interesting facts about the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal’s history entails a love story, which seems to fit well with India’s love of emotional expression. This beautiful structure was in fact a mausoleum built by a grieving husband after the loss of his beloved wife, who passed away after experiencing complications during the delivery of her fourteenth child. It was surprising to find out that this grand palace-like structure, made entirely of white marble, was built for the sole purpose of enabling a powerful 17th century emperor to honor his late wife. We learned that he built the Taj Mahal after promising his wife on her death bed that he would build a memorial to remember her. The reason why it is called the “Taj Mahal” is because the wife’s name was Mumtaz Mahal, which was interesting to learn. The magnificence of the Taj Mahal is enriched by its physical embodiment of this love story between a powerful emperor and the wife he loved dearly.

The architecture of the Taj Mahal is amazing and is said to be one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture. The incredibly ornate detail that is incorporated into virtually every square inch of the Taj Mahal makes one appreciate the painstaking work that it took to construct it. The fact that such a complex structure was able to be conceived and constructed with such perfection is truly remarkable, considering it took place mid-17th century. One fact about the architecture that we found particularly interesting and clever was that the four columns surrounding the main dome structure were intentionally built to slant outward by four degrees. This was to ensure that in the event that these columns were to fall over, they would fall away from the main dome structure. Another interesting fact we learned was that the real graves of the emperor, Shah Jahal, and his wife, Mumtaz Jahal, are located in the basement of the Taj Mahal. What tourists see in the main chamber house are actually false graves.

Our appreciation of the Taj Mahal grew tremendously during or subsequent visit to the nearby Marble Inlay Factory. We were given the opportunity to actually see the enormous amount of work it requires to cut and shape the marble, embed the semi-precious stones in the marble, and finally polish it to give it a pristine look. It was amazing to see these craftsmen working on the marble in the same way that it was done almost 400 years ago during the construction of the Taj Mahal. Seeing how much work went into creating just a small marble table top really gave us some perspective on how much labor it must have taken to complete the Taj Mahal.

Overall, our visit to the Taj Mahal was a great experience that deepened our understanding and appreciation of India’s fascinating history and culture. If visiting India, experiencing the Taj Mahal is a must if one wants to truly get a sense of this country’s unique culture and what it has to offer the rest of the world.

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Mandhana – Being Human Store Recap By Sam Kligman and Marc O’Bryan

Our tour of the Being Human store, led by executive manager, Manish Mandhana, revealed another example of an enterprising Indian company. The idea behind the Being Human brand is to promote improvements to education and health among the lower income population, especially children. This registered charitable organization is actively supported by Salman Khan, a famous Bollywood actor and philanthropist, who partnered with Mandhana to create a new cause marketing campaign. He even went so far as to put his own money toward the new venture.

Manish Mandhana made some very insightful remarks about the store’s brand and the causes it supports. His vision was inspirational in the sense that his brand focuses first on people by providing them with better education and healthcare. Externally, the company contributes a generous portion of their profits to various causes. Internally, the company strives to follow its mission to help less fortunate people by employing physically disabled workers. The brand has a goal to have at least one “100% able-bodied” employee working at each store, which we found to be a very noble endeavor. The company also uses organically grown cotton, and plans to increase its usage of these “green” materials by 5% each year. Another noteworthy cause supported by Mandhana is to empower women through its hiring practices by maintaining a workforce that is made up of 70% women.

Currently the Being Human brand is featured in several countries outside of India, which is aligned with Mandhana’s goal of also branching out internationally. The Being Human brand has seen tremendous success locally and abroad, which is what drives their motivation to expand. Manish showed us how the Being Human brand is differentiated from other retail brands through its philanthropic activities, its unique style, and its celebrity endorsement. Every aspect of their clothing represents the brand’s core values, which are to promote positive morals such as helping people, being happy, and caring for others. These core values are prominently displayed on the clothing through unique symbols that can be understood universally.

After experiencing the brand first-hand, we developed a greater appreciation for the work that went into creating the brand image and maintaining it among competitors. In a market where counterfeit replication happens easily and is hard to prevent, they are doing an excellent job of preventing their brand image from becoming diluted. This can be seen in the new loss prevention practice that they will be implementing by offering a 20% discount to people who bring in counterfeit clothing.  Overall, we are confident that this company will be successful in the future and we are grateful to have been given the opportunity to meet such a visionary executive.

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MBA Group Visit to Groupon By Chester Hiu and Stephen Allison

Our second business visit on June 20, 2013, was to Groupon in New Delhi. Our short bus ride over from Lemon Tree brought us directly to the modest accommodations of Groupon’s team India.

We met with Ankur Warikoo, CEO of Groupon in India. Mr. Warikoo was a young Indian man who had previously studied Statistics and Physics in the States, but came back to India to earn an MBA at the Indian School of Business. From there, he did a bit of entrepreneurship and consulting before arriving where he is today.

There were many Groupon-like companies in India prior to Groupon’s arrival. However, Groupon is a much bigger success by comparison. Groupon’s success in India is attributed to Mr. Warikoo’s team plan. Their plan was to court the business of well-known, quality brands and to offer these Groupon discounts to the Indian middle class whose average income was roughly 6 lakhs, or roughly north of $10,000 USD. Groupon’s strategy was to gain marketing power by offering Groupon’s services to industry leaders such as the Taj Mahal Hotel line free of cost. By signing on top tier clients, others followed suit by signing on with Groupon so that they would not be left at a disadvantage.

However, Groupon India’s successes have not been without their challenges. One of the major obstacles that they encountered was COD, or Cash on Delivery. For those who are new to the concept of Cash on Delivery, it works thusly: a customer would place an order for an item, and the item would be delivered and then paid for upon receipt.

There were two distinct problems that arose from COD. Since customers did not have to pay upfront and had no penalty for rejecting parcels upon delivery. This led to inefficiencies in the system where customers would order items only to inspect, handle, and reject it upon delivery. The delivery person would have no other option but to bring back the parcel, sometimes open or spoiled without compensation for the delivery.

The second problem was that delivery people often carried expensive goods, and were sometimes robbed and beaten for their parcels. These parcels were not yet paid for, so the burden of loss would rest on the seller or manufacturer. Initially, COD was not an option for Groupon. However, due to the large market segment that COD comprises, Groupon has started to take COD offers. Groupon’s only recourse to remedy COD problems was to limit or blacklist COD based on location and parcel worth. One entire province was blacklisted due to a string of robberies and beatings associated with COD for high-priced goods.

Language barriers also proved a formidable issue for Groupon. Groupon India currently offers its services in English, although there are many potential Hindi-only users. The core demographic consisting of the relatively wealthy Indian middle-class generally prefers English. English is typically attributed with more worldly, affluent Indians. Hindi, on the other hand, is the native tongue of many. However, through Indian perspective, “local” and “native” are attributed to inferior quality. Groupon’s advertising has to take into account these Indian perspectives as well. For example, none of Groupon India’s offers have reference to buying local, because it immediately validates a deal as inferior.

Another interesting cultural mistranslation is the English use of the word “pair”. Groupon India had offered a deal consisting of a couple of shirts and a pair of cargo shorts. Upon delivery, many frustrated Indians called Groupon, accusing Groupon of fraud. These customers were expecting to receive two sets of shirts and cargo shorts, but had only received two shirts and one pair of shorts. It was logical for them to expect two full sets, but they did not realize that the colloquial meaning of “pair of shorts” meant one item, not two. As a result, Groupon India made sure to label all deals involving the word “pair” with the exact quantity in parentheses.

Shopping online is gaining much popularity in India these recent years. Groupon has been enjoying significant year-on-year growth. Due to the right timing, good management, and a strong strategy, Groupon has evolved from a successful contender to become the industry leader in online deals in India.

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Lemon Tree By Stephen Allison and Chester Hiu

On June 20th the Cal Poly MBA class of 2013 had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Rahul Pandit, a member of Lemon Tree’s senior management. Our research on the company and meeting with Mr. Pandit has given me an intimate understanding of Lemon Tree’s business philosophy.

Lemon Tree Hotels was founded in 2002 by Patanjali Keswani. There are three tiers in the Lemon Tree line: the Red Fox economy brand, the mid-scale Lemon Tree Hotels brand, and upscale Lemon Tree Premier. Between the three lines there are 21 hotels in 14 cities, making them the 3rd largest hotel chain in India.

Lemon Tree is a playful brand that never takes itself too seriously. For example, the walls of the lobby café are adorned with quirky baby tee shirts featuring slogans such as “I used to have a handle on life but it broke off” and “Are you the opposite sex… or am I?” Lemon Tree exudes an extroverted, young, quirky, and clever vibe that masks its five-star service for a three-star price. Lemon Tree is able to attract a younger-at-heart crowd through its use of a novel, ironically immature atmosphere.  Lemon Tree is very much an Indian company. Modern Indian business outside of IT is in search of a unique Indian identity, and Lemon Tree is doing its part establishing it.

The vibe of the hotel is extroverted, young, quirky-but-likeable, and smart, like a Hollywood waitress trying to make it and you can’t help but tip a little above your usual rate. She hasn’t made it yet but it is inevitable she will and you want to see her there. It is because Lemon Tree is the waitress and not the fully realized movie star that it gets away with its business model: provide a 5 star experience at a 3 star price. The movie stars, like the Hilton or Four Seasons, have to take themselves seriously because they charge too much to act young. Their brand is built on maturity.

On the cost side Lemon Tree management is equal parts analytic and brutal. There is not one single thing, not even the pencils supplied with the notepads, that hasn’t been carefully considered. Management believes that costs are the one thing that is completely under their control and control it they shall. And, like it always does, the hard work pays off. Financially the business model pays off: Lemon Tree can provide an equal service to their competition at a lower price and remain profitable.

Another unique trait of Lemon Tree is their attitude towards corporate social responsibility. As of today 6% of all Lemon Tree employees suffer from a disability, and this number is planned to rise to 10% within the recent future. Extra cash is spent on teaching able-bodied employees Indian Sign Language. One may think “why incur this unnecessary cost? Lemon Tree is a business, not a charity after all. How does this fit with the identity of a hotel chain?” But management does not see this as cost; rather it is an investment. The employees with disabilities are found to be at least as productive, and often more productive, than their able bodies colleagues. Viewed in the macro perspective, there are tens of millions of perfectly capable Indian workers with disabilities who are unemployed due to discrimination. In fact, 90% of the PWD (People with disabilities) population is below the poverty line. Changing attitudes can lead to higher employment and higher GDP for India.

Changing attitudes is an accurate way to think of Lemon Tree’s influence today. Indian business is still searching for an identity as only recently have large companies been able to succeed here. IT is the success story of the last decade but IT alone cannot sustain a country of 1.2 billion. The coming decade must see success in new sectors, and Lemon Tree has risen to the challenge of defining what a modern Indian hotel can be.

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BIBA Apparels Pvt Ltd By Bryan deRegt and Amy McDougall

Meena Bindra was a wife of a military man in India looking for a little extra pocket money. To accomplish this goal, she decided to begin designing and making some garments out of her house. She made traditional ethnic garments of the Northern India region. These were practical garments that fit all the traditional needs but were also trendy so they made an attractive alternative to the market. She planned only a small business but the demand was so extensive that she had to make new plans. Now, she has about a hundred stores and should be up to 150 stores by the end of 2013. She is still heavily involved on the design side while her son, Siddharth Bindra, has taken over as Managing Director and runs the company with his mother. The company has grown into three different collections of women’s clothing: mix-and-match, Salwar Kameez & Dupathas, and a girl’s line aimed at ages 2-13. In the coming years, Bindra’s vision seems like it will grow into a global enterprise from its small start in her home.

Before our visit, we knew that BIBA would emulate the traditions of Indian culture and history. The website was full of colorful photographs of the ornate designs that BIBA has to offer. Its mission was to offer “fashion at affordable prices” and was targeted to capture all the needs of an Indian woman. Its motto was “Diva on the outside, a romantic at heart-a woman can be an alluring journey.” On the business side, we found many aspects to be interesting. Before learning Siddharth Bindra was the founder’s son, we wondered how he wound up as Managing Director of a textile company after getting a master’s from Harvard in Futures and Derivatives. Additionally, the business had made a new move to partner with an ace designer Manish Arora to help make his clothes for lower prices and appeal to the masses. They also had previous contracts with Bollywood blockbusters and had won numerous awards for being the top female ethnic clothing brand in India.

When we got to the company however, we did not realize that we would be encountering an enormous enterprise that oversees a garment all the way from design to customer. It had an elaborate process of creative design, sampling, fabric purchasing, merchandising, and distribution. Each season (which accounts for six months of the year) witnesses over 1 million meters of fabric being used for hundreds of new designs.  During our tour, we got to see them beginning the process for the Spring/Summer of 2014, as they constantly try to stay ahead of fashion. We had the privilege of meeting with the founder Meena Bindra. She discussed her early start and transition into her role of working in the design area while her son took over business operations. Interestingly, she discussed that they had stopped their association with Bollywood. However, before stopping, she shared with us their greatest success. Partnering with Future Group, they made a garment for a Bollywood film that when it hit retail would not stay on the shelves. Eventually, BIBA made more money off the clothing item than Future Group made off their movie.

Throughout our meeting, we were able to discover a constant theme. This theme was an overarching idea that the most important thing is whether the garment would sell. A design may be beautiful but if the decision makers did not think it would sell then it would not be produced. They do extensive research into trends to discover what will be popular while also greatly relying on the eye of Meena and Siddharth Bindra. In fact, Meena Bindra said that when Siddharth looks at a garment 99% of the time he can tell if it will be a hit. This experiences greatly aides the company in their decision process. Overall, we were very impressed with the company and look forward to seeing their bright future.

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Kingdom of Dreams By Marc O’Bryan and Joshua Bingham

Our visit to Kingdom of Dreams was a great way to start the trip. This world class entertainment park offers visitors the opportunity to experience all of India at just one stop. One of the most awe-inspiring aspects of the park is the Culture Gully. The park’s Culture Gully is a 90,000 square foot adventure that takes visitors through fourteen different themed sections, each one representing an Indian state. This allows visitors a unique and convenient way of experiencing the various cuisines, cultures, and arts of all fourteen Indian states. For example, the Indian state, Goa, is represented with a beach theme, complete with actual sand and tropical decoration. In addition to Culture Gully, Kingdom of Dreams also offers live performances, which are a relatively new attraction in India. The performances depict stories that incorporate strong emotional elements such as love, the battle between Good and Evil, and perseverance. We had the pleasure of watching the performance called Jhumroo, a musical comedy that celebrated the spirit of the famed singer, Kishore Kumar, and a young boy’s aspiration to sing with his talent. During our tour of Kingdom of Dreams, we spoke with several members of the management team who offered their insight on the entertainment industry in India and how their park was differentiating itself within that industry.

The operations manager led us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the performance area, where we met some of the performers, saw how the stage was prepped, and learned about the technical aspects of the shows. The most significant point that he stressed to us was how these types of live performances were relatively new in India, and that Kingdom of Dreams was differentiating itself in the entertainment industry by offering this new experience to its customers. By doing this, Kingdom of Dreams enjoys a first mover advantage in the sense that it is currently building a well-known reputation as a unique and affordable form of family entertainment. He mentioned how the performances are made affordable to a broad audience through different priced seating in the performance theaters. The park also generates additional revenue by renting out the theaters to companies who want to hold special ceremonies or conferences for their employees. He spoke about the possible expansion of these performances into other countries and the challenges the park faces in accomplishing this. The main challenge would be finding theaters abroad that already had in place all of the technical and staging equipment required to carry out the shows. Also, each show incorporates several massive props, which would be difficult to transport to other countries.

We were also fortunate enough to meet with the Human Resources Manager, who spoke further about where the park was headed in the future. He made it clear that the main goal for the park was to become internationally acclaimed to the point where it would be associated with India to the same extent as the Taj Mahal. He also strongly believes that each Kingdom of Dreams employee, from the person selling tickets to the lead actor, plays an equally important role in ensuring the park’s success. This was a great takeaway from the meeting. This view is not very typical in the U.S., where we normally view top management at significantly more important than the lower level employees. It was a great piece of advice to always remember that your employees on the front lines are the ones who are interacting with customers the most, which means they affect your business the most. This way of viewing and treating the employees is surely one of the reasons that Kingdom of Dreams is experiencing rising success.

Overall, this company visit was both a very entertaining experience and a great opportunity to learn about another culture’s perspective on how to run a business. Before visiting Kingdom of Dreams, we were not aware of the park’s magnitude in terms of its facilities and the quality of its entertainment activities. We greatly underestimated the scale of the park’s operations. After visiting the park, we quickly came to realize that this park is on its way to becoming the Disneyland of India. This is an experience that none of us will forget, and one that we hope future MBA students will have the opportunity to enjoy.

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Indian Power Grid Expansion by Sam Kligman

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-07-31/day-two-of-indias-blackout-hits-half-the-population

India has a power grid that is under incredible strain at the moment and has been having “back-to-back grid failures.” Due to this, there has been a surge of bad reputation for the country and businesses like “crematoriums…switched back to wood, tax authorities extended the deadline for filing returns, and stock analysts recommended shares for power equipment makers in anticipation of more investment in the grid.” Furthermore, grid failures have caused many multinationals such as GM who does some of its manufacturing in India to be fearful. Since the state “dominates power production” and the private sector accounts for only “27% of generation capacity” the question about whether the industry should be entirely privatized comes to my mind. If it were, the country would not be so dependent upon forces beyond its control such as rainfall shortages which decrease the ability of its hydroelectric power supply accounting for one-fifth of overall generation. Obviously there are also alternatives to privatization such as selecting different energy generation methods that are less susceptible to outside forces which is what the power ministry and Prime Minister Singh would like to do. His plan for $400 billion in power sector investment and intention of raising energy rates seems like a good short-term solution to the problem the country faces. However, many like S.L. Rao, former chairman of the Central electricity regulatory commission, think that this will be enough in the long run. I tend to think he’s right but I also believe that by privatizing the industry it opens the doors for potential environmental damage if the government cannot do a good job policing private energy generators. Since there is a great deal of corruption in the government already this is highly likely and so it might be in India’s best interest for the time being to continue having the government sponsor the energy industry while also setting long-term goals for transitioning it into the private sector.

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India coming to America by Sam Kligman

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-10-25/indian-companies-are-america-bound

In order for Indian businesses provide competitive services for American clients there has been a recent phenomenon of reverse outsourcing. That is to say $27.7 billion were spent by Indian firms to move some of their operations to the US for “faster customer support.” These firms argue that it “pays for Indian companies to hire some Americans, even though they’re more expensive.” Ironically, this has caused American technology firms to compete directly with these Indian firms for “tech talent” in the US because there is seemingly not enough of it. To further support this claim the article addresses the fact that some Indian outsourcers like MindTree have actually opened up software development centers in the USA. Meanwhile, it seems as if this trend is leaving behind the many capable Indians who are talented in tech just because of the difficulty of obtaining foreign visas. This role reversal is interesting to see but as an American I am happy that some jobs are now returning to our country. Still there is a greater issue at hand here and that is – what will the American workforce be doing in the near future? It has been projected that many Americans will become knowledge workers but after having read this article I’m not so certain who will really end up behind the steering wheel of progress anymore.

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Behavioral Architecting in India by Sam Kligman

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-10-25/behavior-architects-tackle-indias-social-problems#p2

Is it possible for marketing firms to save lives? India based FinalMile has proven to me it is. Using what has become known as behavioral economics in the U.S., the company reduced train track related deaths by 75% in one city and was commissioned improve safety by India’s national railway system because of this. Moreover, other industries that might not usually used marketing are also employing FinalMile to campaign for initiatives involving safe driving and toilet use as opposed to public defecation. While this could be looked at as a progression toward more government propaganda, I think the initiatives that are currently being promoted are a good use of the government’s limited resources since health, wellness, and safety education is likely to be scarcer among India’s large poor population. In fact, I feel that it has just scratched the surface in terms of what it could do and that it should be used more regularly throughout the country. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words and with India being a country with citizens who use many different languages and are often illiterate, graphic illustrations such as those used by FinalMile are probably the best way India’s government could reach the largest number of its constituents with the clearest message. Obviously, radio and television can be used to help shape its citizens behaviors are both require technology while FinalMile goes back to the tried and true permanent billboards that require nothing more than an observer’s attention.

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The Growth of Online Retail in India by Sam Kligman

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-04-11/ebay-helps-snapdeal-an-ebay-wannabe-in-india

Ironically, even though a large part of India’s population pays their professions off of providing services online to foreign customers its own “online retail comprises only 0.2% of India’s retail market.” This becomes less ironic when one considers the fact that only 10% of India’s population is online with “barely 10 million Indians having high-speed access.” However, this fraction of online retail is growing at 45% a year and companies like Snapdeal are quickly stepping in to fill the gap with local eBay-like services. Snapdeal much like MakeMyTrip is banking its success on the projected proliferation of low-cost phones and tablets that are making their way to a large part of India’s population. I think we will have to wait and see whether this business model will be successful in the long run in India. It has been known to work unites dates where national shipping is much more reliable and online purchases much more trusted. Furthermore, if as the article says “85% of transactions [in India] are in cash” which in my mind poses a large hurdle; one that online retailers will have to overcome somehow or else they will most likely fail. Since only time will tell how this industry actually fares, it is careless to make further projections, but if I were a betting man I’d say it definitely has a chance at being highly successful. EBay’s CEO John Donahoe certainly thinks so since it has invested $50 million in the 100-employee company.

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