Perspectives on Indian Business Practices
By Margaret Steen
Four panelists gave their perspectives on Indias
future and how it will affect the global economy at the Markkula
Center for Applied Ethics fourth biennial business ethics
conference on March 9. The topic of the conference was Business
Ethics in a Global World, with a focus on China and India.
P. Christie, S.J., director of the Loyola Institute of
Business Administration in Chennai, India, began his presentation
by saying India is poised for strong economic growth. The country
is emerging as a knowledge economy, not just a place for business
L-R: P.Christie, S.J., Pravir Malik,
Arvind Bhambri, Vic Kulkarni
Christie reminded the audience that culture plays
a role in determining ethical attitudes. Some practices that,
in the West, are considered unethical or even illegal may not
be viewed that way in India. However, he said, India needs to
overcome its reputation as a difficult place to do business.
And he noted that several changes are taking place.
Christie sees a greater awareness of business ethics
and corporate social responsibility developing in India. He
started a center for corporate governance that gives an award
each year to a good corporate citizen. Every year, he said,
both the number and the quality of the applicants increase.
Pravir Malik, managing director of advisory services
at Business for Social Responsibility, said he has learned in
his work consulting with both Indian and U.S. companies that
there are key ways to make an ethical policy a true part of
an organizations culture.
The first is how to change a companys business model
to reflect its ethical policy. I think thats a major
implementation problem, he said. The key, according to
Malik, is to understand what the business imperative is for
the ethics policy. He takes a very pragmatic view
of this: An ethics policy must be on equal footing with other
business priorities, he said, or it wont make much difference.
The second problem is how to spread the responsibility for
ethics, which is often the purview of a corporate social responsibility
department, across the organization. Moving ownership of ethics
to the executive level can help here, he said.
Malik said that although some universal patterns can be applied
across cultures, its also important to customize these
ideas depending on the region.
Arvind Bhambri, a professor at the Marshall School of
Business at the University of Southern California, spoke of
his experience with Trianz, a consulting firm where he is on
the board of directors.
Bhambri cited his experience with Trianz in discussing how
to get ethical thinking to permeate every aspect of an organization.
Trianz was founded, he said, with the goal of combining
the best of the East with the best of the West.
The company started out with basic tenets such as making a
social impact, creating a global culture--and beating the larger
firms by delivering value to clients. The companys leaders
soon discovered that the challenges were not so much academic
questions, such as whether to follow local laws in each place
the company operates or to have the same standards in all its
locations. Rather, he said, the company found itself trying
to lower its employee turnover rate, which meant creating an
environment where employees wanted to stay. He considers this
an ethical issue: balancing how employees are treated with what
Vic Kulkarni said he has learned practical ways to manage
a global workforce as president and chief executive officer
of Sequence Design.
Kulkarni talked about two common phrases used by Indian workers,
translated roughly as no problem and its
OK, that he says illustrate some of the issues in managing
a global workforce. No problem, he said, may mean
that the person will do what youre asking, but not necessarily
by the deadline. Using the phrase everything is OK,
he said, is a strategy people use for day-to-day stress management.
But it can lead to people not taking pride in their work and,
therefore, not putting in their best effort.
Kulkarni said it was easy to get used to day-to-day problems,
such as the power outage that occurred when he was speaking
at a meeting in India, and even consider them normal. But he
said he had learned specific ways to manage a global workforce,
which he called a fundamental part of modern business ethics.
Margaret Steen is a freelance writer.