While rushing to India for business, take your time

A pre-flight checklist for the enthusiastic Israeli entrepreneur.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, watch as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi flies a kite in Ahmedabad in January (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIT DAVE)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, watch as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi flies a kite in Ahmedabad in January
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIT DAVE)
The recent visits of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel and of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India were truly historic, ushering a new era of commercial ties between two countries. During each of these visits, several corporate Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed, a joint innovation fund was announced and free trade agreement dialogue was initiated. So, what else do you need to know before you book a flight to India? Here is your checklist:
1. Acknowledge that we are two different cultures Is copy-pasting the formula of success in US and EU markets a good idea for someone looking to succeed in India? Probably not. “There is a significant cultural mismatch between the Indians and Israelis, especially when it comes to business etiquette,” says Yuval Susskind, managing partner of Polynation Ventures, an advisory firm focused on India-Israel business cooperation. Many young Israeli entrepreneurs have backpacked in India following their mandatory army service, says Susskind, and “most of these guys think they can make their way easily in India just because they have trekked in Parvati Valley or successfully negotiated a room in Dharamsala. However, many times they realize that their experience is insufficient when they return to India on business.”
2. Pay attention to regional differences According to Nohar Bresler, head of the India office of BDO-I2I, an Indo-Israeli business development and consulting firm, a major reason some Israeli companies fail in India is because they see India as a homogeneous country. This is, however, far from true. India is geographically, culturally and economically diverse, from north to south and east to west. It is not unusual to adjust operational models from one region to another. In certain cases, due to lack of knowledge, business culture differences lead to inefficient joint ventures.
3. Slow down and have patience There is also a significant mismatch in the time-frame of actions between Indian and Israeli counterparts. “India demands a currency that many Israelis find hard to forfeit: patience,” says Gary Sussman, founder of Israel-India Forum and former executive at Tel Aviv University. “Indians tend to have a relationship-driven culture while Israelis tend to adopt a more transactional attitude in conducting their affairs. Israelis tend to be somewhat more immediate in their philosophy and dealings, Indians tend to be more patient and cautious.”
4. Respect the organizational hierarchy Israel and India also differ significantly while dealing with organizational hierarchies, notes Ofir Mizrahi, an India-focused business development executive. “Most of the organizations in Israel are flat, and anyone and everyone is easily accessible. On the other hand, the Indian business culture is distinctly hierarchical. The Israeli side needs to have nuanced negotiation skills while dealing with Indian senior executives.”
5. Develop a long-term relationship While most young Israeli entrepreneurs are fast-paced, Indians tend to value long-term professional relationships and it takes them significant time to get warmed up before dealing with term sheets. David Keynan, vice-chairman of the Indo-Israeli Chamber of Commerce, has a solution: “Come to India at least twice, spend as much time as possible and talk to as many people as you can,” says Keynan. According to him, it is imperative to explore the destination and its people as thoroughly as possible.
6. See the real India It can be really tempting to close a business deal in the meeting room or in the lobby of fancy hotels but it is extremely rewarding to get to know the market first-hand. If the solution is in the sector of water, renewable energy or affordable healthcare, a longer visit to the rural side may be worthwhile to meet the end-users, understand the socio-economic system, appreciate the real need and adapt the solution accordingly.
India-Israel trade ties are burgeoning. In his recently concluded state visit to India, Prime Minister Netanyahu was accompanied by a sizable business delegation of 130 business leaders from 100 different companies. It is very clear that India is hungry for the right technologies and Israel has the right dishes to serve. Once the two countries become more familiar with each other’s business cultures, relations can only go north.
The author is a PhD candidate in biochemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science and an Israel-Asia Leaders Fellow at the Israel-Asia Center. He is passionate about introducing affordable patient-centric healthcare solutions to the Indian market