A Tour of India by Kyle Bowman, Dickson Cohen, Hannah Davidoff and Sydney Thomas
In less than three weeks, our Haas IBD team visited seven cities in as many states across India. We took four inter-country flights, one train, and three 4+ hour car rides. We spent more time in taxis than sleeping (unless, of course, you count sleeping in taxis) and rarely saw the temperature drop below 100°F. Throughout it all though, as a team, we leaned on and learned from each other to have a great cultural experience and produce a really awesome final presentation for our client.
Our client, the Max Institute of Healthcare Management (MIHM) at the Indian School of Business (ISB), is a new organization that was part educational body part think tank, with a mix of on-the-ground NGO sprinkled in. Our project revolved around helping them achieve their ambitious/audacious goal of transforming healthcare in India. Our task was to develop a strategic plan, with a special emphasis on helping them become a thought leader in the Indian healthcare space. So, you know, no pressure.
Right away, we knew we were going to be dealing with big, hairy questions and ambiguity. Between learning about the complex, dichotomous world of Indian healthcare and the confounding pursuit of “thought leadership” (how does one achieve what one cannot define?), we expected very few simple, clean answers. In light of that, we built a project plan around incremental steps toward actionable suggestions for our client.
During our time at Haas, we conducted basic research on India’s healthcare system to get the lay of the land, then moved into case studies to gain more focused insights on what steps other organizations had taken in their path to prominence. We then set up interviews with as many stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem as possible so that we could gain a three-dimensional view of India’s healthcare landscape. Using those interviews, we hoped to identify gaps that the Institute could fill and concrete recommendations for them to take in the short and long term.
Somehow, it worked. Over the course of our project, we interviewed around 50 people spanning the public and private sector, as well as Indian and global organizations. We spoke with CEOs, country directors, and partners at organizations like the World Bank, GlaxoSmithKline, Brookings, ICICI Lombard, and the Kaiser Family Foundation. None of us could believe the access we got or how helpful and frank our interviewees were.
Armed with candid insights from the sector’s major stakeholders, some key frameworks we’d come across through our Haas-based research, and some handy dandy PFPS skills, we prepared a final product that our client was very happy with.
Spending time in so many different parts of India, we all quickly realized the diversity of India. From the food to the dress to the language, each place had a unique character. Chandigarh was our first stop. Our newfound friends and coworkers at MIHM helped us explore the local sights – from the rock garden to the Elante mall – and even took us to a local bar to experience live music! Even with this excitement, we couldn’t believe how quiet it was. It felt like a sleepy college town which, we came to learn, definitely made it an outlier amongst Indian cities.
A few days later, we were on a flight to Hyderabad. As the home of the larger ISB campus, we were able to meet a number of students at a Saturday night event who shared with us their love of healthcare and amazing recommendations of places to visit and eat. In between exploring the big tourist spots like Charminar, Golconda Fort, and Birla Mandir, we tried the famous Biryani at Paradise, watched a Cricket game from a local sports bar (go Mumbai Indians!) and had dinner at a rooftop bar in Jubilee Hills.
We woke up before the crack of dawn on Monday morning to head to the airport for Bangalore. We only had one day in Bangalore so we had to make it count! We definitely saw why it was called the “Silicon Valley” of India. The high-rises were beautiful (and expensive!) and the weather was perfect at a balmy 90 degrees. We didn’t have much time to enjoy it though, the next day we were able to sleep in until 4am to head to the airport to our next destination – Mumbai.
Once we reached Mumbai, we were greeted by the loudest and craziest taxi line any of us had ever seen. We stood there dazed and confused for about 10-15 minutes until we began to pick up signals on how to navigate the situation and eventually found a cab. Dressed in suits, we squeezed into the back of a small Tata in 100 degree heat. But as we passed extreme poverty on our way to the hotel, we were given a new appreciation for our predicament. We passed a long winding shanty-town and gazed at men, women, and children struggling to survive in the heatwave. Throughout our time in India, we learned that almost 1,000 people died due to the extreme heat. These conditions continued until we rolled into the parking lot of our grandiose hotel which seemed extremely out of place. Some of us couldn’t help but wonder where the employees of the hotel lived and how they felt about coming to such a different world to work each day.
Throughout our time in Mumbai, in addition to our interviews, we also took a cooking class with a woman from the East of India who taught us about the very different Assam culture. Because the east of India borders with China, it has an interesting confluence of foods and practices. Another humbling experience was our visit to Ghandi’s house. From reading his letters to learning more about the past injustices in India, this experience helped us appreciate India’s impact on the course of history.
Our last morning flight took us to Delhi. We definitely found our time there to be the highlight of our trip. We visited the Taj, explored the shops at Delli Haat, and did a morning bike tour around Old Delhi. On the bike tour, we rode through the old trading center, a large swath of butcher shops, stopped for a Chai break, and made it back to our hotel in time to quickly change the head out to our next interview.
Halfway through our last week in India, we had a traditional Indian experience of the train! To head back to Chandigarh for our final presentation, we took a 3 hour train from Delhi. When we first arrived at the train station, we were all pretty terrified. The floor was covered with people sitting on the ground eating, sleeping, and hanging out. There was nobody around who spoke english who could help us figure out which train to take. Plus, the trains that passed us looked like they came out of a 1950s movie. Once we navigated the station to figure out which train to take, entered our cars and found our seats, we were pleasantly surprised. For about $10 each, we received a three course meal, full liters of water, and a ride straight to Chandigarh.
Our last few days in Chandigarh were spent diligently focused on completing our deliverables for our client. Luckily, our hard work paid off as our presentation went really smoothly. We were able to enter the beginning of the end of our India trip feeling accomplished.
Throughout our three weeks in India we experienced so many different cultures, foods and people. However, there were a few things that didn’t seem to change. We were shown “aggressive hospitality” all across India – from people going out of their way to help us find our next stop to waiters running across a restaurant to make sure we didn’t have to pour our own water. Almost every cab driver drove a Suzuki Maruti or Tata Indigo and preferred to roll down his window to ask directions from a stranger instead of using a map. When an Indian shakes his or her from left to right, bobbing a bit, it means “yes,” not “no.” And as a group of four Americans, someone will always ask to take a picture with (or of) us.