Why British business should look east

David Blair, Global CEO at FITCH, spent five years in India — and he was impressed.

This article was posted 25.03.19 on Management Today:

You might assume that the best practice in leadership and business strategy would be found in the developed nations, where capitalism is oldest. Yet it would do a disservice to the stratospheric rise of China and India to assume that their success is only a consequence of their size or central planning.

Without the constraints of mature markets or the baggage of preserving past success, many companies in the developing world display an enviable and refreshing dynamism.

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“India is soon set to overtake Britain as the world’s fifth largest economic power, and it is the fearless spirit of ingenuity throughout its vibrant business community that I believe is the driving force behind this.

I first visited India in February 2006 and witnessed a world full of opportunity that inspired me to move to Mumbai 18 months later to open FITCH’s first office on the subcontinent, before later opening a second office in Delhi. During my five years in India, I had the privilege of working with the leading lights in some of the country’s largest businesses, including Tata, Aditya Birla and Godrej.

They all had a common willingness to experiment, enter new markets and adopt new ways of doing business. There was never a sense that something was not possible, and if something didn’t work out the sentiment always seemed to be: ‘we’ll learn from it and try again’.

This mentality is not foolhardy, and more often than not it works. In my view, fearless leadership is essentially an openness to learn, both from mistakes as well as from others. Nowhere is this more evident than with Tata, now the single biggest employer in the manufacturing sector in the UK, with businesses as diverse as Jaguar Land Rover, Tetley and British Salt — it’s constantly acquiring in order to learn and apply that knowledge to its other markets.

China’s approach to learning through experimentation is similar, and acquisitions like that of Inter Milan by Suning and Volvo by Geely demonstrate that learning how the best organisations already operate is a hugely advantageous way of quickly responding to opportunities at home and abroad.

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The fearless and progressive nature of Asian commerce is an inspiration I have used, bringing the best of both western and eastern practices to the business of creativity. I encourage my teams across the globe to be bold in their thinking, and confidently question convention.

Leaders of brands like Dyson moving parts of their business to the east understand the value of being closer to where the world is really changing.

UK leaders should be looking for business-changing acquisitions further afield in Asia too, so as to learn from these progressive cultures, rather than just exporting to them, and, in doing so, remain relevant and agile in today’s world.”

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