The Indian Elephant Economy is gathering pace

Arriving in the Cambridge tradition on a bike at the Trinity Centre proved a good choice as, by then, even a TATA economy car could not have found a parking space for the well attended Cambridge Network “THINKindia” Open Meeting after the start of registration.

Over 100 delegates packed into the seminar room for a relaxed and assured 10 minute presentation by Neal Ghandi (CEO, Quickstart Global) and the fact-packed keynote speech by Peter Luff MP (Mid Worcestershire, special interest in India), delivered with the increasing pace of an accelerating high speed steam locomotive.

The presentations were scene setters for the Q&A session where the expert panel debating audience questions also included Sharon Bamford (CEO, UK India Business Council), Ian Gomes (Chairman of the New and Emerging Markets Practice, KPMG), Bob Hoekstra (Founder & Director of Palindrome Technology Solutions) and Thak Patel (CEO, THINKindia). Peter Hewkin (CEO, Cambridge Network) acted as an effective moderator, resulting in a wide ranging discussion.

Three different strands emerged from the evening’s debates; opportunities, opposites and solution providers.


Economic opportunities for UK companies in India

The Indian elephant has gathered apace as a trillion dollar economy willing to flex its muscle internationally, becoming the second largest investors in London. Even UK trade unions welcome the influx of major Indian owners, for example with TATA acquiring Landrover and Jaguar for just under £1.5bn. Its price competitiveness is here to stay for at least the next decade and with the more familiar commonalities of democracy and a shared English language, will soon no longer be obscured by its Chinese dragon rival.

With the increasing purchasing power of the Indian middle class, the rapid growth has opened opportunities for UK companies within the Indian market over a range of sectors. With 10 000 mobiles sold per hour in the country, of which 18% are luxury models, to finance, property and automotive; from leading in renewables such as wind energy (1730 MW capacity) to electronic point of sale solutions (EPOS) for retailers. The demand for IT outstrips local capability so that even with the acknowledge strength of India in this sector, there is capacity for external players.

A country of opposites

The rise in affluence and being a leading player in the modern economies is contrasted with the isolation and abject poverty still present in rural areas. Times of rapid change can also harbour future turmoil as the brash message of a modern bling and excessive consumption is portrayed as an aspiration via the media to those who cannot yet afford it. The success of the economy relies on highly trained and qualified workers and yet of the 10 million new entrants to work only 10% have any vocational training. There is a great need for local education and health solutions to ensure that the benefits of the new economy will spread inclusively.

An unexpected consequence of the constant growth is the continued need for local retail solutions. One audience member asked about the likelihood of the internet negating the local retail sector and we were given a graphic illustration on how there were very few clear postal addresses; “Apartment in flats located behind Sainsbury, off a street near High street” being a transliteration of a hypothetical equivalent in the UK. Growth was so rapid that within a short time infrastructure could change, making a location unrecognisable. Only retailers with local knowledge could adapt and respond in this environment.

The solution providers

Contrasts also existed between a governmental regulatory philosophy and the attitude of business.

Byzantine, changing and often incomprehensible regulatory hurdles faced incoming businesses, impeding investment, cash flow, production and delivery of goods even within India. This contrasted with the confidence of business and a “Can do” attitude that would find solutions to surmount the hurdles or, as in the case of IT, bound into new markets unforeseen and untouched by bureaucracy.
For any UK business wishing to enter the market, it is therefore imperative to gain access to local partners and knowledge to navigate market entry successfully and profitably.

Solutions to the economic and social disparities were also less likely to be found in time through a legislature, as these always have difficulty keeping up with the speed of progress, never mind the accelerated pace at which India is progressing. Business was seen as one potential driver for change in these areas.

Turmoil and large contrasts are the seedbed of inventiveness and paradigm shifts. To my mind it seems that, like the impact of mobile phone technology on the African continent which provides a radical solution to the need for communication, there will be one or a series of catalytic, uniquely Indian solutions developed on the ground. It could even be something as basic as solar powered small refrigeration units allowing transport of perishable goods or essential medicines over greater distances.

Venue and organisation

The Trinity Centre provided an excellent venue for networking, the seminars and catering. The overall organisation and timekeeping by Cambridge Network was unobtrusive - precisely because of its effectiveness.

Slideshow of meeting

A slideshow of delegates and speakers at the THINKindia meeting is viewable at
Photos by


This was a well run, informative and interesting Cambridge Network Open Meeting where India was revealed as a nation of contrasts and opportunities. Underestimated by many, the rising Indian market for UK companies is ignored at our peril, for we will otherwise lose out to others who have recognised the opportunities it provides.

If we don’t start running now, we will never catch up with the speeding Indian Elephant.

Dr Chris Thomas,
Director Milton Contact Limited

Providing assistance to overeas SMEs wishing to enter the UK market; through market research research, finding contacts and accompanying you on UK visits.

Proud to be a Cambridge Ambassador.