Mike D. Batra grew up in New Delhi, among other places, and founded a consulting firm in India's capital in 2004, one of the two origins for today's Dr. Wamser + Batra GmbH. Emergency management and risk prevention are also among their services for German and European clients on site.
India is one of the countries hardest hit by the Corona pandemic. As a local entrepreneur, how did you experience the situation?
Mike D. Batra: The pandemic has a very strong impact on our customers' local business. The second wave has a much greater impact than the first wave in 2020. And again, there was little preparation. There was no other topic for months, the daily business routine almost didn't take place at all. And all this after things had almost returned to normal. After my arrival in January 2021, we had regular appointments with clients and colleagues, following the AHA rules, of course. In social settings, however, such as with friends or at weddings, the precautions were dropped too quickly. It has been seen how important it is to continue to take the pandemic seriously. It is not only the cities that are affected, but also rural areas in particular. That's where our customers have their production facilities and that's where their workers come from.
Around 1800 German companies have settled in India. The subcontinent is considered very difficult anyway. Are there customers who are now thinking of pulling out?
BatraNo, not so far. Surprisingly, many companies had actually recouped the revenue lost after the outbreak of the pandemic by the end of the Indian fiscal year at the end of March 2021. In many cases, they were no worse off than before Corona started. Then came the big disillusionment. India's sudden reliance on aid supplies of medical products took a huge toll on its image abroad. Suddenly you were the supplicant after Prime Minister Modi's "Make in India" campaign with the Self-Reliant campaign in the fall of 2020 to do the opposite, to be independent. Nevertheless, nothing will change in the long-term commitment of the companies and our customers. Recently, we have received more inquiries from entrepreneurs in the area of IT offshoring, among others.
The roots of WB's business lie in India. There is hardly any other country where you can gain as much experience in risk management as there. But you had already experienced a lot before that.
Batra: India is the perfect training camp for crisis management. You have to cope with constant deviations from plans in addition to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, corruption or strikes. But even before founding the company, I had a lot of private experience with unexpected events. In the 1990s, I was in Israel several times as an intern, where there were repeated terrorist attacks, such as buses exploding. It was then that I first experienced what can suddenly happen and what measures are taken to defend against it. In 2001, I was a student in New York during the 9/11 attacks. Our dorm was evacuated after the first plane hit because it was only a few feet from the World Trade Center. The scale of the terrorist attack was unimaginable up until that point. Nevertheless, the coordinated behavior of the university and the crisis teams succeeded in counteracting it quickly with emergency plans that were apparently already in the drawers. We were accommodated for several weeks in the university gymnasium, where beds, food, clothing and telephones were already available in the afternoon. This experience raised my awareness of crises and prevention in the long term.
What risks do clients need to keep in mind if they want to succeed in India?
Batra: The biggest risk is when newcomers prepare poorly for market entry, because they look too one-sidedly at the potential and thus the opportunities of a large market. This is just as true for other markets. But you also have to deal intensively with the local challenges. Often, companies are too quick to hire local employees or commit themselves to a joint venture partner whom they hardly know and have not checked, for example, how he is doing financially or whether what he says about himself and his network is true. This approach does not really correspond to the risk-averse nature of German entrepreneurs. In the case of India, however, the risks and all possible scenarios have often not been analysed in detail in advance, which always turns out to be a big mistake.
With your years of experience and services, WB supports companies on the subcontinent. What are examples of current projects?
Batra: We are managing more and more sales projects for customers whose sales are stagnating. We use our informal capabilities to find out for the companies what their market is like, how the competitors are positioned, what the prices are like. Clients are usually unable to obtain this information on their own. Their own employees often do not tell the truth or only half the truth and blame, for example, the only moderately increasing sales on the too high price level of German products. In many cases, losses in the millions have been accumulated over the years, even at small sales and service companies. One should not only look at the result of the Indian subsidiary, but must also add the expenses from the parent company, for example for training, travel, which is often not included in the calculation. At Wamser + Batra we have many instruments to analyse and realise local potential in sales.
The Corona pandemic has once again shown how vulnerable supply chains can be. How do you support your Indian and German customers in India in this area?
Batra: The issue of suppliers is fundamentally difficult in India. It takes many years to establish reliable relationships with companies and to introduce methods that guarantee consistent quality and adherence to delivery dates. For example, in our investigations we repeatedly find that our customers pay too high prices for preliminary products. A second underestimated risk is dependence on certain suppliers. Smaller Indian suppliers were particularly hard hit by the lockdown during the pandemic. If one of them were to go out of business, this would often jeopardize not only local production, but also production at other international plants. The supply bottlenecks could have been avoided if a denser network had been established for emergencies. We support our customers in this by, for example, working with the purchasing departments to introduce a more systematic procedure for identifying and selecting suppliers.
In the WB Risk Prevention Systems team, all partners look back on decades of experience with crises. But everyone also brings a certain specialization to the table. What is your focus?
Batra: In addition to know-how about the Indian market, I bring in my international experience in the Middle East, Latin and South America and Africa. This plays an important role for many projects. During my education in Maastricht and New York, there was already a focus on finance and risk management in emerging markets, first and foremost India. However, as I already knew India, I travelled a lot afterwards. My goal is to get to know all the countries in the world; I stopped at 145 countries before the pandemic. During these trips you learn a lot about what can happen. It sharpens your senses and has also helped me a lot for projects in India. In addition, I have focused a lot on the topic of intelligence over the past few years. I have tried out a lot of methods and tools on how to find out information about your customers, partners and your environment through various channels. India is particularly suitable for this because you hear so many contradictory things on the ground. Based on this information, we can then make important decisions for risk prevention and also intervene directly in emergencies.