Let Indians run the show if you want to succeed

Vol 4, PW 4 (29 Mar 00) People & Policy

In appointing Shaleen Sharma, British Gas has realised what Enron discovered long ago: to succeed in India you need Indians on the ground running your operation.

Expatriates are fine, but when it comes to dealing with Indian bureaucrats, there's a problem: "Most Indian officials are scared senseless to be seen alone with a European," a source tells Petrowatch, "They're worried someone will throw a vigilance (corruption) charge against them and destroy their career." Why a corruption charge when meeting a Westerner but not an Indian Because an Indian melts into the crowd, a 'Gora' (westerner) doesn't. For an expatriate operating in Delhi, this may be hard to believe, but it does happen.

Enron knows this and that's why it has only a handful of expatriates doing the company's work in India - much of it behind the scenes or operational. Its 'new business' people are all-Indian.

Sanjay Bhatnagar, the company's elusive country head, is a smooth operator at the best of times. His name is repeatedly mentioned in discussions with this report as one of the principle reasons why Enron succeeds in India where others fail.

"When the guys in power meet Bhatnagar," an analyst at a top Western consultancy in Delhi tells Petrowatch, "They relate to him. They know where he's coming from.

They probably went to school with his Dad. They identify with him.

He can do the same. With a foreigner, it's different - especially if its a woman." Inverted snobbery is clearly not a western preserve.

On the surface an Indian will be polite and charming to you, but behind the charm, he'll feel more at ease talking to someone who uses water, not toilet paper!