“India is much more and much less of what we often think”
Peter Hansen is the Director of CaixaBank office in India. Born in Mumbai, but Danish by descent and Spanish at heart, he has told us about his experiences and impressions of India; his adoptive country.
INDOLINK: What do you do in India and for how long have you been living here?
PETER HANSEN: I was born in Mumbai 53 years ago and I lived there until the age of 12. Then I was sent to Europe to study and I spent there half of my life. I came back to India in the late 90s as the Commercial Counselor of the Embassy of Denmark, because I have Danish nationality, although I am Spanish in my heart since my wife and sons are Spanish and I lived there for 23 years.
Afterwards, I was engaged in setting up the office of P4R in India and I was also the Managing Director of an important NGO in India.
In total I have lived for 23 years in different parts of India: Mumbai, Delhi, Orissa…
Currently, I am the Director of CaixaBank in India since 2008
IL: Tell us your story, how is it that you were born in India?
PH: Everything begins before I was born. My father, who was an Engineer, was one of the pioneers of Larsen & Toubro. He arrived to India in the late 40s hired by the founders of L&T, when it was a small company. Together they built the industrial emporium that it is nowadays.
My parents lived in India for 30 years.
IL: So you spent your childhood in India and then, after living in Europe, you decided to follow your father’s steps and come back to India for work. Which were your personal and professional concerns before coming to India at this point?
PH: Yes. One thing is to be born and to live here, but coming later with your family is a totally different issue. When I had the opportunity to come to work to India my main concern was wether my wife and two sons would be able to integrate into the Indian way of life and appreciate and enjoy living in Delhi. Now I can say that we have totally achieved it.
IL: What would you say is the most positive aspect?
PH: The most positive aspect has been the experience of working in social projects. Both my wife and I have devoted an important part of our lives to it. We created an NGO “Corazones de India” (Hearts of India), financing projects in education, health, we also have supported schools, orphanages, ambulances, etc. This is the continuation of my job as a director of the NGO I worked for in the past.
In addition, I would also emphasize as something positive, the interesting period that the Indian society is living nowadays. Everything needs to be done, there are great opportunities. I am not referring only to business opportunities but also to those of the personal sphere. It is an amazing culture, very different to ours, with particular facets and dimensions in both spiritual and intellectual spheres, that can be very interesting in the personal life.
IL: What about the main difficulties? What is/was the toughest of living here?
PH: Having accepted the rest of the things, I would say that the toughest is the weather and the pollution. The weather in Delhi is extreme. During winter it is very cold and the houses are not prepared for such low temperatures. And during the summer it is too warm, it is one of the hottest spots in India, it can get up to 47ºC. During the monsoon the temperature goes down but the humidity rises becoming a very unpleasant combination.
IL: With what you know now, what would you change if you start over again?
PH: I would not change anything. During the years and thanks to the experience I have learnt to be more tolerant, flexible, to accept things as they are and to avoid having to much expectations of things, and day-to-day life.
IL: You came with your family, how is living here for them?
PH: Both my wife and my children integrated very well. It has been a very positive experience. My wife arrived to India in 1997 with a disease diagnosed as incurable in Spain, Fibromyalgia. In India, thanks to what she has learnt about mental power and what you can do to cure yourself, she managed to overcome it and cure herself. In exchange, she has devoted her professional and personal life to help other people trying to overcome and cure their illnesses and problems using their mental power.
IL: Plans for the future?
PH: At the moment there is no expiry date regarding our life in India. We will stay here for some time and we will decide year by year. Even if life is not easy, we will continue living here so far.
IL: How is your professional project going?
PH: It is going pretty well. Thanks to the Spanish companies that continue coming to India and doing business from Spain with Indian companies. The economic situation has forced the companies to go to countries like China and India and it has been positive for the development of our business here. A growing number of companies are becoming interested in this country.
IL: What are your company’s future plans in India?
PH: At the moment there is no more plan than having a liaison office. The objective of our liaison office is to learn more about the banking sector in order to be able to assess it and decide which would be the correct strategy and the next steps. A natural step would be having more local presence in the country.
IL: Which is the potential of your sector in India?
PH: The banking sector is still restricted in India. Branches can be open after a long and expensive process. If you go for an indirect entry strategy, like buying an Indian bank, the limit is the 5% of the capital; therefore you have no decision-making authority.
We are waiting for the liberalization of the sector what will give us new possibilities.
IL: Do you think there are opportunities for other Spanish companies?
PH: Yes, off course, there are very interesting opportunities. Here I am known as one of the most optimistic person about the opportunities that India holds now and in the future. Entrepreneurs should do their “homework” and should not raise false expectations; which is usually one of the reasons for failure.
If they study the market thoroughly and if the company is patient there are opportunities in almost all the sectors. Nowadays, there are important opportunities in infrastructure and energy. Both big and small companies doing business in the renewable energy are having success in India. Also, I see opportunities in chemicals, machinery sector, etc.
IL: In your opinion, which are the keys to success in India?
PH: First of all, get enough information before starting a project. I always say that you should not invent what is already invented. The most practical and interesting way is to contact those Spanish companies that are already set up in India and ask them. People are more open to share experiences when they are abroad than in their own country, even if they are companies of the same or complementary sector.
Secondly, lean on professionals from the very beginning: consultants, lawyers and professionals are very important in order to take the first steps towards the set up in the country. Invest enough resources to have the support of these experts which are necessary to succeed.
Thirdly, neither overestimate nor undervalue the size of your potential market. Some people only take into consideration the headlines of the newspapers. India is much more and much less of what we think it is. Sometimes you can find anything and other times you cannot find what you need. I usually use the next example to explain the Indian paradox: imagine a highway with 2 lanes. In one lane BMW and Mercedes run at 120 Km/h, while in the other line carts and slowcoaches run at 15 km/h. Both exist, coexist and even depend on each other.
Four, companies should have a long term commitment. Nobody should come to India with the idea of doing business quickly: it will not work. It is essential to have a long term project. Related to this, we have to be open to the idea of modifying the strategy because it is difficult to design realistic plans, especially, regarding the duration of the projects.
In case the entry strategy is a joint venture with a local partner the selection of the partner will be the key success factor. The right partner should be chosen. It is like an Indian marriage, you do not choose it for love but for interest.
IL: What advice would you give to a newly arrived businessman in India who intends to set up a business?
PH: To leave the prejudices and preconceived ideas back at home. Come with an open mind. Everything is possible in India if you have the right attitude and if you are ready to adapt yourself to the country. You have to be patient, results will arrive if you fulfill the important aspects.
IL: A book that you recommend?
PH: “Un pacto de amor” (Love agreement) written by Anna Ferrer, widow of Vicente Ferrer, that I have recently read. It gives a vision of the rural India which is completely different to the urban India and that many people do not know. It shows how easy it is to fall in love with it and it shows the love for the people and for Vicente’s project. It is a lesson of humbleness.