The 4th annual India Forum of the Telfer School of Management delved into the level of Canadian firms’ readiness for India and featured key business experts providing practical insight into issues that Canadian firms must address to be successful in the market. The highly successful event organized by the Telfer School and partners under the banner of the Year of India in Canada also featured addresses by Indian High Commissioner Shashishekhar Gavai as well as Sir Terence Matthews, Chairman of Wesley Clover who articulated very clearly why Canadian firms can’t afford to ignore India.

Telfer’s commitment to supporting Canadian firms includes the development of an India Readiness Assessment model as well as an ongoing executive training program on doing business in India. The Forum reflected these initiatives by having experts address the issues of “Who and What You Need to Know Before Tackling the India Market” and “Key Risks in India and How to Manage them”. The issues raised were particularly relevant for Canadian SMEs and the discussions were led by executives of such firms as TenXc, Clearford Industries, MDS Aero, and Eion Inc who have successfully navigated the Indian business environment.

As outlined in the India Readiness Model, the conference underscored the importance of executive commitment to the market, appropriate business development budgets, Indian cultural awareness, a network of advisors/partners in Canada and in India, a clear position with respect to technology transfer, well thought out risk mitigation strategies, etc.

The need to draw on a network of advisors and partners was considered paramount in order to gain market intelligence, plan strategy and negotiate and implement contracts. Partners and sponsors of the Telfer India Forum itself reflected this network and included the Indo Canada Ottawa Business Chamber, OCRI, Ottawa Chamber of Commerce as well as KPMG, FMC, EDC and BLG, all of which are offering support to Canadian firms pursuing the market.

The reality today is that competition from international and local firms has ramped up and Canadian firms have to work harder and smarter. The challenges abound including those of infrastructure and red-tape and the diversity of the market creates confusion unless you have a strong supporting cast. Moreover, the conference helped to underscore that Canadian executives will miss the mark if they fail to really connect with their Indian counterparts and hold to their own mindset and agenda. It will be important for Canadian firms to look through a different lens and take their approach off automatic pilot.

In India, Canadian firms need a more flexible agenda, they need to build trust and be better informed. They need to understand that an effective presence in the market is crucial. They also need to be well prepared for tough negotiation. In the face of sometimes aggressive moves by their Indian counterparts and competitors, they need to understand the importance of seizing the moment.

The Telfer School remains committed to support Canadian firms in this strategic market and to help ensure that they don’t spin their wheels. It is so exciting to see Canadian firms finally turn to India. It is up to all of us to help them be effective long term players in the market.

Marvin Hough is an Executive in Residence at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management and a Canada-India Business Council Director. He spent four years in India as a Canadian Trade Commissioner and many years at EDC working on the India market. He also developed the Telfer Focus India executive training program (