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A passage to India

It was with a great sense of excitement and anticipation that I and a colleague from Barclays Commercial Bank, Jane Galvin, who runs our Retail & Wholesale Mid Corporate Team in London, recently boarded a flight to India.

The purpose of our trip was threefold:

• To learn more about the Barclays presence in India and our plans for expansion there by meeting the people on the ground.
• To understand the challenges our clients face in manufacturing and distributing from India.
• To appreciate the distinctiveness between Britain and India culturally and commercially.

It was a transformational journey. Why anybody should complain about the M25 after traversing the main roads in Mumbai or Delhi is beyond reason! What struck us most was the vibrancy, buzz and energy which courses through the culture and the pace of growth and change that are occurring.

The contrast in values is immense – due to the social structure there is a far higher emphasis placed on the family and respect for traditional values. The degree of personal responsibility is also highly evident since without the degree of state dependency (through social services benefits, state pensions etc), the individual has to carry their own load. It’s rumoured that every Indian, regardless of social level, attempts to save some of their daily income, however small – contrast this with the latest savings ratio in Britain at just over 1%.

On the retail front, we visited a number of manufacturing and retail sites where the emphasis on quality and attention to detail were clearly evident. Yes, there is poverty and a marked contrast between the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ but for many, the change in wealth that is running through India is giving rise to significant opportunities at all levels. For example, the educational progress and standards are quite simply phenomenal and only look set to get stronger. So too, their emphasis on customer service and determination to deliver.

From a Barclays perspective, we now have over 26,000 people representing us in India with big ambitions to grow. The Indian Retail market is projected to grow by over 20 per cent in the next 12 months and this is likely to be sustained as the increased wealth creates a huge middle class, searching for innovative design, quality products and trusted suppliers. The suppliers we met are proud of their association with Britain and the vital role they play in delivering quality merchandise at the price the British consumer seeks. They understand the challenges the British economy is facing and, with their interest rates in India at 11per cent, accept that they need to be competitive in their pricing.

Equally, it is only too apparent how successful some of our household names have been in searching out the opportunities in India and they have developed impressive footholds in the country. These will only get stronger as the country matures and provided that British retail across all aspects of the supply chain, from design to distribution, can stay at the leading edge of creativity, imagination and vision, there is a massive chance to be seized.

As Gandhi once said, ‘you must be the change you want to see in the world’.

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