INTERVIEW: RANJINI MANIAN
The founder of India’s first relocation service company tells Sushila Ravindranath she advises her local clients to use humour with the Americans and to maintain hand-shaking distance with the Singaporeans
Ranjini Manian’s book
Upworldly Mobile is a guide to behavioural and business skills for the new Indian manager. This is a book which came out of observing expatriate and Indian managers closely for over 17 years. Manian is the founder, CEO of Global Adjustments, the country’s first relocation service company, head-quartered in Chennai.
The year was 1995. India had just opened up its economy. American auto giant Ford was making its re-entry into India by putting up a plant to manufacture cars in Chennai. It was the perfect moment to start a relocation service to help the foreigners who were suddenly coming in droves to India, to help them settle in comfortably. This may sound strange today. But for many expats, India was an unknown entity then. When Manian met Joanne Grady Huskey, a diplomat’s wife based in Chennai for lunch, Huskey told her how difficult it was for a foreigner to adjust to the new surroundings, new culture and new food habits. There were relocation services and cross-cultural companies in the West and it was time that this service became available in India. For Manian, who knows French, Japanese and Spanish, this was a perfect business opportunity. She with her friend Huskey set up Global Adjustments, which has become one of India’s leading cross-cultural and destination services companies.
Today, the Indian managers themselves are becoming global and a lot of them are bright youngsters straight out of good institutions. But their exposure to the outside world is limited. Manian realised that just as the expat needed her hand held when she came here, the Indian manager also needed guidance to develop self-confidence to interact with people who didn’t look, sound, dress or eat like her. Her first book was Doing Business in India for Dummies. Her second book is for the Indian manager. Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor says in his foreword, “Ranjini’s experience has taught her that managers have to learn to acquire skills which are often overlooked in their pursuit of their goals.”
Her first chapter explains how to meet and greet people from other cultures. This is not as simple as it sounds. “Indian names can prove difficult for a foreigner to pronounce. Without westernising our names or losing our own culture, how can we find a middle path? Chuck ego out of the door, and look for ease of understanding. If you have a long name, use the initials. ‘I am Jayakrishna Bhat. Please call me JK for short.’ Or, ‘My name is Ram. It is pronounced like CD ROM, not like the animal ram.’” Manian suggests that whenever possible, explain the meaning of your name, which will be appreciated. She also says that one must figure out when to be formal, use titles and when to be informal, use first names. “It is customary to use titles like ‘ambassador’ and ‘your excellency’ whenever appropriate.”
Manian takes pains to explain what works with Westerners. “Most Westerners don’t understand indirect communicators. If you can’t do something, you simply have to use the word no. She points out that Americans don’t mind if you say you didn’t understand something they are telling you. But they do mind when you say you understood and then they find out that actually you didn’t.” She also believes the Westerner does not like it when the conversation turns to subjects like age, assets and health. “With the Americans, one should make sure to use humour. They are quick to break the ice, become instantly informal. Germans expect you to over-communicate, be precise and give constant updates. Scandinavians practice total gender equality. For the French, small talk around the table works. And the British have a wonderful sense of irony.” Then she gives tips on what to wear for different occasions, when to be casual and when to be formal, and how to network at social dos. All this may sound basic, but she insists all of it is very important when one has to deal with situations one is not used to.
Upwardly Mobile also tells a young manager how to deal with the Far East. Singaporeans are more westernised in their work approach than Indians. Theirs is a crowded country, yet they like to maintain a certain physical distance in the business environment. “Maintain hand-shaking distance between you and the speaker. With South Koreans, don’t push yourself and your achievements forward. Give the people you are interacting with your full attention. The Koreans don’t take kindly to those who are distracted or keep losing focus.” In Hong Kong, toasts are mandatory, so don’t refuse a drink even if you are a teetotaler. “Expect some periods of silence at your business meets. Don’t expect quick decisions.” In Malaysia, you might hear your associates laugh at places where you think this is inappropriate. They are most probably trying to cover up feelings of apprehension. “Try to figure out what might have caused this feeling, and see how you can allay their fears.” Knowledge of traditions is important for building a good business rapport with the Japanese.
Upwardly Mobile offers a lot of tips to foreigners as well. It is a genuine attempt to bridge the gaps between global citizens, all drawn from Manian’s interaction with her list of over 1,000 clients, from 76 nationalities, many of them from Fortune 500 companies. The style is chatty and anecdotal. It is definitely a ready reckoner for the global Indian setting forth on her maiden assignment.
Global Adjustments’ CEO, Ranjini Manian, has been handpicked among 35 in the “Driving spirit of Chennai Entrepreneurs” in a Coffee table book “Dreams to Destiny” released by TIE on January 6th, 2012.
Leader of Cognizant, Lakshmi Narayanan, President TIE spoke of the importance for such stories to be told so it inspires more. Mr. Srinivasan Head of United India Assurance, congratulated the successful entrepreneurs in this unique coffee table book, with the words “entrepreneurs are those who are self committed to empowering India”.