Q&A: Sharon Bamford, UKIBC

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In an MEI feature following the April 2009 India theme, we spoke to Sharon Bamford, founding chief executive of the UK India Business Council (UKIBC), a UK government–sponsored body.

UKIBC is charged with representing business needs to enhance bilateral trade between the UK and India. Although this piece outlines possibilities for UK companies, the practical issues and areas of potential highlighted by Bamford are also relevant to all MEI readers globally. Please describe how UKIBC helps UK businesses"UKIBC seeks to play an influential role in creating and sustaining an environment in which free–trade and investment flourishes. A key objective in this regard is the highlighting, and dismantling, of bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to entry. Through the facilitation of partnerships, and with the support of an extensive network of influential corporate and individual members, UKIBC provides the resource, knowledge and infrastructure support vital for UK companies to make the most of emerging opportunities in India. "Why was UKIBC established and how can UK companies get involved with you? "UKIBC was set up in September 2007 by Gordon Brown, [the then] UK prime minister to increase bilateral trade and investment between the two countries. The origins of the UKIBC date back to 1993, two years after India began liberalising its economy, and the creation of the Indo–British Partnership Initiative (IBP), agreed by the prime ministers of both countries. The UK and India, of course, have a long and close relationship, but with liberalisation, changing and enlightening of policy by the Indian government and the dawn of globalisation, the opportunities for joint trade began to accelerate. Our shared language and most importantly our shared values – democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and a free and vibrant press in both countries – helped nurture and grow many business relationships. And it was the IBP, picking up on this new and invigorating economic landscape, which paved the way for many UK companies to enter the Indian market. As the global economy changed and the Indian market changed, so too did the IBP, evolving into the Indo–British Partnership Network (IBPN), which was ultimately incorporated as a private limited company in April 2005. IBPN took the shape of UKIBC in 2007. "Why should companies from the UK and other countries be interested in targeting opportunities in India? "India's economy has grown and changed dramatically over the last 10 years. India has more to offer than call centres and back office services. They are moving up the value chain and doing more advanced and higher value work, opening new venues for and possibilities for partnership and investment. From a business point of view, the global economic slowdown makes it even more beneficial to build closer links between UK and India. India offers new opportunities for innovative companies of all sizes and in all sectors. " Which particular sectors offer the most opportunities at the moment? "Sectors which we have identified as having great potential are energy, advanced engineering, security, services and creative and media industry. We are launching an insightful report in May 2009 which will help UK businesses decide where to invest in Indian second tier cities in terms of their sector capabilities. "What are the main practicalities/issues for a UK company wishing to workin India? Is a joint venture a sensible first step? Do you have any tipsfor success? "Although India presents rewards in the form of tangible market opportunities, it is not without its challenges. The main challenges remain red tape, infrastructure and talent. A UK company wishing to work in India needs to understand the legal, accountancy, and operational landscape in doing business in India. We run Insight India briefings – programme tailor made to address not only these key issues but also the cultural issues. Also, establishing an 'on–the–ground' presence is critical to run a successful business. Finding the right partner for business remains an essential requirement. A joint–venture (JV) is one of the many modes of entering the Indian market. Most commonly used entry models include, appointing an agent, distributor, opening a subsidiary or acquisition. However, the cost of searching and performing due diligence on a suitable partner, negotiating the various business and legal documents governing the JV, negotiating and implementing a strategic leadership programme within the JV, may prove to be challenging for SMEs. In order to help business businesses gain a low–risk entry model, theUKIBC is launching the 'Launchpad' service in April 2009. It will be available to both our members and non–members. This service will enable UK companies and organisations to establish a local presence in India, with a base in either Delhi/Mumbai, or one of the smaller 'metro' cities. Launchpad will provide a dedicated local representative to look after the domestic product theatre, comprising local customers and suppliers and acts as a stepping–stone towards establishing an Indian presence without major financial commitment, excessive resource allocation or risk. " What does the business community in India have to offer the rest of the world (i. e. what are they good at/have been good at)? "The Indian business community has traditionally been very skilled and adept at identifying and isolating profit–making opportunities that others may have missed. This innovative approach to business has clearly yielded dividends for many people across the spectrum. Indian businessmen are also expert negotiators, finely balancing the need to gain as much as possible whilst leaving enough on the table to forge a long–term mutually beneficial relationship, a balancing–act that is common amongst world–class negotiators. A combination of entrepreneurial spirit, hard work ethic and an innovative tilt is a very potent combination within the business world, the results of which may be seen by perusing the examples of Dhirubhai Ambani and his sons, JRD and Ratan Tata, Sunil Bharti Mittal etc. . . "Do you think major sports events such as the Commonwealth Games will be good for India? "Prima facie, they will. Hosting an event of this [i. e. Commonwealth Games] profile benefits India in two primary ways: Firstly, it raises India's profile (cultural, social, sporting and economic). Secondly, the amount of direct and ancillary business generated will be immense. Of course, these positives have to be weighed against the infrastructure considerations, security dynamics and overall cost of the event (in terms of effective resource allocation). "About Sharon BamfordSharon Bamford is the founding chief executive of the UK India Business Council (UKIBC). Bamford is a dynamic and inspiring serial entrepreneur who has founded and managed five start–up businesses since 1983 ranging from drilling services to a charity. Combining her interests in academia and business, Bamford has also been a lecturer at The Centre for Entrepreneurship, The Robert Gordon University, Director of The Edinburgh Technopole, at the University of Edinburgh and immediately prior to her current role was chief executive at The Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE), leading a partnership of 20 Higher Education Institutes in Scotland, committed to developing enterprise and entrepreneurship amongst staff and students. Despite her extremely busy schedule, she still finds time to mentor young entrepreneurs. A role model for young British women, Bamford was nominated for the 2008 First Women Awards in the public sector category organised by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). For more information about UKIBC please contact Ishara Bhasi Callan at Ishara. Callan@ukibc. com

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