The urban economy of Mumbai generates about 6% of India’s GDP, not to mention 40% of the country’s foreign trade. Commonly referred to as the commercial and entertainment capital of India, it is the seat of some important financial institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, and the Bombay as well as the National Stock Exchange. Several multinational corporations are also based there, having established headquarters or branches in the city. The GDP per capita of Mumbai is around three and a half times as high as the national average.
Competition for jobs is fierce among employees working in Mumbai, resulting in longer working hours and a more westernized style of business than in other parts of the country. Civil servants and public-sector employees make up a big share of Mumbai’s active population, but so do semi-skilled or even unskilled self-employed workers. Apart from taxi drivers, the notorious dabbawallas working in Mumbai — messengers delivering lunch boxes to office workers — are an example of Mumbai’s unskilled lower class.
Aside from maritime trade, logistics, healthcare, IT, textiles, and diamond polishing, the media is a big employer in Mumbai with the “Bollywood” film industry, producing roughly 1,000 films per year, forming a large part of its business. Plenty of advertising agencies and numerous television production companies are also located in the city, providing jobs to thousands of employees working in Mumbai’s creative media.
As mentioned above, the style of doing business in Mumbai has been westernized. The increased presence of foreign companies and business opportunities result in large numbers of expats working in Mumbai, bringing their own style and pace of business to India. However, there are major differences between business cultures, so foreigners should be aware of some general rules before they start working abroad.
With its structure still rooted in the traditional Hindi caste system, Indian society is more hierarchical than what many Westerners working in Mumbai may be used to. This, of course, also influences how businesspeople and co-workers, and bosses and employees deal with each other.
In an office environment, for example, menial tasks such as moving tables and chairs are rarely done by the regular office staff. Indian companies employ “runners” for this kind of work, even if it might not seem like the most efficient way of running an office to some expats.
Expatriates from countries with a very casual workplace culture should note that the correct way of addressing business associates is by their title and surname rather than first name. Some Indians from the south of the country may only have one name; in this case it is used together with the correct title.
It is also of utmost importance to always carry an abundant supply of business cards around. Failing to hand out your business card at a meeting in Mumbai might be considered impolite.
Business gifts may be exchanged, but not necessarily at the first meeting. They should not be expensive and are rarely unwrapped in the presence of the giver. Avoid causing embarrassment by ensuring your gifts don’t contain alcohol, meat, or leather products if you are unsure about your associates’ religious beliefs. Establishing good professional and personal relationships with your contacts is essential for successfully working in Mumbai.
Don’t cause affront by being too straightforward. The word “no” is rarely used, even in a private context — “I’ll see what I can do” or “I have to double-check this” are more appropriate responses of the same nature.
Patience and good will are more likely to win you respect in Mumbai than openly confrontational behavior. Indian businesspeople often don’t commit to anything at the first meeting. Bargaining negotiations are acceptable and may even be expected.
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