New Delhi: Risks for international expansion can come from the least expected quarters. For industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla, it once came in the form of ‘butter chicken’ being cooked in its office canteen.
The aluminium-to-telecom conglomerate Aditya Birla Group chairman belongs to the Marwari community, where vegetarianism forms an important part of life and is a “core belief”, so much so that no meat was ever cooked at the cafetarias in any of its offices and facilities and none of the company functions had wine or whiskey served ever.
This was till the time the group bought a business in Australia, where Foster’s beer and barbecues form part of daily life of a vast majority of factory workers and others. “Expanding internationally is hard and risky work.
I was reminded of this the first time I saw butter chicken being served in a Birla canteen. The most difficult challenges turn out to be the ones you least expect,” says the 46-year-old Birla.
Birla, who runs a $40-billion multinational group operating in 36 countries with overseas operations contributing for over 50 per cent of revenues, further said, “If we wanted to make a mark on the world, we have to be prepared for the world to leave a mark on us.”
These views have been expressed by Birla in a book titled Reimagining India: Unlocking The Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower, wherein McKinsey has compiled essays by top leaders of the country.
Birla further said that there are opportunities out there for ambitious and well-run Indian companies as long as they remember that the world will change them as much as they hope to change the world.
In 2003, the Aditya Birla Group bought a small copper mine in Australia, worth only $12.5 million, but it presented a unique challenge to the group.
“Our newest employees were understandably worried about how life might change under Indian ownership. Would they have to give up their Foster’s and barbecues at company events? Of course not, we assured them,” Mr Birla says....