The Trick to Getting Meetings in India

Reprinted from Harvard Business Review, see original here.

It’s tough for would-be entrepreneurs like me to meet people who matter in India. Even if you do land that all-important appointment, because of the traffic and the lack of reliable maps and signs, you’re unlikely to get there on time — particularly since your previous meeting is bound to run over. You can’t easily get out of a discussion in India once it has begun.

What do you do? After visiting India numerous times on business in 2009, I’ve learned that if you really need to talk to a busy executive, offer to ride with him or her in their car. Most senior and middle-level executives, as well as government officials, use chauffeur-driven cars to transport them to and from work, as well as to meetings and airports. That leaves decision-makers free to chat en route, in person. The traffic jams in India’s cities provide great opportunities to conduct long, candid, and uninterrupted conversations — as any Indian news reporter will vouch.

In June 2009, my partner and I absolutely needed to meet a well known doctor based in a town between Chennai and Bangalore. He was happy to chat over the telephone, but hesitated to meet us not only because it was Sunday — his only day off — but also because that evening, he had a flight to catch. Learning that, we offered to drive him to the airport. The doctor agreed, and we emailed him documents to study as well as follow-up questions in advance.

After an initial hiccup — the driver of our hired car took an unannounced 30 minutes extra for lunch — we managed to pick the surgeon up from his house in time. As we drove to the airport, the three of us had a terrific three-and-a-half hour conversation, during which he pushed back at our plans and provided insights that we may not have got if we had visited him at work.

Remember to hire a car that can carry an extra passenger and luggage, though. And tell your driver exactly how long he has for lunch!