India speaks U.S. business language

Two oceans, a continent and 7,800 miles separate Philadelphia and Bombay. Yet in some ways, the two cities might as well be as close as Philadelphia and New York.

The information-technology revolution has had that effect on global commerce and industry. For instance, said Indian journalist Pradipta Bagchi, “If you pick up the phone to call your software company’s help desk, you may think you’re talking to someone in the United States. But the voice on the other end may be in India.”

Which is one reason why Bagchi, the markets editor of Business Standard, India’s second-largest financial newspaper, is now in Philadelphia and not Bombay. He’s spending the semester at Penn’s Center for the Advanced Study of India as the first C.V. Starr Fellow in U.S. Economy and Governance. The Starr Fellowship allows Indian journalists to study America’s business environment and regulatory policy; Bagchi is using his to study how the electronic economy has evolved in America.

As in the United States, high tech has transformed the face of Indian society, creating a new middle class of skilled individuals with money to invest in the booming stock market. What’s even better for India, Bagchi said, is that India’s high-tech revolution is sustainable.

“The high-tech industry is one where the country has a sustainable competitive advantage,” he said. “We’re putting out with the skills needed [by industry] less expensively than in America or Europe. And we can speak, write and program in English.”

Bagchi arrived at Penn at the beginning of last month, and in the short time he’s been here, he’s already gotten to meet researchers, scholars and some of his American counterparts. He was particularly impressed by his visit to the Philadelphia Inquirer newsroom, where he met with business and sports reporters and sat in on a story conference.

“It’s much bigger than the newsroom I work in,” he said. “They put out six editions, so I guess they need a lot of people.” By way of comparison, Business Standard publishes an edition in each of five Indian cities, but much of the content is the same in all editions.

He was nonetheless comforted to find out that the culture of journalism is the same in both countries. “It was reassuring to see news meetings conducted just as they are at Business Standard, with editors fighting for stories and asking why this story got in and this one did not.”

The two countries’ financial markets are likewise similar, especially in the technology sector. In fact, he said, “Indian high-tech stocks pretty much follow the NASDAQ, as does the rest of the world.”

And there are even closer financial ties between the two countries as U.S. mutual fund companies look for investment opportunities. “You have your Fidelitys, your Alliance Capitals, your Templetons, all established in India,” he said. “And they not only invest American money — they also raise money locally to invest.”

Because of these similarities, Bagchi hopes to come up with lessons for Indian investors and government officials to use as they wire the country — lessons he will most likely deliver through his Business Standard column.

But for now, he’s enjoying the break from the grind. “The most appealing thing about this fellowship is not having a deadline to worry about every day and having more than one hour to digest something and understand it.”


Originally published on April 6, 2000