Monday, July 22 2019


The Indian Embrace

Expats in India
With numerous international luxury brands opening up for business in India covering retail to hospitality, there has also been an infl ux of expats who bring valuable knowledge and experience. Phyllida Jay delves deeper into this paradigm shift.
The new global India has turned out to be a vast potential-tapping zone encouraging international businesses to open their doors here, bringing with them willing participants eager to explain and explore. Abhay Gupta, founder promoter and CEO of Luxury Connect, a luxury services consultancy, refl ects, “The distinct advantage that (expat managers) bring into the system is to be able to quickly translate the DNA and culture of the brand down to operating levels. The learning required by a parallel manager from India is shortened.”
But what’s it like for expats starting anew in India? How do they negotiate the rich diversity of Indian society, the differences in cultural values, the vagaries of Indian infrastructure and working in an emerging luxury market?
For fi ve years, Marko Jovanivic has worked for iconic Italian brand Gucci, currently as the retail manager in India. Four months ago he and his wife moved from Milan to Mumbai. Jovanivic recalls, “My fi rst impressions of India were overwhelming – the humidity of Mumbai coupled with the chaos of traffi c. But you get used to it.” He welcomes the challenge of managing and teaching employees, and developing Gucci’s plans for India’s important emerging market for luxury.
The rich social fabric of India makes different demands on his time. “We have just moved into a new apartment – it’s a like a micro-cosmos,” he laughs, “Of curious neighbours and the daily rhythm of people who work there. My wife is on a sabbatical and enjoying daily life here.” He continues, “I have been to India before, so I knew to expect the extremes of luxury and poverty. There is also a sense of optimism here with economic growth and the potential that brings together society as a whole.”
A sense of India’s potential also inspired Australian Graham Grant to shift his career from the Cayman Islands to India. For over a year now, he has worked as general manager at The Leela Palace Udaipur – the romantic icon of the city, which hovers on its famous lake. But it’s not his fi rst time in India. Fifteen years ago he backpacked around the country in what he calls a ‘raw’ experience, a contrast to the luxurious environs in which he now works.
The question of how his family has adjusted to the move is especially pertinent for Grant as his wife is about to give birth to their fi rst child. He says their local hospital has surpassed expectations with the warmth and attentiveness of pre-natal care they have received.
Many Westerners coming to India feel that Indian society has a different set of values around life, less materialistic and more spiritual. How that perception squares with economic growth and the turn towards affl uent lifestyles can seem contradictory. That complexity, between a sense of India’s spiritual values and its booming materialism, attracted retail manager Eliana Tuli to India, carving out a career in luxury brands such as Versace and Tom Ford.
Born in Greece and brought up in Sydney, she fi rst came to India seven years ago on a company project. Back home, life seemed a little dull despite a high-paying job, friends and a city apartment. Her family thought it was madness to give it all up. “But there was something about India that challenged me. Travelling to remote places and mega cities opened my eyes, and changed the way I look at things,” she says.
Her parents have visited and loved India, but they wouldn’t retire here. Tuli thinks she will stay. She admits, “I am bored when I go back to Australia; it’s challenging here.” She explains, “India is a ball of contradictions. Delhi isn’t New York, London or Sydney – if you have expectations about it you will not like it. You have to accept and go with the fl ow of the chaos. Then you can have the most amazing experiences.”
In one sense the growing middle class and distinct social and cultural values in India combine to make the market a new, unchartered territory. But in the experience of expat industry insiders, at a certain level of affl uence where customers travel extensively and lead incredibly luxurious lifestyles, they are more similarities than differences between the Indian luxury buyer and those from around the world.
According to Tuli, affl uent Indian consumers are very familiar with luxury, they know about brands, quality and travel a lot. Tuli worked as retail manager for Tom Ford, a brand known for its understatement. “The assumption is that the Indian luxury consumer wants fl ashy logos, so people were surprised when Ford opened shop here.”
In his experience of hotel guests at the Leela Palace Udaipur, Grant feels that the Indian luxury consumer has high expectations, is more service-conscious than their European counterpart and tends to go for the higher shelf items, whether whisky or cigars.
Luis Molina, spa manager at Ananda in the Himalayas, says, “It’s not the same to be wealthy rather than rich in India or any other country. Rich people are usually demanding, checking the value of what they are paying for. They have money, but they don’t like to waste it. Wealthy people are simply not thinking about money. They look more for enjoyment and satisfaction.”
Originally from Andalucia in Southern Spain, Molina’s work in the hospitality industry has taken him on cruise ships and spas across the globe. “Being unmarried without children has defi nitely made it easier for me to follow such a lifestyle,” he says. According to him, Ananda’s high levels of personalisation and goal-oriented packages drive their most successful experiences. “The spa experience needs to be tailored to every single guest, every single time. There’s is no future in luxury business if you don’t do it that way,” he opines.
A common view amongst the expats we spoke to is the incredible potential of traditions of luxury and craftsmanship in India, which will develop to make the country a purveyor of global luxury brands in its own right in the time to come.
Luis Molina is newly in love with India, working at the panoramic destination spa Ananda in the Himalayas.
luxury brand Gucci
Marko Jovanivic (right) is currently retail manager for iconic luxury brand Gucci in India.
Greece-born Eliana Tuli has worked with brands such as Versace and Tom Ford in India.
Graham Grant, general manager at the Leela Udaipur, backpacked to India 15 years ago and was drawn back.

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