“Enjoy yourself. Don’t start anything that will not continue after you leave India. Just enjoy it, travel, see cultural things, connect with people. That’s the most important thing. “
Can you tell us something about yourself?
I’m 51 and a pharmacist doctor with an MBA. I’ve always been interested in international business. In 1995, my first job was in Business Development, but technically I was a salesperson. I worked in Asia and Europe, then found a new job at a French company called Ethypharm, which is still operating today. From 2001, I worked in Shanghai, China, for five years before going back to France, where I continued to be in charge of international business for the same company.
An opportunity opened up for me to take over a small Indian factory that Ethypharm wanted to get rid of, so since 2011, I was in Mumbai. It allowed me to become independent. At the end of the journey, I turned it from a loss-making company to a successful one, which took time, of course.
Have you been to India before this experience?
I’ve been in India since 2003. While in China, I was given the responsibility of India. Because for France, these two countries seemed close to each other, although that’s not the case. So, from 2003 onwards, I started going to India to manage the operations there. After returning to France in 2006, India continued to report to me, but it was a smaller operation. I visited only once a year.
What was your first impression of India?
Since I came straight from China, what I appreciated was that you could understand people because they speak English. When you’re in China, you’re in a completely different world.
Was the environment very different from China?
Yes, because China was already a developing country, whereas India was under-developed and without infrastructure. There was a big gap between the two countries and, even after 15 years, the gap still exists. India is far behind China.
What was your biggest shock? And how did you get over it?
Well, before the age of 20, I had already travelled to around 16 countries, so there was no real shock because I was used to places like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Africa, or Syria. Also, the culture shock is similar in these countries.
How different is the experience of being an expat in China and India?
Every expat’s experience is different depending on if you’re single or married, have kids, are in a French community, speak the local language, etc. All these factors have an impact on the expat experience. In China, I was in my thirties, single with no kids. But in Mumbai, I was married with four kids, so it was different.
The French community also plays a significant role. When you finish your job, you want to speak your language. But in Mumbai, you only have 500 French at most, whereas in Shanghai back in 2001 there were 1,500 French, and 10,000 in 2006. So it’s not the same atmosphere since you have a much larger community in China. In Mumbai, this community was made up of those in the consulate and the French school.
What are your views on the work culture in India in your industry and overall?
They are good workers, although they have one weakness, which is also their strength: they are always optimistic. They are always happy to start something, and it’s easy to communicate.
And did you see any difference between the work culture in your industry and other industries, or is it the same?
It’s more or less the same, but the biggest difference in India is that they are optimistic. It’s a strength but also a weakness because they don’t see or plan problems. They tend to prove that they are smarter or want to solve things on their own, so sometimes guidelines and rules aren’t as followed, whereas, in China, they follow the directions strictly. In my industry, nobody cares if you’re smarter or better. You just have to follow the guidelines, and that goes for many industries. You have to do exactly what you’re told, even if it seems not relevant.
They tend to prove that they are smarter or want to solve things on their own, so sometimes guidelines and rules aren’t as followed, whereas, in China, they follow the directions strictly.
Did you ever get homesick when you were in India?
Yes, of course, you get homesick, but you can always go back to your home country for a break. While in India, I travelled to many countries. But when you get older, even if you like countries like India, you want to be close to your roots. When you’re young, you want to experiment, to run the world, to discover things. But when you are older, you appreciate things more from your own culture.
Did you miss anything in particular when you were in India?
What you miss are your friends and family, but it would be the same even if you lived in another part of France. It’s the simple things you miss, you know. Like baguettes, croissants, drinking coffee on a terrace, the newspaper, going to a theatre, things like that. But I didn’t miss it so much because in every country you have plus and minus points and you have to appreciate that. Each country can give you things you will never get in other places. You have to be at peace with that.
Do you have any advice for newbies?
Enjoy yourself. Don’t start anything that will not continue after you leave India. Just enjoy it, travel, see cultural things, connect with people. That’s the most important thing.
You went back to France, but how long ago was that?
Do you want to stay in France or go somewhere else?
No, I will stay in France. My kids have learned to read and write in English since they were not at the French school. I did not have the money at the time because the French school in Mumbai is one of the most expensive in the world. It’s $17,000 per student. I also wanted to send them to a local school. They learned to read and write not only in English but also in Hindi and Marathi. But now that they are around ten years old, I want them to experience European and French culture. That’s why I want to go back to France. And they will stay there until university.