The unpredictability of working within the Indian sports industry: some call it a curse, others call it a blessing, I just call it adventure.
I try not to compare my time working in the US with how things get done in India as those who do typically go insane. With that being said, after 7 years of being a professional at Major League Soccer I did develop some conditioning and comfort with processes, structure and practicality. I’d go as far as saying that agendas, meeting follow ups, strategies, timelines, objectives, etc… became my so called “comfort zone” and by the time I left MLS in 2009 I couldn’t imagine being effective professionally within an environment that didn’t involve these basic business fundamentals.
It was due to the above that I struggled during my first year working in India. At that time, I was with the advertising agency Dentsu serving as an Associate in their Sports Marketing group. I was clear right away that none of the business acumen I developed during my time in the US really made much of a difference within the Indian sports marketing world. I remember a few months in, I put together a detailed 65 slide strategy for our department which I spent weeks working on only to see it laughed at and dismissed by the President of the company only 3 slides in. I quickly realized that to succeed at Dentsu, I had to be shrewd, unorthodox and shameless at times, all characteristics which fell way out of my comfort zone. I remember going through so many meetings never even opening my mouth as the half Hindi-half English conversations would move so fast that I just couldn’t follow. So many days I’d leave our office wondering why this company is even paying me as my only contribution at that time was my American accent which was highly regarded during some meetings, especially with the Japanese.
After that first year of struggle, I let go of any pre-conceived notions of how business should be done and re-connected with my original intention of professionalizing the Indian football landscape in whichever way worked. Once I took that on, a whole new world began to open up in front of my eyes. I became more aware of the importance of recognizing people’s emotions, showing respect and never letting the word “No” stop progress from taking place. I also started to celebrate small wins rather than shooting for big money right away as big wins in India typically only occur once a strong foundation is built of trust and a series of successful smaller results. I became comfortable with the idea of going into meetings with no agenda and just speaking from my heart no matter how cheesy it may have sounded at times as Indians can appreciate emotion just as much as they can numbers and fancy power point slides. Finally, I just surrendered and let go of having to prove my worth day in and day out and just started enjoying the ride.
This new way of doing business has evolved over the past few years. Inside of it, I’ve successfully helped the Indian football industry grow beyond status quo through grassroots program concepts, long term international partnerships, increased corporate support of football and a now deeper connection between the Indian football industry and the western world.
The last 4 years of working in India has been an extraordinary journey. A journey of struggle, of growth, of adventure, of patience, of celebration and of fun. I’m clear that if I had stuck to my “comfort zone” I’d be back in the US right now still wondering why my passion, experience and personality weren’t enough to generate success within the Indian market. I’m blessed that I chose to let go of my conditioning, work within the context of my new environment and create forward progress. It is because of this that I can sit here at this moment with a smiling heart knowing that my future as an Indian businessman is as bright as the industry I’m a part of...