London calling: Learning the British way of executing orders

The British suppliers were meticulous in terms of layout plans, mechanization, production methods and finish. The 16th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business in Asia in the seventies and eighties

Despite all the confusion and delays in shipments of cast iron products from India, we somehow managed to get goods in the market on a regular basis. We had stockpiled our own products and were ably supported by supplies from China and Rumania. Besides, from time to time we simply mopped up whatever was left in the market in small pockets.

But one thing that continued to bother us was the irregularity of supplies of heavy duty manhole covers from big and reputed manufacturers like Brickhouse Broads of UK, and if my memory serves me right, were the exclusive agency of Grey Mckenzie in Dubai.

There were a number of well reputed consultants, many of them of British origin and a great number of contractors, mostly Indian, were executing their works. However, if the specification had clearly stipulated brand names (models, designs and codes), they had no choice but to get those at site, without which completed work will not be cleared.

Identifying the product with a specification, like the British Standards was one thing that any responsible contractor would be glad to comply, but branded items were asked for and contractors had to get them from those very stock holders.  It was not an easy task to replace this by supplying an equally acceptable substitute even if it complied with the relevant British or ASTM standards.

Any layman would understand the difference between grey iron casting and ductile castings.  Many suppliers, who tried to penetrate this branded market failed to enter before they started because there was hardly anyone Indian supplier who could provide ductile castings. The British suppliers and their local agents, of course, knew that the competition from India was severe; on the top of these, there were other suppliers from UK who were also attempting to enter the lucrative market.

The situation was tense. Through mutual friends we met the main supplier, Brickhouse representatives, by simply introducing ourselves (they knew a lot about our activities) and visited their offices in London. They were extremely kind and courteous and gave us the honour of letting us visit their foundries, which were eye-openers, in terms of layout plans, mechanization, production methods and finish. And the methodical way shipments were made by them, we realized our unfortunate lacuna in execution.

Upon our invitation, their senior-level representative not only met us again in Dubai, but accompanied me to visit our plants in Agra. On both sides, we were investigating the various possibilities of collaboration.

But I cannot fathom why, in spite of sincere efforts on both sides, this did not pan out. We remained healthy competitors in the market, as the demand was so substantial, that neither of us had to eat into others’ territory.

In the meantime, we had a feeler from a member of the noble family whom I do not wish to name, wanted to set up a local foundry. Considering the enormous potential in the region; however, as capital investment was not forthcoming, we could not proceed further in the matter. 

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)

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1 decade ago
How are these memoirs relevant to moneylife readers? The writer should instead write a book.
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