Israeli Machismo Doesn't Sit Well With Mumbai

Mumbai - Are Israeli companies more arrogant or more aggressive than Silicon Valley companies? Industry, Trade and Employment Minister Eli Yishai, who began his visit to India on Monday, was surprised to hear complaints of this nature from a senior executive at TCS, a subsidiary of the Tata Group, India's largest conglomerate worth an estimated $22 billion.

"It is easier to build ties with companies from Silicon Valley than with Israeli companies," remarked another company executive. "I approached both Amdocs and Retalix concerning joint ventures, instead of competing abroad. My contact at Retalix told me he was convinced, but he would have to convince his board of directors."

The Indian company got nowhere with Amdocs, either.

Founded in 1968, TCS is considered the largest information technology company in India. In 2005-2006, the company's revenues totaled about $3 billion annually. TCS has a presence in 43 countries worldwide, 75,000 employees and recently issued stock on the Indian bourse as a company valued at $10 billion.

In 2005, TCS opened a branch in Israel, with the intention of conducting research and development with Israeli companies and marketing products based on Israeli technology to TCS clients abroad. Of the 500 leading companies ranked by Fortune magazine, 150 are TCS clients, and seven are among the magazine's top ten.

Meir Koren of Magic wanted to participate in the meeting in India, and sent TCS a proposal for a joint venture, but the Indian company was in no hurry to respond. Yishai presented TCS with two proposals, which were apparently more intriguing than Magic's.

One of the ideas was hosting a technology day in Israel, during which TCS representatives would meet with Israeli companies whose projects are compatible with the Indian company's agenda. The second idea was to embark on a joint R&D project with large multinational companies, to include cooperative development efforts between Israeli companies and TCS partially financed by the government. TCS agreed to promote both these ideas in 2007.

At a ceremony held Monday evening, the names of Israeli companies recognized by the Indian government as promoting ties between the two countries were announced. Among the companies were Netafim India, Plastro Plasson India, Zim, Rad Communications, Ness Technologies and Iscar. The ceremony concluded the first of Yishai's five-day visit to India.

TCS's headquarters in Mumbai are in a magnificent wooden structure, surrounded by greenery, flowers and small pools. Nearby are a fitness room and sports courts for employees to enjoy.

The company also maintains Banyan Park, which surrounds the building and sits on 100 dunams (25 acres) of land.

The park is named after the banyan tree estimated to be 600 years old, which stands at the edge of the park. The tree is holy, as Buddhists believe it was under this type of tree that Buddha experienced his enlightenment. For this reason, even an advanced IT company like TCS would not dare uproot the tree during the redesigning of the park. The tree stands next to the wall that surrounds TCS's manicured compound. Beyond the wall is a slum.

The building that houses Birla Group is no less impressive, with marble floors and walls. The facade is beautifully designed with large panes of glass supported by metal struts. The company's headquarters are a ten-minute drive from tin huts built along the side of the road, where puddles formed during the rainy season have not yet evaporated, despite the 35-degree Celsius heat.

Yishai and his entourage, which includes senior officials from the Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry, the Israel Export Institute and representatives from the business sector, were hosted by Birla board chair Kumar Mangalam Birla. The company, whose worth is estimated at $10 billion and which has annual sales of $15 billion, is interested in joint ventures with Israeli companies in the biotechnology and information technology fields, as well as the textile and chemical industries.

Like TCS, Birla has agreed to meet with companies in Israel through arrangements that will be made by the Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry and the Israel Export Institute.

Global competition for the Indian market is stiff. The Israeli delegation that accompanied Yishai includes representatives from Alvarion, Arad Technologies, Bank Hapoalim, the Elul Group, BDO Ziv Haft, Gadiv Petrochemical Industries and Gaon Agro Industries. The largest American delegation ever to visit India - 300 businessmen, headed by the U.S. undersecretary of trade - left Mumbai the day before the Israeli delegation arrived, and the American delegation was preceded by one from South America.