Norwegian Business Association (India)

Key Takeaways from the 2015 Norway-Asia Business Summit


By Eric Baker, for Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce

This year’s Norway-Asia Business Summit, held from 16-18 April, 2015 in New Delhi, offered something for everyone, whether it was networking, knowledge about specific sectors, or access to heavy hitters in government and industry. Here are a few of the lessons learned at this year’s summit.

Asia offers immense potential, but investors should not enter these vast markets without doing their homework. Companies need to know their aspirations so they can determine the right return on their time and investments. This is where Innovation Norway, chambers of commerce and business associations around Asia can come in handy, as they know the lay of the investment landscape, can help vet potential local partners, and have developed a set of government and industry contacts to help smooth entry in Asian countries.

Investors considering expansion in Asia typically need to be committed for the long haul. In addition to the cultural and logistics differences, it can take some time for companies to build trust in a brand in this region. Several speakers mentioned their company’s goal to “be local”.

The most successful Norwegian businesses in Asia seem to have made a footprint here, becoming an accepted part of the community that gives back to society. Companies may need a different strategy for each country in Asia, but the backbone of the business model needs to be aligned in the region.

In fact, Jotun (China) won the 2015 Norway-Asia Business Award in part because it does such a good job of including local players and hires into its business there while still mixing in its Norwegian “penguins” to help inculcate the company values in a foreign setting.

Part of the reason countries are so receptive to Norwegian businesses is they expect them to be responsible. Katja Nordgaard, former ambassador to Norway and executive vice-president at Telenor Group, said “you must have control over your value chain. You need to be transparent and take up a role in the community, engage locally. You must fight against corruption. In the long run, these are all facets that help Norway build a competitive advantage.”

Tima Iyer Utne, senior vice-president of international hydro and head of Southeast Europe and South Asia at Statkraft, said “A lot of the press about India focuses on the drawbacks, but the economic progress here the past 15 years has been staggering. Part of the value of these conferences is sharing our lessons learned in Asia. If Norwegian companies were better at this we would be even more successful here.

Helping to make sense of it all was moderator Nisha Pillai, a former presenter with BBC World News who now specialises in presiding over panel discussions and high-level dialogues. She tried to draw out the real opinions of the speakers, encouraging them to clarify their talking points, and prodding them about predictions for Asia going forward.

The summit hosts, the Norwegian Business Association (India), made sure participants got a feel for the country as well, planning several activities that featured the sizzle of the subcontinent. The first night saw a dazzling drumming exhibition from a street band that now tours internationally. The dinner party the second night attempted to recreate a Rajasthan fair, complete with fortune tellers, street vendors, a puppet show, and of course a sumptuous repast.

The summit, held at The Oberoi Gurgaon, also had a programme for spouses as well as a day trip on Saturday to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, the magnificent monument to love built by a 17th century Mughal emperor to house his wife’s remains.

For some participants, networking is the highlight of the summit and they would be hard pressed to find a stronger portfolio of speakers, policymakers and analysts. The guest list featured two Norwegian ministers and 11 Norwegian ambassadors from the region, and the summit facilitated the meet-and-greet by hosting “Asia Café”, a type of speed dating where the ambassadors and their investment representatives give a short presentation to small groups about their Asian country and the challenges and opportunities it presents.

Espen Henriksen, president of Kongsberg Protech Systems, said it is important not to spend too quickly when a company first enters a market as it tries to suss out the environment. Take some time to learn the proper pace so your company can fit in to the new market, he said.

Both Ms Utne and Ms Nordgaard noted the importance of hiring locally, but added you can minimise turnover and ensure your company’s values are being absorbed abroad by continually spending on training.

Anders Lier, chairman of Innovation Forum Norway, pointed out that trust is a Norwegian value, baked into the country’s flat business model, and that Norwegians companies would do well to export that value to India.

“We want the brightest people working for us no matter what field they are in,” said Mr Lier. “You have to disrupt your own business models in order to innovate.”

The talent flow does not need to run one-way either, said Kristin Skogen Lund, director-general of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises. In addition to promoting Norwegian businesses abroad, people and companies need to know that the country continues to build clusters of excellence in Norway and there is always room for competent leadership there.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of foreign ownership in Norway,” said Erik Borgen, president of the Norwegian Business Association in Singapore and senior advisor for Herkules Capital. “Plenty of people in Norway are enjoying quite good lives working for foreign-owned companies there.”

Innovation Norway also received much kudos for stopping investors from moving to Asia until they have done their homework. The large Asian market can be quite rewarding, but it can also be punishing if a company has not done its due diligence.

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