Global Sales Mumbai Magic
The highlight of the trip was something I wasn’t expecting.
The first stop was Mumbai, India. It was tempting for me to treat the Mumbai segment as a warm up to the excitement and intrigue of Shanghai and the exoticness of Singapore. It was the beginning of the monsoon season and western India summer heat can easily top 100 degrees.
I got a lot of advice before leaving. “It’s not safe to walk around the city”, one person told me. Mumbai was the site of the 2008 terrorist attack that killed nearly 200 people so I took this advice seriously. “Don’t drink any water from any source”, another person said. A client from another company told me to pack a suitcase of Power Bars. “Get vaccines for hepatitis A (liver inflammation caused by ingesting bad food or drink) and B (same caused by the transfer of bodily fluids)”, someone else told me. Whatever I do, said one more, take plenty of Immodium for diarrhea.
The interesting thing that I didn’t realize until after my visit was that no one said to be sure to take notice of the spirit of the Indian people.
Mumbai didn’t start well. I arrived in Newark to find an email saying my direct flight was cancelled. I would have to taxi to La Guardia (90 minutes in traffic, $130) to catch a new flight. Instead of direct to Mumbai we first flew to Paris (8 hours), then to New Delhi (9 hours). It was now midnight the next day for me. We left Delhi but stopped 45 minutes later in Indore for no reason. I was told this by the guy next to me in business class, an Air India pilot who said the pilot’s strike now in its second month was causing much havoc. We left Indore at 1:15 AM and landed in Mumbai at 2am. I had been traveling for 31 hours. My meeting would begin at 800 sharp.
Mumbai is a city of contrasts. My 5 star Hyatt had exceptional service and amenities but the scene outside my conference room window was different. Security guards at the hotel entrance were busy checking the underside of all cars for bombs; my hotel was all glass and steel and marble, yet across the street was a row of old shack type structures, maybe businesses, with dirt sidewalks; I saw a cow feasting on a pile of roadside garbage the size of half a basketball court, yet inside I feasted on a phenomenal buffet of fish and vegetables and spices and herbs that made my taste buds do the tango; I saw feral dogs wandering the streets desperately in search of a meal. I started every day by piling on my plate large slices of deeply orange alphonso mangos that were perfectly in season.
The pleasant young man serving breakfast was deeply interested in where I was from. He stayed around my table for at least five minutes. He could picture New York and California but Ohio and the Great Lakes were unclear.
At lunch a woman escorted me from the conference room to the dining area, something completely unnecessary but refreshingly memorable. I said I needed to use the toilet (it’s not a bathroom) and as she walked me to the hallway she slipped and went crashing down, but somehow I grabbed her and prevented her fall. She was embarrassed, but each day her good morning smile had a touch of personal meaning.
One evening we taxied into the city to the Gateway of India, an 85 foot high arch built as a welcoming place for dignitaries traveling by sea. Then we went to the famous Café Leopold, a chic place that was the first target of the terrorist attack in 2008. The streets were overcrowded with taxis, tuk-tuks (3-wheeled taxis), motorbikes, trucks, trash, debris, people, all converging like traffic leaving a state fair parking lot after a Jason Aldean concert. At the restaurant, we immediately were handled by several staff getting us to our tables, getting our beers and bringing appetizers. We seldom waited longer than you’d expect for anything.
After dinner, around 11 o’clock, we took another adventuresome ride in tuk-tuks to the famous Juhu beach where many Bollywood celebrities live. There was a warm breeze coming in off of the Arabian Sea and there were people everywhere. My hosts were thrilled when I asked if Anil Kapoor had a place here.
Unlike in too many parts of Europe, in Mumbai this American felt welcomed everywhere I went.
My flight to Shanghai was scheduled for 1:30AM so we returned to the hotel. By the end of the Mumbai leg I was exhausted in a completely satisfying way. The Indian sales team was by far the most pleasant, upbeat and easy going group I worked with. They were rightfully proud of their city and country took nothing for granted. I can’t wait to go back.