Hamant Verma: The British Indian approach to business can help us escape recession

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The Independent Online

British Indians have a conservative culture, with a small "c", which means they are sceptical of change, resourceful and austere – perfect for dealing with a recession. While the regular sight of an Indian housewife parking a large new Mercedes saloon outside one of Ealing Road's modest vegetarian restaurants probably looks ostentatious to indigenous Brits, shrewd Desis will have the nagging feeling that her husband could probably have afforded a bigger one if he wanted.

It is hard for mainstream high streets to draw lessons from the British Indian approach to business, not least because of the idiosyncrasies of south Asian culture. But an analysis should provide them with food for thought. Most British Indian shopkeepers tend to own their premises outright, which helps their ability to leverage.

Many of the shops on Southall Broadway and Ealing Road are family businesses, which means the owner can be flexible with the labour force. And because of the Indian communities' determination to strain every last A grade out of their kids at school, their workforce tend to be well educated.

Customer service is also good at these shops, with the owners personable and knowledgeable about their products. The diligent shopkeeper can become an "uncle" in name to a family in the course of time. Jaffer Kapasi, chairman of Leicestershire Asian Business Association, said the number of banks that have sprung up in and around Belgrave Road, in Leicester, over the past ten years is testament to another positive aspect of desi culture: saving for a rainy day. An inclination to save cash is drummed into Indians from childhood and the slightest hint of personal debt provides a loss of face in the family (and the occasionally threat of a slap on it, if the offender is young enough).

And leaving any debt to future generations is frowned upon in the Indian Diaspora. Let's not forget that a mortgage from a financial institution is only a recent method to buy a flat in big cities such as Mumbai; India is the biggest influence on British Indian culture, after all. If the British Indian community is conservative with a small "c", perhaps the "c" should stand for cost-effective.

Hamant Verma is former Editor of Eastern Eye