Ed Dixon, Group COO & Managing Director, in an exclusive interview with Discovering Business 2019|2020 for India, a publication supported by DIT (Department of International Trade, UK) and CBI (The Confederation of British Industry. Here, Ed talks about Sannam S4’s best practices and upstream support capabilities to businesses, higher education institutions and those in the not for profit sector.

“Our business exists to support internationally ambitious organisations as they look to explore, enter and expand in dynamic markets around the world,” says Sannam S4’s COO & Managing Director.

Read the entire interview below- 

ED Dixon

1. What is the background and history of Sannam S4?

Sannam S4 was set-up by our CEO Adrian Mutton, using his expertise of working internationally as the catalyst to help others. As a Sales Director with experience in opening up 17 markets, Adrian recognised that too much of his time was spent understanding how to operate locally, with too little time focused on directly selling. Having been part of the team that successfully IPO’d and exited that business, he took some time out and found himself in India; a country he has a long history with. Here Adrian was contacted by individuals needing help and following a meeting with Kapil Dua, who had spent many years supporting foreign organisations working in India from a financial, tax and regulatory perspective, Sannam S4 was conceived. It began operating in 2008 as a business designed to simplify and support organisations looking to work in India and has grown into an award-winning consultancy.

2. How many people do you employ, and where do you have offices?

Sannam S4 has 225 employees. The bulk are in India where we have four offices (Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Chennai). Our European HQ is in London and our North American HQ is in Washington DC. We also work with partners to support clients in an additional 20 markets.

3. How would you characterise the nature of your business?

Our business exists to support internationally ambitious organisations as they look to explore, enter and expand in dynamic markets around the world supporting mostly sales, sourcing and manufacturing activity.

4. What are the firm’s major areas of expertise?

  • Market feasibility/research and opportunity assessment
  • Partner search and sales channel development
  • Local representation
  • Financial (finance & accounting, payroll, etc.), tax, compliance & regulatory matters
  • Staff recruitment
  • HR support (HR infrastructure build, ongoing HR support, cultural training)
  • Flexible office solutions.

We cover many sectors and have a particularly strong track record in areas such as education, not-for-profit, technology, food, and agribusiness.

What stands Sannam S4 apart is that clients are taking advice from a team who know what it takes to build a successful business themselves. All our partners around the world follow that same philosophy. This mindset is frequently cited by clients as a differentiator, working through issues pragmatically.

5. Could you explain your three-stage approach to market entry?

We capture the areas of support we provide into three headings; Explore, Enter and Expand. This means we support both pre and post-market entry, flexing the support we provide clients to reflect their particular needs and positioning ourselves as a long term support partner (that said, clients also engage us for discrete areas of support).

Taking an example, for our people-related services, these three stages break down as follows:

Explore phase

  • How much will I have to pay for people, what will their compensation structures be? Will this vary by city? Where should I start
  • Where will I find staff?
  • What things am I going to have to put in place to ensure I meet the local labour norms?
  • Can I implement the standard organisational structure in India as I have in other countries? If not, what do I need to change?

Enter phase

  • Establish a robust employee documentation and policy framework
  • Finalising compensation and benefits approach
  • Finding talent
  • Providing onboarding support
  • Initiating the operational HR processes

Expand phase

  • Ensuring robust career path planning framework
  • Overseeing the performance management process
  • Implementing learning and development framework
  • Completing regular employee relations interventions
  • Managing attrition
  • Support in handling grievances, escalations
  • Implementing new labour law requirements linked to the size of the organisation (eg. various requirements apply when you employ 10 and 20 people).

6. What is the nature of your work with the Department for International Trade (DIT)?

We work alongside the DIT (organising events, trade missions etc.) and we also pick up where the government role ends. We focus particularly on the nuts and bolts of implementation work on-the-ground, actually setting up and managing businesses, hiring and managing people etc. Sannam S4 is also an Exporting is GREAT partner and in the summer of 2019, partnered with the DIT on the UK wide roadshow as part of the UK- India Summer of Collaboration. Our relationship with the DIT is very symbiotic in nature and we ultimately have the same end objectives, which is to see organisations succeed overseas.

7. Are you typically retained by clients, or working for them on a project basis?

Over time, most clients end up with some level of ongoing support. They are not always structured as a retainer but many are. Working in India carries a level of complexity and clients do draw comfort in having someone on the journey for the long term; someone who really understands the detail, is looking out for their interests, can act as a sounding board and is keeping up to date on market changes.

8. How does your market representation platform work?

This is a helpful solution for organisations wishing to gain access to on- the-ground expertise but who may not be ready to set-up a business (closing a business in India is not a trivial matter, so being sure on this before starting is advisable). Here we deploy a consultant who works to support the client’s agenda as they establish relationships, complete market assessments and start to build their market position. This often involves identifying potential partners and leads and brand building activity. Once a client is happy to proceed with the set-up of their business, we can affect a smooth transition and provide continuity of support. It works effectively for those wanting to take things one step at a time, as the teams are completely supported by Sannam S4 and clients don’t need to worry about some of the things which typically consume time when setting up a legal entity.

9. What help do British companies need most when seeking to do business in India?

The challenges facing companies (and, more widely, organisations) when seeking to do business in India are many and varied. Ultimately the help required is driven by a few factors:

  • International experience – clients that have international experience aren’t as easily deterred. But they will still need technical support in many instances.
  • Ways of working – India has its own way of working and finding the balance between where an organisation must follow best practice, such as standards and policies and understanding/adapting to the local ways of working is vital.
  • Understand the detail and set your expectations accordingly – seek technical support to minimise the chance of any unwanted surprises.
  • Focusing on relationships – as with a good number of markets internationally, relationships are key in India. Finding the right partner and then establishing a cadence of engagement which builds trust while ensuring both parties are meeting their requirements takes time. Organisations that fail are often discovered to have rushed into relationships, not spending enough time on the detail, in an unbalanced/controlled relationship for example. It is easy to underestimate the importance of this– it takes time (and therefore money).

10. Can you explain how you work with national governments in developing their trade with emerging markets such as India?

The level of engagement varies:

  • Market research eg. focused on a particular sector to better understand the market opportunity
  • Delegation support – managing travelling delegations
  • Speaking – briefing delegations/stakeholder groups on market opportunities and challenges
  • Advocacy support – convening events/market participants for advocacy related activities.

Taking one example, Sannam S4 has helped one government review market opportunities in a particular sector and has then gone on to implement that strategy over a number of years; organising trade fairs, leveraging PR and supporting promotional activity. This has delivered substantial Return on Investment and an impressive year on year performance.

11. What distinguishes your market research team from other research organisations?

Sannam S4’s market research team are hugely experienced and ultimately produce complete research that informs the market strategy for a client. This requires commercial awareness, a strong appreciation of the reality of operating conditions and the ability to make tangible recommendations. Sannam S4 positions itself as a long term partner to a client. If the starting point of an engagement is in looking at market feasibility, it is important that we are making recommendations that will stand up in 3-5 years’ time and reaching this point requires the recommendations to be highly practical in nature. Clients tell us that this combination stands us apart from the more traditional market research agencies.

12. Could you outline the range of your work in higher education?

Since 2008, Sannam S4 has supported over 75 universities, many of which are globally known for their research capabilities and include top ‘Ivy League’ institutions, eight of the top 20 universities in the world, approximately 25 UK institutions and others from the US, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Sannam S4 also work closely with a number of governments around the world supporting their engagement in this area. Our services to these institutions/organisations are customised based on the institution’s needs and objectives but are broadly focused on helping build and implement country specific strategies. Services include market planning/strategy development, partner matching/identification, business/legal structuring, market expansion and representation, entity set-up and back-office management, financial, tax, regulatory and HR advisory. For those looking to try and recruit students, we also operate a series of services to support this activity.

Sannam S4 works closely with the local ecosystem players in the markets we operate in – central and state governments, associations, institutions– to surface opportunities, stay close to and, where possible, inform changes in legislation and help create connections that will support the various parties in achieving their goals.

In India, we have over 100 consultants with a deep understanding of the Indian higher education system. This is complemented by senior teams in the UK and US to support clients. Our global education division is led by Executive Director, Lakshmi Iyer, who regularly features on speaking platforms around the world and is frequently quoted on a variety of matters relating to international education.

13. How active is Sannam S4 in the not-for-profit sector and what is the nature of this work?

This is a particular area of strength for Sannam S4. There are obvious parallels between the motivations and mindset of our education clients with those more traditionally viewed as a not-for-profit. For India, this is a tightly regulated space and a number of high-profile organisations have fallen foul of the requirements, resulting in them leaving the market. Our work here tends to focus more on structuring, entity set-up and back- office management, financial, tax, regulatory and the provision of HR support to their teams, which often includes expatriate support

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