Martin Schwenk likes to keep his expectations of the unknown to the minimum. This way, he finds himself being pleasantly surprised, something that proved to be true even when he moved to Pune with his wife in late 2018.
The 53-year-old German managing director and chief executive of Mercedes-Benz India, who calls France home, is a true-blue expat, what with his job taking him to Germany, the US, Austria and South Africa. “I have always been curious about venturing into new things and countries. It instilled a feeling of always looking for more," he says.
Schwenk doesn’t believe in pre-conceived notions before setting off on a new adventure. “Before you move, your perception is made by the press, photos, people around you. I have always found the reality very different when you actually start living in the place." Schwenk had never been to India before and knew from experience that each place in the world is interesting when you don’t know what to expect. “You will always find something you like and you will find something that you don’t like about each place. It’s part of life," he says. Having said that, he adds, he was expecting India to be “Incredible India", and a melting pot of cultures, colours, spices and people. “I don’t want to say something for the sake of pleasing, but I find Indians from all walks of life extremely approachable," Schwenk says.
“The language barrier isn’t as high as it is in some other countries I’ve lived in." He believes that people in India go out of their way to understand and accommodate people even without being able to speak a common language. The friendliness and welcoming nature were a pleasant surprise to him, and unlike anything he has experienced before. This trait made it easy for Schwenk to adapt to his new workplace easily too.
“I find Indians to be very friendly and competent. Another thing I saw here was that my colleagues are very curious. They are always looking to develop, whether it is themselves or the business," points out Schwenk. He believes their positive spirit and can-do attitude is almost infectious, and made his new start much easier.
He began his stint in India by taking the time out to listen and learn. He also believes in respecting his colleagues’ history and way of working, and assumes they are good at what they do. Does that mean his way of working is democratic? “Democratic is a big word, isn’t it? I simply listen to everything they have to say, and challenge their thoughts on the basis of my own experiences. Then we get into an open creative dialogue. In the end, we arrive at whatever works best as the next step."
Life in a new country
When asked which aspect of India took the most time adjusting to, Schwenk says, “I’ll admit that the Indian ‘head bob’ (moving the head in a way that could mean a ‘yes’ as well as a ‘no’) did take me some time to get used to. I also don’t understand what people mean by the incessant honking." On a more serious note, he believes the infrastructure in India could do with some improvement, although he is already seeing the government take some concrete steps. There needs to be “enforcement of rules" coupled with awareness and stricter laws, he says.
Home sweet home
Schwenk manages to get through most weekends without frequently checking his work-related emails. “My colleagues need to find other ways to reach me if they need to," he laughs. He loves reading, cooking, eating Indian food and discovering new restaurants with his wife, or taking the occasional weekend trips out of town.
“I used to love cycling in the woods back home in France. Unfortunately, I find the traffic a little chaotic here, so I make do by cycling in the gym." The one thing he misses about home the most is having his entire family together. His three children all study in universities around the world, but he is thankful for technology that helps him stay in constant touch with them.
When the time comes for him to move from India, Schwenk is certain he will miss the people most of all. Whether he will extend his stay depends on what he accomplishes in his time here. “I like it here, and so does my wife. I have no reason to think that I have to disappear after my three years here. The job is interesting, the market and the country are big and I’m sure even after three years there will be a lot of challenges. If there are any left, I might as well stay here," he says.Expat Speak asks foreign nationals living in India what clicks and what irks them about the work culture of the country.
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