4 min read.Updated: 08 May 2019, 12:28 PM ISTMukta Lad
Jurgen Bailom, CEO, Essel Group, was surprised by how expensive India is, and by the discovery of the nuances of classical Indian music
It may be Bailom’s first time living in India, but he is no stranger to its people
Austria-born Jurgen Bailom (49) has an enviable job. His 30-year-long career in the luxury cruise industry has taken him to countries like Argentina, Brazil, Peru, US, Canada, UK, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Italy, Scotland and several more across Europe. Home, for him, is in Miami where his family resides. Today, Bailom finds himself stationed in Mumbai as the president and CEO of Essel Group’s luxury cruise business, Jalesh Cruises.
It may be Bailom’s first time living in India, but he is no stranger to its people. He says that the seemingly big cruise industry has always seen about 30% to 40% Indian employees. “I have met a lot of Indian friends and colleagues in the last 30 years. I have been familiar with their culture and food for a while," he says.
When it comes to doing business in India, Bailom finds that he has to tweak his learnings from a processes and work ethic standpoint. “There is a big difference in the way business is managed in India. Everything has to be incorporated in new operating manuals since corporate America operates very differently," he says.
Mumbai and its organized chaos
On the brink of completing a year in India, Bailom finds himself enriched with everything he sees and observes everyday. He is most impressed by its people and their extreme friendliness. “Everyone works hard in Mumbai and no one ever sleeps. Everyone is hustling, trying to sell something and doing their very best to make a living." To him, Indians display the highest amount of work ethic in the world, and are some of the most tech-savvy and innovative people he has worked with.
As far as Mumbai is concerned, it definitely lives up to its “city that never sleeps" stereotype in Bailom’s eyes. Which is perhaps why he believes it is very safe. Despite living across some of the biggest metros in the world–São Paulo, Shanghai and Mexico City, for instance—Mumbai is one place he never feels any danger in.
“What amazes me, however, is the way people walk without caring about traffic lights. They sit in fours on motorcycles with just the rider wearing a helmet. And yet, I haven’t seen a single accident!" Herein, Bailom echoes the sentiment of thousands of expats and tourists visiting India; Mumbai is the city of the “perfect organised chaos". A tiny flyover closing down somewhere can set citizens back by two hours, and having faced this himself, it is no surprise that he thinks the city’s infrastructure definitely needs to improve. “I have learned that it is important to have an office location that is conveniently located to the needs of the business and the majority of the people. Their travel time can be cut down by two or three hours and efficiency can go up."
For all his love for most things Indian, there are some things that get under his skin. “I don’t like how women are treated with lack of respect here. Another thing is the way people manage touching elder’s feet, jumping out of their seats and bending over backwards." One thing is for certain, though. “If you take care of your people, they will look after you. I really have the greatest team in one of the greatest jobs!" he claims.
Rude shocks and pleasant surprises
“India is more expensive to live in than I thought," Bailom admits, quite surprised at this discovery. Another surprise, albeit a pleasant one, was discovering Indian music. He finds that it has great rhythm, enthusiasm and is overall quite fun. He loves the Indian national anthem, too. “I don’t understand the words, but I find it very cheerful and catchy. Every other anthem I know is depressing!"
Bailom has already been initiated into the world of Indian festivals. “I did a puja at Lalbaugcha Raja during Ganpati last year. It was great! I also enjoyed celebrating Holi." Celebrating festivals helped him understand what auspiciousness means to Indians, something that has become his way of life. “We regularly have pujas in the office and ensure we are doing well financially. I have even rearranged my office and made sure the desks are pointing in the right direction."
Bailom is an avid golfer. It is a hobby he can’t pursue here since golf courses are affiliated to clubs that have long waiting periods for memberships. It is the one thing he misses apart from his family and home-cooked food.
So, will he stay back in India after his contract expires? He nods. “I hope I can contribute to some positive changes. One of the things that is close to me and my business is the cleanliness of the city and our oceans. Mumbai’s collective goal of minimizing plastic waste aligns with mine. Our beaches are very polluted and I hope we can lead by example and change this," he says.
Expat Speak asks foreign nationals living in India what clicks and what irks them about the work culture of the country.