With more than 1.2-billion residents and a continuously growing middle class, India has proven to be a focus of international business.

The Ross India Business Conference hosted a series of speakers Friday and created dialogue concerning how businesses can work with the intricacies of the Indian culture and economy with ventures in the country to about 200 attendees.

With the theme of “Dream. Lead. Inspire.,” the aim of the fifth-annual IBC was to bring speakers involved with the ongoing economic and cultural transformation in India to the forefront and give attendees the opportunity to engage in dialogue on how to best harness the transformation.

“I certainly believe that students cannot graduate from business school today without a clear understanding of the role and importance of India,” Business Dean Alison Davis-Blake said. “And that’s why we have this conference.”

She stressed the importance of India as a global “emerging market” with a “growing middle class,” and highlighted the large cohort of Ross students that were of Indian origin.

This year, Indian students are the largest representatives of students of international origin in Ross, Davis-Blake said. Over the last few years, she said Indian students have stood as the second largest. There are more than 500 Ross alumni currently situated in India as members of the University’s India Alumni Association. Additionally, every year, 25 to 30 Ross students are sent to the nation for business projects.

The keynote speaker was Mark Fields, chief operating officer of Ford Motor Company. As a company that has recently made several manufacturing investments in India and employs approximately 11,000 people in the country, Ford served as an example of a firm that truly understands how to succeed in the unique Indian marketplace.

“You have to be very, very cognizant and have open ears and open eyes to learn the local market,” Fields explained, narrating several examples in which Ford’s vehicles had to be redesigned for the country — including more “vibrant” interiors to suit the bright color choices many Indians preferred, strong air conditioning to fight the country’s humidity and more durable horns as frequent honking is a common practice.

As a manufacturer, Fields said the firm’s takeaway from working in India was to “listen to the market and make trade-offs.”

“We’re a growth business and a growth industry,” he said. “By 2020 we see (majority of growth) happening in China and India, and that’s why we’re so excited to be here.”

Other leaders distinguished in business, leadership, academia and entertainment were highlighted over the remainder of the day. Alternating between speakers, panel discussions and question and answer sessions, the conference covered the breadth of culture and business.

Additional speakers included Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, who along with Bill Mayer, director of local business incubator Ann Arbor SPARK, spoke about how his firm is helping new startups in the city. Ross alum G.V. Sanjay Reddy, vice chairman of the Indian conglomerate GVK Group, also addressed the ability of leaders to make a social difference through business.

University alum Nina Davuluri, who was recently crowned Miss America, also attended the event. As the first woman of Indian-American origin to win the title, Davuluri spoke on her platform of diversity and her experiences traveling the country.

Given that Miss America had always been the “girl next door” to Davuluri growing up, she said she felt as if her winning the title was appropriate in a changing America where the girl next door was no longer only white.

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