William S. Pinckney: India Can Put All Your Assumptions Under a Scanner

A business model imported from outside wonít work in this country believes the Amway India head

Published: Jul 14, 2010 06:04:59 AM IST
Updated: Jul 27, 2010 01:36:47 PM IST
William S. Pinckney: India Can Put All Your Assumptions Under a Scanner
Image: Amit Verma
A DIFFERENT BITE William S. Pinckney likes the food, the people and the warmth of Delhi

He is William S. Pinckney, Managing Director & CEO of Amway India Enterprises
The India Experience Arrived in India in February 1998 and launched Amway’s business in India in May 1998. He’s an active participant in many business forums and think tanks
Work-Life Starts his day at 8.15 a.m. and wraps up by 6.30 - 7 p.m. Works six days a week. Travels 10 days a month
Interests Playing golf. Loves good food and says “Indian food is as good as it gets.”

I came to India in 1998. Our kids were settled and we were looking for some adventure. I was looking at a two-year stint to set up the operations and move on. Six months into my move here, we hired an Indian MD. But soon, he didn’t want to stay. By then I had begun to like it here and was feeling settled. So I stayed back.

Settling Down
Surprisingly, we got settled very fast. My predecessor had set up a house in Sainik Farms [in New Delhi] with virtually everything I needed, including the support staff, generator, etc. That’s the biggest reason why our settling down was so easy.

We liked the people, the food, the city, its warmth. Our stay here has given me tremendous satisfaction. I think settling down has a lot to do with the mindset. I believe you have to make the most of what you have, instead of trying to recreate everything that you had back home.

Managing People
At work, the biggest challenge was the HR part. Back then it seemed that Indian corporate culture was very soft. A lot of employees look at companies as their families. How you give feedback to a man and a woman has to be done differently and sensitively. You can’t be direct and say you are no good.

Sometimes a professional criticism, if not done well, can be seen as a personal attack in India. In India, I think it is very important to spend time with people and build a relationship.

Today, I have 500 full-time employees. Typically, if someone does anything wrong in other parts of the world, you simply fire them. Here you will sit with them, figure out how you will ease him out, ask him to resign rather than sack him. The humane issues — like he has to take care of his family etc. — take precedence. Here, friendship overrides professional work any day. Also, in India, there are no secrets — somebody will always get to know.

But I must say Indians are incredibly smart and hard working people, and extremely loyal. You get back exactly what you give. So the effort invested in making relationships pays back.

Doing Business
We came here with many business assumptions. In Australia, we have one warehouse that delivers to the entire country. Typically, our distributors place orders online and we have set up infrastructure to deliver in a short time. We presumed India would be something similar. We set up five offices in major metros. We were hoping that 20 percent of our distributors would come to pick up and the remaining would place orders online for home deliveries.

Around 11 years later, it is exactly the opposite. About 80 percent of them pick up from our centres. As a result, our five offices have expanded to 130. One warehouse has now expanded to 44.

I think if there is one big learning, it is to adapt rather than impose a model from outside. India can put all your assumptions under a scanner. Our e-commerce site is low key. Last September, it did a business of Rs. 1 crore a month. This isn’t to say it’s not growing — this year we will touch around Rs. 10 crore and growing.

I think the key is to be open to change and be willing to adapt. We do many things here that we don’t do elsewhere. For example, multiple sizes. We also have a dual brand strategy here — of having global and local brands, which is almost one-third the price. We have great value products — it’s the only market where we have coconut oil. We realised that it will be easier selling some of these products and then start migrating people to other products.

About 90 percent of our products are manufactured here. This was tough. But one thing is clear: Having a manufacturing facility here allowed us to do things quickly. If I was importing, it would take nine months to bring a product here. If I am manufacturing here, I can turn it around in six-seven weeks.
We did face some external regulatory issues. The tax structure varies from one state to another and is still evolving and changing. At times that can be a little frustrating. US left me alone. Because they knew they didn’t know. Success also helps.

Incredible India
India has changed and so has the way it is perceived. Initiatives in India are being rolled out globally. This thing about having two parallel brands — local and global — is being replicated elsewhere in Latin America. Indian managers here sit on Amway’s global competency teams. There is a recognition of the fact that if you can make it here you can make it anywhere in the world. Business challenges, regulatory environment, competitive intensity — I don’t think any other country in the world is as intense as India.

(As told to Malini Goyal)


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(This story appears in the 16 July, 2010 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Dr Rajiv Srivastava

    Amway India is doing well. But despite excellent quality of products I would like to bring the attention of top management of Amway towards poor quality of gift items like the wall clock, weighing scale, hair dryer etc.

    on Apr 5, 2012
  • Shaan

    Dear Mr.William S. Pinckney, Gift category products are being sold with great inequality giving full advantage to the people (platinum and up) to choose early, leaving the left outs for the new people. You are responsible to create "pyramid" in the business, which is never done for core products. I am really sorry to say that, you are creating inequality in business claimed to be of equal opportunity and may be spoiling the image of Amway. Hope you shall correct the act.. Amway says "we are listening" but you do not have a email to "hear" distributors plea. Are we being cheated by the act of a person?

    on Sep 16, 2011
  • Kandeeban R

    @topazpm. Better disregard those naive people who talk against and let us do something constructive. My life, my attitude, my self-confidence has grown manifold after being introduced into Amway rather reluctantly. Even now, I haven't reached the top, yet, I know for sure I am heading in the right direction with the guidance of some real human beings, who are very much interested in making the globe a place to live and flourish. I never ever dreamt I could resign my high-paying Medical Transcription job but this has happened only through Amway. Opinions differ. Just imagine what will happen if all the blokes understand Amway and make it to the top. We won't have anybody to serve us in other departments. So, just ignore them. Jai Hind, Jai Amway.

    on Sep 2, 2010
  • Nick Castrellon

    The 'Managing People' section in this article was good. It's such a shame that such things are rarely considered here in the U.S. Millions of hard-working people in the U.S. are mistreated and abused everyday and it leads to bad things. When they are presented with our business opportunity they feel intimidated that they couldn't succeed or that the business is just another pyramid scheme. Little do they know that the very jobs that are afraid of losing are pyramids in themselves. Think about it.

    on Aug 10, 2010
  • Dillip Kumar Mishra

    Bill needs a much greater Public appreciatiation for the efforts he put not only to establish Global Amway in India, facing with many odd situations, but presenting Indians with Gold Standard Products, unmatched Quality, to stay fit, prevent lifestyle diseases, to remain healthy and an instrument to build the financial growth offered to any section of Indians. Its no less than a social service.

    on Jul 29, 2010
  • S.Joshuva

    Really God has Blessed very much, because of this business lot of people get financial stability and freedom and their get HOPE in their life. One day I will also become like you.

    on Jul 28, 2010
  • Mathew Kuruvilla

    Bill has done a phenomenal job by understanding the Indian environment, adapting to it & made heads turn to see the success. Doing business in a vast country like India with 28 States, is like doing business in 28 countries. God bless Bill ! God bless India !

    on Jul 27, 2010
  • Tex

    He left out the biggest difference. India has no tool scam. In other countries, Amway has ripped off millions of people for several decades, to the tune of 10s of billions of dollars. Read about it on this website: http://thenetprofitgroup.yolasite.com and forward the information to everyone you know, so they don't get scammed. Amway is a scam, and here's why: Amway pays out as little money as they can get away with, so they support the higher level IBOs ripping off their downline via the tool scam. As a result, about 99% of IBOs operate at a net loss, while the top 1% make several TIMES more from their Amway tool scam than from the Amway products. This was made illegal in India in 2005 and the UK in 2008, but our FTC is unable to pull their heads out of their butts to stop it in the U.S.

    on Jul 14, 2010
    • topazpm

      Tex, Amway is the purest opportunity on Earth. It is for hard workers, not whiners like you. Moreover, Amway has nothing to do with the tools. They belong to the various training groups. Also, they are optional, as is Success. Just joining Amway, won't make your money, learning and kicking your own butt will. Not everybody succeeds in everything, this is no different.

      on Jul 30, 2010
      • Tex

        Amway has EVERYTHING to do with the tools. The tool profit allows Amway to keep more of the product profit, so IBOs get ripped off by Amway AND the upline!

        on Jul 30, 2010