The difficulties Coca-Cola has had in labeling its soft drink cans are indicative of the bureaucratic obstacles to doing business in India, but the country’s large population and huge middle class continue to make it an attractive market, agreed the speakers at the Dec. 12 meeting of the Indian Professionals Network (IPN).

      Participants in the discussion at the Maharaja Restaurant in Tucker included Jagdish N. Sheth, an Indian immigrant who is professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School; Mylee Bell Mangum, executive vice president of strategic management  at Holiday Inn Worldwide and Ron Cheeley, a former director of human resources for Coca-Cola India.

      Coca-Cola left India in 1977 after refusing a government order to divulge the ingredients of the Coke formula.  However, the company re-entered the country in 1993, and sales have expanded at a rate of 25% to 30% a year, said Mr. Cheeley.

      Ms. Mangum said that Holiday Inn considers India one of the top markets in the world, and is seeking Indian investors to join in the development of its franchises as its primary method of allaying risk.  She was particularly complimentary about the talent and work ethic of India’s work force.

      Dr. Sheth was perhaps the most damning of India’s domestic industries which are protected by tariffs and continue to resist efforts to liberalize the economy.  These companies have “exploited” their own country through opportunistic practices which failed to invest “in quality,” he said, adding that they naturally would resist foreign competition at home.

      However, he said, India suffers undeservedly from misconceptions such as being a land of “snake charmers” when many of its industrial sectors are extremely competitive globally.  He named food processing and railroads as examples.