Book Talk: India and Italy linked by food and mothers

Driving, queue-jumping, food and mothers are just some of the big issues that India and Italy share, according to Stefano Pelle, whose second book "When not in Rome, don't do as the Romans do" was launched recently in India and Dubai.

books Updated: Aug 16, 2013 12:08 IST

Driving, queue-jumping, food and mothers are just some of the big issues that India and Italy share, according to Stefano Pelle, whose second book "When not in Rome, don't do as the Romans do" was launched recently in India and Dubai.

He should know. Pelle is from Rome and first came to live and work in India in 1998. He is married to Shama, a Keralite, and they still have a house in Goa that they visit at least once a year.

Pelle headed the Indian operations of Italian confectionery company Perfetti Van Melle from 1998 and expanded the business in South Asia. Since 2012, he has handled South Asia, Africa and the Middle East for the company.

His latest book is part autobiography and part guide to doing business and living in emerging markets.

Pelle spoke to Reuters from Dubai about India, Italy, industry and the attractions of writing.

What similarities do you see between India and Italy?

There are so many. The traffic, the chaos, the way of being smart and trying to jump lines. Then the mother of course. The family in general but the relationship with the mother more than the family. In Italy now youngsters stay in their parents' home longer because there is no first employment ... and this forces the attachment with the mother and the cult of the mother that is there in Italy. And of course same thing in India ... It's weird, the relationship with the parents is stronger than the relationship with the wife.

It's amazing how the food can be different in the different parts of Italy and so is the case in India ... Punjabi food in the north, the Hyderabadi biryani or then maybe the Malabari food of coastal Kerala. They are completely different. And it's the same thing in Italy. If you have a Sicilian pasta it's nothing to do with risotto Milanese or osso buco.

Then the fact that they are both peninsulas and then the political situation. The Congress Party in India has dominated the political scene for years and years. In Italy this was the case with the Democrazia Cristiana (Christian Democrats) which in the after-war period ... governed Italy for maybe 40 years.

What about the differences?

Tea against coffee!

What did you most and least like about doing business in India?

People are what I liked most about doing business. I loved first of all their brain ... Secondly they can be humble but they can be extremely aggressive depending on the situation.

What I notice is that normally they still have a little bit of respect for the colonial and the white skin ... whereas at times with their colleagues there can be really no mercy. If they have to climb up they can do anything to show they are the best and better. And the competitiveness - it's not a healthy kind of competition, at times it can even be nasty. But they are really smart people and really hard workers. I've never seen people working like 60 hours a week and no Saturday, no Sunday (off) - whenever is needed. It's really this dedication to work which I found extremely positive.

Is business done differently in Dubai?

Certainly there is not that kind of red tape and corruption that you find in India ... Easier, faster. You can create a company in a few days, you don't need 100 permits and licences like in India. And particularly when you set up something within a free zone ... that makes it much easier to do business here, vis-a-vis India, no doubt.

How did you sell your Italian sweets to sweet-crazy India?

Our product was definitely superior and we had our own distribution network. But we made some mistakes at the start. For instance, our Center Fresh liquid-filled gum leaked. The weather was too hot and after a few days the gum leaked. So we had to change that.

And international adverts didn't work. We had one for Center Fresh with a guy river rafting. It was supposed to suggest something clean and fresh but at that time whitewater rafting hadn't taken off in India so Indians just didn't understand that as something to do with freshness.

Why did you choose this format for the book?

My first book was merely a business one. While I do think I have some expertise to share about doing business in emerging markets, I did not want to restrict the target audience with a second business book. Hence I tried to write something in between an autobiography and a very brief "business manual" for those who operate in emerging countries ... The Italian ambassador in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) described it as an "autobiographic business novel where the love story with the wife is the binding element". I did like this perspective!

Do you have plans for a next book?

I do love writing as much as I do lecturing and sharing my experiences with others. I do not have already structured plans for the next book, though I have already started thinking about some ideas. When the time is right, the ideas will concretize into a more specific framework and the book will come alive on its own. Inshallah (God willing) as they say in this part of the world.

First Published: Aug 16, 2013 11:32 IST