I recently found myself in India as part of a business delegation with British Prime Minister David Cameron and five of his cabinet colleagues as part of the largest trade mission to set out from the UK for, well, a long time.
As the only practising lawyer on the PM’s ’team’ I had to wear several hats, representing Clifford Chance (as always) the legal profession and the wider City in my role as chairman of TheCityUK.
Briefed in the garden of 10 Downing Street, the preferred location as long as the summer holds out, it was decided that the delegation would be split into two groups. One heading to Bangalore and another, which I joined, accompanying George Osborne to Mumbai to discuss financial services. There with the CEOs of Barclays, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, the London Stock Exchange and Aviva Insurance, plus the chair of Standard Life. We attended meetings at The Bombay Stock Exchange (ringing the bell to start trading) with business leaders, including our own ’best friend’ Zia Mody of AZB & Partners. We discussed cooperation, deals to be done.
From there, we five plus the chancellor had an hour with Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, to discuss the world of business before meeting the entire board of India’s central bank. This was followed by a working lunch, allowing the chancellor to make his keynote address and we, the business folk, to network. Collectively, the day gave a real insight into the inner workings of the Indian economy and underlined that this really was a working visit rather than a backdrop for political photo opportunities.
We dashed to the airport just as the monsoons of Mumbai had reduced traffic to a standstill. However, travelling with the diplomatic seal of approval does help and we were waved through security to board the plane to join the PM’s delegation for a dazzling reception that evening.
Day Two: Ministerial meetings aplenty…
Unusual though it might be for them, the various banking CEOs found themselves in a minibus being driven to meetings with ministers around Delhi. Chancellor Osborne and his team managed a Range Rover. We met the three senior civil servants in the Commerce Ministry who are responsible for negotiating the free trade agreement between India and the EU, and who will do the same with the US FTA next year. I am hoping that this will be the basis on which professional service firms (including lawyers) are able to establish in India. Then on from there to see the minister of finance for another positive discussion. I had a one-to-one with the law minister as a courtesy call.
At this stage I should tell you that the humidity in Delhi must have been over 100 per cent in that it would not have been any wetter had it been raining.
Finally, we have a police-assisted dash to the airport, making great time, to find ourselves on the chartered British Airways 747. You’d think that we’d have been ready to collapse by this point, after 48 hours with little sleep, but after running entirely on adrenalin for two days it’s surprisingly difficult to turn it off. Accordingly, the 50 business, academic, sporting and other ’mission members’ spent the next five hours standing to mix with the 50 press corps, reliving the last two days, putting the world to rights and generally networking.
Eventually, the cabin crew gave up any chance of pushing trolleys and packets of nuts were passed through a human chain from one end of the plane to the other. The last hour and a half before landing actually saw most people grabbing some sleep before we arrived precisely at the time the day’s agenda showed (4am), proving that it really is possible for airlines to run exactly to schedule (providing you have the relevant authority!).
Stuart Popham is senior partner at Clifford Chance and chairman of TheCityUK.