The Metropolis, February 5-6, 1994

FLEETING FAME : An ever increasing population is posing London several problems : (inset) Dr Hiru Bijlani

Even though their object may be the same that of making money and yet more money - there his a marked difference in the style, approach and mindeset of businessmen around the globe, writes Dr Hiru Bijlani, a management consultant in international business.

In New York, the business styles are getting increasingly informal. So is it in Rome. However, Tokyo, Singapore and London still maintain their hitherto pretty high levels of formality, both in work style and in business dress code. Office culture in New York and Rome follows suit. This style too is more friendly and interactive, while in London and Singapore, stiff collars seem to encourage stiff upper lips.

Doing business in Tokyo continues to be hierarchical and structured. There may be much interaction in decision-making, witness quality circles and their like, but the hierarchy levels have remained much the same.

However, other lines are thinning. Between the physical separation of home, work place and leisure grounds, the barriers are beginning to drop. With the advent of facsimile, E-mail, modem-linked computers, mobile phones and the like, more and more people are opting for flexible core working hours in the office for meetings, while working from home or even operating from the golf course via mobile phones! One is likely to see this trend develop dramatically in the next decade.

Yet doing business today in the various cities of the world still means difference. Let's take a look at how these work out.

London combines the charm of the old British world, with its old houses, castles, traditions, eating houses, while it has also become a melting pot of not only European but also Asian and African cultures. One of its greatest attractions is the extensive range of plays, musical entertainment and culture that is offered at the "pleasure level". It also serves as a major financial centre and as a hub to link North America with Europe. Its disadvantages are its growing population, traffic, pollution and its generally low level of work ethic, not only when compared to the booming metropolises of Asia but also with other cities in Europe.

London's future as a business centre lies in its ability to build on its tradition and history and to attract business to set up base there for reasons that go well beyond business; it seems however to be fast losing this edge to other cities.

New York is alive round the clock. It offers unlimited opportunities not only to pop-stars, sport-stars and muggers, but opens its horizons to the making of business fortunes. Here small ideas that literally come from the streets can result in large business chains. However, this is also a place that many people fear because of the high rate of crime - which, incidentally, takes many "novel" shapes - at all times of day and night. Hence as a city, you can only love it or hate it, whether you are tourist or a businessman.

People work from eight to 18 hours a day, depending on the drive, the ambition and the opportunity. It is undoubtedly the "living" capital of America, and symbolises not only the American way of life, but also reflects the very essence of capitalism.

Rome is the centre of European civilisation, with its vast heritage of art and architecture, unparalleled anywhere in the world. Rome is also a major centre for initial business exposure to the Italian market especially in the sphere of fashion and culture. It is a place where one can happily combine business with pleasure. The work style is very laidback with merry-making mingling with business. The Roman businessmen can fall back on hundreds of years of their ancestry for inspiration, as also easily access the latest technologies and ideas developed in the rest of his country - a truly unique mix of diversity.

Tokyo, is highly exasperating to arrive at and find a long ride from the airport to the city centre which could take as much as two hours. It is further confusing to be faced with various booming business districts (the world famous Ginza is the most known) without knowing what each one has to offer. Plus one needs to develop a familiarity of the city, has access to the inner circles of Tokyo's business world - particularly the big trading houses - and even begin to understand the various facets of Japanese business and personal life.

Even after several visits, many visitors come away without knowing exactly what Tokyo has to offer businessmen, either in terms of business opportunities or in terms of social interaction. The work ethic in Japan is of course alive and kicking and certainly more apparent with the Japanese taking a fewest holidays and working for the longest hours.

Singapore is the melting point of Asian civilisation and culture. It is one of the most unique communities in the world, an experiment that has worked - a man-made effort to create a wonderful and workable place. It also shows that human beings can be made to live harmoniously through a carrot-and-stick approach by ensuring better education and information network. It is a place where Indians, Chinese and Malaysians live in perfect harmony.

The city is planned in such a fashion that even in 2050 AD, it would still take not more than 25 minutes to get to the airport at most times of the day. Singapore is also one of the safest cities in the world. It offers a business traveller an excellent base to operate from, for running operations that would cover places from the Indian sub-continent through to Japan and even Australia.

Singapore has excellent infrastructure, state-of-the-art telecommunication systems and an educated and well trained work force, and is also fast developing into a centre for high-tech and service industries, besides having been for quite some time in shipping and transhipment entrepot. The work ethic of the population is one that can be described as highly committed to success and harmony.

I would rate it as the best future city of Asia - if not in the world - in the next century.

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