Our man in India – KPN manager Jasper Fortune ‘I don’t want socially accepted answers, I want an honest opinion’.

KPN has been in India for nine years. The telecom company there works with various partners on ICT solutions for their business processes. In the Netherlands, there was simply a scarcity of well-trained  ICT professionals, so it is now up to their man in Pune, sourcing manager and transformation coach Jasper Fortune, to ensure that all collaborations between the two countries run as smoothly as possible. “I don’t want to tell them what to do, I want them to see for themselves that it works better in a different way”.

Jasper’s first working day in Pune felt surreal. As is the case in India, there were arrangements for a car with a driver to take him to the office. A large welcoming committee was waiting for him there. “Your first day is always a pick and choose the day, one where you feel a little lost. Now I also started in a new country with a different culture, so I felt a bit jittery in the back seat.

On my arrival, all the managers were ready to make me feel good. That was a bit different than being pointed to your office with a bill with the wifi password”

Jasper Fortuin
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Nothing is as important in India as a good relationship of trust

According to him, this servant attitude is very characteristic of the relations on the work floor in India, where hierarchy still prevails. A challenge for Jasper. His task is to implement the new KPN structure, without management, also in India. “I want to work with our partners as equals, but here I am both customer and white, so I am automatically at the top of the ladder. That means that everyone listens to what I say and agrees with it, while I’m looking for their insights. This is the only way we can improve the processes.

Jasper and his team In KPN India

Jasper and his team In KPN India

To achieve this, the liaison needs to work on a strong bond of trust. That’s why Jasper mainly focuses on the soft side of cooperation, such as team building. In this way, he builds a working environment in which everyone can function optimally and therefore ‘fly faster’. “But it was harder than I thought. I had devised an approach in advance that didn’t work immediately. For example, I started with one-on-one appointments with all managers. I wanted to get to know them not only professionally, but also personally. But Indians don’t want to talk about that at all, so I had to pull a lot of tricks.

India rewards patience

Yet Jasper now sees results. In the first months, he didn’t get an answer when he asked for an opinion or input, now his employees know they can safely express their criticism to him. One of Jasper’s most important lessons is that there is a reward for patience. “I have really had to transform myself in recent years. If all goes well, I praise my people for their contribution. If things go wrong, then I look at myself first: How should I have done this differently?  Or how should I have communicated in order to get all my noses in the same direction? Only in this way do I make sure that I do not fall into the same hierarchical approach, but create a working environment where people themselves think about the best ways to take up a task, instead of simply carrying out what they are ordered to do”.

Jasper’s patience is also regularly put to the test in India. Not only in the workplace but also in daily life, deadlines and on-time appointments are not as important as here. “That’s one of the aspects of Indian culture that you have to embrace and not be angry about, you just can’t change that”. However, he would like to see the deep-rooted corruption in the country dealt with more severely. “That’s really a point I’m struggling with because I don’t really want to participate in it. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with it in my work, but I do in my daily life. And if with 10 euros extra you can arrange something in 2 days instead of 2 weeks, then you’re going to have doubts anyway”.