Chris Higgins working with Telgu actor Akkineni Nagarjuna at Annapurna School of Film and Media
Chris Higgins working with Telgu actor Akkineni Nagarjuna at Annapurna School of Film and Media

 

1) Chris, tell us about your current role with Ideate Labs and life in Mumbai.

Ideate Labs is a digital marketing agency in Mumbai. We specialise in digital strategy – helping companies map their business objectives to a full range of digital platforms. As a Business Head, I drive the strategy for about half of our clients. The companies we work with range from Fortune 500’s to startups. The team here is amazing, very experienced and very passionate about digital marketing!

Mumbai is a love-it or hate-it type of city. It is noisy, dirty and insanely busy, but the energy is amazing! The biggest challenge here is the traffic: there is lots happening around the city, but it can take hours to get anywhere.

 

2) You’ve been living and working in India for a while now, including in both Hyderabad and Mumbai, what first led you to work in India and what have been the stand out experiences for you?

I first moved to India in 2005 to work on the launch of a Bollywood film school. The school is located inside Mumbai’s Film City. Before I came, I naively thought Film City would be something like Universal Studios crossed with Hollywood. Then I arrived and found that it was a forest. It turned out to be an amazing place to work – how many people in Mumbai have an office surrounded by 200 acres of national park, with views of waterfalls and hills?

My contract was originally for one year. That was extended twice, by which time I wanted to stay on longer in India. I’ve now worked here with two film schools, a theme park, shopping malls, a media sales startup, and now a digital advertising agency.

Hyderabad is a very different city to Mumbai. A much slower pace of life. The city had royal rulers, so there are still palaces and the remains of the fort that stood over the city. The landscape is stunning, with huge red granite rocks everywhere. The rocks have traditionally been too expensive (or too beautiful) to remove, so people built around them. Modern development like apartments and commercial complexes is destroying the rocks, so there are NGOs to protect the rocks, and guided ‘rock walks’ that you can join to learn more.

Chris as a guest actor on StarTV
A screen shot of Chris as a guest actor on StarTV

3) You’ve worked in a few different roles in India now, what advice to you have for others looking to work in India? Is finding job opportunities as simple as jumping on the equivalent of seek.com and are there particular things one should know about approaching prospective employers and putting in applications?

How foreigners end up working in India (ranked in order as I see it):

  1. Their company overseas sends them to India to work at the local offices – this is by far the most comfortable option, as you will usually get an international salary and relocation assistance (lots of people in banking, finance and consulting come this way, as well as technology.)
  2. Working or Volunteering with NGOs – many of opportunities, although you need to be able to live a local, rather than global lifestyle.
  3. Coming through organisations like AISEC, which can arrange 1-year internships for students or recent graduates. I highly recommend this – the experience is amazing if you find the right company, and you great your own local network.
  4. Being recruited from overseas by an Indian company because of your specific technical skills or experience that is not available in India (I often meet mining engineers and other specialised engineers. Also school teachers and principals at the international schools). I believe these companies use industry-specific job sites and recruiters.
  5. Setting up production or outsourcing in India for your own company in your home country – very challenging, but helped by your country’s trade organisations.
  6. Directly applying by yourself to companies to work here is by far the most difficult option. Jobs are advertised on various job portals or Linkedin, but most companies have never hired a non-Indian, and have no idea about the process for visas. Often the owner of the company will have to provide a personal guarantee for any foreigner that is hired. The salaries that are paid for most jobs in India are not at a level that is eligible for an employment visa. If you want to take this path, I would suggest researching a target list of companies and then trying to connect with the HR heads. You’ll need to be able to make a case for the value/skills you bring that can’t be locally sourced. The position will need to be at a senior management level to meet the salary requirements for the visa. If you want to work on India-focussed operations (as opposed to helping the company expand overseas) the company may have big concerns about your cultural understanding of the local market.

 

4) Finally, what’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on in India?

The film schools were both amazing projects. Starting with one shared office, to designing and building classrooms, setting up the teaching technology, developing the curriculum, finding faculty, and finally seeing the school open and the first students in their classes –  an incredible journey. I now see the students out working in the industry, making films and winning awards. You realise the difference that your school has made in their lives.

 

Resources

Many of the things that frustrate outsiders about working in India have specific roots in either history or culture. The more you know, the more you can understand how to live and work here. Books like ‘Mother Pious Lady’ by the legendary advertiser Santosh Desai, or ‘The Great Indian Middle Class’ by Pavan Varma can really open your eyes and mind.

Watch as many Bollywood films as possible (if working in the Western or Northern states). Learn the names of the actors. This will provide you with endless conversation opportunities. Learn about cricket, if you don’t already know the game. If you know Bollywood and cricket, you can start a conversation with almost anyone in India.

 

Check out more Asia Options article on working in India:

 

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Chris Higgins

Chris has worked in film and digital marketing in India since 2005. He currently works with Ideate Labs in Mumbai and has previous helped launch a Bollywood film school in Mumbai and run the Annapurna International School of Film and Media in Hyderabad.

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