The Indian economy is undergoing some tumultuous changes right now with the demonetisation move. That being said, India and the Southeast Asian subcontinent continue to be a hub of development and investment for the rest of the world.
Scott Ferguson, CEO, World Trade Centers Association (WTCA), New York was in Bangalore a short while ago. Scott has a long history of close to 35 years with the WTCA through the WTC Halifax in Canada. Seated in one of the many conference rooms of the World Trade Center (WTC), Bangalore, he spoke about how he sees "a huge thirst for international tie-ups and business development in Bangalore and India." In these excerpts of an interview with him, he speaks of the WTC as a tool for developing a city, the international importance of India and the Southeast Asian subcontinent and more.
You've recently taken over as the CEO of the WTCA. What are your plans for the Association, with perhaps a focus on Indian and Southeast Asian nations?
I am new to the CEO role and it has been a few months. Any new CEO is very careful not to come in with an agenda other than to spend some time understanding the current scenario. I've got a lot of ideas on how I think I can strengthen the association but I think it's important for me to understand from members on how I can help strengthen it first.
The Indian market is very important and we see a significant growth in the future. You only need to look at the economy and the stories that are coming out of the country to see that.
The Indian market is very important and we see a significant growth in the future.
We work with a whole family of licensed partners or influencers and in some cases with governments. But most often we work with developers, entrepreneurs or successful business people. What has struck me, in my visit to India is the huge enthusiasm for business development and, a thirst in Bangalore and India, for international tie-ups for such opportunities.
What makes the WTCA a catalyst for such opportunities?
I think what makes the WTCA unique is that it comprises doers. To me that's really important to say because I think organisations that are involved internationally, occupy a certain platform to talk about issues and to push agendas—and we certainly do, considering we are connected to around 89 countries in the world. Our members are doers; they are spending their own capital, making their investments, and taking risks with their own businesses. We want to grow internationally and be represented in more cities, in more countries but, our members need to be doers. They need to be able to take the risk and they need to accommodate development in cities.
The WTC is perceived as being a premium brand, yet economies like America are gradually opening up to the idea of WTC with smaller businesses taking up tenancy. Do you see this happening globally?
There are always going to be trends and the WTC in general is well positioned to recognise these trends. Certainly, small businesses, SMEs etc are important. Virtually every city in the world is chasing these to develop that economic engine from ground up. Therefore it stands to reason that you are going to see more of such small offices. We get a lot of applications that are of smaller stature and we will look into what value they bring. We are responsible to our members and it up to us to add a member who is not going to take away from the brand. There are checks and balances in place. Because it is city-specific and it grows dynamically, we need to do our due diligence with both big and small entities. We want to be here for the long run.
How have you created your presence in India and the Asia Pacific region?
We have partnered with a number of organisations from the real estate development community. In fact, it is the way things are all through China and most of the Asia Pacific. I think we are in the building mode. In other cities around the world, you may see combinations of builders and entrepreneurs. This is great because if you look at where cities are going to be 10 years from now, you will see that they are going to merge and grow bigger. And where all that will be happening now is in the Asia Pacific. This is where the growth is. With each of the cities what is common is that they each want tools for economic growth. And if you look around the globe, I think the WTC is a great tool to have to develop a city.
Every WTC comes up in a unique kind of an economy. How do you factor that in when granting new licenses?
We help license-holders with what may be termed an onboarding process. First of all we want to make sure we have the right candidates. When we have interest from a potential license-holder we undertake a lot of rigour—the process can take up to a year or more. We look at what values they have, what goals they want to achieve, what potential they have to stay in business for a long period of time. When it comes to the application process we look at what kind of business model they have in mind. This is evaluated on multiple international and regional levels.
These days if you are not on a track that is collaborating and connecting, then you are going downwards.
Once the application is through we handhold the license-holder for a year or so. We have a new members' seminar that we take them through each year. Sometimes even the members from a few years earlier send their staff to New York to learn our tools and get up to speed. We are always looking at how we can improve our onboarding process.
Does having a WTC give commercial realty a boost in the arm?
It is not only about commercial real estate. There are several models—some WTCs have a building, but 90% of their work is in trade missions and trade training. You have others heavy into real estate, who focus on attracting business globally. Then you have the Bangalore model, which touches multiple strong points. The WTC stands in the centre—you have the services side of things, the start-up community and entrepreneurs, they tie up several entities and are constantly growing. We always say that WTC cannot stand on its own. These days if you are not on a track that is collaborating and connecting, then you are going downwards.