Indian executives don global hats, steer operations from home turf
Samidha Sharma & Shubham Mukherjee , TNN | Jul 6, 2013, 06.00AM IST
MUMBAI: The rise of executives of Indian origin in the global corporate and management world is by now well documented. However, as a corollary to this, now a growing number of top Indian managers are performing global roles based out of India . Though not a new trend, it was a rare occurrence till a few years ago.
Just a few weeks back, Coca-Cola’s India and south west Asia head Atul Singh was elevated as deputy president of the cola major’s Pacific group comprising 10 countries, including China. However, Singh opted to stay put in Gurgaon just like an increasing number of Indian executives who choose to play global roles out of Indian cities.
Yashwant Mahadik, HR head for India and the subcontinent at Philips, is another recent addition to the growing club of CEOs based in India with a global role. Earlier this year, Mahadik was anointed global HR head for the Dutch conglomerate but remains stationed at Gurgaon, the company’s local headquarters. Singh and Mahadik are joined by the likes of Salil Parekh, CEO, application services and global financial services, Capgemini , who sits in Mumbai with responsibilities of a $5-billion business; Arvind Uppal, head of Asia-Pacific at Whirlpool, who operates out of Gurgaon; and Bangalore-based Subhankar Roy Chowdhury, talent & organizational development leader (Asia-Pacific & Latin America) at Lenova.
There are others who are on global boards, including Ashish Singh, chairman, Bain & Co India, and Noshir Kala, one of the longest serving members on McKinsey’s global partner election committee . Similarly, Janmejaya Sinha, the Asia-Pacific chief, holds one of the top four critical jobs at BCG globally while Saurine Doshi has been on the global board of AT Kearney for a while now. Another Indian partner, Vikas Kaushal, has joined him on the AT Kearney board.
Among the big four, Rajeev Memani has been member of the global practice group of Ernst and Young while Deepak Kapoor is on PWC’s global strategy body. They all have a base in India. The list is long.
With the Indian managerial talent having proved itself on the global stage, the next big step for MNCs was to have these executives work from a maturing geography like India, which is among their most important markets for growth. And who best to understand that market than the Indians. Besides, they also add diversity to leadership teams, a key objective for many MNCs, even as the concept of the company headquarter itself is becoming irrelevant.
Capgemini’s Parekh, who has had the responsibility of managing the US, UK, Asia-Pacific and is also a member of the global management board, says today India-based managers are becoming more recognized in their respective organizations. “There is an increased acceptance I find of an India-based manager or leader today than a few years ago. Experiences of these managers and leaders also have increasing relevance in the world,” says Parekh.
It’s the growth that these companies have achieved over a period that is responsible for the commensurate rise of India-based talent, says K Sudarshan , managing partner, India & regional VP, Asia, EMA Partners International, a global executive search firm. Sudarshan himself looks after markets like Singapore from India. “These executives have got to that point where they had to be given meatier roles and not necessarily asked to relocate because they have successfully grown the business in India,” he says.
Family issues are also critical for some CEOs at a certain point in their careers, so some opt to operate out of India. And since companies do not want to lose their best in a talent-starved market, they oblige.
Fresh into his global role, Mahadik of Philips says this is a recognition of the Indian talent within progressive organizations which believe that headquarters are where the consumer is. “It does not matter where you are based out of as long as you are willing to travel and stay connected with technology. This mindset shift is happening pretty rapidly,” he says.
Management thinkers and academicians agree to the broad trend and say it reflects the same talent dynamics that account for India being a net exporter of CEOs for the Fortune Global 500. But they don’t necessarily agree that it’s the best choice.
Pankaj Ghemawat, Anselmo Rubiralta Professor of Global Strategy at IESE Business School, Barcelona, feels that it’s probably more candidate-driven than location-driven . “We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s going to be as easy to run APAC from India as it is from Singapore or Hong Kong. In addition to personal preference on the part of the executive , from business perspective , the key question is whether the person can add more value by remaining close to the Indian market or by operating from a more neutral hub. This is, in some sense, similar to the debate between running the region from Shanghai or Beijing versus Singapore or Hong Kong. If India proves to be a “leading market” within the region, that probably strengthens the case. But my sense is that it would still be harder to take a regional perspective from within India or China than it would be from Singapore or Hong Kong,” says Ghemawat.
Nirmalya Kumar, professor of marketing at London Business School and an author of six management books, including the recently released “Brand Breakout” , agrees. “Theoretically, having a global mandate out of India is not a problem. The only two practical challenges are that you cannot have a truly global team as getting timely visas for representatives from important regional countries like China and Pakistan is still very difficult. Second, when you are in charge of both a large market and a global mandate, one worries if one of these will get second priority, often the large market. This is why companies prefer to have regional headquarters in small countries such as Dubai or Singapore,” says Kumar. He, however, says that Indian talent is more ready for global roles because of their English language skills and global outlook even though China is economically more important for global firms as a market.
But what everyone agrees to is the fact that the Indian talent has to be part of the firm’s global talent pipeline. As the Indian CEOs grow, they are ready for bigger roles in the firms. This is irrespective of the fact if they are moved to the regional HQ or the regional role is brought to them.
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