With the success of Satya Nadella at Microsoft, Sundar Pichai at Google, Indira Nooyi at PepsiCo and others of their ilk, stories of Indian managers making it big overseas is now less surprising news for people back in India. But, ask the question what makes the Indian professionals such a hit worldwide and one may have to keep waiting for an affirmative answer.
Answering the question, while making a worthy attempt to crack the elusive code, is a new book, aptly titled The Made In India Manager. The definition of ‘made-in-India’ manager here is those who have “received their foundational education and degrees in India till the age of 18 and little later”. It does not include people of Indian-origin, born and raised abroad.
Written by two business experts, R Gopalakrishnan and Ranjan Banerjee, the book speaks about the “unique combination” of factors that led to Indian management thought and practises becoming a “soft power”.
There are more Indian CEOs than any other nationality after Americans in S&P 500 companies, finds a study by executive search firm Egon Zehnder, quotes the book.
“Poverty and living in cramped spaces occurs in San Salvador and Egypt as well. Family values and the pursuit of a better standard of living is a recurrent theme in every society. But the combination of challenges in India is quite distinctive.
“Navigating those challenges while growing up endows distinctive capabilities in made-in-Indian managers,” write the authors.
Delving into it further, the book explains the four secret ingredients of Indian-born managers including their “felicity with the English language”, “surviving in a hyper-competitive environment” and “developing a high degree of adaptability”.
“The propensity that Indians have for hard work has been (sometimes grudgingly) acknowledged by employers the world over. “Explaining how Gujarati merchants managed to capture 70 per cent of the diamond trade in Antwerp, Abraham Pinkusewitz, the head of a diamond-trading family business in Europe, commented, ‘Business has always been important for the jews but we cannot pursue it with the single-mindedness of the Indians’,” said the author quoting an article of an Indian business daily. Talking of Indians “growing up in a crushingly competitive environment”, the book gives the example of the cutting-edge competition in Indian institutes and how only “2 per cent” of the students who apply to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) get admission in them.
“NR Narayana Murthy famously told CBS News in 2003 that his son could not get into IIT but went on to study at Cornell, a renowned college in the US. This has positioned the IITs as genius factories, a perception promoted assiduously by IIT alumni,” the author writes. Besides, the book also goes into the history of Indian appointed CEOs, and acquaints the readers with the trailblazers in the field. “In 1959, JM Lall was the first Indian to be appointed chief executive of ICI UK. Soon after, in 1961, Unilever appointerd Prakash Tandon chairman of HLL. Imperial Tobacco UK appointed Ajit Haksar chairman of ITC India in 1969.
“Following the phase, made-in-India managers started to get appointed to top level positions in parent companies. T Thomas, chairman of HLL, joined the Unilever board in 1979… Rajat Gupta was appointed managing director of McKinsey in 1994,” the book quotes.
Published by Hachette India, the 195-page book, is priced at Rs 499.