Global field for local honchos
India's top-level corporate executives, long confined to managing small shows in the domestic market, are now rising to the highest levels of global corporations on the back of their local expertise and professional skills. Mahua Venkatesh and Anupama Airy report.Playing board games | Wooing desi professionalsbusiness Updated: Mar 16, 2013 02:16 IST
Be Indian, go global.
India's top-level corporate executives, long confined to managing small shows in the domestic market, are now rising to the highest levels of global corporations on the back of their local expertise and professional skills. With good reason, as we shall see.
On the one hand, two decades of an open economy adopting a global business culture has honed local manages to practices that match the best in the world. On the other hand, their fluency in English and multicultural outlook are making them hot property in the upper echelons of multinationals.
But above all, there is a reason that is at once global and local. With growth plateauing in the US and European markets, companies that have their roots in those continents are looking to Asia to drive the next wave of growth. And who better than seasoned managers from the local markets to help them guide on strategy and growth dynamics in the exalted playgrounds of the global boardrooms?
There is also the flavour of the current corporate culture - the injection of diversity into boardrooms.
Among those who have found their way to international boards are Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy, State Bank of India chairman OP Bhatt and HSBC India head Naina Lal Kidwai.
While well-qualified Indian executives have always been headhunted by multinational firms in sectors such as banking, consumer durables and information technology, board-level inductions are a recent phenomenon.
"Having Indian leaders on the main boards of global companies is an emerging trend," said Anjali Bansal, managing director and India head, Spencer Stuart.
HSBC's Kidwai, who was one of the first Indians to be appointed on the board of Swiss-based food giant Nestle, said that companies are bringing more diversity into their boards as they decide to expand to newer boundaries.
"When a board looks for a member it looks at technical skills where our talent in IT and finance and entrepreneurship stand out. The nomination committee will also look at the ability of the person to fit in where English language skills and personality play a part - Indians socialise well with international communities," she said.
On top of that even as medium-term growth prospects for India remains choppy, industry gurus prefer to bet on the country due to its sheer size and population that promises a huge emerging market of consumers.
India's growth rate estimated at 5% in 2012-13-the lowest growth rate in a decade-is still one of the highest in the world. That gives the local market a future edge that multinationals cannot deny.
"Indian education system, multicultural environment, diversity, a competitive corporate culture and a complex market contributes to building strong business leaders," said Chandrajit Banerjee, director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, adding that English skills made them "perfect candidates" for board-level jobs.
Bansal added that management skills of Indian leaders are well known. "These dynamic leaders have proven their worth across the globe…a lot of Indian and Chinese leaders are being preferred by top global companies," she said.
The China factor underlines a critical fact: whatever the skills of the managers, the big pull is the fact that they come from a market that is waiting to be conquered.