In the final analysis, capability, and not nationality or lineage, is the true test of succession planning. This is as true of politics as it is in the corporate firmament. Iconic IT services leader Infosys’s decision to appoint Vishal Sikka as its next managing director and CEO is a case in point. The 47-year-old is known to be an aggressive innovation leader and this could help the company stir up after its recent years in which its growth lagged industry peers with no secret sauce in sight for a rebound.
A few months ago tech giant Microsoft had appointed Manipal-educated Satya Nadella as its new CEO. From an Indian point of view, all these appointments demonstrate a simple motif: It is not where you were born but what you do that counts.
Vinod Khosla is arguably the biggest Indian technology story in the US. He was the founding CEO of Sun Microsystems, since acquired by Oracle and is now already on to the next wave of global economic growth — clean energy technologies that might replace the burning of coal and oil. Google co-founder Sergey Brin is Russian-born. Pierre Omidyar, who founded eBay, was born in Paris to Iranian parents. Intel was founded by Andy Grove, who came to the US from Hungary.
Our business tycoons share with most of their Asian peers an undue fondness for family and friends. Recent instances, however, show that this seems to be changing. In a society where business houses seldom survive the third generation, the Tata group showed two years ago how succession planning can be carried out seamlessly.
Ratan Tata, who handed over the baton to Cyrus Mistry as the chairman of the group, himself had to bring to heel professional managers after his uncle JRD Tata anointed him successor in 1991. The Tata group was ahead of the Indian pack in aligning corporate governance with global practices and its cultural milieu is not too daunting for the global manager.
The same, probably, can be said of Infosys. Carlos Ghosn at Nissan is proof that profit speaks the same language across continents. When it happens in India’s corporate world as a rule, rather than an exception, it will be a coming-of-age event in India’s corporate history.