Reverse brain drain: Young Indian professionals are returning home
Young Indian professionals, once lured by the opportunities abroad, are returning home by the thousands, seeking the economic and social security that India now offers. Mahua Venkatesh reports.india Updated: Dec 01, 2013 02:09 IST
Nalin Kumar (42, name changed) has worked in the US for 12 years, as an executive with a multinational American bank. Now, he is keen to relocate to India.
“I’d prefer a job in the south, because that’s where I’m from, but any major city will do,” says Kumar, who is currently in talks with headhunters in India. “With things not looking up yet in the US, it feels like time to return to my comfort zone.”
Amid a global economic downturn, non-resident Indians from around the world are actively looking to return home, largely because even a diminished growth rate in India — currently projected at 5.5% for 2013-14, down from about 9.3% in 2010-11 — offers greater stability than the shrinking growth rates of their adoptive economies.
India’s evolving corporate structure is also encouraging Indians to return home, with the added advantage of family and social networks, and their own culture and lifestyle. A study conducted by human resource and recruiting firm Kelly Services India in 2011 estimated that 3 lakh Indian professionals working overseas will return between 2011 and 2015.
Estimates by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) suggest that about 1 to 1.5 lakh Indians have already returned to work in the country. The lack of stability and job security abroad is emerging as a key reason for the shift from aspiring to find a job overseas to working to return to a job in India.
“Indians working abroad know that, in a crisis, they will be the first to be handed a pink slip,” says a senior HR executive in a multinational bank, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Adds Rajiv Burman, managing partner at human resource consultancy Lighthouse Partners: “With the slowdown in the global economy, there is rampant discrimination and naturally the ones to be affected the most are Asians and non-whites. This is one key factor that is pushing Indians to get back home.”
Search firms and human resource experts say they are being flooded with resumes from such Indians, wishing to relocate to India. “You are no longer ashamed to say that you have returned from abroad and are now working for an Indian firm, since they offer you the same in terms of work culture and pay package,” says Burman.
With growth and development, the basic amenities these professionals have become used to overseas, like access to world-class healthcare, international schools, global brands and high-quality housing, are now available in India too, a study by Deloitte revealed.
“Relocation to India makes sense from the social, economic and cultural perspectives,” says Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the CII. “The economic slowdown is not such a big concern if jobs are available. And, in the coming days, the experience of working in India will gain strength as more overseas companies are expected to set up business here, so we expect this trend to continue.”‘Our life here is much more vibrant, lively’
Sandeep Shrivastava, Gurgaon
Returned from Seattle, USA, three years ago
Shrivastava, 50, grew up in Delhi and graduated in chemical engineering from IIT-Bombay. He then headed abroad, for an MBA at the Wharton School, Pennsylvania, followed by well-paid jobs at DuPont, AT&T, General Mills and Booz & Company.
In 1996, he co-founded prepaid teleservices company Value Communications Corporation, or ValuCom, in Chicago, which he sold to Rediff in 2001. He then started an India-focused investment fund in 2004, investing in mid-sized Indian firms.
After 25 years in the US, he decided to move to India in 2010. “Conditions in the US economy were quite precarious,” he says. “I decided to return and explore new entrepreneurial opportunities in technology and healthcare.”
In 2012, he co-founded healthcare company WizzCare, offering end-to-end health and wellness solutions to companies and small and medium enterprises. “In retrospect, it has been more of a challenge than I thought it would be. Productivity is lower than in the West. Yet it was a great decision to move back here,” he says.
— Poulomi Banerjee
Aditi Mehta, Mumbai
‘Moving back to India was my best decision ever’
Returned from Mississauga, Canada, eight months ago
Mehta, 35, had always wanted to start her own catering business, preferably in the West. In 1998, after completing a hotel management course in Mumbai, she found a job with a catering company servicing embassies, consulates and high-end house parties. She then worked with an Italian restaurant for two years, and finally got her dream job, with celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor.
"That changed my life," she says. After three years with Kapoor, she applied for a one-year work visa for the UK and got a job as a restaurant chef in Manchester.
Back home in November 2012, she applied for and was granted permanent residency status in Canada and found a job as chef at a hospital there. But Canada was by then in the midst of a dire economic slump.
"Starting my own venture seemed like a far-off dream in the economic situations prevailing there. Even the job prospects seemed shaky," says Mehta.
"By contrast, the food scene in India was booming. Plus, here I would have the cushion of friends and family, and I could live with my parents and eliminate rent."
So, in March, Mehta returned home and started her own food consultancy "with minimum investment and the support of my family".
In three months, she has planned and revamped menus for a 150-bed healthcare unit in Gujarat, developed and marketed a corporate caterer for their services in the education and healthcare sector, and handled catering for corporate events.
"Next, I’m planning to open a cake shop of my own," she says. "Moving back to India was my best decision ever."
— Antara Sengupta
‘I’m glad I came back when I did’
Sandeep Das, Delhi
Returned from the Czech Republic in 2011
Das was a regional business head with a beverage company for eight years, and, while settling abroad was never on the agenda, he says the time to move back seemed right in 2011.
“Compared to Europe, the Indian economy was still in robust shape,” says Das. “The Czech Republic is dependent on Germany for business. When the German economy tanked, the Czechs were also affected. In comparison, the Indian economy will always be more stable because of its large domestic market.”
Sandeep moved back to India and invested in a food start-up. In 2012, he found a job as a director - strategy and business development (South Asia) with a company in the quality services sector. “Salaries can’t be compared, but I am heading a far bigger unit here. The economy here is opening up, so I’m happy I moved back when I did,” he says.
The shift has been good for his wife too. “In Prague and Warsaw, she had to stay home because virtually no one there speaks English, but here she has the option of working,” he says.
— Poulomi Banerjee
‘There is a better future for my business here’
Asif Masood, Bangalore
Returned from Tennessee, USA, in August
Amechanical engineer, Masood, 42, has worked in the areas of procurement and supply chain and inventory management for 13 years, heading core teams at companies such as Toyota Motors in India before moving to the US in 2006, to work with a mega corporation.
“In the economic slowdown, the company I was working for laid off 2,500 people in the US. I felt it would be better if I returned to Bangalore, where the tech field is flourishing,” says Masood.
“My two children had also started to forget their mother tongue. I began to spend months at a time in different states in the US, on projects, so I began to miss my wife and children, and thought of returning home,” he says.
Accordingly, in August, Masood returned to Bangalore. Since then, he and two friends have launched a building materials import and export company, because they see huge potential for growth in India, particularly in that sector.
“I find there is a better future for my business here,” he says. “We have already made a good beginning.”
— Naveen Ammembala
‘Today’s India is a place to prosper’
The Oaks, Pune
Returned from Long Island, USA, six months ago
For the Oak family — Kaustubh, 47, a software architect; Revati, 39, a translator; and Nachiket, 13, their school-going son — India’s growing economy, changing society and a return to their roots were the key factors that led them back home after seven years in the US.
“We wanted our son to get acquainted with his Indian culture,” says Kaustubh. “And this seemed like the right time to do it, since much has changed in India in the past seven years. India today is full of opportunities.”
Accordingly, Kaustubh asked the multinational corporation he has worked with for 15 years to transfer him home. “We had the option of staying on, but decided that this was the place to be,” he says.
The exposure for which he had opted to leave India and go to US is now available here too, Kaustubh adds. And having the support of family and domestic help meant that Revati, who had been a homemaker in the US, could return to work.
“It took our son a while to adjust, but he is now comfortable here and seems to enjoy his new life,” says Revati.
“There are multiple shades of change I witnessed after returning to India — from the volatility in prices to youngsters seeking out their space more assertively. Today’s India is a place to prosper.”
— Yogesh Joshi
‘Family, community, were big draws too’Deepak Thakran, Gurgaon
Returned from New York, USA, in August
Thakran, 41, an IIM-Lucknow alumnus, spent 14 years in New York, living the American dream. He went there as a student, enrolled at Columbia University for a Master’s in international finance and business, then joined Booz & Company and later Barclay’s Capital.
Then, earlier this year, he quit his job and moved home to Gurgaon with his wife of nine years, stand-up comedian Radhika Vaz.
"My dream is to set up a boutique hotel near my family’s ancestral land. India is a promising country, with loads of opportunities.
Switching hats from the corporate world to the hospitality business would not be a problem for me here," he says. "Besides, my wife and I are also looking forward to the intangible benefits of family and social ties."
Thakran has already joined a community group in Gurgaon. He recently participated in a cycling event and joined a polo club because he loved to ride horses in the US. "These things have an even bigger impact on lifestyle than profession or career can deliver," he says.
— Sanjeev K Ahuja