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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Excerpt: The Made In India Manager by R Gopalakrishnan and Ranjan Banerjee

A new book suggests that a combination of high pressure on young students accompanied by long term family support in a multicultural environment makes the adult Indian manager adept at rocking the boat without sinking it

books Updated: Nov 17, 2018 10:35 IST
R Gopalakrishnan and Ranjan Banerjee
R Gopalakrishnan and Ranjan Banerjee
Hindustan Times
The epitome of the made-in-India manager: Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp. at a technology conference in Paris, France, in May 2018.
The epitome of the made-in-India manager: Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp. at a technology conference in Paris, France, in May 2018.(Bloomberg via Getty Images)

196pp, Rs 499; Hachette
196pp, Rs 499; Hachette

On 1 August 2011, Time magazine published a story titled ‘India’s Leading Export: CEOs’ by Carla Power. Featuring Vindi Banga of Unilever and Ajay Banga of MasterCard, Powers’s article asked a dramatic question: ‘What on earth did the Banga brothers’ mother feed them for breakfast?’ The story went on to chronicle the rise of several Indian managers on the global stage, including Vikram Pandit at Citibank, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, Sanjay Jha at Motorola, Dean Nitin Nohria at Harvard Business School and Dean Dipak Jain at INSEAD. In their 2011 Global Leadership Survey, the executive search firm Egon Zehnder… found that Indians led more S&P 500 companies than people of any other nationality apart from American...

Do India-born managers really achieve more success abroad than other immigrants? If so, why? What really sets them apart? The late CK Prahalad expressed the view that, ‘Growing up in India is an extraordinary preparation for management.’ This statement is debatable and contentious and at the same time expresses a thought worth reflecting upon...

Consider this: Snails are a delicacy for gourmets, and it is always a challenge to procure large and juicy snails. Left in their natural environment, snails only grow to a certain size. But when the same snails are placed in a tank with a lobster, a natural predator, they work incredibly hard to stay alive, and they grow bigger and juicier…

Management as a profession is largely about understanding a problem, finding multiple ways of solving it, and executing the chosen approach… The more the problems faced and overcome, the more versatile the manager becomes. A person growing up in India, whether he or she works in management or in any other field, has a large number of diverse challenges to overcome from a relatively young age. Yet, the intensity of competition to get into schools and colleges, the hassles of daily living, inadequate financial resources and infrastructure are compensated by a supportive family environment, the strong influence of values instilled by elders and an inherently spiritual bent of mind. There are many nations in the world that have one or other condition similar to India’s… But the combination of challenges in India is quite distinctive. Navigating those challenges while growing up endows distinctive capabilities in made-in-India managers…

R Gopalakrishnan
R Gopalakrishnan ( Courtesy Hachette )

India has over 4,000 management institutes – though, admittedly, only a handful of these qualify as providers of superlative management education – and every year, over 1,00,000 students gain a diploma or degree in management. Such a volume of managerial output is comparable only to the US and far exceeds that of every other country. How and why India developed an active managerial culture compared to other developing economies makes for an interesting story. Although our first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, believed that promoting business and thinking about profits should not be independent India’s primary concern, the rest of the country did not necessarily follow his path…

Ranjan Banerjee
Ranjan Banerjee ( Courtesy Hachette )

A number of factors converged before and after Independence to enable a ‘manager’ to acquire the status of a professional in India. The railways, the Army and the civil service were all set up during the colonial era to enable the British agenda in India. As a consequence, long before Independence, these institutions gave rise to a professional workforce who were using modern work methods and living in employer-provided residential colonies where caste and religion played a subordinate role… A flourishing, corporate form of professional management emerged by the time India became independent... However, after 1947, Indian academics grappled with the problem of how to consider management as a profession in the absence of academic training. Thus, academics in the social sciences and practitioners in emerging organizations came together to develop a pedagogy to train professionals in the field. In Jamshedpur, the Xavier Labour Relations Institute (later XLRI) was set up in 1949, followed by the Indian Institute of Social Welfare in Calcutta in 1954. The Indian government started setting up the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and, by the late 1950s, iconic Indian managers like Prakash Tandon, the first Indian chairman of Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) of the time; KS Basu and KT Chandy, also of HLL; and stalwarts of management education such as Ishwar Dayal teamed up with academics to help set up and run these management schools…

In our view, India-born managers are products of a set of four unique circumstances… Because of the overwhelming importance traditionally placed on education by highly aspirational sections of Indian society, and thanks to government subsidies, higher education is a given among Indians… Graduates from India’s top institutions have also been psychologically autoclaved through high-pressure competition. They emerge as people with relentless ambition, which sometimes vastly exceeds their intellectual or financial resources. Indians are very committed to improving their status and earnings. The typical Indian has what might appear to be boundless ambition, whether he or she is an entrepreneur, manager or trader. An abundant exposure to global media and films further fans the fires of their ambition. In these ways, their aspiration soars high, though their resources struggle to keep pace…

Read more: Review: A Biography of Innovations by R Gopalakrishnan

Life for a student in India requires enormous ability and determination to overcome adverse situations: commuting in chaotic cities, inadequate privacy and space to study at home, poor sports and library facilities and the crushing burden of exams… Success is not only about being ambitious, it is also about overcoming roadblocks, sometimes through sheer persistence. Indian children learn this early on… Fortunately, parental influence and support through the Indian family system is prolonged and more significant than in most other societies…

These circumstances come together in various combinations to produce a sufficient number of highly competitive, creative and competent potential managers. Made-in-India managers are, thus, not only culturally and socially trained to be effective in Indian conditions, which are highly variable and kaleidoscopic, but can hit the ground running in any overseas employment. Far more instinctively than their counterparts elsewhere, made-in-India managers assess a professional landscape, the soft factors around an issue, and act in a manner in which they rock the boat without any risk of sinking it…