How critical is domain expertise to lead sector-specific firms?

Domain expertise matters to businesses as a competitive advantage.

business Updated: Feb 29, 2012 22:56 IST
Hindustan Times

Domain expertise matters to businesses as a competitive advantage. In some cases, domain expertise is critical in a segment such as healthcare which has specific and changing regulatory requirements, so a leader with an experience provides a competitive advantage. At the same time, there are many examples, such as lawyers successfully running pharmaceutical firms. The key is to identify which domain is important because if you need areas of expertise such as global growth, then product-driven domain expertise may not be as necessary. Firms such as GE and McKinsey are known for producing leaders who can work across industries. Lastly, good leaders must define what domain expertise they need to succeed and then correspondingly surround themselves with those domain experts. (Promod Bhasin, vice-chairman, Genpact)

I am of the view that specialised domain expertise is not a necessary condition for assuming leadership position in a corporation. Working knowledge is sufficient for a leader. To cite an example, one does not need to be a specialist in software scripting or C++ to head a technology company. A corporation is not a unidimensional entity. It is complex and involves the interplay of the several layers spanning across various aspects such as law, finance, technology, human resource and entrepreneurship. A generalist with working domain knowledge, but the vision and worldview of various disciplines, will turn out to be a better leader than a pure specialist. Leadership is more about taking a company forward with a clear focus in mind.

(TV Mohandas Pai, former HR head and board member, Infosys)

First Published: Feb 29, 2012 22:53 IST