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Indians as global CEOs

As more Indians scale the top rung at firms of international repute, it's worth checking out whether there are winning traits they share, writes Devraj Uchil.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2008 20:46 IST
Devraj Uchil
Devraj Uchil
Hindustan Times

Be it Indira Nooyi being named the CEO of Pepsico or Vikram Pandit being offered the top post by Citigroup, Indian CEOs seem to be going places. Arun Sarin, Dinesh Ketkar and Shankar Narayan, among others, are all stories of Indians executives heading top multinational organisations.

This seeming trend towards appointing Indian CEOs is for good reason, says Sanjay Teli, MD, ESP Consultant Pvt Ltd. Indian executives, he says, due to their varied experience of working in companies across the globe, are more adept at handling multi-faceted organisations and tricky situations than their global counterparts. "Most Indian CEOs have gained from working in countries across the world and managing business institutions with varied ethos. Most western executives have conventionally been unwilling to experiment and move into the global arena, thus robbing themselves of the opportunity to gain diverse work and cultural experience," he says.

As business expands globally, so do the management challenges. "There is a need today for the CEO who understands the new challenges and pulls along the global team," says Pantulu Avasarala, director, Cincom Systems India. Add to this the fact that developing countries are the future growth markets for most multinational businesses. The CEO who is resilient and able to deal with multi-cultural opportunities and challenges is a great asset. The Indian fits here, thanks to a multi-cultural exposure within the country from his/her childhood and then, a lot of times having that critical work experience across varied geographies.

"Understanding the Western as well as Eastern cultures is a big plus. Some of the reasons why Indian CEOs are most sought after globally include a strong educational background, the willingness to work hard to climb the ladder, understanding of intense competition – right from childhood, in education – and having what it takes to succeed," says Pantulu. "I would also like to point out that Indian CEOs have embedded qualities such as empathy, patience, compassion and nurturing."

Multi-tasking abilities, attitude of dealing with problems head-on, commitment to the job, willingness to go the extra mile to get a job done, creativity and enterprise, are some other attribute advantages for Indian CEOs, agree the consultants. Add to that, very importantly, the critical ability to utilise the strengths of a particular environment while dealing with the weaknesses at the same time. "And if need be, they show enough flexibility in taking corrective measures," says James Agarwal, consulting director and head, BTI Consultants India.

Certainly, all this needs to combine with a person's own intelligence and individual talent to make that winning CEO package.