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March 17, 2020 Tuesday 11:14:27 AM IST

The Rise of India’s Global CEOs


India is renowned globally for its exports of curry, Yoga, and Bollywood films. But a different product is gaining limelight now: chief executives of major multinational firms, including many based in the United States.

The most recent to join this growing group is Indian-born Arvind Krishna, just named as the Chief Executive of IBM. They have joined the elite club of Microsoft (Satya  Narayana  Nadella), Alphabet, the parent company of Google (Sundar Pichai),Master  Card (Ajay Banga), Adobe Systems (Shantanu Narayen) , Nokia (Rajeev Suri), Deloitte (Punit Renjen),  Novartis (Vasant "Vas" Narasimhan) and other influential companies across the globe. According to a research in Harvard Business Review, India’s export share of Fortune Global 500 Organization CEOs— that is, CEOs who are heads of firms headquartered in a country not their own — is 30 percent.

What's the common denominator in all the Indian CEOs? Each one of them is in his late 40s or early 50s and have graduated from internationally acclaimed universities either in the US or the UK and very evidently, did their schooling from India. Some of them like Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella, are engineering graduates from premium Indian institutions like Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), with both MS and MBA degree abroad where as others like Indra Nooyi, Ajay Banga, and Ivan Menezes are MBAs from Indian Institute of Management (IIMs). But there must be a cause why numerous Indians and not others from emerging nations like China, Russia or Japan have made outstanding corporate careers? What is it that makes Indians so exceptionally suitable for the top slot at tech firms?

 Family Values

The fraction of leaders with Indian origin quoting a family member as a powerful role model is considerably higher than for their Western counterparts. The influential role of the family in affecting values through demonstration, emphasising the value of education, and showing an “always there” backing offers a strong value core that builds resilience. Indra Nooyi, the former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo has said about the strong impact her mother had on her upbringing, ambitions, and ideals. The typical Indian middle class student has characteristically grown up in an exceptionally stable family environment, which has in turn stimulated high ambitions and deep self-assurance.  Indra Nooyi's mother assisted both her daughters to believe that they could “become whoever they wanted to be.” In a particular occasion, Nooyi discusses about how her mother would demand both her daughters to make a presentation at the dinner table on what they would do if they were a specific world leader. She would then pronounce a winner. This kind of role-playing left a long-lasting imprint on Nooyi.

Seeing Around the Corner

The potential to forecast what's shaping our marketplace is an essential trait in a leader. Indians are particularly equipped, thanks to their embrace of data and continually, perhaps automatically, constructing a Plan B. Recently, Mathrani, the real-estate veteran who was recently appointed as the CEO of WeWork shared his perspective about the future of malls in America which was thought provoking. In an interview given to CNBC, he states that the leaders of the sector should continuously think about where they see this industry heading in long term. If there are 1200 malls in the country, how many of it will be owned by your firm and how successfully you will be running them. According to him, it is very evident that better malls would continue to perform better and the substandard malls over time would not endure the test of time. This might not seem ground-breaking but it is unlike from the pivot into the unknown.

 Humility at work

You can be a top executive, who sits in his cubicle entire day, drowned in files and projects, or you can be a humble CEO, moving all over the workspace from table to table interacting with every employee. Sundar Pichai can be a misfit among the brash, big-ego league of Silicon Valley’s top leaders, but few can question the soft-spoken engineer’s ability and prudence. In a span of a decade, his metamorphosis from a low-profile executive in Google to the CEO of the company in August 2015 and the CEO of Alphabet in December 2019 is simply magical. The decoding of Pichai’s phenomenal rise can be attributed to his ability to create excellent products and his extraordinary leadership style. In an organizational ecosystem replete with tough characters and much infighting, Pichaia rose as the nice guy who could pull teams together and get work done. According to Pichai, a leader’s job is to make those people successful. Rather than the leader trying to embrace success by himself, it is all about ensuring you have good people and creating an environment congenial for their work so that they can be successful in what they do.

With the rise of leaders like Pichai, Nadella, and Narayen, queries about India’s own technology aspirations are being elevated. With Indians occupying the executive ranks in so many foreign firms, how India failed to come up with its own Google till now? Why is it that an organization like Apple isn’t born in India till now? It is apparent that India is now home to a flourishing start up scene (Flipkart, Paytm, Hike, Ola, Freecharge, and the list is endless), and it could be only a matter of time before some of these firm turn into multi-national companies. These days, youth in India is dreaming of a start up and there are already several recognised ones. With the world being a level playing field, tomorrow’s made-in-India CEOs will emerge from these start-ups. In that sense, it is likely that the soft power represented by “made-in-India CEOs” will grow further in the coming years.

Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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