Monday, 27 June 2011

India’s global managers

When the global giant Unilever that churns out fast moving consumer goods announced the appointment of the Harish Manwani as its chief operating officer (COO) on Friday, the Dutch multinational said it was changing its growth plans.

Better focus on fast developing businesses in the emerging markets is part of the change.

So a market like India where Sunsilk sachets and Lifebuoy bars are part of life in remote villages and high-rise city apartments has lessons to offer the global giant, feel observers.

Increasingly, Indian managers are being chosen to head global businesses - American multinational PepsiCo that makes Pepsi-Cola, Tropicana juices and Lays chips, is headed by Indra Nooyi; US Banking major Citigroup's CEO is Vikram Pandit; the worldwide investment banking operations chief of the German giant Deutsche Bank is Anshu Jain and recently, British consumer major Reckitt Benckiser, that makes Dettol, appointed Rakesh Kapoor as its CEO.

The first take of observers is that experience and exposure of a big emerging market like India gives global leaders a cutting edge — though many of the big names were already more global than Indian.

The managers' qualities that experts highlight, however, include a rich, diverse experience, an ability to overcome obstacles, hard work, innovation and a certain robustness that comes from all these factors put together. India is a tough terrain that polishes great managers out of good ones.

Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, principal consultant (Vice-President) at the global executive search firm Stanton Chase, says that the trend has to be seen from two perspectives, "It is the ability of the Indian managers and simply the demographic advantage of the country."

Companies are looking at talent outside their home base, and they need people with global experience and leadership qualities.

"Indian firms and executives increasingly fit into this bill, with our rigorous education systems and increasing global opportunities at work," she adds.

Besides, businesses are increasingly looking at emerging economies with their unique dynamics.

"Look at the current trend of people born between 1955 and 1975 coming to the helm. They have gone through a lifestyle marked by scarcity. They become good managers who can meet challenges boldly."

Also Read: Input costs likely to remain high: Hindustan Unilever

Harish Manwani appointed as Unilever COO

Brand consultant and industry observer Harish Bijoor takes this view point a step further. He says, "An Indian who has climbed to the top has reached there after a lot of hard work and patience."

The other advantage that Indians have is a 360° appreciation of factors. Such a view stems from the complex nature of Indian economy and society.

Bijoor adds the obvious factor of India being a tough emerging market to the list ,"One who has earned spurs in the early Indian market is a valuable asset."

Ramesh Ramanathan who had a fast-track career in Citibank, rising as the MD and European head of corporate derivatives before coming to Bangalore to start the NGO Janaagraha, supports the argument.

"Without doing a stint in a significant emerging market, there is no way you can reach the top," he says. That means American and European managers are trying to gain an India experience.

Taking the emerging market argument forward, Prof P Vijayakumar at the Center for Social and Organisational Leadership, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, notes:

"The huge size of the markets, the difference in economic and infrastructure capacities, the remarkable differences in customer preferences make the emerging market challenging for managers at this point in time."

Ramanathan notes that another plus point is that the dynamics of innovation in India — a country that has gone through significant period of shortages and reverse engineering — is something that the West has to learn from.

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