Why Indian managers succeed overseas

Posted on June 7, 2010 | View 2409 | Comment : 20

Circumstances conspire to produce highly-competitive, creative and competent students who become supermanagers abroad.

artical Picture

A famous person said that the measure of a society is how it converts its pain and suffering into something meaningful and useful. India has done that through the remarkable success of its overseas managers.
Indians are rightly jubilant with the overseas success of their compatriots, for example, when Nitin Nohria was appointed Dean of Harvard Business School (HBS); or earlier, when Subra Suresh became Dean of MIT or when Arun Sarin and Vikram Pandit rose to the top of their companies. The positive emotion often has a trace of India Rising.
The achievers are humble about their success. Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen nonchalantly says, “It is not a big deal, because America is an egalitarian and meritocratic environment.” HBS’ Nitin Nohria gives credit to IIT. Pepsico’s Indra Nooyi modestly says, “I am a mother first and then a CEO.”
Do India-born managers possess something distinctive? Do they achieve more success abroad than other immigrants? It is tempting to think so and, indeed, there are many views. One view is that Indian managers are no different from similarly-educated managers from elsewhere.

Another is that Indians have always done well overseas, but media coverage has brought visibility and celebration.

A third view is reflected in a recent book, The India way: How India’s top business leaders are revolutionalizing management, in which Wharton professors Peter Cappelli, Harbir Singh, Jitendra Singh and Michael Useem identify four distinctive Indian practices: holistic engagement with employees, improvisation and adaptability, creative value propositions and broad mission and purpose.
Whichever may be correct, the upbringing of India-born managers quite unintentionally prepares them for a good chance of success overseas. As author Sanjaya Baru wrote in March this year in Careers 360, “Stories of extreme hardship, braving impossible odds and innumerable sacrifices, abound in the lives of nearly 90% of the students in the country.

But among them, some perform exceptionally well. Their academic laurels are so brilliant, that at times their CV looks intimidating. And each one acknowledges that it’s the right education that made them what they are today.”
India-born managers are products of four unique circumstances.
Competitive education: IIT/IIM effect: Thanks to subsidies, higher education is accessible to middle-class people. When viewed with the cultural propensity to acquire degrees, this fact results in an avalanche of several thousand applying for every college seat.

Higher education is crushingly competitive. Bright Indian children who do not get into IIT effortlessly secure admission into an Ivy League College! In the US, this has repositioned IIT as a genius factory, and IIT alumni promote this assiduously.
The graduates of India’s institutions have been psychologically autoclaved through high-pressure competition. They emerge with insatiate ambition that vastly exceeds their intellectual or financial resources.

This stretch between resource and unreasonable ambition is significant: recall the late Prof C KPrahalad, “It is essential for top management to set out an aspiration that creates, by design, a chasm between ambition and resources.” The Indian system creates in many graduates a chasm between aspiration and resource, but quite unintentionally.

Accelerated learning:Life for the student is a struggle in India compared to elsewhere: commuting in chaotic cities, inadequate privacy and lebensraum to study at home, facilities for sports and libraries, and a crushing burden of exams.

Almost every student has faced early setbacks: inadequate marks in exams, a lost college admission or a limited job choice. Chance plays too important a role in the Indian student’s life, making it quite stressful, hence youngsters just have to learn to face setbacks early on. They learn to be persistent and to fight with a never-say-die attitude.
Research indicates that extraordinary setbacks accelerate personal learning. Duke Corporate Education board member Judy Rosenblum wrote in 2009 in the Financial Times, “In order for people to develop as professionals, they need to be immersed in problems. A problem provides the opportunity to grapple with and test one’s ability to adapt.”
Although family and peer pressure are high, they also provide the required support to handle the stress. Fortunately, the influence of parents is prolonged and significant. Sir Winston Churchill told the English people, “Never give in, never, never, never, never” for the war years. The Indian student practises this all through life. Success is not just about being ambitious, it is about overcoming adversity.

Hard work plus creativity:It is not that other nationalities are lazy. It is just that overcoming shortcomings of infrastructure requires Indians to expend energy that could otherwise have been productively deployed.

The educated youngster is forced to develop the traits of hard work like east Asians who naturally derive it from their Confucian ethos. But there is a difference: the Indian has a low aptitude for repetitive tasks.

The Indian will try to do the repetitive task differently and creatively: in short, he works hard and creatively, a brilliant combination. The serious student works and sweatsasifonanacademictreadmillandbusinessexecutives do the same in their workplace.
Indians’ propensity for hard work was grudgingly acknowledged by Abraham Pinkusewitz while explaining how the Gujaratis managed to capture 70% of the diamond trade in the Antwerp market, “Indians succeed because business is all they have in their lives. If needed, they will work 24 hours per day.”
Young Indians have also to adapt to challenges arising from diversity, which is quite different from, for example, the Chinese: learning several Indian languages,adaptingtoschoolsystemswhiletransferring with parents, and coping with variable teaching quality.

Howard Gardner, Harvard academic on Cognition and Education, points out, “The only reliable way to determining whether understanding has trulybeenachievedistoposeanewquestionorpuzzle—one in which individuals have not been coached and to see how they fare.” Indian students are wired to work very hard, with passion and creatively.

Thinking in English:Where else in the world would a temple be constructed for Goddess English?On October 25, 2010, the birthday of Babington Macaulay, such a temple will be inaugurated in Uttar Pradesh. English is being installed as a deity there so that those who pray to her can be blessed with progress.
Uniquely, Indian managers think in English, the test being that they use English to express fine points. Manydon’tcomprehendthenuancesofavernacular paper. The manager’s professional education has almost certainly been in English,case studies have been Anglo-American, language proficiency has played animportantroleinsuccessandsocialisation,andthe language of business is English.

As a result, the Indian manager abroad is quite analytical, linear-thinking, and articulate in his intellectual skills. She hits the ground running in any overseas employment.

Unintended consequence: These four circumstances produce a sufficient number of highly-competitive, creative and competent students! Followed by a career in a relatively-orderly work environment with process-orientation in the west, the career manager goes Boom, Boom. She becomes productive early on because of lower frictional losses and obstacles.
Many, many Indians are successful abroad, not just the few that the media write about. I know from my Unilever experience that Indians are prized as much in India as in Peru, Poland and the Philippines.
These facts about the Indian manager ignore the harsh reality that many do not make it through the obstacle race. This has unfortunate social consequences. But for those that do, the probability of success abroad improves a lot.

A concurrent trend is that foreign business leaders are joining Indian companies: Carl-Peter Forster in Tata Motors, Marten Pieters at Vodafone Essar, Wolfgang Prock-Schauer at Jet Airways and Raymond Bickson at Indian Hotels.
In short, Indian managers are rapidly globalising, and that must be a good thing for the future.

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Comments (20)

  • I agree with Rajesh Khanna

    Posted by Dileep Rao | 07 Sep, 2011

  • I can predict Pakistani's will also make a difference abroad, I have been working with them , and I can truly say that many Pakistanis are exceptionally bright and they will rise above . Animosity aside , truth be told , and we should not hesitate in accepting it.

    Posted by Rajesh Khanna , C.O.O at TATA Motors | 07 Sep, 2011

  • I agree with Manoj Kumar. Indian talents only bu chance get recognised and rewarded and encouraged in India. Rather, the bosses and peers are not sporting enough and often jealous of talents.Therefore, out of 100 Indian talents, only 5 flowers. Abroad it is just the reverse: 95 out of 100 Indian talents get recognised, rewarded and encouraged. And, they do not have to do flattery or practice corruption to earn these abroad.
    But India is changing now. Except government and public sector and politicians, talents are recognised, encouraged and rewarded now a days. But some talented Indians are so jealous that they are unable to tolerate more talented persons being recognised and rewarded. Indian mindset must and will change over time.
    In my executinve experience, I have ...See More

    Posted by Basudeb Sen | 12 Jun, 2010

  • Why Indian managers are succesful overseas? Because their worth is recognised their.They were always hardworking, honest and best performer.In India, you do n't get right kind of support, talent recognition system to accelearate yourself to the heights. Here Security Guard's Salary is INR 40,000 P.M and I will just request to compare this figure with Indian Salary plus Job System and then ask yourself why Indian managers are flying their flags overseas. These are few reasons out of many for Why Indian managers succeed overseas.
    Best Regards
    Manoj Kumar
    HRD & Admin Manager

    Posted by MANOJ KUMAR , HRD & Admin Manager at Hawk Security Services, Dubai, UAE | 12 Jun, 2010

  • Indians are highly obedient, style and quality of education is added advantage to stand in an international level.
    By dint of hard labour,quick graspping ability,intigrity and willingness to take higher responsibilty is the main quality of

    Posted by Emdadul Haq | 08 Jun, 2010

  • It is a combination of various factors---superior intelligence, the ability to adapt, tolerance of other cultures, the willingness to work their butt off, acceptance of failures as a part of life, family support, excellent english language skills and much more. In an alien culture, when put in a "swim or sink" situation, Indians generally swim! We also do not have caste / religion based reservations abroad and merit is generally recognized.

    Posted by KC Haridas , General Manager at Goldman Insurance Ltd, Lusaka, Zambia | 08 Jun, 2010

  • Here abroad means all developed countries where everyone obeys the law and order as well as everyone has an objective of doing work and earn but in comparision to those circumstances in India we do not have proper implementation of law and order. Each and every owner of business establishment does violation of rules and regulations, influence of politicians, government officials and burdon of proving oneself right despite doing manything legally wrong, that is why the Indian Manager are more successful in abroad than in their own country. They can prove themselves successful in India too, if their employers do not ask them to violate laws, they can do better, if our government departments work honestly which is not happening. Most important is availability of basic infrastructure and ...See More

    Posted by Sudhir Kumar Moudgal , General Manager at Dhiman Engineering Corporation | 08 Jun, 2010

  • Indians abroad are well equipped with quality education coupled with the great Indian Values. They encounter highly competitive environment and at a very young age- which enables them to sharpen their skills to adapt to any situation and bring out the best solution to beat it. The present generation is further exposed to global standards through the IT & Communication revolution that took place in India in the past decade. Thus quality education, technology and the power to think and express in English have made them world beaters internationally. Many Indian Companies based out of India, run by Indian Managers are flourishing globally too. It is unfair to just hand pick few success story of Indians from over sea market – there are many Indians Managers based out of India , that have ...See More

    Posted by Arun Poddar , President at Neo Sports Broadcast Pvt Ltd. | 08 Jun, 2010

  • Getting into the top is just one measure of success. Not all get into the top in the chosen field of maaging and laeding. And, many among them are really top quality managers who may not be easily recognised or known. They contribute a great to the progress of society.
    One need not be an IIT-ian or an IIM graduate, because not all talented persons plan to acquire an IIM or IIT qualification, nor do all talents get admitted to IIMs or IITs in a tough copetition with limited seats. But there is a great valie in getting an IIT or IIM exposure. Those who miss it have to acquire something of equal value through some other exposures.

    Posted by Basudeb Sen,Independent Director at South Asian Petrochem Ltd|08 Jun, 2010

  • WINNERS don't do different things but they do things DIFFERENTLY , is a wonderful phenomena / trait , if understood in the right perspective can reach you to the HORIZONS . The IGNITED MINDS of young Indians does the MIRACLE of achieving the WINNING TRACKS by UNLEASHING the ENERGY WITHIN , to get to the TOP POSITIONS. The "CAN DO" and NEVER -SAY -DIE ATTITUDE is the SECRET of ACHIEVING GREATNESS in any field of competency. We must be PROUD of such LATENT POWER of INDIANS who are excelling . The same POWER can / must be utilized in our own country for its AL-ROUND DEVELOPMENT and become the SUPER POWER of the WORLD.

    Posted by Pankaj Gupta , Director - Operations at Integrated Property Maintainence Services | 08 Jun, 2010

  • Indian shine for in foreign environments whether in Science or Technology or in other fields. Indian managers in increasing numbers have either come up the ladder in foreign companies abroad or has started managing Indian businesses abroad in the last devade or so. So, they have demostrated their excellence in the area of management as well. The number of Indian managers are huge and most of them work very deligent, entuasistic and apply their minds. In addition, the still very sloppy, bureacratic, corrupt political and local maffia environment have made them all the more oriented to struggling under most adverse circumstances. Some Indian managers have done well to expose them to both public and private sector environments as well as professional-dominated or promoter-family dominated ...See More

    Posted by Basudeb Sen | 07 Jun, 2010

  • I agree with Ms. Zarine, Mr. Anil & Mr. Bhandari their views are akin to mine. One need not be an IIT an or IIM alumni it is the burning passion one must have. I have experienced that one's upbringing in values and our culture plays an important role. As Indira Nooyi of Pepsico put it to her the family comes first she is first a mother and then a CEO. How butifully summed up. I had returned to India after a long stint abroad joined one of the leading corporate as a top management executive.
    After turning around the company with huge profits but unfortunate did not get the credit but others deprived me and cashed in same leaving me on the wayside. Just imagine had it been abroad things would have been different. Today I would have been elsewhere monetarily and position wise. In ...See More

    Posted by Jawahar Rakshit | 07 Jun, 2010

  • Not only the IITs/IMs but indian students in all branches do well abroad especially in the western countries.
    Have we ever thought why so many of the qualified people do not scale up the ladder here in our own country ? Why have they to go to other countries to show their knowledge.? Many IIT tians and IIMs end up as teaching faculties in India. As they do not get a chance to irde up as managers or CEOs. But monetarily and statuswise they are on the minimal scale. Thanks to the nil transparency and corruption mired with corporate politics ,educated people hardly ever get a chance to show their true characteristics, which is what the companies and corporates give them abroad. ...See More

    Posted by zarine khety,senior manager materials department at saifee hospital|07 Jun, 2010

  • Health is wealth but in India wealth is more lucrative than health. This goes for all walks of Indian life whether living in India or Overseas. The lust to earn more than their compatriots in home country makes the way for greener pastures happening since decades "known as overseas". The crack that is possible lies in overseas environment which offers good pay as starter and then sky is the limit compares to Indian service culture where one has to cope with lower pay, more exploitation and frustration. The education that brings the juveniles into the bullying of foreign turf makes them tougher to the every time they faced opposition & expected changes, taste variety of jobs, corporate cultures and free environment. The Methodists planning to make way to rise up the ladder is easier ...See More

    Posted by Anil Kumar,Sr Consultant at Consulting Engineers India|07 Jun, 2010

  • Indian managers success abroad due to their flexibility and adaptibility nature which is built in the indian culture.Also due to the inherent respect for other human beings and culture.
    They are more objective in the busness dealings and have the indepth analyitical and commercial attributes.

    Posted by Virendra Bhandari,CFM at New Horizons-UAE|07 Jun, 2010

  • Indians do well abroad because they give up Indian work culture and adopt western work culture.

    Posted by garuda dhwajan,Principal at Suparna Associates|07 Jun, 2010

  • ".......Do India-born managers possess something distinctive? Do they achieve more success abroad than other immigrants?..........."
    Is the latter part of this statement true?
    Are there any studies done to show that ex-Indians are more succesful on a pro-rata basis than say ex-Chinese immigrants? Arent there enough successful cases of ex-Chinese CEO's, ex-Latino CEO's etc?
    This articel would have made more sense if they had showed that Indians asa percentage of populations have more CEO density than other similar populations.

    Posted by Lein , CEO at Aspargia Media Pvt Ltd | 07 Jun, 2010

  • I must say, apart from the calibre of the Indian professionals, a lot has to be admired about the work culture of the developed countries. The leadership of the institutions abroad are more transparent, fair and above all, really professional. They know elevating the right talent to the right position is actually benificial to the whole organisation and evenually to the whole macroeconomic scenario. Here in India, a majority of the organisational leaders still believe that leadership is all about getting the things done. However, in todays knowledge economy, leadership is all about mentoring, creativity, empowering, transparency and an attitude of together we work. Thats exactly what the organisations of developed countries are doing. Its great to know about the Indra Nooyis and Vikram ...See More

    Posted by Pinaki Ranjan Dey | 07 Jun, 2010

  • The education system in India is generally very vast and rigorous which lays a good foundation for the individual. For application of the education he has learnt the opportunity in India might not be amenable. The opportunities in overseas developed countries might be better. Mr Obama's statement that they the Americans are loosing out in education and jobs to asians due to non competitive education vets the poor quality outcome of education. Hence our IITians and IIMians grab the opportunities and professionally grow beyond expectations to keep running the developed countries mills.

    Posted by B Swamy,Principal Engineer at Scott Wilson|07 Jun, 2010

  • Can do attitude.

    Posted by RAAJESH SHETH,C.E.O. at FUSION FILMS INC.|07 Jun, 2010

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