Arun Shankar Das Mahapatra
Aerospace, Defense & Aviation
Canadian Carol Borghesi had 26 years of experience in customer service before she was hired by mobile service provider Bharti Airtel to work in India. Borghesi, who was also a senior executive with British Telecom (BT), says she came to India to be part of the action.
After working in Shanghai, Swedish national Marcus Wilhelm moved to Chennai as chief operation officer, Photon Infotech. Compared to China he says, India holds the edge when it comes to talent.
Many like Marcus and Borghesi have landed in the country to work. From a few hundred expatriates over the past five years, their numbers have increased manifold today. More importantly, several top expatriate executives have arrived recently, not only to oversee Indian operations, but also to build global teams.
Consider some of these:
- Cisco relocated top executives chief globalization officer William Elfrink to India. The company chose India as the site for a globalization center.
- Boeing appointed Ian Thomas as vice president international and president of Boeing India. He leads the company’s enterprise-wide India team.
- Other names include Brooks Entwistle, MD & CEO, Goldman Sachs (India) Securities; Trevor Bull, MD, Tata AIG Life Insurance; Rob Hennin, VP & country manager, India, American Express Bank; Phil Nelson , VP, technology & back office operations, AOL India; Jamie Heywood, deputy CEO, Virgin Mobile India.
Professionals with international experience are in great demand due to a shortage of top talent. India’s strategic importance alone is sometimes sufficient to attract executives. As more Indian companies go global and more global firms target India as a strategic growth market, India’s corporate sector is increasingly looking for people with global exposure, who can handle complex businesses that blend both domestic and international operations.
Recent estimates show that India needs over 1,000 CEOs across industries, many of them in new sectors such as special economic zones, aviation, airport management, media, communications, real estate and retail.
Cisco’s Elfrink says, “The country is more vibrant and adventurous in its pursuit of excellence than ever before and our decision to locate our Globalization Center East in India definitely highlights the country’s growing importance in the world. I am responsible for implementing and overseeing a US$1.1 billion investment in India, executing on the growth strategy for Cisco globally.”
Boeing’s Thomas says India is more than just a market for planes or defense products. The company is keen to partner with Indian business in several functional areas. Among those who are also being tapped are several non-resident Indians or NRIs. Typically between 35 and 45 years of age, these returnees are armed with a more aggressive Western outlook, “can-do” attitude and exposure to working within foreign cultures. They are being given the opportunity to build a higher profile than they would if they were to remain overseas and view the India experience as a critical part of their resume.
Where most foreign salaries range between $US500,000 and $US600,000, including perks and stock options, relying on foreign talent alone is not a viable long-term option. Looking ahead, India’s retailers will need to build local bench strength, through conscientious on-boarding, retention and succession planning strategies.
Expatriate leadership need to be brought up to speed in terms of cultural, workplace and market sensitivities. With Indian retail still at a nascent stage, many standard processes typically lack the maturity and sophistication of developed markets.
Talent acquisition and talent development are not new to India. Hindustan
Lever Limited, Citibank and Oberoi, are all universities of talent. But India needs to focus more on leadership because it is time for India to grow exponentially and align globally at the same time.
The need for so many good people has led companies to provide learning and development opportunities for talented executives and to invest in a pipeline of future leaders. Companies are increasingly putting middle managers on a fast growth track and sending them overseas for international experience.
Wipro, for example, has a Strategic Leaders Program for top management. The aim is to help them cultivate a global mindset and learn international best practices in strategic planning. Infosys grooms future leaders at the Infosys Leadership Institute.
The company has identified many potential leaders, and has a mentoring program involving the highest levels of management.
Another trend fueling this demand for globally competent executives is the growing appetite of the ‘Indian MNC’. Many organizations are exploring global acquisitions and partnerships. Companies such as Tata, Bharat Forge, Aditya Birla, Essar and many others are rapidly growing internationally through acquisition.
Our experience at Heidrick & Struggles suggests that infrastructure is one area suffering a talent shortage. This means expatriates are needed, especially in specialist fields such as mining, real estate, and oil & gas. Retail, engineering, technology, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing are other industries where top talent is in short supply.
As companies grow and accumulate a strong and diverse pool of global talent, the role of top management teams will evolve in India, with equal emphasis on business growth and organization and talent development. A clear differentiator for companies will be a management team who can successfully do this with a global perspective.