What makes Indian CXOs a great fit for global roles?

India is a perfect ground for leaders to learn and practice to manage diverse workforce and also understand the sensibilities of a diverse set of consumers.

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In India, people follow different religions, customs, belong to different sects, castes, and speak different languages. Every state is known for its own festivities, rituals, cuisine, colours and people.

With so much of variation from one region to another, one state to another, there are bound to be differences of opinion in political, religious, moral and cultural matters.

These differences are significant in the corporate world too. Managers learn to deal with a diverse set of consumers and workforce. This makes them a right fit for global roles where a major prerequisite is the ability to manage a diversity in both consumers and employees, and that ranges from nationalities to continents and cultures. This requires special skills, abilities and acumen, which can be learnt and developed in India market.

Ajay Banga, executive chairman, Mastercard; Rakesh Kapoor, former CEO, Reckitt Benckiser and Leena Nair, CHRO, Unilever, are some of the corporate leaders who have used their experience working in Indian markets to grow into successful global leaders in their respective domains.

“Working in different cultural contexts in a multi-cultural sub-continent like India is a great plus. One does understand the nuances of various pluralities. The need to flex, align, empathise and understand is well learnt working in different parts of India. And yet, by itself it is not a guarantee to succeeding in a global context.”

Prabir Jha, HR leader & CEO & founder, Prabir Jha People Advisory

Another important name in this list is that of Raja Rajamannar, CMO, Mastercard, who started his corporate journey in India and made it to the global stage, to be recognised as a transformational leader. Not surprisingly, a study by HBR reveals that almost 30 per cent of CEOs of global MNCs are Indians.

Indian CXOs have an upper hand

Surely, Indian CXOs with experience engaging with diverse groups will have an advantage over others when it comes to getting picked for global role. The maximum advantage is enjoyed by CXOs who have had the opportunity to work in different geographies within India.

These leaders have had the chance to explore and penetrate new markets and engage with assorted groups of people, internally and externally. This kind of exposure helps them understand the nuances of different Indian markets and cultures.

“India provides the sensitivity to understand cultural differences coupled with the business environments in different geographies.”

Gajendra Chandel, former CHRO, and business growth mentor

“It provides the sensitivity to understand cultural differences coupled with the business environments in different geographies,” says Gajendra Chandel, former CHRO, Tata Motors, and business growth mentor. Chandel himself has worked in multiple locations within the country and experienced working in European markets.

Senior HR leader and CEO & founder, Prabir Jha People Advisory, Prabir Jha, opines, “Working in different cultural contexts in a multi-cultural sub-continent like India is a great plus. One does understand the nuances of various pluralities. The need to flex, align, empathise and understand is well learnt working in different parts of India. And yet, by itself it is not a guarantee to succeeding in a global context.”

“The industries which are thriving in India such as the IT services or some manufacturing firms such as  the automobile industry make products for global consumers as well. So people working in such companies who have global presence anyway do have some exposure in engaging with foreign markets.”

Shashikanth KS, COO, Chai Point

“Indeed there are some who will leverage this experience and have the savinness of working in various global contexts. But many still have a deep grounding in the realities of ‘Indianness’ of work habits and related cultural archetypes, that is not necessarily helping to offer enough exposure to cultural variety,” he explains

A similar opinion is voiced by Shashikanth KS, COO, Chai Point “I feel Indian CXOs are poised to go into global roles because first they are exposed to multi-culture and diverse set of people within India, second they have a high learning agility and the curiosity to meet new people which help them to understand different markets and consumer behaviours and third, they have high resilience. They have this attitude to not give up easily even in tough conditions,” shares Shashikanth.

Geographical presence

The knowledge gained also depends on how much presence a company has in India. Only if the company is widely spread across the Indian states, will a business leader get the opportunity to work in different regions.

“For Indian CXOs, it also depends on how much exposure they get in their organisations in addition to the extent of geographical presence their company has,” shares Karan Sandhu, former chief learning officer, Jindal Steel & Power, and consulting mentor for German and European startups.

In fact, Sandhu shares that many of his friends working in global roles in the UAE and European markets, “use diverse cultures as enablers, enjoy them and seek opportunities in this cultural diversity. They are experienced in engaging with a diverse workforce and getting work done.”

“For Indian CXOs, it also depends on how much exposure they get in their organisations in addition to the extent of geographical presence their company has.”

Karan Sandhu, former CLO, consulting mentor for German and European startups

Working with global clients 

CXOs in India are able to make the most of the opportunity to not only work in different geographies but also be exposed to working with foreign clients, even while being based out of India. That way, they are more than familiar with handling overseas customers.

Concurs!, Shashikanth,“The industries which are thriving in India such as the IT services or some manufacturing firms such as  the automobile industry make products for global consumers as well. So people working in such companies who have global presence anyway do have some exposure in engaging with foreign markets.”

“I have myself worked in multiple roles such as finance, marketing and HR, similarly, working with diverse set of people in India gives an exposure to diversity which helps in succeeding at global roles because one experience builds on the other,” he adds.

“Yes, in terms of working in different markets, Indian CXOs do have the ability to work in diverse cultures and find success in business elements, but does this really help them in embracing diversity?”

Rattan Chugh, former CHRO and HR consultant

Adaptability

Rattan Chugh, former CHRO and HR consultant, feels that in India, business leaders who have travelled and experienced working in various geographical areas do have greater adaptability and market penetration abilities. Whether these experiences help them embrace diversity at large is something that still needs to established. “Yes, in terms of working in different markets, Indian CXOs do have the ability to work in diverse cultures and find success in business elements, but does this really help them in embracing diversity?” asks Chugh.

He feels, in India for one, there are very few business leaders or CXOs who possess the experience of working in the different regions of the country, because it is mostly only the MNCs that follow the practice of training managers at different locations. Second, he believes that in Indian companies, the practice of training managers in different geographical areas has very little to do with exposing them to cultural differences and more to do with expansion purposes. “Indian companies do not really believe in investing much on embracing cultural diversity. In India, it is more about gender diversity and we are at a very nascent stage there,” points out Chugh.

Handling complexity and ambiguity

In addition to being exposed to a variety of cultures, CXOs in India are also comfortable working with complex situations and ambiguity. There are very few governing norms for what is the correct behaviour in business and in public at large. Our society is quite disorganised and we are comfortable making decisions without precision or clarity. We are used to operating in an indisciplined structure even in the corporate world, as compared to Japan, China or Europe. This also makes it easy for Indian CXOs to adapt to foreign markets easily.

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