Why Indian managers are top draw for global companies

Humble attitude, capacity to adapt to complex situations make Indian managers much sought-after

Viveat Susan Pinto & M Saraswathy  |  Mumbai  

March 13, 2014 Last Updated at 00:44 IST

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The appointment of Hindustan Unilever's chief financial officer R Sridhar to the position of senior vice-president (finance) at Unilever in eight months following former managing director Nitin Paranjpe's elevation to the post of president, home care, points to the growing importance of Indian managers at global firms. Indian managers are becoming a key asset, prompting global majors to tap into them whenever the opportunity permits.

Consider this:
 HUL alone has over 200 managers (13 per cent of its managerial strength) working in markets abroad for Unilever. The trend is no different for companies such asCoca-Cola and PepsiCo, which routinely export as well as import Indian talent.

According to human resource experts, Indian managers are also open to the prospect of working abroad, prompting their international parents to pick up them at the opportune time. A 2012 study by HR firm Randstand, for instance, said 39 per cent of Indian managers were willing to move abroad for better prospects. The trend, say HR experts, would not have been different in 2013 as the thirst for knowledge and international exposure prompted a number of Indian managers to make the switch to global positions abroad.

“Indian managers are considered valuable assets thanks to the grounding they have in a complex market such as India. They are also perceived to be humble and keen to take up challenging roles abroad,” says
Sunil Goel, director at HR firm GlobalHunt.

An affirmation of this is the appointment last month of
 Satya Nadella, executive vice-president (cloud and enterprise group) at Microsoft, to the position of CEO, the third man to take up this role after Bill Gates and Steve Balmer. The Hyderabad-born techie had spent over 20 years at the firm and was believed to be the best choice among a number of internal and external candidates. Four months before Nadella's ascension to the top, Sameer Suneja became global CEO of confectionery major Perfetti Van Mella after spending years heading the company's Indian operations. He joined a select group of members in the CEO club, who have an Indian lineage including Rakesh Kapoor of Reckitt Benckiser, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Vikram Pandit (former CEO, Citi Group), Ajay Banga of MasterCardand Anshu Jain (Co-CEO of Deutsche Bank AG).

Getting talent back
This trend is growing with Indian managers having global exposure making their way back into India to head operations here. Sanjiv Mehta of HUL and Venkatesh Kini of Coca-Cola are cases in point. Mehta spent over 20 years heading markets abroad before making his way back to India as managing director and CEO of HUL in October 2013.

During his first public address recently, Mehta had said he would bring his international learnings to the table when running operations here. Among his key focus areas would be growing HUL's foods business and managing costs in a volatile environment. Kini, president of Coca-Cola India and South West Asia business unit, in a recent interview, had said that rural markets would be his priority, besides the launch of a string of zero- and low-calorie products for the health-conscious.