The rise of the Indian business leader in Asia’s media and marketing industry

Ravi Kiran

P&G Asia CMO Freddy Bharucha. Mindshare’s Ashutosh Srivastava. Unilever’s Rahul Welde. Nirvik Singh at Grey. Asia’s top media and marketing companies are no longer dominated at the top by Europeans. 

In this guest post, entrepreneur Ravi Kiran gives eight reasons why the industry’s business leaders are increasingly Indian.

1. A background of scarcity and deprivation. After modern India’s independence in 1947, Indians have become immensely ambitious and compete to win. Our education system also places a lot of emphasis on competitiveness.

2. India developed a strong management education system starting the 60’s (some of the best known business schools in this part of the world are in India), and by the 80’s and 90’s a whole generation of managers had been groomed with the right experience to manage large companies, and started getting exported.

3. India is market where a widely spoken language is English, a commonly spoken language in multinational companies.

4. Indian culture has always been low on rigidity and high on adaptability. As a result Indian managers find it quite easy to adapt to different work situations, cultures and personalities. As multinationals valued the role of the adaptive manager, the demand for Indian managers grew.

5. The bureaucracy India inherited from its colonial rulers. The restrictions bureaucracy placed on a free market made many Indian entrepreneurs and then managers find innovative ways of beating the system and ‘mutate’ to become extremely resourceful to get their work done in the face of extreme constraints. Indians are less daunted by a lack of formal processes and focus on result at any cost. Some companies find this to be a valuable skill. This resourcefulness is what’s often called ‘jugaad’ in Hindi, and there have been bestsellers written on the subject. The world is now trying to emulate the Indian ways of getting things done. A related skill is the ability to manage uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity in business operations.

6. India, as is well known, is a large and complex consumer market. In fact, some people believe it should not be called one market, since the disparities between its regions are significant. Those managers who have thrived in this complex market and grown businesses naturally shine within their networks and are seen as natural leaders to run regional teams and often global organisations.

7. Indians are often found to possess strong analytical skills. Since modern management thinking puts a lot of emphasis on that discipline, Indian managers usually do well.

8. It may be the case that expat Indian managers get other Indians to work for/with them due to the comfort of familiarity. But neither can we generalise this, nor is this likely to be true for Indians alone. In fact, you may argue that the adaptive nature of the Indian manager makes him depend less on other Indians.

On a lighter note, since every sixth human being is an Indian, it’s only logical that every sixth manager should also be an Indian. Since that’s not true, perhaps more of Asia’s media and marketing companies should be run by Indians.

Ravi Kiran is formerly CEO of Starcom South and Southeast Asia and now runs Mumbai-based start-up accelerator VentureNursery. He is also co-founder of growth advisory company Friends of Ambition.


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