When we talk about the Indian way of doing business and the western way, we intuitively know the two are different. But, have we pondered over the differences? Probably not. What is unique and distinctive about the Indian way? Jitendra Singh, Saul P Steinberg Professor of Management at the Wharton business school addressed the Gladiators today and gave some pointers towards answering that question.
He set the context for the Indian growth story starting from the post-independence years. Describing the years till 1991 as a “disappointment”, relative to the histories of other countries that were on a similar pedestal, he remarked that, we have come a long way since then. The strategic relevance of India now is unmistakably enviable and we are viewed as a most reliable ally by men at the highest levels of political power in the USA. Having gone through a bad financial crisis and emerging out of it, the US is receptive to picking up ideas to fix its business model that went all wrong.
In this context, the view in India is that, management practices and theory can’t be viewed separately from their impact on the society. So, are their lessons for countries like the US here? As this thought process was underway, the authors in their quest to discover the differences that characterize the ‘India Way’ interviewed nearly 100 CEOs of the top 100 businesses (by market capital) in India.
What emerged after all the interviews and a steely perseverance was the 4 pillars of ‘The India Way’ – Holistic engagement with employees, Improvisation and adaptability, Creative value propositions and a Broad mission and purpose.
Holistic engagement with employees: “What is it that you can do for me?” – This is an exchange transaction that clearly draws the boundaries of the employment relationship in the US. On the contrary, in India, this boundary is fuzzy. The Indian business leaders care about their employees and would take every step to make sure that their dependants don’t suddenly face a void.
Improvisation and adaptability: The very environment in which some of the leaders of Indian businesses grew up lent them flexibility, resilience and a capacity to deal with uncertainty. It prepared them to come up with creative out-of-the-box solutions.
Creative value propositions: Aravind Eye hospital is one of the best examples of a robust, low cost solution to address a problem that is uniquely Indian. Not only are such models, fundamentally different, they are scalable and are pointers to future solutions.
Broad mission and purpose: In the early 1980s, the US adopted the path of “Financialization” – the CEO’s top priority was to maximise shareholder value. It eventually led to risk based compensation and obscene pay checks. On the contrary, almost every Indian CEO interviewed put strategy and some element of human component at the very top of their priorities.
With umpteen number of examples and anecdotes, Mr. Jitendra Singh held the audience spell bound. “Nothing quite focuses the mind than the thought of being hanged in the morning”. So, in a sense, the Indian success story was a product of circumstances but at the current rate, there is little competition for the juggernaut.
– Sivaraman Natarajan