Ambitious global managers are looking for passage to India—with good reason.
Major US, European and Indian companies are rapidly expanding their ranks of expatriates in the world’s second-most populous nation, hoping to profit from its sizzling economy. India has grabbed centre stage from China as the hottest venue for foreign assignments in industries such as telecommunications, software, health care, retailing, airlines and hotels, executive recruiters report.
“If you are doing well, you come to India” and gain valuable experience, says Rajeev Vasudeva, a recruiter at search firm Egon Zehnder International in New Delhi. “We are looking for expatriate talent.”
He figures there are about 1,000 expat senior managers in India, roughly seven times the number two years ago. By 2009, that will more than double, predicts Deepak Gupta, India managing director for recruiters Korn/Ferry International in New Delhi.
Cisco Systems, the San Jose, California, networking concern, says that all but one of the eight top officials at its globalization centre in India are expatriates who transferred there this year. Accenture has nearly 100 expatriates in India, up from fewer than 12 in 2004. The consulting and outsourcing giant expects overall Indian staffing levels will surpass its US head count by late August.
Lots of career routes can carry people there—but they have to prove themselves elsewhere first. Many US citizens of Indian origin, nicknamed “boomerang professionals,” find themselves wooed back because they earned their stripes at a western business.
“There are tremendous opportunities for someone like me,” observes Sandeep Arora, Accenture’s senior technology executive in India. Born and raised in India, he attended graduate school in the US and became a citizen. He joined the firm in 1994.
Arora says fellow partners chose him to enlarge its small Indian operation almost a decade later because he understood the culture of his employer and homeland. He commuted between Seattle and Bangalore for 18 months until his 2006 relocation. He says he “is having so much fun” that he would have moved without an expatriate compensation package. His perquisites include a driver, housing allowance and tuition subsidy for his teenage daughters.
It’s a similar story at Goldman Sachs Group. Eight of 10 expatriates in its year-old Mumbai office are Indian returnees. They formerly worked for the Wall Street investment bank outside India.
Individuals lacking Indian backgrounds sometimes arrive in India via successful prior Asian stints. L. Brooks Entwistle, the American-born head of India operations for Goldman Sachs, says he landed key Indian high-tech clients during his second Hong Kong assignment with the firm. To flourish as a foreigner in India, he cautions, “you really have to be psyched for this; it’s a love-hate place.”
Transferable skills, a pioneering spirit and frequent Indian business trips while employed elsewhere in Asia for 13 years helped Gary Bennett win the CEO spot in July 2005 at Max New York Life, a New Delhi joint venture between an Indian and US insurer. The Australian executive previously ran the Hong Kong operations for New York Life, but hadn’t lived in India before. Bennett urges those aspiring to work in India, but who don’t have Asian experience to volunteer for short assignments there, to make sure “you will fit in”.
Max New York Life has brought over numerous actuarial, information-technology and product-development staffers from abroad for six weeks to two years. However, certain temporary transferees decide India “is not my cup of tea”, Bennett reports.
Extensive personal travel in India may also impress a western multinational. “You can put on your resume, ‘I’ve spent a month there and like the place’,” suggests Joyce Thorne, an American expatriate in Mumbai. She is world-wide director of training for Integreon, a global outsourcing concern based in Los Angeles. In June 2004, she recruited a veteran US paralegal to become an India account manager for Integreon’s major law firm clients. Though the new expatriate had never worked abroad, “he spent two months living in a small Indian village getting to know the culture and daily life”, Thorne explains. “This was important to me because people from the West who successfully live and work in India must be highly adaptable.”
Other paths could help you attract attention from big Indian businesses willing to hire non-native employees. The most critical step: Increase their awareness about your specialized expertise that’s in short supply there. Give speeches at important industry conferences, especially those held in India. Introduce yourself to search firms with Indian offices. Sign up for local chamber of commerce delegations visiting companies in India.
But it makes little sense for would-be expatriates without Indian ties to join the American arm of a global-minded Indian enterprise. Anyone hired in the US by such concerns usually lacks the skills they need back in India, notes Vasudeva, the recruiter.