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What is common to Nitin Paranjpe, Rakesh Kapoor, Atul Singh and Manu Anand? They were all leaders of well-known consumer product makers in India and went on to assume global leadership positions—either in the multinational parent of the Indian subsidiary that they led or at another MNC.

Paranjpe was last week named global head of Unilever Plc’s home care business; Kapoor is the chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser Plc; Atul Singh was recently promoted as deputy president in-charge of the Pacific Group (markets including Taiwan, South Korea and China) at Coca-Cola Co.; and Anand recently quit as head of PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd to lead the South Asian and Indian operations of Mondelez International Inc., which owns Cadbury India Ltd.

India is a large and diverse economy where consumer tastes differ as much as their purchasing power. Having cut their teeth selling everything from soaps and shampoo to cold drinks and chocolates in such an economy, to millions of people—both in urban and rural areas—these corporate leaders have become the natural choice for multinational consumer product companies either looking at the so-called emerging markets to drive growth, or out-of-the-box thinking to maintain and expand sales in a slowing economy.

Companies are consciously looking beyond India

Hindustan Unilever Ltd is one of India’s oldest consumer packaged goods companies and has always had the tradition of sending executives from the country on global assignments.

In the mid-90s, once Pepsi and Coke also set up operations in India, they too started sending people from India overseas. Today, go to any company’s Asia headquarters in Singapore or Hong Kong—be it a bank, a consumer packaged-goods company or a life sciences company—you are bound to meet Indians there.

In fact, companies are consciously making an effort to look beyond India to other Asian countries for getting executives in senior roles as they look at diversity in their boardrooms.

The reason why Indians are successful in global roles is because India is a large and complex market. The market is not homogenous and hence managing it is like managing many countries. Moreover, it helps that we are proficient in English.

As told by K. Sudarshan, regional managing partner, Asia EMA Partners International, a London-based global executive search firm to Sapna Agarwal.

A mini world

The Indian market is a cradle of learning. Anybody who gets baptized in this market learns a lot within a short period of time. Those who are successful in the extremely competitive Indian turf normally will have a lot of capabilities that are difficult to achieve by working in most other markets. This is particularly so if the experience is in the FMCG market. We have a mini world with many different combinations simultaneously operating—the extremely wealthy along with the poorest of the poor, all of whom offer the FMCG manager an opportunity to tap. The customer behaviour of the rich is not the same across the country as there are socio-cultural habits and exposure influencing their buying decisions. In other words, there are several markets for a manager to worry about, whichever way one segments them.

Any FMCG manager knows that the range of products to sell to these customer segments is very wide, some growing much faster than the others. Only a person with a remarkable combination of analytical and intuitive sense can succeed here and if this person proves to be so over several years, it is a certificate for a global voyage.

The manager needs yet another capability to operate in a democracy like ours, which is open but not really so. It is changing but not in all respects. There are ways of managing the environment that are beyond the comprehension of someone who thinks linearly. One needs a lot of creativity in business decision-making. One needs to understand the complex mix of economics, caste and politics that influence decision making. Managers have a number of tools and skills to apply according to the situation. That is a basket of complex managerial resources not easy to find in the global talent market.

As told by Kavil Ramachandran, Thomas Schmidheiny chair of family business and wealth management, Indian School of Business to P.R. Sanjai

Five facets that help Indians thrive in the global environment

There are five facets that Indians bring to the table that allow them to thrive in a global environment. It comes from our ability to be able to “ADAPT":

A: Ambitious, Adapt. Indians are very ambitious and eager to adapt as they look at progressing forward in their careers.

D: Detail-oriented. Indians are willing to roll up their sleeves and make things happen. They have an ability to think bottom-up.

A: Agile. Indians are nimble entrepreneurs. They can thrive in a fair degree of uncertain environment and ambiguity.

P: Prudent. Indians are very grounded, they stick to basics, focus on results. They are not in your face.

T: Teamwork. Indians tend to be collaborative. We are comfortable with diversity and work harmoniously and cohesively. We can work across cultural boundaries.

As told by Vivek Gambhir, managing director, Godrej Consumer Products Ltd, to Sapna Agarwal.

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