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Article by Mohan Babu

Globalisation of Indian management philosophy

Mohan Babu K analyses how the introspective nature of Indian management philosophy is being advocated in the West.

Indian managers are going global, especially as the world continues to flatten—apologies Tom Friedman—and in the process, executives are taking along with them their distinctly Indian management style and “philosophy”, in a trend that is now being closely observed by global leaders and management thinkers. With the globalisation of Indian managers, the spiritual dimension of balancing the yin-yang of professional and personal lives is coming to the attention of management thinkers and business-school professors, a trend that a Business Week article calls “Karma Capitalism”. [Business Week Special Report, Oct. 30, 2006]

Globalisation of Indian managers is not restricted to the much hyped software services arena where project managers and programmers routinely crisscross the globe. Stories of Indian-born managers breaking through the glass ceiling in multinational organisations—Pepsi’s Indra Noori or Rajat Gupta at McKinsey—are almost ‘routine news.’ What is more significant is the next chapter in evolution of Indian managers, taking Indian corporations global. Examples in several sectors abound; whether it is about managers from Tata Steel plotting the multi-billion-dollar growth of a “Made in India” global steel conglomerate with the takeover of Corus, or that of executives from Dr Reddy’s Lab aspiring to take on global pharma giants by patenting Indian drugs, and fighting for a niche in the global generic drugs segment.

Export of philosophy

Export of Indian management philosophy perhaps started with the “brain drain” generation a few decades ago when Indian technologists and graduates would routinely aspire to migrate West seeking rewards and a ‘better life’ in return for their skills and talent. The generation of technologists, doctors and professors that migrated to the US in the sixties and seventies imported a part of the management ‘culture’ along with aspects of the Indian values, rituals and spiritualism.

Western business leaders are taking note of the ability of Indian managers and business leaders to maintain a work-life balance, even while effortlessly assimilating into the global melting pot. Also noticeable is the yearning for the spiritual side among migrant managers. For many, a few minutes of worship, meditation or reflection helps get a sense of mooring in a fast changing world.

The broader purpose

It is obvious to most observers that the “Indian philosophy” is not a uniform theme; and although the term is interchangeably used with that of “Hindu philosophy,” religion is just one part of the thinking. Similarly, Indian management philosophy has very little to do with Hindu philosophy and religion. This said, a theme that seems to permeate across a cross-section of Indian managers and leaders is the quest of a “broader purpose” of life and work. In a sense, it is a conviction that executives should be motivated by broader goals than just making money: for themselves and their companies. Case in point is the feature on Ratan Tata by The Economist magazine [Jan 11th 2007 “The shy architect”] where the author says Tata “does not seem to be motivated by money, and talks constantly about fairness and doing the right thing,” and goes on to quote Tata saying, “I want to be able to go to bed at night and say that I haven’t hurt anybody.” Now, isn’t this exactly the kind of viewpoint that leaders in scandal-ridden corporate America and the West are trying hard to reflect on?

While up-and-coming managers may find the urge to make money a key motivator, many of their peers are beginning to question if there is something beyond just monetary goals. Western managers, who have for a generation or two been blindly following the mantra of “maximising shareholder wealth, at any cost” are beginning to see the futility of just following better Return on Investment (RoI), perhaps looking to take a leaf out of Ram Charan’s viewpoint. Ram Charan, a coach to CEOs including GE’s Jeffrey R Immelt, is preaching how good leaders are selfless, take initiative, and focus on their duty rather than obsessing over outcomes or financial gain. In an interview, he was quoted stating how it is important “... to put purpose before self.”

The introspective nature of Indian management philosophy is gaining prominence; as the Business Week article adds “while it used to be hip in management circles to quote from the sixth century BC Chinese classic ‘The Art of War’, the trendy ancient Eastern text today is the more introspective ‘Bhagavad Gita’.”

It is interesting how Indian born academics, strategists and management gurus in the West have caught on to this trend, living and demonstrating it to Western managers. The Business Week article, quotes Prof Dipak C Jain, Dean of the Kellogg School observing, “When senior executives come to Kellogg, Wharton, Harvard, or [Dartmouth’s] Tuck, they are exposed to Indian values that are reflected in the way we think and articulate.”

It is anyone’s guess if this new-found interest in Indian management philosophy is a passing fad or a trend towards “inclusive capitalism,” as the management guru CK Prahalad likes to call it. While some wonder if a stakeholder-focussed approach will replace the dictum of “maximise shareholder wealth” of corporate America, one thing is certain, as Indian managers go global, this is not the last one will hear of the Indian management philosophy.

Note: This Article was originally published in Express Computers (some spellings are as edited in Indian-English)


About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 1999-2007

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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