Why Microsoft and Everyone Else Loves Indian CEOs
Comment of the Day

February 05 2014

Commentary by David Fuller

Why Microsoft and Everyone Else Loves Indian CEOs

Here is the conclusion from this insightful and fascinating article by Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg.

Yet there must be a reason why so many Indians, and not, say, Brazilians, Russians or Chinese, have made stellar corporate careers. The answer might be found in studies of the Indian management culture.

According to research from St. Gallen University in Switzerland, Indian executives are inclined toward participative management and building meaningful relationships with subordinates. "The leadership style traditionally employed in India fostered an emotional bond between superiors and subordinates," the 2004 study said. "The feeling that the company genuinely cares for its employees, provided a strong bond of loyalty that went beyond financial rewards."

In the "Indian club," there are no executives known for a dictatorial management style. Nooyi says: "You need to look at the employee and say, 'I value you as a person. I know that you have a life beyond PepsiCo, and I'm going to respect you for your entire life, not just treat you as employee number 4,567.'"

When Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer at the helm of Microsoft, his high standing with the company's rank-and-file was cited as a major reason for his promotion.

A 2007 study by researchers at Southern New Hampshire University, which compared Indian managers to U.S. ones, found the South Asians more humble. It is not by chance that Nadella started his first e-mail to Microsoft employees as chief executive by saying, "This is a very humbling day for me."

The study also found Indians to be particularly future-oriented, focused on long-term strategies. Narayen of Adobe says: "If you can connect all the dots between what you see today and where you want to go, then it’s probably not ambitious enough or aspirational enough".

In his email, Nadella paraphrased an Oscar Wilde quote on the same point: "We need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable."

Perhaps most importantly, the Indian managers get to the top because they persevere. Most of those I mentioned had the patience to rise through the ranks at their companies, learning their business thoroughly from every angle. Nooyi joined Pepsi in 1994, Jain took his first job at Deutsche Bank a year later, Menezes has been with Diageo since 1997, Narayen was hired by Adobe in 1998, and Nadella's appointment crowns a 22-year career with Microsoft.

There is nothing specifically Indian about empathy, humility, patience and an ability to dream. Yet it is these qualities that appear to have created the "Indian club" of overachievers in global business.

David Fuller's view

In the USA and most other western countries, perhaps we have been over influenced by sports heroes.  Our stereotypical CEO is tall, has good hair and a chiseled jaw line.  He is also a confident, forceful A personality type.  Some of CNBC’s American Squawk Box personnel even talk about people having ‘CEO hair’. Obviously these are not necessarily faults, but they can be if the CEO is also narcisstic.  Importantly, they are about image rather than the brain.  Most quiet, unassuming and even nerdy CEOs either founded the company or quietly worked their way up to the point of becoming irreplaceable. 

Microsoft’s appointment of Satya Nadella is clearly a move away from the stereotypical CEO mentioned above.  However, he has certainly worked his way up and is reported to be the most respected manager in the company.  This looks like a smart move to me and if he succeeds, Microsoft’s share price will benefit from a significant re-rating.  Here is another interesting article: Microsoft Gets Style Shift With Nadella Replacing Ballmer.

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