Why is it that a global MNC holding a board meeting in India makes top news? It was Pepsi a couple of years ago and now it is Reckitt Benckiser, whose board of directors met here last week. Perhaps both having an Indian (Indra Nooyi at Pepsi and Rakesh Kapoor at Reckitt) at the helm has got something to do with it!
This, however, is not the first time that the ‘India’ connect has got the adrenalin running high in the newsroom. When on July 25 Deutsche Bank named 48-year old Jaipur born Anshu Jain to be its co-chief executive beginning next year, the ‘global’ Indian story achieved a new high, especially with the rich prospect of him taking over as the full fledged CEO of the bank in 2015.
Read together with the ascendancy of Vikram Pandit and Ajay Banga to the top post at Citi and MasterCard respectively, the ‘India’ angle in global boardrooms was said to be getting bigger and better. Indian Inc applauded it as the success of the Indian chief executive.
As on cue the global and the Indian media went to town to celebrate the growing list of Indians ruling boardrooms across diverse businesses spread across diverse geographies. Time magazine said: “India’s best export: CEOs”.
Indeed ‘India’ is the common link among Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi, Reckitt Benckiser’s Rakesh Kapoor, Citigroup’s Vikram Pandit, Unilever’s Harish Manwani, MasterCard’s Ajay Banga, and Berkshire’s Ajit Jain to Deutsche Bank’s Anshu Jain.
Their success, however, shows amply that meritocracy alone rules the global boardrooms. That is what these global professionals take most pride in. The emotional connect with the place of origin remains the second love. But to mistake the emotion for business is a sure way to miss the wood for trees. As Banga at MasterCard told Time magazine, “You are who you are because of what you do, not the colour of your skin."
Vikram Pandit, who took over the boss of Citibank in 2007, came on his maiden visit to India post his elevation only in March this year, that too to attend a session of Institution of International Finance (IIF). His business engagement in India was modest with him refusing to comment on troubles at his India unit. Citi needed him more where he was then in India.
Anshu Jain does indeed travel more often to India. This has perhaps got something to do with his passion for cricket, which got him to buy and later sell stake in Mumbai Indians IPL team. Yes, the emotional connect is far too strong. Jain wrote in February Newsweek edition ahead of the Cricket World Cup this year that “India is the favourite due to home-field advantage, the devastating Yusuf Pathan, and a certain Virender Sehwag.” His prediction came right then but he is yet to make any such prediction for his bank’s fortunes in India.
Indra Nooyi, who was made chairperson of US India Business Council in 2008, indeed makes the right noises when in India, describing India to be among the fastest growing markets for PepsiCo. The truth is that for a billion plus population each, Chinese beverage market is seven times more than India. And, for the record the USIBC is the premier business advocacy organization representing America’s top companies investing in India.
Nooyi indeed is grateful to India for giving her early good education. “I am a product of the outstanding educational system that existed in India in the 1960s and 70s,” she told the USIBC conference in New Delhi in September 2008, only to lament a second later that “demand for this education is far outstripping supply—and diluting the quality of that supply.”
Having been educated early in India is actually the common link that binds many of these super success stories in the world of business. "Microsoft, Intel, PCs, Sun Microsystems -- you name it, I can't imagine a major area where Indian IIT engineers haven't played a leading role," Vinod Khosla told ‘CBS 60 Minutes show on ‘IITians’ in 2003.
Khosla, who came to US and co-founded Sun Microsystems to later become one of the most active venture capitalists in the technology domain there told CBS, “The IITs probably are the hardest school in the world to get into, to the best of my knowledge." There are thousands of IITians like Khosla who have moved out in their pursuit to enrich the global consumer and global business, with India origin only being the sub-text, which is quite fair as well.
But as we celebrate the global Indian story, it is time to ponder over and quickly arrest the deterioration of quality of the educational supply, as rightly pointed out by Nooyi. The much talked about ‘softer’ or ‘harder’ skill like the Spiritual Quotient (SQ) or ‘Emotional Quotient’ is not as basic to the success of India born chief executives as is their rooting in formal education. If we do not actually get it right, we might actually have to disappoint Warren Buffet. During his visit to India earlier this year, he said, “If you have more like Ajit Jain, send them over to me.”
Meanwhile, as we celebrate our Kapoors, Jains, Pandits and Nooyis and counting, let us for a change not appropriate them. Just leave them alone! They actually belong to the world at large! As for the fourth largest economy of the world, the Reckitt Benckiser board meeting is just another day in its life!
<i>The writer is Editor-Zee Research Group (ZRG)</i>