OffShoring the Corner Office

The appointment of Sundar Pichal as the next CEO of Google (soon to become Alphabet) has caused The Wall Street Journal to comment on a developing trend. In “Why America’s Top Technology Jobs Are Going to Indian Executives,” Amir Mizroch notes that four of the world’s top tech companies will be headed by men whose origins are in India.

This is, as Mr. Spock would say, “fascinating.”

“Fascinating”

This trend of offshoring the corner office is, as Mr. Spock would say, “fascinating.”

As companies have used the H-1B visas to bring more and more Indian nationals to work in the U.S., it’s only logical and, perhaps, inevitable that these men will work their way up the corporate ladder. And let’s not kid ourselves, they’re all men. What else would you expect when India’s male-dominated culture melds with Silicon Valley’s “brogrammer” ethos?  No girls are allowed in this clubhouse.

Here’s a list of the four trend-setters:

  • Microsoft — Satya Nadella
  • Google / Alphabet – Sundar Pichal
  • Nokia Corp. – Rajeev Suri
  • Adobe Systems – Shantanu Narayen
I must admit to experiencing a smidgen of schadenfreude at the thought of the offshoring Romulan Warbird coming home to roost.

Romulan Warbird

Still, I wonder what the American C-level executives who were passed over for the top job at the three U.S. companies thought about having the door to the corner office slammed in their faces. I must admit to experiencing a smidgen of schadenfreude at the thought of this offshoring Romulan Warbird coming home to roost at their level.

These are, after all, the executives who decided to save money by sending American jobs to India and bringing Indian nationals in to take jobs in this country. Not to mention whining year after year about a mythical “skills gap” so they could expand the process. Offshoring has thrown thousands of highly qualified Americans out of work, reduced the career path for those fortunate enough (and young enough) to keep their jobs, and lowered the salary levels for technical positions.

Now these executives have themselves been passed over for promotion in favor of the people they advanced at the expense of so many. Kahn Noonien Singh would approve.

Four Reasons Behind the Trend

Now these executives have themselves been passed over for promotion in favor of the people they advanced at the expense of so many. Kahn Noonien Singh would approve.

Kahn Noonien Singh

What’ are the reasons behind the trend? Is it just that these four men are better than everyone else at what they do?

@Amirmizroch quotes a recent study from Southern New Hampshire University that examined managers from both countries. It offers four reasons why Indian managers achieved the “highest ranking” in terms of leadership traits:

  1. Indian managers are future oriented.
  2. They have a “paradoxical” blend of genuine personal humility and intense professional will.
  3. They achieve extraordinary results.
  4. They have built great organizations without much hoopla.

A Few Opinions

I have worked for and with many Indian managers, executives, and company founders at several different companies in my career and I agree with some of these traits but also have a few concerns. The following comments are based solely on my own personal experiences:

  • Future Oriented:  Indian nationals have a long-term perspective and greater patience. They are willing to work harder and longer to build something in contrast to Americans, who can be more impatient for a quick pay off or return on investment. While quarterly profits are important, they are less likely to sacrifice the investments needed for long-term development to satisfy short-term demands.
  • Humility and Professionalism:  I have worked with humble Indian nationals and a few with pretty big egos. The latter were better at concealing their egos, though. All were, however, intense about their jobs or the companies they had founded and worked very hard.
  • Extraordinary Results:  Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In my experience, Indian nationals tend to be more risk-averse than Americans. They look for the “home run,” the sure thing, or the “silver bullet” and won’t invest in things that might deliver big time, could deliver but only incrementally—or might fail altogether. They will sacrifice growth for safety. They don’t understand that the greatest home run hitters often had big strike-out totals or that three base hits will bring in a run.
  • Great Organizations / Little Hoopla: While the first part is not always true, the latter is almost always the case. Indian managers and executives don’t have the kind of Big Ego that demands center stage. They don’t make outrageous statements (“not just great but insanely great”), have flamboyant lifestyles (America’s Cup yachts), or insist on dressing like teenagers (hoodies). They don’t have enormous corner offices decorated by professionals or flaunt their wealth by spending it on snazzy depreciating assets.

On the Other Hand

Just as you would not expect a Vulcan Ambassador to do stand-up comedy, you should not expect someone raised in a different culture to behave like a typical American.

Vulcan Ambassador Sarek

There are, however, some cultural issues to be considered. Just as you would not expect a Vulcan Ambassador to do stand-up comedy, you should not expect someone raised in a different culture to behave like a typical American. We tend to make those assumptions, though, which can be dangerous. Some of these issues may pop up with the four CEOs listed above or with others who might follow. It’s usually wise to consider all aspects when evaluating performance.

  • Facts Are Flexible: Indian nationals are culturally inclined to tell people what they want to hear rather than what might be the actual, factual truth. This can result in unpleasant surprises for American product managers who have been assured that the new software revision will be delivered on time, only to discover too late that it’s behind schedule. Or customers who learn that the feature they requested—and were told would be delivered—was never put into production.
  • Employees Do Whatever: I don’t mean business-related orders: we accept that employees will act on those directions. No I mean that the distinction between business requirements and the personal needs of the executive might be a tad blurred. If you work for an Indian national, you may be directed to develop his wife’s website, set up his kid’s college computer, pick up his dry cleaning, make vacation arrangements, or buy him a tie for an evening event. From their perspective, there’s no difference and you make note of one at your peril.
  • Women Are Irrelevant: Indian men will be polite to you and listen to you but they will never consider you the equal of a man—any man. Forget being a real part of the team. Forget promotions. Oh, and you’re also expandable.

You may have had different experiences. If so, please comment. I’m always interested in other perspectives. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing how this trend develops and whether all four companies will live long and prosper.

11 thoughts on “OffShoring the Corner Office

  1. I work in a unit of a big business where all of the sudden they’ve placed 3 men of Indian origin in executive positions.

    Executive 1 – he is calm. But you know he means business, and if they don’t like a thing, they could possibly fire you any moment they want. Ok, maybe good for business?

    This guy is tolerable.

    Executive 2 – he is nuts. Screams, yells, snaps fingers at people. Running people out of the company. Expects perfection in everything otherwise he makes a big scene.

    Executive 3 – another one who expects to be treated like royalty, and does nothing all day. Probably watches movies all day, people are starting to notice.

    They all 3 are running people out of the company, which maybe is what they want so they can put all Indian in there, and maybe then they will be more tolerant?

    I would say if their behavior were done by white men, they would flat out be considered racists.

    • I’m sorry to hear that, Fernando. I recommend getting your resume together and looking around while the job market is still good. They may think they are princes but that doesn’t make you a slave.

  2. “Women Are Irrelevant: Indian men will be polite to you and listen to you but they will never consider you the equal of a man—any man. Forget being a real part of the team. Forget promotions. Oh, and you are also expandable.”

    Expandable? I cannot believe someone can make such bold claims and generalization to any ethnic group. You should do some fact checks and learn that Indian organizations have more women in STEM fields, Indian classrooms have more women in the classrooms, Indian women are not minorities in their Computer Science classrooms. Every country and culture has its pros and cons and you will benefit most when you look at and learn from the positives and be more tolerant of the negatives. Remember that “Women In Tech” is very much a problem and more of a problem in America than in India. India was the richest country in the world and was looted and suppressed by the British empire for 200 years and was left with 16% literacy when the British left India in 1947. I am proud of where India is today in just about 50 years.

  3. You forgot Indira Nooyi – CEO of Pepsi Co – she is a woman, and Padmashree Warrior (also a woman) – former Cisco CTO who if rumors are to be believed may become Twitter CEO, and Selina Tobaccowala (also a woman) – President of Survey Monkey, among others. Its a bit rich that you belonging to a country that ha failed to produce a woman president in 400 years talk about the lack of women in high places in Indian society.

  4. I am not given to jumping to the defence of Indians, but this is pathetic by any standards.

    First, those men did not get to the US on H1B visas. They went in one of two ways: as young undergrad or graduate students, who studied and worked in the same environment as their American and other colleagues from around the world; or they were hired or transferred mid-career from elsewhere to the US offices of the companies they now head. So perhaps the people who promoted them and then appointed them to the CEO position did not think they were such cultural misfits as you do.

    Yes, Indians — and Asians in general — are more hardworking and less demanding than most other ethnic groups. As an employer I would think that benefits the company, though it probably does not suit those who compete against them.

    Second, about your comment that women are irrelevant in the rich juxtaposition of India and technology: it may interest you to know that currently the India heads of the following are women — Indian women: IBM, HP, Intel, Accenture, CapGemini. “…they will never consider you the equal of a man—any man. Forget being a real part of the team. Forget promotions. Oh, and you’re also expandable.” Really? Maybe that applies only to whingers. Ask these women.

    • Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your perspective even though we have clearly had different experiences. I’m delighted to hear that Indian women head up the division heads of four major tech companies. That doesn’t necessarily affect the experiences of the majority of women, however, any more than having a black President of the United States affects the experience of many other people of color. We’ll see how this plays out over time.

  5. First, love all the Star Trek references! 🙂

    Second, overall I agree with your PROs and CONs. One of the big things I’ve seen is that Americans tend to be purely self-focused and Indians tend to be more organization-focused. (And a year or so ago read a fascinating piece on how the Hindu philosophy of reincarnation affects thought processes and basic assumptions – as opposed to the Judeo-Christian model of “once through and done”.)

    I would add that, based on my experience, Indians tend – stereotyping here! – to be much more inclined to think that exceptions can be made for people with “pull”.

    I actually have another comment about this trend, and globalization in general, that I’ll be writing about myself.

    One other thing: I absolutely agree with the schaudenfraude. I definitely imagine there are more than a few Americans who wanted those jobs… and got passed over.

    • I look forward to reading your article, David. Interestingly, I prefer the reincarnation philosophy and find that it does, indeed, make a difference in how you think. Maybe that’s a subject for a future post.

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