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 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
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
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:
- Indian managers are future oriented.
- They have a “paradoxical” blend of genuine personal humility and intense professional will.
- They achieve extraordinary results.
- 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
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.