Dr Marshall Goldsmith, one of the top CEO coaches of the world and the author of several bestsellers on leadership was in India recently to deliver a speech for the National HRD Network’s silver jubilee. Addressing the CXOs he made a point that despite cultural differences across countries, the CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies have a lot in common. Amongst such common characteristics, he mentioned Western education as an important feature even if they went to school in India. He also said that a future CEO should have five things that were not required in the past: global thinking, cross-cultural appreciation, tech-savvy, building partnerships and shared leadership. Though he was candid about the egoistic and other problems of leaders, his insistence on Western education seemed as his quick aid for global thinking, one of his five leadership ingredients.
To interpret Dr Goldsmith’s comments in a perspective, it could be that he views Western education as a surrogate for some of the important attributes of the Western (the US, for simplicity) educational system. These could relate to a graded educational experience that emphasizes logic, openness, boldness, expressiveness and experimentation, and benefits from superior laboratory and other facilities. These contrast with the Asian (Indian, for simplicity) educational experience that supports tradition, caution, deference and conformity, and suffers from constraints of campus infrastructure. Western educational system focuses on expressive, at times even overwhelming, competitiveness in everyday life as opposed to the Indian educational system that emphasizes competitiveness more in examination routines, and accommodation in day to day routines. Western culture promotes inter-personal independence of the individual with dependence on one’s head while oriental culture promotes interpersonal dependence of the individual with dependence on one’s heart.
Flood and trickle
American education continues to be the first choice for higher education for Indian students and parents, whether they have a strong materialistic mind or a strong nationalistic heart. As a result, the number of Indian students applying for US student visas has been growing exponentially. While 90,000 students went to US in 2012-13, 113,000 students went in 2013-14, registering an increase of 26 percent. In 2014-15, a further 40 percent increase to 158,200 is forecast as per current trends. Only, China sends more students to US. Together, China and India contribute to nearly 50 percent of US student visas. The question, however, is whether the students prefer the US educational system for higher education for the sheer educational experience for global leadership or to pursue an American dream of a career in a superior ecosystem. While both could be viable reasons, probably not many are so futuristic as to pursue American education as a global leadership qualification.
For the few who have become the CEOs or CXOs of multi-billion multinational corporations such as Indira Nooyi (Pepsico), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Harish Manwani (Unilever), Ajay Banga (Mastercard), Anshu Jain (Deutsche Bank), Shantanu Narayen (adobe), Ivan Menezes (Diageo), Rakesh Kapoor (Benckiser), Vikram Pandit (Citi), Sundar Pichai (Google), Nikesh Arora of SoftBank and Ajit Jain (Berkshire Hathaway), the reason is not necessarily the Western education as several had higher education in India too. Various others have occupied leadership positions in Indian multinationals without any Western degrees. While Bloomberg commented that Indian cultural ethos of empathy, humility, patience, emotional bonding and passion for growth as a reason for Indians becoming CEOs in global MNCs, it is also clear that out of the flood of Indians seeking US higher education only a trickle makes it to the top. This leads us to wonder on the validity of Dr Goldsmith’s prescription of Western education is an essential prerequisite for future global leaders. In likely fact of the future, there could, on the other hand, be a dramatic shift in favor of Asian education and experience.
Asian resurgence 2030
According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) published in July 2014, India will be the third largest economy in the world by 2030. According to rankings of the top economies of the world, India would leap seven steps to become a USD 15 trillion economy by 2030, next only to US at USD 38.5 trillion and China (at the top) at USD 53.8 trillion. In fact, the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) would have an economic scale of over USD 85 trillion by 2030, far exceeding the scale of the five developed economies of USA, Japan, Germany, UK and France together at only USD 66 trillion. Clearly, the emerging economies of today would be the dominant economies of tomorrow in terms of workforce and population, economic scale, diversity of research and manufacturing and market potential. Today’s drawbacks of the BRICS economies should not be viewed to conclude that the emerging economies would always be dependent economies.
Today’s challenges of the emerging economies in terms of deficient urban and rural infrastructure, underdeveloped transportation services, inadequate power and energy, rather uncontrolled population, poor healthcare and sanitation, and so many other shortfalls would be great opportunities of tomorrow, calling for massive investment in infrastructure development and economic growth. A qualifying requirement for this transformation would be the importance attached to organic technological innovation. India’s Mars mission (Mangalyaan) that has successfully placed India’s satellite in the orbit of Mars in the very first attempt at a cost lower than the cost of a Hollywood blockbuster movie (a point eloquently made by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Madison Square, New York address) illustrates that Indian engineering and scientific talent can achieve technological self-reliance even in the most sophisticated fields, with a structured mission and progressive leadership. Indian Scientific Research Organization (ISRO), a Government of India body has certainly shown the way for a techno-savvy India.
Factors and markets
Eventually, global economic development would seek a global equilibrium, driven by differential factor advantages and differential market sizes. Like water flows from a higher plane to a lower plane and heat transfers from a higher temperature heat sink to a lower temperature heat sink, technologies and finances would flow to economies where they can be best utilized. Global developmental equilibrium would need to happen, even if it were to take years and decades. In this process, leadership is a critical driver of how to access and deploy resources, be it finance, people and machines, or naturally occurring resources like oil, gas, water, wind, minerals, metals and any other element. Leadership is also a critical ingredient of understanding various local markets, developing customized products and services and integrating with local consumer needs. If these are the imperatives, leadership must understand local factor endowments and local market needs, and explore how multi-national resources can be networked to synergize each local economy.
It goes to the credit of global Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies that they ventured into underdeveloped markets decades ago despite several challenges and uncertainties and in the process secured a place in such countries that is on par with indigenous companies. As the underdeveloped economies moved on to become developing economies a few years ago, and now emerging economies with potential to become fully developed over the next two decades, the pioneering FMCG companies have discovered that their venturesome strategies fueled sustainable global growth for them. Companies like Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Proctor & Gamble, Gillette, GSK Consumer, Microsoft, Pepsi, CocaCola, Henkel and Reckitt Benckiser come to mind. In other fields as well, companies such as Suzuki, GE, Siemens, ABB, Nokia, Philips, Cummins and Alstom have taken early roots. All such successful companies viewed India as an important market and supply source but some like Unilever have seen India as a select leadership talent source for their global needs.
A new bilateral paradigm
As India and China match the five developed economies by value less than 15 years from now, global corporations must develop a significantly different paradigm for nurturing global leaders. The conventional models that local leaders must be Western educated to have global acceptance (typical Goldsmith’s type prescription) or that expat leaders must spend a few years each in several emerging countries (typical global automobile industry’s practice) would be found wanting when India and China (as well as other emerging market economies) race at full economic throttle. Fundamentally, future global leaders would be developed with specific collaborating countries in mind. Such combinations could be US and India or US and China, Japan and India or Korea and India, UK and India or UK and China, India and China or India and Brazil, and so on. The Western origin person who would have graduate education of the West would be immersed in post-graduate education of the East while the Eastern origin person who would have graduate education of the East would be immersed in post-graduate education of the West.
Put differently, the new global leader would not rest content with viewing education as imparting only professional knowledge or leading to a different employment opportunity. Education would be seen as an immersive cultural experience of a different nation with a style of pedagogy and a community of co-learners and co-executors unique to that national culture. As much as an Indian student with US employment aspiration would like a US higher education so must a US student with the aspiration of becoming an India-centric leader should take to Indian higher education. Ahead of this paradigm being a part of mainstream general education, executive education could be the right vehicle to develop the new generation of focused global leaders. Executives should be encouraged to take up fulltime residential higher education courses in diverse emerging market countries on sabbatical depending on the global growth orientation of the companies. For the new bilateral global bilateral education paradigm to be effective, educational institutions in India and China (and other emerging nations) must elevate their campus ecosystems, learning communities and curricula to integrate the best of locally embedded and intrinsic culture, knowledge and practice with globally applicable professional knowledge, tools and techniques.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 4, 2014