Can India keep its promise to produce global leaders?

Can India keep its promise to produce global leaders?

Today, India celebrates its 66th anniversary of Republic Day. Its a great time to reflect back on the achievements of a young democracy that has been aspiring to take its place on world stage. For decades, the country has been dogged by conservative government policies, poor infrastructure, low human development factors and lack of a suitable investment environment. In this article, I look at what India has achieved, what we can be proud about and why India should aim at global leadership in the coming decade.

Why India should aim at producing global leaders

India’s cultural diversity and a vibrant education system with a strong foundation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are ideally suited to serve as an academy for global leadership. The leading global HR consulting firm, SHL, conducted a big data study focusing on People Intelligence as a part of its Talent Analytics program. The Talent Report specifically looked at:

  • What does the supply of leadership potential look like by geography and by industry
  • What are the talents that drive effective innovation and how are those talents distributed
  • What are the implications of an aging workforce for the future supply of leaders and the
    dynamics of the workplace over the next decade?
  • Which geographies are best placed in the global race for skills?
  • Where can I find the talent I need?

These were the key findings, with respect to India:

  • India did not feature in the list of top 25 countries for supply of leaders for today. The list is led by China (Hong Kong), Germany, the UK, Australia and the United States.
  • In the list of leaders for tomorrow (people with potential to become well rounded leaders in future), India features on Number 5. The report shows that the strongest supply of emerging leaders is from the BRICS countries. In order to realize this potential, targeted identification of potential and investment in development of leadership talent is essential.
  • SHL classified geographies into four quadrants – strong/weak today; strong/weak tomorrow. While many of the developed countries are in the strong today/challenged tomorrow category; India is in the “weak today but the future looks bright” quadrant. Success in this quadrant depends on making systematic investment in talent development.
  • Within industry sectors, Technology sector emerged as one having strongest pipelines of leadership and India is well placed within this sector.
  • SHL’s study also focused on identifying ”ínnovator potential” as innovation is seen essential to survival and success in global environment. On this parameter, India features in the weakest cluster – with low supply of innovator talent and low context for innovation.

Clearly, investment on developing global leadership talent and innovator potential of its youth are focus areas for India.

How are we doing: India’s success stories in recent times

  • India has aced the STEM game (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) – right from finding independence, there has been an emphasis on STEM in Indian education system. This has resulted in the dominance of Indian engineers in the Silicon Valley. Read more here:
  • How Indians defied gravity and conquered Silicon Valley
    • Legendary entrepreneurs like Vinod Khosla, Vinod Dham and Kanwal Rekhi
    • Indian-born entrepreneurs founded 7% of all Silicon Valley startups between 1980 and 1998
  • A Stanford study conducted in 2002 on networks of Indian and Chinese engineers in Silicon Valley showed that while 67.7% of Chinese engineers are in technical and non-managerial positions, 41.4% of Indians are in Executive and 26.2% in managerial positions. The study says the “despite their relatively short stay in the United States, Indians may have advanced rapidly up the corporate ladder”. The study concludes that Indians have educated themselves for managerial success by equipping themselves with MBAs. It also showed the sixty percent of Indians were involved in a startup as against thirty percent of Chinese.
  • How the Indians succeeded in Silicon Valley – Professor Wadhwa lists factors such as:
    • Indians listed hurdles and talked openly about them
    • The early Indian entrepreneurs actively mentored others
    • They formed netowrking organizations early and worked on community engagement
  • British newspaper The Guardian listed following as highly influential Indian technologists in Silicon Valley:
    • Satya Nadella
    • Ajay Bhatt
    • Vinod Khosla
    • Vinod Dham
    • Sundar Pichai
    • Sabeer Bhatia
    • Vic Gundotra
    • Amit Singhal
    • Ruchi Sanghvi (Facebook’s first female engineer)
    • Padmasree Warrior
    • Shantanu Narayen
    • Om Malik
  • 23 Indian origin achievers in diverse fields were listed in Forbes 30 under 30 lists called “brightest young stars”
    • The list for Sports 30 under 30 for 2015 features Ishveen Anand, founder of OpenSponsorship at number 2
  • India has some remarkable achievements despite the scale of the country’s problems, political observer Balaji Viswanathan has listed on this discussion on Quora:
    • Ending Polio among 1.3 billion people
    • Mission to Mars
    • Mission to Moon
    • Right to information
    • Golden quadrilateral and other highways
    • Entering the nuclear club
    • Building the software industry
    • Over 200 million people brought out of illiteracy
  • India’s 100 richest people have a combined wealth of $346 Billion
  • The number of India CEOs at prominent global companies is increasing
  • The list of world’s most powerful women has regularly included two Indians in top 10 – Indra Nooyi and Sonia Gandhi
  • The list of Young Global Leaders of World Economic Forum included 14 Indians:
    • Pallavi Aiyar
    • Farhan Akhtar
    • Sachin Bansal
    • Avani Davda
    • Mohit Joshi
    • Roshni Nadar Malhotra
    • Vishwarupe Narain
    • Nandini Piramal
    • Rishad Premji
    • Anoop Ratnaker Rao
    • Chiki Sarkar
    • Parmesh Shahani
    • Anurag Thakur
    • Ratheesan Yoganathan
  • Forbes list of Top 100 celebrities in India featured names that are known and loved the world over
  • World Economic Forum recognized 17 Indian companies as Global Growth Companies

What is your favorites success story from India?


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Sharad Verma is currently HR Head (CHRO) for Sears Holdings India.

Sharad’s blog on leadership, talent and innovation is available at Sharad has been named one of the Top 20 Social Media HR Influencers by SHRM, featured as one of the Best HR Heads in India and his column featured in the top 5 most read career advice on Star career website.

A graduate of the prestigious XLRI, Sharad has more than two decades of HR experience. He has previously been Global Head – Human Resources for Polaris Consulting & Services Ltd, Director, Human Resources for SunGard Global Technology, Head of Human Resources for Berkadia (subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway),, and The Bank of New York Mellon India.

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