Multinationals in China depend on hiring talent from India

The number of Indians in China has grown tremendously over the years.

Mr.J lived in Shanghai for seven years and his Chinese name is Shee-Re, which sounds a lot like Shireesh and means ‘hope-luck’. A graduate of IIT-Kanpur and IIM Bangalore, he worked with Proctor & Gamble in India, Singapore and then in Taiwan, before joining Pepsico. One advantage Indians have in China is that they are quite used to communicating without knowing the language. After all, they have always functioned in a multi-lingual culture.

Move a few kilometres out of Bangalore and everyone speaks Kannada, but you have to get by. The ability to get your message across any way is just one of the advantages Indians have in China. The two large, populous countries have many things in common, including ingrained family values, respect for authority and a business ethic that favors a hand shake over a contract.

NS has worked as managing partner, Ogilvy & Mather Shanghai for over three years now. It takes a while for anyone stepping out of their home country for the first time to figure out a new culture. But the general observation is that Indians settle down in China much faster than Westerners do.

The rapid growth in their China operations has resulted in a talent shortage at the top for global companies like PepsiCo and O&M, and they are increasingly looking to their Indian talent pool to bridge the gap. The Chinese economy has jumped so fast that there has been no time to develop talent. India, on the other hand, has the reverse situation that is having talent ahead of economic development. This makes it logical for Indian managers to come and work in China.

With long experience of working in India’s relatively mature advertising industry, NS is now in the comfortable position of steering O&M’s operations in a country where the business is about 16 years old. EN managing director of Avaya in China is in a similar situation. Avaya is a global leader in call centre hardware and software — a field in which India has gathered considerable expertise — and EN, an engineering graduate from the University of Pune, India was head of the company’s operations in Korea before he was transferred to Shanghai two years ago. It is a growing trend and expects to see more Indians in top executive positions in China in the years to come.

EN’s wife, T heads the India, Korea and China operations of head-hunting firm BTI Consultants from Shanghai. She says she’s currently on the look out for senior Indian executives who might want to relocate to China. China has a huge shortage of leadership talent and companies here need to import from India. And they will have to be very high caliber because China is a bigger challenge than India.

Indeed, the talent shortage is such that the China operations of most global corporates are managed by expat executives. Unilever, for example, has a European CEO in China and at the next level of vice-president, 50% are European, 30% are Chinese and 20% are Indian. TT is the vice-present for Unilever China’s all-important laundry products division. The Chinese are actually pretty good managers, but there is a shortage of that talent because of the rapid growth. The biggest challenge here is constant training of new employees. In Unilever India, you are used to a certain level of competency but here, people job-hop a lot, so you have to deal with very raw talent.