Leading Companies: The India Way

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India’s economy and its companies have been getting a lot of attention in the past decade.  A trend map of India at the annual Davos conference will attest to this.  A decade ago, India was invisible at Davos.  Today, to the uninformed observer, Davos may well be a Bollywood party.    


The Tata Group, Mittal, Reliance, Infosys, Hindustan Computers Limited, Ranbaxy, ICICI, Hero-Honda, and Bharati Airtel are a few Indian companies that regularly garner media headlines.  The world knows a lot about these companies, and their products.  But what does the world know about the leadership of these companies?  The answer is very little.  Beyond a few names, like Naryan Murthy, Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, and Laxmi Mittal, the West knows little about how Indian companies are managed.  The India Way, authored by Peter Capelli, Harbir Singh, Jitendra V. Singh, and Michael Useem intends to rectify that.  

Do Indian companies have their own way of managing and running their companies?  The answer is a most emphatic YES!  Instead of using management ideas and practices that dominate Western businesses, Indian companies are applying fresh practices of their own, to shape their strategy, leadership, talent, and organizational culture.

Here is a sampling:

  • The best Indian companies drive their performance by investing in people; motivating them, empowering them, and investing in their training
  • For them, the CEO’s office and function is not as critical as in the West.  Many of these companies don’t even have that title, and practice group decision-making at the top
  • Envisioning a path to the future, strategic thinking, and guiding change is very critical to the leadership of these companies
  • As is being inspirational, accountable, and entrepreneurial


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is not an occasional, negotiable activity for most Indian companies.  Partly because most organizations in India tend to be surrounded by mass poverty, and partly because CSR is a reputational asset that helps negotiate deals with the government, companies are very serious about their obligations to the ecosystem they operate in.  40% of all Indian companies routinely monitor their progress on CSR goals, compared to just 17% in the U.S.  

Are these practices transferable to the West?  That all depends on the priorities of Western companies.  Consider the top priorities of Indian companies:

  • Looking beyond stockholders’ interests to public mission and national purpose
  • Drawing on improvisation, adaptation, and resilience to overcome endless hurdles
  • Identifying products and services of compelling value to customers
  • Investing in talent and building a stirring culture. 

Perhaps the experience of dealing with obstructionist bureaucracies, crumbling and antiquated infrastructure, and growing up in hardship and scarcity can’t be replicated.  But inspiration to do well by one’s employees, and build lasting legacies, around entrepreneurship and long-term success, can certainly be imported, and emulated.   

There’s always been an India Way.  Its just that its more palpable today.  Hunger can be a beautiful thing – especially the hunger of challenger companies not to be perceived as mere Xerox copies of front line Fortune 500 companies.  Let’s hope, for their own sake, Indian companies don’t forget this.  

The old adage – Fat Dogs Don’t Fetch – applies to all companies in all countries!