We examine the present in light of the past
so as to better understand the future.
John Maynard Keynes

* With apologies to Karl von Clausewitz

India's Next Generation

India's Next Generation

A friendly Indian journalist wrote to me earlier today, asking me to comment on the fact that it is now a year since Cyrus Mistry took over as head of the Tata Group. Many Indians are big fans of Tata; its former chief, Ratan Tata, was treated by press and public like a rock star. Probably only Sachin Tendulkar the cricketer and a few Bollywood stars received more public scrutiny. (I will never forget walking into the ballroom of the Taj hotel in Mumbai with Ratan Tata, and seeing the blizzard of flashes as the ranks of waiting photographers snapped away. It was my fifteen minutes of fame, all down to the man I was standing beside.)

Unsurprisingly, then, there is a great deal of interest in Cyrus Mistry and whether he intends to take the Tata Group in new directions. In fact, very sensibly, Mr Mistry has spent his first year in post taking stock, and also dealing with the downturn in the Indian economy which has posed some problems for the group in its home markets. As for the near future, I’ve always felt that Tata will pursue a course of evolution rather than revolution and that, at least until the economy revives, change will be gradual and incremental.

More generally, there is a generational change happening in many Indian businesses, with the old guard – sometimes the founders of businesses – stepping aside and new faces coming into the boardroom. Some of these new faces are quite young; increasing numbers of them are women, which is a very promising sign. The question some Indians are asking is, will this generational change at Tata and other companies alter the Indian business landscape? Will Indian business culture change as a result?

The answer – and we are back to paradox again – is both yes and no. Yes, there will be changes; there must be. Indian businesses must become more international in outlook, they must embrace certain elements of international business culture; they cannot carry on simply ‘being Indian’ if they are to compete in a global environment. At the same time, though, they must remain true to their Indian roots. Indian business culture is a powerful force. Its ethos of hard work, its traditions of innovation and excellence in customer service, its commitment to serving communities and people are all things that need to be preserved, for they will be a powerful source of competitive advantage in the international arena.

Will this culture be preserved? Can it withstand the onslaught of internationalisation and post-modernity? I believe it will survive, and probably emerge stronger than ever. Indians are very, very good at embracing and learning from their past. They understand, far better than we Westerners, why the past remains relevant today. They know how to draw strength from their heritage. The West needs to take a long hard look at Indian business culture, and then start learning from it. Sooner rather than later, I think.

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Comment made by
Mithil
6/12/2013 at 13:45
The Indian business culture is changing with influences of the West and with the need to change opening up into a global market. However, it is limited with the challenges of the inqualities of income and cultural differences within the country.

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