New Manager

Globalising Indian management thought

VINAY KAMATH | Updated on November 11, 2014

The verdant campus of IIM-K was the venue for the pan-IIM world management conference.

A world conference at IIM-K deliberates on how an Indian way of doing things can make it to global management lexicons

If one needed a tranquil spot to reflect and contemplate on weighty matters, IIM Kozhikode’s verdant campus on a hillock on the outskirts of the city would be the place to be.

All around one can see acres of palm trees with the occasional patch of green fields and tiled houses bursting through, a trail of white smoke wafting in the wind.

The sprawling campus with its long tiled-roof corridors snaking in different directions, a spanking new management development centre with a plush auditorium, was the setting then for the second pan-IIM world management conference with the unequivocal theme of ‘globalising Indian thought’.

The convention saw the directors of most of the 13 IIMs from around the country and over 200 delegates, several from overseas universities as well, descend on IIM Kozhikode’s campus to deliberate this thought in its various dimensions.

Of late, the terms for an Indian way of doing things, jugaad to frugal engineering, is being thrown into the cauldron of global management thought. Tomes have been written on jugaad, on its Indian innovation and inventiveness, and global managers like Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn have spoken glowingly of India’s frugal engineering skills.

Debashis Chatterjee, who recently stepped down after his term as director of IIM-K, and who mooted the idea of this convention, says, “Four years ago when I coined this expression, ‘globalising Indian thought’ as a potent one, there were many detractors.

"Some said, if it’s global, why should it be Indian? I said this vagueness is precisely why we had to articulate it. The power of an idea is directly proportional to its indeterminate nature and its relevance to its unfolding nature. When large numbers of people talk about an idea it gains ground and acceptance in practice. Indian thought has enough potency to attract people from all over.”

Smriti Irani, Union HRD minister, set the ball rolling when she said in her inaugural speech that Indian management practices such as jugaad, langar system, the Mumbai dabbawallas and frugal engineering ways need to be documented in a formal way and taken all over the world. “Organisations like Arvind Eye Hospital and the dabbawalas of Mumbai have blended efficiency with value in a way that is unmatched in the world. Such contemporary and grassroot level practices need to be formulated and presented to the large businesses worldwide,” she emphasised.

The convention had some global endorsement as well from Guillaume Sicard, President, Nissan India, who said: “The key word in India is synthesis – synthesis of culture, ideas, generations and knowledge. While synthesis has defined India’s culture, heritage and art for centuries, it is also defining business environment, practices and processes.”

Elaborating on Indian and Japanese business practices, Sicard said that In India, by nature everyone is emotional and instinctive. Due to this nature, there is a natural tendency to take business decisions that are not so much based on hard facts and data, but on more personal feelings and intuition.

“I would say, this is even more true when we are working in one of the fastest growing economies and volatile market conditions - where one is conditioned to act and react quickly. Japanese, on the other hand, are very analytical and process oriented. They understand situations based on facts and figures. The Japanese cannot take a decision if there is no data substantiation,” he elaborated.

However, Rishikesha Krishnan, Director, IIM Indore, and author of two books on jugaad, and innovation, struck a cautionary note when he said there are many hurdles to ‘jugaad-ic’ innovation. Jugaad, he pointed out, is based on an individual’s ingenuity and is more craft than science; it’s difficult to solve complex problems just by jugaad, and nor is it scalable. “Today, consumers are not willing to live with jugaad, they want well-engineered products yet which offer them value,” added Krishnan.

Innovation agenda

Elaborating on how Indian organisations can improve their innovation agenda, Krishnan said they have to ensure a steady pipeline of ideas, improve the velocity of idea generation, i.e. move fast on prototyping to incubation, as well as improve the average of taking innovations to the market place.

Ravi Kant, former Vice Chairman & MD of Tata Motors, spoke from his vast experience as the head of a large manufacturing organisation. “In the last 40 years, Western management techniques have done wonders for the economies of their countries. Indian management techniques have tended to follow those techniques and process orientation. But, if you look at S&P’s top 500 companies, only 75 of those companies from 40 years ago have survived. The longevity of companies has gone down. Things are not as good as perhaps it’s made out to be. So, we are standing at the crossroads; we need to look at the context in which we are operating. Strategies need to evolve from that,” he explained. Talking about the Tatas’ take over of Daewoo trucks in South Korea and Jaguar Land Rover in the UK, Ravi Kant said that workers in these plants were apprehensive that an Indian management would follow a typical Western model of reducing the work force and also take all the technology from the company back to India.

Collaborative working

The normal model is to send hundreds of people and occupy all posts in the company.

However, Tatas, except for a few Indian managers, largely retained the local workforce, empowering them as well. “A more collaborative way of working is absolutely essential in today’s context,” he added. Ravi Kant emphasised that it was important to be seen as a local company managed by local people.

Ashish Nanda, Director, IIM-A, said that research on India and its practices are evolving fast in a few streams. One is on India as an FDI destination, or an outside view in; second on ‘exotic India’, as a land of mystique and yoga; a third perspective is on the development work carried out in India, in poverty economics and bottom of the pyramid research; and lastly in areas where India has gone global, especially in areas like software and pharma.

On why research in Indian practices will speed up, Nanda says, “A growing economy, the demography of youth, a greater appreciation of knowledge creation and integration with the global economy…a consequence of this will be an explosion of India-centric research; a lot of it will happen from within India and a lot of it will be international. Very often people say that movements such as these are turning points. When people despair the most on quality of research, this is exactly the moment when it picks up”

Nanda points out that entire new areas are opening up such as entrepreneurship and frugal innovation. “There is a huge amount of energy being unleashed right now in an India-centred way of looking at innovation. There is an Indian character to it. The global environment is fertile, people are curious on what is happening in India.

“A global research perspective in Indian management couldn’t be brighter than today; five to ten years from now, we will have lots of research work,” says a gung-ho Nanda.

Published on November 11, 2014

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