What the Future Indian CEO will look like?
Our tomorrows will be very different from our yesterdays. So will be the future
Indian CEO. The first change I envisage: the Indian CEO may not even be an Indian. As Indian companies compete globally and morph into true MNCs, they will need to tap the global talent market. A few years from now — say in 2020 — more ethnic Indians will lead global companies headquartered in North America and Europe. At the same time, India-headquartered MNCs will acquire companies outside India which will bring diversity to the talent pool. Often, such companies will seek out the best talent. The search will not be constrained by nationality or ethnicity of the CEO-candidate .It will be driven by skills, experience and competence.The future Indian CEO will be very different in style and tone. He will not be the old command-and-control boss of yesteryears. For him or her, leadership will be an activity not a title. Because there will be many specialists in every company who will know more and more about less and less subjects, the CEO will not have the final say about issues on which he is not a subject matter expert. The cutting edge technology will often reside at the bottom of the organisation pyramid. Therefore, the CEO will manage by inspiring and cheer-leading, not by bureaucracy or the rulebook. CEOs who try to practice “my way or the highway” will bite the dust. Creating and nurturing a great team will be of paramount importance for the future Indian CEO.Creating shareholder value will still remain important. But in the future, creating a fair balance in sharing value and harmonising stakeholder interest will be of great importance. In the previous century, extractive companies have often displaced tribal people without fair compensation or resettlement. That will not work in the years to come. Companies have polluted the environment in the past, but that will no longer be allowed. Therefore, the future CEO will need to look at the interests of all stakeholders and take a balanced approach without tilting towards single-minded shareholder value maximisation.Future CEOs will take greater responsibility in eradicating corruption. The perception that only politicians and public sector personnel are corrupt is completely flawed. In the supply chain of corruption, there is a giver, a taker and a safe keeper. While the taker is usually an individual who has discretionary powers and authority over scare resources and facilities, the giver is the person who receives undue and undeserved favours. The wrath of the public and the media are usually unleashed upon politicians and government officials who are caught receiving bribes, but the bribe giver is seldom prosecuted and put behind bars. That will change as stringent laws and social expectations will ensure that the future Indian CEO is, in letter and spirit, transparent and does not participate in the cycle of corruption.
The future Indian CEO is more likely to be a servant-leader. He will focus on being of service and often lead from behind, immersed amidst his people like fish in the water. Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term, described the concept as follows: “The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
The future Indian CEO will need to be technology savvy and be able to learn and unlearn with agility. As new technologies disrupt industries, future CEOs will need to change their strategies ahead of the curve and turn the ship before it hits shallow waters. To be able to succeed in the future, the CEO, with the help of his team, will need to create scenarios that will help him cope with uncertainties and imponderables.
Finally, the future Indian CEO will rely more on research and innovation. The source of future competitive advantage will not be labour cost arbitrage, it will be creativity, innovation and research-based products and services. Thus, Indian companies will need to invest in research and innovations and orient goals around them. The most excellent laboratories do not produce the greatest scientific inventions on their own — they need the best scientists and research teams consisting of the finest human talent.
As Indian companies become more global, they must harness the best research capabilities within the company and outside to create differentiated products and services at unbeatable price points. The CEO of tomorrow will probably spend twice or thrice the amount of time and money in the future on research, development and innovation than his counterpart does today.
(The writer is managing director of Deloitte Consulting, India. These are his personal views)