文/新浪财经意见领袖（微信公众号topleader）机构专栏 中欧视角 作者张禹洪（中欧国际工商学院特约撰稿人）
Author: Zhang Yuhong, special contributor of CEIBS (China Europe International Business School), published via “Perspectives of CEIBS”, a column at Sina Finance (WeChat account: kopleader)
Of course, by “humility” I’m not saying that the Indian people are working like horses without making their own voices heard. The Chinese people are often troubled with the stereotype of “shooting the bird which takes the lead”, but the Indians are not. They’ll never hesitate to showcase their diligence and earnestness by working overtime. Take my company for example – the India-based team members usually work until midnight when they have to telecast the cricket games live.
I stayed for around 3 months in India from 2012 to 2013, which was not a very long period, but not short either. Well, my time in India was not spent in vain. I was always travelling, and always raising questions. After some sightseeing tours in the northern part of India in 2009, which supplemented with the knowledge I had acquired from books on Indian culture and history, I used to believe that I understood India to some extent. At least, I had never defined India as a vast land with dense population, underdeveloped economy and poor public security.
In recent one year or two, I’ve contacted more frequently with my Indian colleagues, and the India-based teams of my company. Thanks to the recent experiences, I start to realize that my understandings of India merely stay at the superficial level from a tourist’s perspective. What I’ve learned is purely about the middle and lower social classes. However, I remain ignorant of their over-emphasis on their identity as Indians, and the way how they achieve a higher happiness index by some religious rituals, or by talking about beliefs and spirits.
However, the Indians who mostly appear in the high-class office buildings are utterly different from the ordinary ones, with whom I am more familiar. Just like what they mean by their pet phrase: “I’m not that kind of Indian.”
- 跨国职场印度人想扮演的自己 The Indians in the international workplace want to “be themselves”
Everyone in the world knows that the Brazilians are crazy about football, and such is the role cricket plays in the Indian life. Theoretically speaking, the ICC T20 (an international cricket championship) deserves the attentions of most Indian people, and it is also noteworthy that it’s the first time for the championship to be held in India.
However, my company (a foreign-funded one) has recently conducted a sampling survey among the Indian colleagues, and the white-collars in India about their opinions of an App on smart phone. The result of the survey is astounding – over 90% of the interviewees confess that they have no interest in cricket at all. As a matter of fact, they never pay attentions to the schedules and results of cricket games as they are preoccupied with work. Mr. Baruha, the head of the Delhi branch of my company, is one of them. I cannot help asking him via social media: “Hey, buddy, aren’t you crazy about cricket at all?” The answer contains no ambiguity, as Mr. Baruha replied coldly and calmly: “Of course not. I’m not that kind of India.”
Well, his response reminds me of another Indian colleague in my previous company – Mr. Faysal, a senior English editor and consultant. It was around one year ago, in a welcome reception for foreign diplomats and senior reporters in China who visited Inner Mongolia. Mr. Faysal, born in a Muslim family, finished one cup of white spirit with one swallow in a quite heroic way. Soon afterwards, he gave exactly the same answer, in exactly the same tone to exactly the same question, leaving me in a total shock.
The business elites from India whom I’m acquainted with, without exception, tends to shake off the “Indian features” labeled on them by the traditional stereotype, thus distinguishing themselves with “that kind of Indians”.
For example, they would say no to the traditional Indian clothing. The gentlemen are usually well-groomed with western-style suits and long pants, and the ladies – usually coming from the states and cities in the north – would prefer business suits, blouses and jeans.
They also love to be a part in some social banquets, or some casual wine parties with colleagues after work. They will never refuse to take a sip, and you’ll easily offend them by referring drinking as a religious taboo.
Of course, they will apply for leave upon major festivals and holidays of India (which are somewhat associated to religions). Speaking of religious beliefs, they’ll always reply in a fairly smart tone: belief is the way how your heart is at peace. “We are very glad to explore, but we take a leave on festivals and holidays simply for getting together with our own families. That has nothing to do with the complicated religious rituals at all.
However, de-Indianization is not as simple as it seems on surface. Amartya Sen, the world-famous economist and winner of Nobel Prize for Economics, summarized the traits of the Indian people in his monograph “The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture, and Identity”. In Sen’s opinion, the Indian people are apt at rational thinking and take delight in public debate, but they seem so lazy with practical works. However, the business elites from India in large international corporations leave us exactly the opposite impressions with their confidence, diligence and humbleness.
My arguments are well supported by the fine examples of Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft), Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), Rajeev Suri (CEO of Nokia), Arun Sarin (former CEO of Vodafone) and other business elites from India. They are not the founders of the enterprises they are now in charge with, but they’ve grown as respectable managers. Before they assumed the roles of person-in-charge, they had already worked in the senior leadership of these enterprises for years, and finally managed to step on top of the pyramid of power of these renowned international enterprises with one promotion after another.
Of course, by “humbleness” I’m not saying that the Indian people are working like horses without making their own voices heard. The Chinese people are often troubled with the stereotype of “shooting the bird which takes the lead”, but the Indians are not. They love to make their own voices heard when their own teams and the enterprises confront difficult situations. For example, when Rajeev Suri was working in the sector of mobile internet at Nokia, he was recognized at the key figure who forged the troubleshooting plan of Nokia, and turned the situation for the entire enterprise.
They’ll never hesitate to showcase their diligence and earnestness by working overtime. Take my company for example – the India-based team members usually work until midnight when they have to telecast the cricket games live, and they’ll “complain” about what it feels to work for 12 hours consecutively in our online chatting group that consists of over 80 members. As a result, the Chinese colleagues are usually interrupted from their sound dreams.
Meanwhile, the Indian elites living abroad have a strong sense of recognition of their own ethnic group. To some extent, the solidarity of the Indian expatriates lead to the fact that they seize the top seats of the “biological chains” in large international corporations of computer, medicine and even finance. The Indian elite will do whatever they can to give a hand to people of the same ethnic group. If an Indian manager managed to secure his/her seat in a large company, he/she would love to recruit more Indian colleagues and give preferential work arrangements to them. With a very short span, he/she can form a team of Indian colleagues. Likewise, people who benefit from their Indian superiors will form their own “Indian teams” in the future, and that’s how the network of Indian business elites become entangled. When they try to step up for even senior managerial positions, they are given more power thanks to the “Indian network”. What’s pretty much how things work underneath.
- 一言难尽的南北之争 North and south, so hard to generalize
Although the Indian business elites are willing to join hands when they have to deal with foreign colleagues together, there are some serious contradictions among them. The contradictions are mostly caused by the historical and cultural disparities between the northern and southern parts of India. The situation is quite similar to the long-existing disputes between the northern and southern parts of China, as well between western and eastern parts of Germany.
To some extent, the disparities between the northern and southern parts of India are primarily caused by external forces, including the Aryans in the ancient times, and the Persians who are essentially the Islamized descendants of the Aryans. People from north India are akin to the Persians in whatever historical period with regard to race, language and culture. Judging by appearance, people from north India (not including a few states in northeast, where the most residents look nothing different from the Chinese) are more “Europeanized” with shape and look. They are usually taller and more light-skinned. By comparison, people in south India are usually dark-skinned, with mellower and fuller shapes and facial lines.
Speaking of language, most states in the north usually show deep respect for the traditional languages and cultures, and are more willing to promote Hindi in India as a gesture of dispersing the shadows of British colonial rule. In the south, by comparison, the recognition of cultural identity is much lower. People speak a variety of dialects here, and people of two neighboring states even speak utterly different languages that belong to two separate language family. As a result, they can only communicate with each other in English.
Judging from the cultural perspective – although Hinduism is the religion that dominates in every part of India, the religious doctrines have major differences in the northern and southern parts. The caste system has become the bygones, but people in the north still have a strong sense of caste, as a large percentage of the population was born with higher castes. By comparison, people in the south seem not caring too much about the caste system.
In modern India, the southern part is obviously more developed with its economic strength. The industrial centers of computer technologies, pharmaceuticals and service outsourcings are mostly located in metropolises in the south, including Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. By comparison, agriculture and tourism are the two pillar industries in the northern part. As a result, a larger percentage of people in the south have received medium and higher educations, while the illiteracy rate is much higher in the north. However, the Indian government, in consideration of national security, has to shift her strategic center to the north (especially the northeastern and northwestern states), in order to maintain the balance of power with the two neighbors in the north (China and Pakistan).
Inspired by all the factors mentioned above, people in the north usually consider people in the south as “rude, impolite, xenocentric with insufficient sense of tradition and national consciousness. On the other hand, people in the south believe that people in the north are ignorant, conservative, arrogant, lazy, and reluctant to accept new things. The Indian people are “argumentative” indeed, and heated debates will break out immediately if the Indian colleagues from south and north disagree with each other on some sensitive issues. By comparison, the Indian people usually act rational and restrained in case of some disagreements with foreign colleagues.
Take my company for example – we used to launch an App featuring cultural contents targeting at the English-speaking social groups in India. At that time, we planned to name the App with a typically “Indian” English word. Four colleagues in the Delhi office, who were born in the northern part of India, soon reached an agreement. But the other two female colleagues in the Beijing office, who were born in the southern part of India, had utterly different opinions. In their mind, the word might easily be misinterpreted by the users in southern part of India. Their opinions proved immediately backfiring.
We were talking about the question in an online chatting group that includes all colleagues. However, they paid no attention to the demeanors and temperaments as white-collars, and used very harsh and sharp vocabularies to attach the culture of south India. Which is more appalling, they even questioned the IQ of the Indian colleagues from south India. The female colleagues from south India tried to patched up the quarrel and reconciled both sides by saying “although we cannot persuade each other into our own opinions, the previous communications are meaningful to me to some extent, and I thank you for that”. However, the two from north India took off the gloves and proceeded: “There’s no need to act civil to us. I have to say that it a waste of my time, and the time of every team member, to argue with you like that.” Obviously offended by her inconsiderate words, two Indian ladies soon stooped over the desk and burst into tears, which also aroused the anger of colleagues from other countries.
Later on, of course, the two ladies have been working together with other colleagues in the Delhi office quite efficiently. However, when they inevitably talked about other colleagues in privacy, the two ladies from southern part of India would curl their lips with scorn, saying: “People from the northern part of India are usually of inferior qualities. We are trying to get along with them for the sake of work only. But don’t ever dream that we’ll make acquaintance of them outside the office.”
- 印度式精英教育的现状 The current condition of India’s “elite education”
There is a famous joke on internet that features India. In a seminar for college rookies majoring computer science in MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), the American professor was calling the roll as a routine. When he saw the name of an Indian student, he asked with a gentle simile: “I hear that IIT (Indian Institutes of Technology) is also a remarkable institute of advanced studies, but what prompted you to choose MIT instead?” The Indian student answered with an awkward smile: “Because I failed with my application for IIT.”
That sounds like a joke for the Chinese students, but it’s a basic truth for an Indian student. The prestige of IIT is also recognized by the international community. “60 Minutes”, a famous program of CBS, says that Harvard, MIT and Princeton, added together, can narrowly match with the status of IIT in India. Business Weekly points out that the alumni of IIT are the “hottest export in the history of India”. In 2003, when Bill Gates was attending a ceremony in the Silicon Valley, he also referred to IIT as “an incredible university”.
IIT is not the only world-class institution of advanced studies, and IIM (Indian Institute of Management) is equally well known. Every year, around 300 thousand high school graduates will compete for a seat in one of these two institutes without any hesitation, but the enrollment rate of IIT and IIM is less than 2%. By comparison, the enrollment rate of Harvard is around 13%.
As a matter of fact, the Chinese government spends even more on education than the Indian government, judging by the gross investment volume. However, the percentage of education expenditures in the general governmental expenditures is obviously higher in India. On the other hand, the Chinese government gives more emphasis on basic education, while the Indian government spends more money on elite education. That’s how China has trained over 200 million skilled laborers for her manufacturing industry, while 1/3 of the Indian people remain illiterate. However, the practitioners of software, finance and pharmaceuticals benefit a lot from the great input of the Indian government.
Mr. Suresh Prabhu, Chairman of Parliamentary Forum on Renewable Energy, CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), said in a prior interview with Southern Weekly: “The information has become relatively open in the Indian society ever since 1950s. Children from different social classes learn that they cannot step up to a higher status without working hard. Therefore, competitions have become fiercer than ever as they are only entitled to limited education resources.”
“To be frank, I was not born in a very wealthy family. My father works as a high school teacher, and my mother is a housewife. They managed to make ends meet to afford my tuition in a private middle school, where I received excellent education in English,” says Ms. Cabir, an Indian colleague of mine, who owns one bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. She proceeds to tell me: “You cannot possibly imagine what cruel competitions I went through before I was fortunately enrolled by SMR University (formerly SRM Institute of Science and Technology, a deemed university in the state of Tamil Nadu, which has the best department of computer science and engineering) as a student of computer engineering. I was the lucky one among tens of thousands of students. I can hardly imagine what life would be if I failed with my application, and maybe I would become another housewife in India, much like my mother. And I would also have to make ends meet in order to support my own kid for his/her tuition in SMR, where he/she could receive better education.”
“I received a total of 5 letters of admission of master’s program. Two of them are from universities in US, and two are from universities in UK – among them are University of Illinois and University of Michigan. Without any hesitation, I chose IIT,” says Garona, another Indian colleague in Delhi office, “at least, an ITT graduate with a master’s degree can easily find a job with an annual salary of above 800 thousand US dollars – in a local enterprise in India or a large international corporation. In India, 800 thousand US dollars means a lot.”
After surviving the extremely cruel competitions imposed by the mechanism of college enrollment, those Indians with excellent educational backgrounds are justifiably more confident. In universities and colleges in India, students are encouraged to make their own voices heard, and that’s why they also love to make their own voices heart in international teams. As a result, they are more likely to receive attentions of the senior leadership. And that may also explain why many Indian engineers are promoted into the senior leadership in the labs of large international corporations.
(About the author: CEIBS is cosponsored by the Chinese government and European Union. It is a non-profit organization of advanced studies that train and foster international managerial talents. WeChat account: CEIBS6688)