Return of the global desis

21 Nov,2013

By Kala Vijayaraghavan & Ratna Bhushan


Sanjiv Mehta, who took charge as MD and CEO of HUL early last month, has never worked in India before. But he has headed two countries and a region (north Africa and Middle-East) in his 21-year career in Unilever. Sources within Unilever say he specifically asked for an India posting.


Like Mr Mehta, over half-a-dozen top-level executives from P&G, PepsiCo, Mondelez, Coke and Reckitt Benkiser have given up global roles to move back to India in the past six months.


“India provides a unique leadership experience,” says Samik Basu, chief people officer, PepsiCo India. “It is a highly competitive and complex market and provides an opportunity to combine global learning with local resourcefulness.”


Gautham Mukkavilli, CEO-beverages, and Chetan Mathur-controller, Pepsico India, both moved back to India from Dubai in mid-2012.


At Coke, Venkatesh Kini spent three years at the beverage firm’s head office Atlanta as global vice-president for juices, before moving back to Gurgaon as deputy president, India and South West Asia.


P&G’s Sonali Dhawan moved here as the India marketing leader after leadership roles in Singapore on hair care and more recently as the pet care marketing leader for Asia & Australia-New Zealand.


So has Vivek Sunder, who has spent a decade outside India in various roles across Thailand, the UK and Singapore, before coming back here in a leadership role in the India sales & distribution team. At least three senior managers from Mondelez International – Arjun Bhowmik, Sid Mukherjee and Venkat Venepally – have also done the same.


“The most exciting reason for me to come back was that the India business of Mondelez International has been growing at a rapid pace and is one of the key priority markets for the company,” says Arjun Bhowmik, director, expansion, Mondelez. “Also, I wanted to be closer to family and was keen that my daughter should complete her secondary education in India.”


He worked in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia for over seven years. Industry watchers say even with a 6-7 % growth, India fares better than other developed markets.


“Several managers who had moved straight into global roles are now keen to work in India,” says Rajesh Ramanathan, HR director of Mondelez India. “Those with developed markets exposure now want developing markets and India experience on their CVs.”


In advertising, Leo Burnett’s Saurabh Varma and Lowe Lintas’ Vikas Mehta both moved back from Singapore.


“India postings have become hot property since it is an exciting growth market and offers diversity of experience,” says Suchet Narain, MD, DRH International, a global executive search firm.


“Global organisations are also happy to send their managers to markets such as India to ensure implementation of global best practises such as corporate governance, safety or environment issues.” Most managers have children studying abroad, so they move in with their spouse but may not necessarily stay here long term. India’s infrastructure still compares very badly with other cities globally. “But having India on their CV gives them that depth of experience,” he says.


Several top managers such as Atul Singh of Coke and V Chandramouli of Cadbury who have been offered global postings are opting to remain in India. Gopal Vittal, former director of HUL’s home and personal care business, once seen as a top candidate for the CEO job, chose to opt out of a plum global posting and quit early last year. Vittal, officials close to the development say, was unwilling to move out of India. He now heads Bharti Airtel in India.


Says Sameer Wadhawan, VP, HR, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia: “India is emerging as one of the nodal points of the world economy and one-fourth of the world’s population is centred in Asia. India can be an operational hub for global CEOs.” But not all executives want to come back home. “Many young executives in their late 30s or early 40s are still open to take diverse challenges in different countries,” says Sangeeta Pal, partner at search firm Transearch.


Source:The Economic Times

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