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Michael Useem
Michael Useem

Transcript: Lessons from Indian management Add to ...

KARL MOORE: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak to Michael Useem, who is a senior professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL USEEM: Karl, good morning.

KM: Nice to have you here in Montreal. Mike, your latest book is about doing business in India …

MU: That is right.

KM: … and what we can learn from Indian management. What are some of the things you have [discovered]in your work?

MU: Well, we can learn a lot in that Indian companies are on an incredible roll. They are often at 30- to 40-per-cent annual growth per year. So we set out to find the secret to their success, and we came up with four themes that are somewhat distinctive for Indian business. As we do write in the book, we do think that Western business (Canada, the U.S. and Western Europe) can all take a look at these four qualities and learn something from them.

KM: So what are the four qualities, Mike?

MU: In a nutshell, it comes down to these four distinctive approaches - everything else is pretty much the same in India, the U.S. and Canada, but in these four ways Indian business just, simply put, does it differently.

They are, number one, more inclined to be in a [what we call]holistic engagement with their employees; they focus on employees. To put that in a sentence, their employees are assets, and not a cost.

Number two: Indian companies are exceptionally good at being adaptable to the most trying of conditions.

Number three: Indian companies are coming up with pretty remarkable, what you might call value propositions: an automobile for $2,500, cellphone service for less than a penny per minute.

[And, finally]number four, and this may be the most distinctive of all: Indian companies put a huge emphasis not on shareholder value but on community, on country, and on family. There it is, in a nutshell.

KM: So are you suggesting that American and European companies emulate these four characteristics? That we can copy their model to some degree?

MU: In some respects we used to do all that, and it was sort of lost as shareholders and big investors got the upper hand and pushed companies to do that quarterly reporting - every quarter has to be better than last quarter - short-term focus. As a result of that, I think, we got into some of the difficulties that we have seen in the last couple years, certainly in the financial services, and thus I think it's useful for Canadian, U.S., and European companies to take a good look. I think we can bring some of these ideas back here.

KM: It's intriguing that, for many years, you and I taught Asians and other people our approach. But now it seems like we've realized it's a two-way street, finally.

MU: Here's why I think it's so interesting. So many Indian top managers have been to the U.S. or to Canada or Western Europe for their business education and beyond, and took those ideas back. We have had many out of our shop, for example, to run Indian companies, but as they returned they literally developed a different way, partly similar but also a partly different way, of doing business. And thus they have taken the best of what we have to offer and brought forward three or four, we say four, additional ways to make things happen, which I think, at this point, we ought to reimport back here.

KM: This has been Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail.

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