Home and away: Indians successful all around the world

Corporate America and Indian entrepreneurship have long proven a good fit, evidenced by high-profile stories of achievement. But recent events have India’s business community bullish that similar success can be found at home.
Indra Nooyi, chief executive of PepsiCo. Dario Pignatelli / Bloomberg
Indra Nooyi, chief executive of PepsiCo. Dario Pignatelli / Bloomberg

The United States has proved to be a country of huge opportunity for Indians to thrive in the business world, with an environment that allows their talents and entrepreneurship to flourish.

“I find that Indians are very successful in America,” says Atul Jain, 53, who was born in Kanpur in India and left for the United States at the age of 20 for a doctorate, with a plan to return to India and become a teacher and professor. He did not complete his studies but remained in the US.

In 1995 he set up a global software company, Teoco. The company, which is headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, now has annual revenues of US$150 million.

Mr Jain points out that Indians who leave their home country “are typically more aggressive, more driven, more educated. The people that are leaving are typically representing the higher end of society. The fact that those people are therefore more successful is natural. They’re in a foreign country, they’re striving hard.”

Indians’ command of English is another factor that helps them to excel in business in America, of course. But they also have a certain mindset that gives them an edge, Mr Jain says.

“I do believe that there’s a mentality and skill set that an Indian has that helps them,” he explains. “There’s a phrase in India which basically means ‘I’ll find a way of getting things done’, and that word is ‘jugaad’. That means: look, I don’t know exactly how, but I’ll find a way, there’s some way I’ll get to the goal that I have. That is a very Indian mindset – that you’re used to having obstacles, you’re used to not having a straight path. There are lot of successful Indians in part because they have each brought some talent and some drive and some creativity and maybe some jugaad.”

When he left India in the early 1980s, Mr Jain says that you did not even hear the word “entrepreneurship” in the subcontinent, and there were certainly more role models to be found in America.

“The ecosystem to be an entrepreneur is stronger in the US, even today,” he says. “It’s more how failure is embraced – to be an entrepreneur you have to be prepared to fail. People don’t look at a failed entrepreneur as a failure – they look at a failed entrepreneur as somebody who has learnt a lot and is probably going to be even more valuable as an employee or a future entrepreneur.”

A survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2012 revealed that the median annual household income of Indian Americans was $88,000 compared with the $49,800 median for the overall US population.

“Generally, when individuals feel they are getting opportunities to contribute to their areas of interest, earning better income and have a better standard of living, they consider themselves successful and these parameters are better met in developed countries,” says Minoo Dastur, the president and chief operating officer of Nihilent Technologies, an IT company based in Pune. “Typically, those qualified in areas in science and technology tend to look for better opportunities abroad, especially in the West.

“As for cultural differences, they do play but a smaller role in the flight of talent to other countries. Greater professionalism, encouragement to out-of-box thinking may still be redeeming factors for Indians looking to work or set up businesses abroad.”

But Mr Dastur points out that India also offers an array of opportunities for individuals’ talent to flourish.

“The belief that Indians have a better chance of succeeding abroad might not be entirely true, in my opinion,” he says. “This is because, India, as a rapidly developing nation provides numerous opportunities to grow in every imaginable field. Additionally, with the advent of the new government, there is hope of change in the business laws and the business environment getting friendlier for entrepreneurs. The business environment is definitely changing for the better. However, there is still a long way to go in terms of the laws getting more lenient towards entrepreneurs.”

Ninad Karpe is the chief executive and managing director of Aptech, an education and training firm based in Mumbai. He says that the US certainly once provided Indians with opportunities that were not found at home, but believes that the business landscape in India has evolved dramatically.

“In the past this has been true since America thrived on welcoming bright intellectual talent from across the world, across all faculties to its shore,” says Mr Karpe. “With the stability that the present election results bring to India, I believe, in future, India will be a far better place since it will have the best of both the worlds, family, social comfort and at the same time access to knowledge and capital. With respect to the present election results there is new optimism of accelerated growth leading to new opportunities. I believe Indians now have an equally good chance of succeeding in India.

“The world has changed in the last few years and presently in a knowledge-based economy, there are now no more territorial boundaries. Indians armed with deep-rooted cultural and societal wisdom, knowledge of the market and inherent entrepreneurial risk taking attitude are successful wherever they venture.”

Success in business never comes easily and different countries present different sets of challenges, other point out.

“Success in entrepreneurship is based on an individual,” says Umesh Rao, the founder and chief executive of Vector Projects, an interior services company, headquartered in Mumbai. “Be it in the Indian market or overseas, challenges are unavoidable … processes are more streamlined overseas, whereas labour is a lot more accessible in India. The key to success in entrepreneurship is on how you best utilise the advantages offered by the market you are operating in. Also, the ability to identify opportunities goes a long way in determining your success.”

Mr Jain says had he remained in India, his life would have been very different and he almost certainly would have completed his doctorate and become a teacher.

“In India, the peer pressure is too much and your adviser doesn’t leave you as much alone as they do in the US,” he explains. “Here I had a lot more freedom to goof off. In India that freedom to goof off is not quite there. I was going to be required to be far more disciplined.”

Asked whether he would ever return to India one day, Mr Jain says: “It’s unlikely … but I do think of someday giving up the material world, and if I do, for that purpose I would definitely return to India. Sometimes I think about just going to the Himalayas. All of us Indians love our country. I left 33 years ago and I hold a US passport, but if you were to ask me where I belong, I’m an Indian.”


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Published: May 24, 2014 04:00 AM


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