Economic Crisis Casts Shadow on Indian Corp Leaders Abroad

New Delhi
Economic Crisis Casts Shadow on Indian Corp Leaders Abroad

They were the faces of 'India shining' abroad till the financial turmoil left them scarred. The image of Indian-origin heads of Global Inc is now anything between messiah and the architect of a greater mess.

Across boardrooms spread over diverse sectors including financial services, funds steering houses, telecom, et al, the presence of Indian-origin leaders went in for a change in 2008 with calls in subdued tone for removal of Vikram Pandit, who was brought in to set troubled Citigroup's house in order and the exit of the legendary boss of Vodafone Arun Sarin.

Others like Neel Kashkari emerged on the big stage.

The raging credit crunch saw many of them embarking on a cost-cutting spree, while people such as steel czar Lakshmi Mittal saw their wealth melt away. One of the world's wealthiest man, the India-origin chief of ArcelorMittal saw billions of dollars dwindle even as he was pushed to the second place in the Forbes list of 40 richest Indians.

Apart from the likes of Pandits, Kashkaris and Mittals, the likes of Pepsico Chief Indra Nooyi, former Vodafone boss Arun Sarin, Motorala Co-Head Sanjay Jha, steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal and Cisco's technology boss Padmasree Warrior are eagerly watched if not forgotten.

Chennai-born Nooyi continues to retain her place among the most powerful business women while Sanjay Jha has been entrusted with the responsibility to turn around Motorola which is fast losing its market dominance.

He might be out of the hustle and bustle of corporate life, but Sarin is still in news, with his name cropping up for the post of Yahoo! CEO. An influential person in the Silicon Valley, Padmashree warrior is the technology chief at networking major Cisco and is working on various aspects of unified communication.

 Thanks to the ravaging financial turbulence, Pandit could well be described as the most visible India-origin face for receiving bouquets and brickbats in equal measure. As mounting losses and stunning layoffs pushed Citi into the verge of collapse, the 51-year-old chief even found his seat under threat.

But as luck would have it, the Federal government threw a more than 300-billion dollar worth lifeline to the battered entity.

This time, the India-origin Chief emerged much stronger at least for the moment with many a Western media paying accolades to Pandit.

However, recently American magazine Conde Naste Portfolio in its power league had placed Pandit in the category of those whose influence is sliding. In October, just days after the US Federal government unveiled the mammoth 700-billion dollar rescue plan, Kashkari was handed over the reins of the programme, on an interim basis.

Initial optimism over the plan has evaporated and now fingers are being pointed out at Treasury and Kashkari for not utilising the funds properly. With just weeks left before the regime change takes place at the White House, the Interim Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability's moves would be closely watched as that of the fund spending.

However, this year has literally seen the fall of Mittal. Not just declining wealth but also his sprawling steel empire ArcelorMittal swiftly moved to announce job cuts, to cope with falling demand for steel and deepening credit turmoil.

On the other end of the spectrum, 52-year-old Nooyi is considered one of the most successful CEOs on the Wall Street. The queen of Cola is steering expense minimising initiatives including job cuts.

Fortune magazine while ranking Nooyi at the top in '50 Most Powerful Women' list, said, the chief has moved swiftly to offset slowing beverage sales in North America by expanding the international business. "She is also pushing healthier products like orange juice with omega-3 fatty acids."

Arun Sarin might have stepped down as the Chief of British telecom major Vodafone but the 54-year-old is looked up to his next move. Speculations even suggest Sarin is considered for the top post of internet major Yahoo!

As companies worldwide are exploring way of minimising expenses, Sanjay Jha, a telecom industry veteran is just leading by example. The Motorola co-CEO has decided to take a 25 per cent cut in compensation while the company has decided to permanently freeze its US pension plans by March.

Going by a recent company statement, the India-origin chief's employment contract provides for a guaranteed cash bonus for this year. However, his bonus would be voluntarily reduced by an amount equal to that of other co-Chief Greg Brown's forfeited bonus whereas the remainder would be taken in the form of restricted stock units.

"The sustained downturn in the global economy requires that we take these difficult but necessary steps," Greg Brown and Sanjay Jha said in a statement.

In the case of Padmasree Warrior who spent a major part of her career at Motorola, the focus is mainly on unified communication technology, which is estimated to be worth 34 billion dollars. "I have come to accept that if in getting noticed I can provide the role of being a mentor and a role model to other women, to other people that are of ethnic minorities, I would love to do that," Warrior recently told BBC in an interview.

And the statement rings true for rest of the India-origin executives in the New Year.

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