It shouldn't be difficult to feel at home in your own country. With that thought, many professionals are moving back to India, hoping to be part of its growth story. Sure, there are problems: traffic gets into a gridlock and there are frequent power-cuts, but they consider these a small price for the comfort of being home.
But that's where the pipe dream ends. A few years in the country and these desis have done an about turn and are packing their bags to leave the country for good. Soum Mukherjee, marketing head for Dell, left for Singapore last week. Keerthi Kuppam moved back to the US within a year of her stay in India. University of Michigan professor Rajiv Gupta held on to his consulting business for two years before calling it quits and Anil Singhal, a design engineer, left after his research firm failed to deliver a single product in two years.
Their reasons are all valid and well thought out: "Lack of work culture, no time consciousness, ancient teaching methods in schools and a certain bias against people who have had global experience especially in companies that don't have global presence," says Soum, a graduate from Kellogs Business School. "It didn't matter who I was, what mattered was who I knew," he adds.
And if professional adjustment is hard, it's harder for the family. For Keerthi Kuppam, the initial excitement of her ancestral home being just seven hours drive from Bangalore soon gave way to disillusionment. "The first thing that struck me was the traffic. Just unbelievable. It took us forever to get to any place so we hardly went out," says the mother of two children. There is no end to her list of complaints: "People don't respect your time at all — nobody shows up on time, be it maids, drivers, vendors or contractors. Then, dependency factor is so high in India, we are at the mercy of the help to get work done and have to wait for them, whether we like it or not," she says. Keerthi missed her independent US lifestyle so much that within a year, her husband moved her back to the US on personal cost even as he continued with his India assignment.
Soum's family had it no better. For a year and half, they had to buy cooking gas from the black market and he could never quite manage an India driving license. Conversely, in Singapore, it took him fewer than six hours (travel included) to feel at home: gas connection, permanent phone line, driving license and school admission all accounted for. However, Soum is quick to add that he decided to shift because he could not adjust to the work culture. "India is not a place for mid-level professionals. You can't implement changes, your suggestions are not taken seriously. In that sense it's a good place to come back as CEO," he says.
If expat managers find breaking the glass ceiling difficult, engineers feel India is not the place for real techies. Shailendra Singh moved back to the UK a few months ago for the love of his job. "In India you only do actual technical work in the first few years, after which you're moved to the so called 'managerial' role. The degree may vary but on the whole, as techies you're half-baked and as managers, you're a disaster," says the IIT Kanpur alumnus.
Shailendra was working with a start-up in California, before moving to Delhi. Being close to home was great but he found himself wondering if it was the right decision for his career. After moving several jobs, he was convinced of the lack of emphasis on innovation in the country and thought it wise to move back.
Anil Singhal couldn't agree more. He was given a hard time by the engineers he hired for his research start-up in Delhi. Despite lucrative salaries, the engineers he got were rookies who had no grounding in research. Anil spent a good part of his investment on training but it still wasn't enough to get his company started. "Indian culture does not support research. Everything was a roadblock for my employees — they just didn't know how to go beyond a problem," says Anil, who is back in the US after having lost all his savings.
A textbook approach towards education was pretty much why Keerthi ensured that her children were back in the US at the earliest. "Everything here is by rote. It would have been okay 10 years ago but not in the present globalized world," adds Soum, who moved into the country because he wanted his children to grow up in Indian culture, but found the public schools here disappointing and to put his children in an international school would have defeated the whole purpose of moving back in the first place.
It's not that those returning weren't aware of the problems. Many of them frequently visited the country on business trips and had seen the power, water and traffic situation first hand but they took those to be signs of a country in momentum. However, as Soum puts it, "We can put up with infrastructure and power cuts, after all most of us have grown up here and went to school and colleges here. It's the lack of professional support that's most difficult to adjust with."
Companies too think twice before hiring someone who has spent 10-15 years abroad. "We wouldn't be comfortable hiring them for a position that doesn't have global dimensions. If an NRI stays on in an Indian company, it's only because of a compelling family issue," says K Sudarshan, managing partner of EMA Partners International, an executive search firm. For those considering moving to Indian companies, Sudarshan has a word of advice, "Cultural adjustments are going to be hard but if you can get over the initial hiccups, it could be a fascinating journey."
6 months ago