The Indian Management Model

I am asking my readers – Have you heard about the Indian Management Model. If not, then why not? India has a rich history of baniyas (business community) who excelled in trade. India controlled one-third to one-fourth of the world wealth in the classical period (1AD to 1279 AD). So why do we not have Indian management principles?

Indian business schools and colleges teach management concepts formulated by Peter Drucker and Fredrick Taylor. Granted America had a dramatic and glorious history of business growth. However, presently the media headlines proclaim just one thing – American business environment sucks! Indians have made great strides in adopting the American money market principles but shouldn’t we stop and redefine them.

Indians managers may think it is not possible, but Bollywood has taught us it is possible. Yeah, Bollywood has chosen the best of both worlds. Aamir Khan’s Lagaan reached the Oscars with dirty dhoti clad Indians singing, dancing, and playing cricket. Even Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire had a song and dance sequence. Bollywood movies contain high-octane emotional drama, no-brainer jokes, head over heels in love stories, superman fight sequences, songs and dances. Bollywood adopted the Hollywood technology, marketing and financing strategy, and retained the cultural core of Indian cinema. It presented itself to the world in various award functions without attempting to incorporate Hollywood sensibilities and tastes. It is now so popular that even US dance reality shows have with Ballad and Hip Hop, Bollywood dance form.

We need to do the same with Indian management rather than blindly adopting western best practices. Below are some of my rather radical thoughts on how we can do it. Read it and tell me what you think.

1.     Holistic Business

The stupendous success of American capitalism in 20th century resulted in making the money market model popular. India initially after independence followed socialistic model but after liberalization in 1990s is foraying into hard-core capitalism.

Now, after witnessing the pitfalls American business concept is undergoing change. More and more people are questioning the basic premise that business is for profit alone. People are propagating that business has responsibility to all its stakeholders – investors, customers, employees, suppliers and society. It cannot profit while harming the society.

From ancient times, India propagated the concepts of holistic business. The stories in Indian history repeat the same message. A businessman is required to conduct business ethically and responsibly and has to give back to the society.  Unlike the west, Indian philosophy focuses on balanced life and not the concept that more is better.

Hence, while the west was struggling with high CEO salaries, until recently, India was not having this problem. The Indian CEOs salary increases have occurred in the last 6-7 years. While the western public is protesting against these high salaries, Indians are acquiring the bad habit. The Indian business leaders need to look what they are copying from the western world under the guise of management nuggets, best practices and benchmarks.

2.     Non-violent Competition

Once a friend remarked – “You quote Mahatma Gandhi and profess to be a follower of non-violence principles, but you are always fighting”.

I responded – “When was Gandhi ji not fighting? He fought the British Empire for half his life. He just did it non-violently. He based his fight on humane principles and values.”

We need to introduce the concept of non-violent competition in the business world. The financial crises in the west showed that cut throat completion, aka dog eat dog world results in organizations with dysfunctional cultures. The banking regulators’ reports prove it.

Indian principles of non-violence (ahimsa) state – “do not harm anyone”. It does not say – “do not excel”. Indian business leaders must focus on achieving great heights based on knowledge, ideas, innovation and strategy. They must not focus on running down their competitors through industrial espionage, illegal acts or negative publicity.

The same applies to Indian employees. Excel on merit and not by creating misfortunes for your colleagues.

One thought to keep is – Non-violence and success aren’t two mutually exclusive terms.

3.     Teach Ethics Through Indian Philosophy

When I started blogging, an American blogger gave me feedback on one of my articles – Buddhism in Corporate Life. He said that in US they don’t mix religion with business ethics. Though I understood his point, I couldn’t see how Indians could adopt it. In India, religion is entwined with Indian philosophy in every aspect of life. The values and attitudes of a country’s population define its culture.  We cannot segregate business ethics from the whole piece and teach it in isolation.

The pujas, fasts and festivals of various religions of Indian sub-continent would account for 300 days in a year. There is a moral story behind the folk tales of numerous gods and goddesses. The western world is now talking about “storytelling” to give messages and sell concepts. The Indian mythology did just that. Then why not use it to educate on business ethics?

Let me put it another way. How many Indians would know the Utilitarian Approach of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill or the Rights Approach of Immanuel Kant? My guess is less than 5%.

Now how many Indians have heard of the Hindu philosophy of Karma? My guess is more than 70%.

Which ethics philosophy would be easier to sell to Indians? The one they are familiar with, and connect at emotional and psychological level.

Unfortunately, in India political parties create a ruckus whenever Indian concepts are included in the school course syllabus stating it is favouring some religious group. They don’t object to the introduction of western concepts. We need to stop being apologetic about Indian heritage and proudly learn from it.

4.     Inclusive Workforce

The term “Diversity Management” sends one clear message – “You were not welcome and we are doing you a favour by inviting you”. It applies to women, LGBT group and minorities.

In the last few years, LGBT rights have taken centre stage in the western world. Let me touch a bit of Indian history.  The British in 1862, introduced section 377 of Indian Penal Code prohibiting homosexual activity as British soldiers had sex in the ships travelling to India.

d5c60e9c0c1f11e1abb01231381b65e3_7Before British rule, Indians accepted homosexuality without aversion. Homosexuals were not considered inferior or abnormal. In Hinduism context, every person has a masculine and feminine side and the percentages vary in each human. No one is completely male or female. Hence, some pictures depict gods in the conjoined half-male half-female form.

My guess after reading the Da Vinci code is that Christianity propagated the concept of women being inferior to men. Before the Moghul rule in India, Indian women enjoyed equal rights. Hindus pray to their gods along with their soul mates – Ram- Sita, Krishna- Radha, and Shiv-Parvati. Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati represent power, wealth and knowledge. Ramayana and Mahabharata, depict king Ravan and Dhuryodhan respectively, as evil for sexually harassing women.

Before the misrepresentation of caste system in India, a community was defined according to the nature of work they were doing. And not on basis of religious inferiority or superiority.

Hence, in India we need to go back to 1 AD to understand the concepts of inclusive society to develop standards for inclusive workforce.

5.     Social Communities and Soft Skills

The American social concept is that an individual’s needs are superior over family and society needs. However, the Indian concept propagates superiority of family and society needs over personal needs. With nuclear families in the last twenty years, Indian society is transitioning towards American concept, thinking it is better.

Though if you read the latest American management mantras, they talk about:

a)  Building relationships – Transactional relations do not work in the long run, hence the use and discard policy is losing ground. Indians work with business partners after building a relationship of trust and respect.

b) Collaboration and teamwork – Being able to work with teams is a key strength. Employees are rewarded for collaboration. Individual star performers no longer enjoy the prestige of the last decade. Indians work well in groups as they have numerous members in family to cater to and learn in childhood to meet different stakeholder interests.

c)   Service leadership – Arrogance, over-confidence and extravert behavior in leaders is rewarded in America. However, now service leadership or level 5 leaders are valued. Indian leaders, be it Gandhi or Nehru, were known for their humility and service leadership. 

Closing Thoughts

Indian civilization is one of the most ancient civilizations in the world with a very rich history. The Vedas, Arthshastras and various philosophical texts provide a vast reservoir of knowledge on life, business and society. Even Steve Jobs and Beatles got that. Indians needs to go back in time to understand those principles. While the west offers a lot of knowledge, it has been tested only for a century or so and fatal flaws are showing.

Adopting the western principles blindly is not the solution. One of the biggest risks is when a company copies or adopts something without evaluating the feasibility. It holds true for management models also. Choose the best of both worlds and devise a new management model suitable to India.

11 comments on “The Indian Management Model

  1. You are right. We are a confused lot. We have traded our principles for wealth. In the process are the wealthy happy. many of them have a sword hanging over their head always. No one know how one will be drawn in to mud slinging fest. Deadly political games are on. All for wealth creation. Inclusive growth must have been our mantra.

    One thing your article missed out is that Indians are emotionally strong people and are better equipped to take pressures.

    Incidentally, I posted a blog today. I invite you to read it.

    • Shashi,

      Thank you for sharing your views. I liked the way you have brought out aspects of leadership with Sri Krishna as an example.

      Actually, you are absolutely right. I wanted to put that Daniel Goleman’s views on emotional intelligence are something which have been taught in Ramayan and Mahabharat. Lots more to share, let me write more of the probject.


  2. Nice artile. The biggest issue that we have is that we cannot package our products and market it. We have everything in the country which others have only a part, but we pay $ to see it outside than our own.

    The other aspect, I feel, the issue is that we try to put everything with a religion wrapper. This creates a lot of opportunity for conflicts. We need to look at each aspect independently and understand. Then we can utilize these and create the Indian model that you have mentioned.

    Is there anything outside Geeta? In last couple of years we see there is a large number of books in various names on Chanakya Niti trying to bring relevance of that to present day business management.

    Nice reading Sonia. Thanks.

  3. Sonia,

    Very interesting initiative, but as always on the Dot. I have been researching various mythological/ historical characters with the help of some of my professor friends from BHU. Hanuman as a reluctant leader, Chanakya and Shri Krishna as strategists. Advisors taking a stand against the Kings. Not to forget, Panchtantra stories we all read in our childhood.

    Really enjoyed reading your perspective.


  4. I agree with everyone. The idea of business is for betterment of society. Profits are a reward society gives for the work done. The current scenario is exactly the reverse. Profit is the idea and betterment of society is a side-effect.

    At the same time, I believe that for society to grow, principles from other cultures are necessary. However, you can never transplant principles as-is into another culture. you risk confusing everything.

  5. India has and will always remain a multi-cultural society. Since time immemorial, India has lured and attracted people drawn to it for its spirituality, wealth, culture or knowledge. Indus Valley Civilization thrived in 3,000 BC and Vedic culture imbibed itself in Indian society by 1,500 BC. These were a set of rituals and tradition that were based on a common set of principles for the greater good of society as a whole.

    Temple was an important part of that society as a place to gather to pray, meet others, discuss important matters etc. Life revolved around the temple complex and worship of various deities. This was the earliest form of social networking and community bonding with both sharing and giving the norm unlike the ‘taking’ culture prevalent nowadays. The Vedas and Upanishads, the Puranas and Arthashastra comprise a collective body of knowledge containing ancient wisdom and achievements of Indians in every sphere of life, spiritual and material. I wish it was made compulsory teaching at school or college/university level for us to learn much about our own culture fro our ancestors who, over a time period of 5,000 years or more, saw much, learnt much, went through all trials and tribulations, flaws and imperfections, before composing a knowledge base that has withstood the test of time.

    So who all did enrich our society? The Greeks were in India and stayed on for a couple of centuries bringing in concepts of their hellenic tradition and fine arts. The Central Asian migration into India was epitomised by the Chinese who established the Kushan Empire in 1st Century AD and held triving relations with ancient Rome. The Sakas, a nomadic tribe, and Parthians (Pahlavas or Persians) also co-mingled with ethnic Indians. Later we have the Arabs, Turks and Mongols who between them established the various Sultanates and the Mughal Empire. Lastly we have the Europeans in India with the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British enriching our culture of society. With almost all the major global cultures, people, religion etc represented in India, is it small wonder that we adept and adopt easily and generally get along well with other cultures and nationality? It is imbibed in our psyche as part of our DNA.

    I agree with the view expressed by Sonia and with others who commented that like Shiva we need to open our dormant third eye and dive deep within our own selves and our past to obtain, clean and polish the nuggets of wisdom that is waiting to be discovered and applied to modern management concepts, principles and techniques.

    If interested, you can browse through the below Wiki link that I wrote as a brief executive overview of Indian art expressed through coinage as I am a collector and student of Indian history.

    • Mitresh,

      Thanks for sharing your views, and agree that India has over the ages so many cultural influences that it will be difficult to segregate and assess the intricacies of the behavior pattern.


  6. Absolulely, Indian have been in Trading for now centuries. Their lot of content available in languages, however they are now only thought in literature classes. I studied Tamil. Chola crossed seas and captured part of Malasiya and installed a king who will favourable to Business Interest of Chola kingdom. Guess what was that. Sea Trade between India and China. An example of controlling the supply chain. Likewise their should be lot of examples in vast country like India. Thirukural & Naladiyur speaks extensively about conduct of management not at a strict sense of business entites. However a lot about conduct of kings which can easily be applied to business situations as well. I have also read about the concepts Arthasathra which also speaks extensively about management. An effort should be made to understand the concepts not only of the abovesaid books. But also all similar books in all Indian languages. Their should be atleast one paper in MBA courses on Indian management. If we don’t speak about our management concepts who else will.

  7. Pingback: Participative Leadership Originated In 4 Century BC In India | Sonia Jaspal's RiskBoard

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