Home > Careers, Global Matters, India, Life, Venture Capital / Private Equity > India as a career move: winter 2010 edition

India as a career move: winter 2010 edition

December and January bring a set of seasonal visitors to India every year.   The lovely weather, school holidays in the US and Europe, and the general stupor that sets in on businesses in the West between Dec 20th and January 4th give them the perfect window to spend some time with family, friends, spiritual gurus or touristic pursuits here.    The prolonged recession, unemployment, under-employment, unmet bonus expectations, a general sense that pastures are greener in India, and a myriad other factors have added career option exploration to their list of reasons to visit India.

I have over the past few weeks had several conversations with this season’s guests and most of their questions were very similar.  My answers (which are a mix of recounting experiences and expressing biased opinions) were often repeated over the past few weeks over inter-continental phone lines and over cocktails and cups of coffee.  These may be useful to others mulling a move to India so I reproduce some of my thoughts on the topic here.  Some of these are controversial, especially with my local friends, but then again, these are my experiences and opinions based on my own peculiar sensitivities.

  1. What is it like to be (back) in India? The answer is best served in two large parts:
    • Professional life is fabulous.
      • Intellectual stimulation: For the most part, you are dealing with very smart, articulate colleagues and counterparts at other firms.  This is more true at senior levels than at junior levels but on average I think professional life compares well if not favorably to the US/UK/Canada.     However, talent quality tapers off very quickly as you head lower in organizations.
      • Rising tide: There is the sheen of a booming economy growing at over 7% (and likely to accelerate) that makes working here more attractive.   There can be small short-term setbacks to this to the extent that the agrarian components of GDP are sensitive to the amount of rain the hinterlands receive and the country as a whole is subject to some geo-political and security risks.  However, growth is real and all my research indicates that the fundamentals underlying this growth are solid.
      • Quality of life at work:   Support staff at most firms for senior executives is excellent.   Business travel is easy and service providers like hotels, airlines and ground transportation are some of the best in the world.  Yes, traffic and pollution can dampen your energy levels but there are good workarounds.
    • Your mileage will vary for personal life depending on your circumstances and your tastes.
      • It can be “awesome” for singles: relatively cheap household help means you will not do your own laundry or cook your own meals or drive your own car again.  However, you get what you pay for in terms of quality of services provided.
      • It is  “challenging” for families with kids  (an earlier post on this particular topic explores the details of why).
      • Nightlife, entertainment, fashion and general lifestyle considerations are less of an issue  as the larger cities have world-class offerings (albeit limited in number and at unreasonably high price premiums).  And yes, you will miss New York and London and San Francisco but there is enough here to keep you going.
      • Indian food in all its many regional variants is incredible – so watch your weight!   Other cuisines are accessible but prices are astronomical even when the delivery is largely below expectations.
  2. What are my career options? India has  a large pool of qualified and competent professionals and their cost structures and motivations are very different from those looking to move here.   Expats and “repats” generally find themselves in a few select careers, outside of which it is very hard to justify hiring someone who lacks local experiences or context.   I would put your options in four buckets:
    • Operating roles in senior management where your experience is valued: e.g. CEOs  and VPs at telecom carriers, country heads for consumer brands, etc.   India, Inc. has grown to express global aspirations as seen in Tata’s acquisition of the Jaguar and Land Rover marks, their acquisition of Corus and Reliance’s forays into Hollywood production studios.  Indian companies now seek world-class management as domestic markets mature and international opportunities beckon.
    • Specialized skills where local supply cannot meet demand:  some examples are expat pilots who have helped airlines deal with cyclicality in air traffic, and actuaries who are filling in for the shortage of the skills required to support India’s fast expanding insurance industry .
    • Financial services, capital markets, and deal making: the country has seen record foreign investment inflows and investors have preferred to channel their interests through professionals who are either based abroad or trained abroad.    A few domestic firms have grown well but there seems to be clear dichotomy of domestic and foreign players in banking, insurance, private equity, etc.  The big-4 accounting firms are the same here as in the west.  Likewise for top-tier consulting firms.   Notable exceptions are law firms where local firms are protected by law :-)
    • Entrepreneurship: yes several returnees and expats have floated their own businesses.  If you have the stomach for entrepreneurship anywhere, this is one of the best places to give it a shot.  However, the Indian market is very different so do your research and plan your business accordingly.
    • Bollywood:  I am not kidding – a lot of expats and repats find themselves in the most prolific film industry in the world (albeit not by value).
  3. How much can I expect to get paid here? Tough question to answer generally but if the fit is good, at senior levels, you can make comparable package to the US/UK  and on a PPP basis, you should be able to do better.  But it is not easy to find these opportunities.   The best option is to move with your current employer on a so-called “expat assignment.”
  4. Any gotchas? Yes, several:
    • Real estate is much more expensive than you would imagine and is much worse in quality than you would imagine.
    • Your compensation may be taxed in both your home country and here, but in many cases there exist tax treaties such that you pay only in one place.    Tax calendars are out of sync as India’s fiscal year ends in March.   This creates filing issues but these can be managed.
    • Recent visa restrictions due to security considerations make life slightly difficult for getting employment visas and also free movement in/out of the country.  This should be resolved soon as the government is examining the tradeoff between security and introducing friction in tourism and the economy in general.
  5. What about private equity/ venture capital/investment banking/consulting specifically? *sigh*…
    • Private Equity / Growth Equity:  2006 and 2007 saw the formation of many new funds and that had created many career opportunities.  Deal making was at a frenzied pace well into mid 2008.  Since the recession hit the US and Europe and limited partners were reticent at best to continue investing anywhere,  several funds cancelled expansion plans and some were shuttered.  Deal activity slowed to a trickle by Dec 2008 and has still not picked up steam.   VC funds (early stage) are few and there have been no major new funds created recently.    The result is that the VC/PE job market  is now tepid compared to the frothy days of 2007.
    • Operating partner roles at VC/PE funds:  The model adopted by large buyout funds in developed markets has generally not worked well in India.   There have been few large deals which makes a stable of operating partners unwieldy to maintain.   Most funds rely more on consultants rather than operating partners on staff.
    • Investment Banking: The larger ecosystem of investment bankers has also seen their fortunes ebb in  late 2008 and a good part of 2009.   Towards the second half of last year, Indian corporations started getting aggressive with cross-border acquisitions and have provided succour to many an i-bank.   The capital markets have recovered smartly in 2009 so the merchant bankers are also beginning to look healthy.
    • Consulting:  I do not have a lot of real data but cocktail party conversations indicate that consulting is recovering well as of the last quarter of 2009.

Interestingly, over the past few weeks I have anecdotally heard about a significant revival in New York, London and several European cities.  Especially in banking and consulting, the news is very heartening.   I expect some of the interest in career moves to India to dwindle, but for many, the allure of long-term growth based on strong fundamentals will continue to draw them to these shores.

[Please submit your comments on the main blog if you can instead of locally on Facebook or LinkedIn]

  1. Anshul D
    May 30, 2010 at 3:18 am

    To the author –

    Thank you very much for such an insightful article. I am an Indian expat, current pursuing my MBA here in the US. I have long contemplated my option to move to India, but fear the consequences of doing so based on observation and feeling, which is speculative at best. I too have been feeling recently that Indian fundamentals, from a professional standpoint, have become comparatively stronger and are more sustainable in the long run.

    I enjoyed the structure you added to my thoughts with your article. It also helps to hear from someone who is speaking out of experience.

    Great blogging!


    • Shyam Kamadolli
      May 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm

      Anshul – thanks for your note. I am hoping I get others to contribute their experiences as well since there is no good resource for those making/contemplating the transition.

  2. Anonymous
    September 24, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    email subscription

    • Shyam Kamadolli
      November 18, 2012 at 12:41 am

      Please note that I have now moved my blog to blog.kamadolli.com.

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