In 1997, the story of M. Douglas Ivester at Coca-Cola taught us a valuable lesson about the importance of succession planning. Ivester, the CFO of Coke, was the protégé of longtime CEO Robert Goizueta. When Goizueta passed away, the board appointed Ivester to take his place. This seemed like the right choice but what they missed out on was even though Ivester was skillful as a CFO, he did not have the leadership skills to lead a company. In just two years, he had a product contamination crisis and a plunging share price at hand, forcing him to step down.
This is a cautionary tale for companies hiring for C-suite roles. It is not enough that someone has spent time in a company or is good at their job, a successful leadership pipeline requires intrapreneurial leadership. The ability to be able to manage people while encouraging them to scale new heights of innovation and growth. In simple words, someone who can move mountains and hearts.
That’s why succession planning is crucial to any organization’s long-term health. But yet most remain ill-prepared and Global Capability Centers (GCCs) are no exception. Although India today has evolved beyond its initial reputation of cost arbitrage to skill arbitrage, and now leadership arbitrage – GCC leaders find themselves stuck in a Sisyphean struggle with building leadership. This article sheds light on this struggle and what GCC leaders need to do today to build a solid succession pipeline for tomorrow.
Before we dive deeper, it’s important to see how far the ecosystem has come. Global roles in Indian GCCs have grown from 115+ to 5,000+ across various business functions since 2015. By 2030, this number is projected to grow 4X to reach 20,000* due to the integration of digital technologies across several industry verticals. Only a few other countries can boast of having as many highly experienced leaders as India. Moreover, there are over 1600 GCCs in India today, and ~42% of global headquarters drive end-to-end business solutions from India.
A recent article in the Times of India featured how India is fast becoming the epicenter of global leadership. Commenting on this, Pari Natarajan, CEO, of Zinnov, said,
“This transformation is due to the maturing capabilities of India’s centers of excellence and how technology has enabled deeper data-driven customer insights.”
While we have a rise in global roles from India, the GCC leaders who have cracked the code of global leadership have largely done so through individual brilliance. This leads to a Sisyphean struggle where a few leaders are pushing the proverbial boulder up the hill but without a collaborative effort, this task is fruitless. With the dawn of a new day, leaders are starting from scratch, again, especially when the India GCC or global leader changes roles.
To defend their seat at the helm and sustain their leadership arbitrage, Indian GCC heads must double down on paying it forward. They need to constantly invest in building a succession planning strategy. But how?
“Leaders must actively champion the development of at least three layers beneath them.”Mohandoss Thulasidoss, Zinnov Senior Advisor
In this playbook, we explore how leaders can build more global roles from India through succession planning. The process starts with a simple ‘What are we trying to solve?’ and making your way to ‘How will we do it?’ Unilever’s Future Leaders Programme is a great example of this. The program is built to enable individuals to lead their teams amidst disruptions and fast-changing environments in the post-pandemic era. In these 2-4 years of accelerated development, individuals are given senior leader mentorship and are regularly assessed on their strategic thinking, innovation, and cross-cultural skills. Those who need help are assigned coaches and put through training. They are also allowed to expand their network within the organization, which also in turn increases their visibility at the headquarters.
The idea is to select emerging leaders, which can be individual contributors or managers with transferable skills who can take one more responsibility, and then train them to be ready to lead the way through the disruptions of today and tomorrow.
While some companies have built strong leadership pipelines, far too few have done so. Many GCC leaders who have achieved global leadership roles did so through personal drive alone. This ad-hoc approach often fizzles out when those leaders move on, resetting progress back to square one. So, to build a disruption-proof leadership pipeline, GCC leaders must grasp 4 vital enablers: understanding talent, mapping succession plans, measuring intrapreneurship, and building techno-business skills. And all this, with the organization’s maturity as the underpinning foundation.