Shades of Resemblance

Shades of Resemblance

The complementarity of India and China is more interesting but less discussed than their differences

Through the two decades of fast and furious growth in both countries, much has been discussed and debated on the differences between India and China. From their own perspectives, both countries seem fully aware of their comparative strengths. In the past few years, I've had the opportunity to work in both, heading marketing/strategy, and I have found the complementarity of the two countries to be more interesting but less discussed.

The typical off-the-cuff view of Indians who have not spent time in China has been that while the Chinese are effective at execution, creativity and entrepreneurship is only an Indian trait. Similarly, the common view on India by the Chinese is that while people are bright, there is limited ability to follow through on execution and real value takes too long to create. When I was in my dual-country role, I would often be asked to explain "how the Chinese are good at execution and not creative"; I would explain that I disagreed with the premise and could not defend it.

In fact, I found the Chinese to be extremely creative, and their Indian counterparts often to be maniacally focused on driving execution and stand out with results that met global standards. The differences are more nuanced.

In customer interactions, I found the Chinese to be voraciously curious. The eagerness to know as much as possible and then pick and choose what to keep and what to discard in their own path to success was palpable. In India, I have found in customer meetings, there is an ability to connect socially, personally and professionally quickly. In my India interactions, there are less questions and more of an exchange of stories; I often received great advice and insights on. In my eight years across three companies in India, I have made many great friends in these meetings. The similarities are clear when business discussions take place - both sets of senior management are crystal clear on their needs and how it connects to the value proposition of products and services discussed; they can both cut to the chase and discern the commercial value of any proposal to the most detailed level - and this level of detail is even more granular as the seniority of the person increases.

The differences in team dynamics are interesting. My Chinese colleagues would want to know exactly what I wanted us to do - not always easy to answer when the team's role is strategy - and would bring back a first cut at the end deliverable quickly. That initial draft was sometimes off expectations, but got better at every fast iteration and was at 95 per cent there in a short period of time. My colleagues in India would debate and build consensus - a first draft deliverable would come much later, but would be closer to the final output, with less input.

I saw many more women leaders in China than in India, and I found it easier in many ways, to be a woman, than Indian, in doing business. Factory floors have almost 40-50 per cent women in many industries/companies. In my experience, there were far more single women who had chosen their careers over marriage and children, and almost every household had both spouses working. And I discovered an interesting facet that may be a factor in this. When reviewing resumes for the Deputy Chief Marketing Officer role reporting to me, I would ask HR if the candidates I was reviewing were men or women (basically to ensure I had a strong slate of diverse candidates). The answer I received surprised and delighted me - Chinese names are not gender specific, often. So many of the times, my colleagues could not tell me if I was reviewing a female or male candidate. It struck me at the time, that if we look at a resume in India, we can almost tell everything about the person - from gender to culture to religion. This is a different dynamic to celebrate - the incredible diversity that has given India much of the strengths it has.

I have always been bothered by the simplistic or overstated notions on the differences between India and China. Both are impressive countries and cultures with tremendous complementarity - the existence of both do a lot for the global stage.

The writer is a former executive at GE, Cisco and IBM