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Desi Global “Out-Shiners”

Strong personalities with an indomitable winning spirit, they inspire their teams. Hardships, make them truly empathetic leaders, and kinder bosses, loved by their loyal staff.

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Muthu & Balu, in Jiangsu China running an Indian Roti stall, doing brisk business..

How often have you heard “I know this ordinary guy who made it so big!”? Malcolm Gladwell, coined the word “Outliers”- denoting the best and brightest, who succeed.  ‘Out-shiners’ - are ordinary people, who achieve extraordinary success. Such Desi folks are my  “Out-shiners” on the world stage. With average education from mofussil India, they end up making a mark abroad, and their host and home countries’ proud.  What is the magic at work here?

In  Russia, you find Desi boys who went there on scholarships to study.  During Glasnost era when Russia was just opening up,  they stuffed their bags full of Indian medicines  and sold them at a tidy profit .  Today, they are oligarchs in their own right, who own large pharma companies,  retail chains and fly their own private jets. Don’t be surprised if you  spot them with their beautiful Russian wives in Piccadilly or Manhattan.  Source code of their lives began in small towns of  – Punjab, Bihar or Tamilnadu.
Meet Habib, an Indian business tycoon, in Vientiane, Laos. A college drop-out from Assam built a multi-million dollar Agar Wood (niche perfume) global empire. He landed penniless in Vientiane,  as he ‘heard’ agar wood is found there.  This brave heart faced adversities, including mafias in a foreign land, and went on to become a global leader with an integrated supply chain. Today, he rubs shoulders with heads of state who visit the country, and transplanted the integrated model back home into Assam. He shared “I was on my way back from Dubai, I was hungry,  tired and penniless at the airport. A kind Sardar-ji  graciously bought me a hot meal. I wish could find him again, to repay my debt” he reminisced with such simplicity.

UK, is another country teeming with out-shiners.  An estimated 1.5 lakh Patels alone, outshine others.  In London,  Vijay an immaculately dressed man, drove me  in a  Jaguar XJ . I was impressed with his  clipped English accent ‘I run a transport co. I have a fleet of 50 luxury cars – Rolls-Royces,  Maseratis included ..’’. Excitedly he shared the roster of great celebrities of India, as his clients. A truly grounded Gujju, whose eyes are set on loftier  goals.

Vietnam, in the 90s witnessed a deluge of Indian pharma companies.  Street smart Indian medical reps, literally overnight, turned into successful Sales Managers. With their keen business acumen, they scaled up and today run large businesses. Many own Indian restaurants too, as a ‘side-business’ or for “weather proofing”.  These desi boys have integrated well into the Viet society with  local spouses cum business partners !!

I interviewed Anurag, to be based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who chose to speak in Hindi, for ‘better flow’ !  “Sir, I can sell anything ” . That  was a shocker of an opening sentence. “During college, I sold custom made papads, that my mother made”. His punch line left me in splits-  “Sir, give me anything – software, hardware or even underwear .. I can  sell it ” ! He was hired,  he spent few years, trampled few MBAs, and he decided to fly on his own. Today he is a top pharma distributor in Indo-China region. He diversified into a range of branded high tech cosmetics, sold across 35 countries, with manufacturing in India.  Many smart MBAs work for him and he has won awards galore.

Jiangsu, China is known for its mega ship building yards. Outside a mall, loud Tamil film music was blaring out.  Lo and behold – appears the ‘Indian Roti’ stall !  Young Chinese  were gyrating to the Tollywood music. The heroes -  Muthu & Balu from Tamilnadu, emerged. “We serve roti prathas with ‘fillings’ they like here, saar !” they said, doing brisk business. The story of how they got there, is matter enough for a thriller

Code-cutters  from South India, migrated into  US, and mushroomed into software shops. I found ‘out-shiners’ amongst commodity traders in Middle East,  owners of mining companies in Africa,  grape farmers and agri-businessmen in Australia and Canada. In Melbourne, I met this young Punjabi girl who coyly said “I came to study hair styling here.  I always loved ‘ishtyle’ even back home !”. She was setting up a saloon with her Indian boyfriend. Out-shiners drop anchor and make it big. The list is unending around the world.

There is a Bollywood movie script embedded in each outshiner’s saga.   What then are the secrets, behind their success ?

Stubborn Courage before all else. They are willing to take risks. Which translates to taking  a one-way ticket to a place they have not even seen on the atlas ! They gave  no fear of failure.  Their back stop -  “What difference does it makes anyway?” They fail and fall, but quickly dust it off, and rise from the ashes

Adapt , survive and push-on with no baggage or preconditions. They play with the local environment as if it were soft clay. They mould themselves into the local realities, mastering  the local language  and culture. No  strategy is cast in stone for them. Agile and fluid they shape it at every step.

Strong relationships – they build and invest in trust.  EQ overpowers their IQ. They know everyone  they need to, and build  powerful networkers. Display a ‘Jois-de Vivre’, having led interesting lives,  and have much to smile and celebrate. Cheerful and light hearted, make friends easily.

‘Talk vs Do’ 
– action oriented. They are not impaired by fancy analysis paralysis. There is little gap between what they ‘talk’ and ‘do’. Simple and  effective communication. No glib nor verbosity. You know clearly what they mean, when they speak. They are neither complex nor complicated.

Exude positivity – strong personalities with an indomitable winning spirit, they inspire  their teams. Hardships, make them truly empathetic leaders, and kinder bosses, loved by their loyal staff.

My  dear ‘desi global out-shiners’,  are no less achievers,  than the celebrated Indian CEOs of global corporations ! Long live this spirit of adventurous entrepreneurship, and don’t forget - lady luck too smiles on the brave.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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K V Rao

The author is Resident Director - ASEAN, Tata Sons

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