India attracts white collar migrants

Randeep Ramesh

Shortage of local talent opens door for foreign executives.

THREE YEARS after rejecting the chance to work in India because it was too poor and chaotic, Andrew Levermore, a retail executive who had worked in South Africa and Britain, was persuaded by a powerful Mumbai business family to set up India's first western-style hypermarket.

"I came round when I saw their vision. They were dead serious and yes I had to make some lifestyle adjustments but [it was] too good an opportunity too miss. Of course the salary compared favourably with home." Now on the brink of rolling out another 28 stores, Mr. Levermore, 44, is convincing two more expats to leave jobs in the west and work in India.

Mr. Levermore is part of a new passage to India. As the economy booms, there is not enough talent to fill the expanding number of middle management positions and more Western expatriates are taking senior positions. Recruitment consultants say Indian workers are asking for so much foreigners are being "priced back in."

"It's happening very quickly now," says Kris Lakshmikanth, chief executive of Headhunters India. "We are seeing more than 15 per cent of management and skilled positions being filled by expats. In hotel management there's a step change required and we can only get that from abroad. In the airline industry, 50 per cent of pilots are foreign. A few years ago they made up just 5 per cent [of the workforce]." Salaries for chief executives have doubled in the past few years and now range from £125,000 to £600,000. Senior managers can expect £100,000 a year. The head of public relations at an Indian corporation earns £40,000.

Bharti Airtel, the country's biggest mobile operator, says foreign managers were once rare but are now as good value as Indian staff. Sunil Bharti Mittal, the company's founder, told reporters last month his company had begun to hire "expats who cost less than Indian managers."

The travails of living in the developing world appear to pale beside the money to be made there. Foreign companies are also importing their brightest and best to India. Cisco Systems, the U.S. technology giant, transferred seven top managers to its Bangalore office this year. The head of Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever in the country is a South African. The boss of Goldman Sachs is an American.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007

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