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As India celebrates Parag Agrawal, Zoho’s Sridhar Vembu warns against "metrics obsession"

Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu said India has “specialised” in exporting its best test-taking talent that excels in competitive exams such as the IIT entrance test. This talent pool, he felt, does well in a system that is “too focused on metrics”.

December 01, 2021 / 10:53 AM IST
After Parag Agrawal was made Twitter CEO, Zoho's Sridhar Vembu warned against the focus on metrics culture.

After Parag Agrawal was made Twitter CEO, Zoho's Sridhar Vembu warned against the focus on metrics culture.


Parag Agrawal on Monday joined the growing power club of Indian-origin executives helming US-based global multinationals after he was appointed as the chief executive officer (CEO) of Twitter. And while that was a matter of cheer for Indians, many also cautioned about brain drain, where the best of the talent is leaving the country for better prospects abroad.

Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu today shared his insights into why so many American companies now have Indian-origin persons at the helm.

He used the analogy of “top soil erosion” in agriculture to point out why Indian students are doing well in the United States which apparently has lost its own "top soil”, or top talent, to talent from outside the country, or “imported top soil”, thanks to the country’s extreme focus on "measure and manage" culture.

“So many large US tech companies now have India-born CEOs that it is worth asking why. American agriculture as well as the corporate world suffer from ‘top soil erosion’, in the latter case replaced with imported top soil. Extreme focus on ‘measure and manage’ is the cause,” Vembu wrote in a Twitter thread.

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He said the “measure and manage" approach to corporate management destroys morale of employees and drastically increases their turnover. “It ends up overly focusing on things that are easy to measure (quarterly revenue and profit) and ignore difficult to measure aspects like org culture.”

Vembu said India has “specialised” in exporting its best test-taking talent that excels in competitive exams such as the IIT entrance test. This talent pool, he felt, does well in a system that is “too focused on metrics”.

Mumbai-born Parag Agrawal, 37, holds a PhD in computer science from Stanford University and a bachelor's degree in computer science and engineering from IIT-Bombay.

With the Twitter top job, Agrawal joins the league of India-born talent to be tapped to lead a major US tech firm, following the likes of Google-parent Alphabet's CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. While Shantanu Narayen is the CEO of Adobe, Arvind Krishna leads IBM. Nikesh Arora is the CEO and chairman of Palo Alto Networks.

“Now India itself has started to apply that metrics obsession in its own business world, brought to India by India-born management gurus who made it American business schools. The result is employee turn over and lack of morale, same as in the US. Time to think different (sic),” Vembu said.
Shylaja Varma
first published: Dec 1, 2021 10:20 am

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