Fun over experience: India Inc likes its CEOs young

Lace up to the ladder.
Lace up to the ladder.
Image: Unsplash/Sweet Ice Cream Photography
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Indian companies are gradually moving towards younger leaders.

Between 2015 and 2016, there was a 10% decline in the average age of chief executives (CEOs) in the country, according to BTI Consultants, which specialises in executive search and management assessment. Around 60% of BTI’s Indian corporate clients are opting for CEOs under 50 years of age.

Companies are no longer looking for “tonnes of experience or…many achievements behind them,” James Agrawal, managing director of BTI Consultants, told Quartz.

India has one of the world’s youngest workforces. As of 2017, India’s population has a median age of only 27.3 years versus China’s 37.6 years and Japan’s 47.1. So CEOs closer in age to their teams might be more clued in to the latter’s workings, needs, and thoughts.

A young CEO tends to be “more hands-on… more fun-loving… more casual,” Agrawal said. “When you have a top man behaving and talking in your own language, a connect is very fast. You quickly feel part of the family. This helps (younger CEOs) manage their team well and drive results.”

This also suits the entrepreneurial boom in India, the world’s third-largest startup hub. Young entrepreneurs here often lead their own businesses. An average Indian technology entrepreneur is aged 28-29. By the time the venture gets funded, the founder is over 32, according to Delhi-based startup database, Xeler8.

Among Indian unicorns, e-commerce major Flipkart is headed by group CEO Binny Bansal (36), ride-hailing firm Ola is led by 32-year-old Bhavish Aggarwal, and India’s largest restaurant search portal, Zomato, is run by 34-year-old Deepinder Goyal.

However, the startup ecosystem is not inspiring everyone. Several industries focus on failures and, thus, wish to stay away from younger leaders.

“Traditional companies—manufacturing, industrial, infrastructure—still demand experienced CEOs,” Agrawal said. Considering nine in 10 startups in India shut shop, legacy companies tend to scrutinise young leaders for their propensity to fail, he added.

Stories like the rise and subsequent fall of Housing.com co-founder Rahul Yadav do little to bolster confidence.