How Tata's Talent Development Keeps MBAs from Saying Goodbye to India

Last Updated Oct 27, 2007 7:36 PM EDT

Recently, this blog discussed a survey by IBM Global Human Capital that laid bare American companies' widespread insecurity in regard to their ability to groom future leaders. But if you think American companies have it bad trying to attract, retain and prepare top management talent, consider the challenges that face Indian firms, where MBAs annually trade their caps and gowns for plane tickets toward U.S. and European corporate headquarters. It takes an extraordinary effort for even the largest and most prestigious Indian firms to entice b-school grads to stay closer to home.

This is why only one Indian company, The Tata Group, cracked the Top Ten most respected firms in a recent AC Nielsen poll of MBA graduates. Tata gains the admiration of potential leaders through the strength of their 12-month intensive management-training program, called TAS, which has been in place for more than fifty years.

However, in recent years, with the pull of foreign firms draining more and more of India's top talent, Tata has made improvements to the decades-old program, a move that has paid off in increased interest from graduating MBAs.

One of the important findings of the previously mentioned IBM study was that more than a third of American companies have trouble moving potential leaders through various aspects of the business to give them a full, well-rounded view of its operations and the challenges therein. This is, of course, a challenge for companies all over the world.

Tata, to address this challenge, has restructured its program to send its management trainees through three distinct 15-week assignments in different aspects of their business (sales and marketing, manufacturing and operations, and corporate strategy, finance and human resources) in different locations around the country. They are then sent for 7 weeks to work in one of the company's rural locations to bring them a perspective on the lives of the people they will serve.

The rigorous 12-month program is followed by placement with an appropriate company in the Tata Group, pairing with a managerial mentor and guidance through a five-year development plan.

Tata also sends many of the young managers from the TAS program back to campuses to speak about their experiences and answer questions, giving potential applicants the perspective of someone who was in their shoes just months or years earlier.

But it's not just attracting top talent that's important, it's retaining it, and Tata has lessons for us in that facet of team building as well. Management is working to increase the percentage of in-house talent that is placed in the TAS program. The company also builds elaborate and carefully planned communities, called Tata Townships, around its offices and production facilities, providing their employees with good quality of life, so they can focus on building their career. If only more American boardrooms would take note.