India needs local consulting firms to become a thought leader


Find out about the list of the best strategy consulting firms and the answer won’t change much across the world: McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Accenture, Arthur D Little, Deloitte, etc. Almost all of these companies, although global, are American in origin.

Are Americans Fundamentally Better Consultants? No. Consulting is a tertiary sector. Primary and secondary industries must grow to create the consulting industry. For most of the 20th century, the United States was the engine of global economic growth. This created the platform for American consulting firms to develop the experience, credentials and methodologies that they have effectively exported to other countries. American consulting firms are the missionaries of the American way of doing business on a global scale.

Extending this logic, given that India will be a key driver of global growth in the 21st century, shouldn’t there be a set of global consulting firms formed in India? Absoutely.

Is this trend already playing out? In some ways, yes. Almost all of the companies listed above are leveraging Indian talents to support their global engagements. McKinsey relies on its knowledge center based in Gurugram, Bain does the same with its capability network just like Accenture with its global network. Deloitte is recruiting consultants in Hyderabad to support its US offices in high-end consulting work. These American companies rely on thousands of India-based consultants to support engagements globally. In addition, thousands of Indian consultants work for these multinationals in international offices.

If American companies are already leveraging India for premium consulting services, why are Indian companies not taking the lead? The answer is complex: since the advent of globalization, its rules have been designed to favor the West, with India positioning itself as a source of “cheap” talent, even at the top of the range. International companies were quick to take advantage of Indian talents and cost benefits while Indian companies struggled to build against the tide.

Even the enduring success story of India, the IT service industry, is seen as a help desk at the CIO level, instead of a strategic service at the CEO level. This positioning has been difficult even for leaders such as Infosys, which have struggled to establish a competitive consulting practice on a global scale.

Are there any indications that this trend may change? Yes, we are seeing the convergence of a few critical change drivers. The Indian economy has grown to such a point that Indian businesses can gain the experience, credentials, and methodologies needed to be successful on a global scale. While digital technologies are an integral part of every business, Indian IT majors now have direct access, beyond the CIO, to the CEO and the board of directors. Indian talent in consulting, both in India and abroad, has reached critical mass. Access to top talent is no longer reserved for a few multinationals. Finally, covid-19 has dramatically reduced the demand for physical colocation for high-end consulting services. The advantage of co-located offices enjoyed by multinationals has shrunk considerably.

So what needs to happen to start at least five global consulting companies started in India? First, we need some Indian companies to expand their size and establish the business model. This will create a body of global case studies and sponsor clients needed to capitalize on this trend. This is exactly what we are trying to do at Auctus Advisors: more than half of our business is already global and we have sponsor clients in the US, Spain, UK, Brazil and the Philippines. Second, Indian consulting firms need to band together to form an advocacy platform like Nasscom (or maybe Nasscom needs to expand its mandate to include Indian strategy firms). Finally, while covid-19 may be the equivalent of the Y2K event that propelled Indian computing onto the world stage, we need someone to build and own this narrative, as Thomas Friedman did. for IT services with The World is Flat.

Strategy consulting firms may employ fewer numbers than IT departments, but the impact this industry can create is disproportionate. The soft power that a global consulting industry created in India can exert is essential to India’s overall competitiveness on the world stage. India needs its own consulting firms to reposition its economy from cost leader to thought leader.

The time has come for the global consulting companies established in India. Unfortunately, the window is short, and we have to build that narrative now. The competition will not wait.

Abhisek Mukherjee is co-founder and director, Auctus Advisors.

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