What motivates an Indian middle class

Young Indians: Traditional career

Philipp von Sahr, BMW boss in India, lives in the midst of Generation Y. 80 Indian employees work at his corporate headquarters in the Delhier suburb of Gurgaon, almost all of them around thirty. "You are highly motivated, extremely resilient and work late into the night," says von Sahr. When he goes home at seven in the evening, they'll order a pizza and go back to work, the manager says. That is exactly what worries him: his Indian employees work a lot, but they are not creative at it, says von Sahr. They are extremely obedient but unable to make their own decisions. And they humanly withered in the workplace because they neither looked after their health nor cultivated social relationships outside of the company. What is meant is: Many are too fat and cannot find a life partner.

Von Sahr has now decided to do something about it. "For my employees, BMW has come first, second and third. Now we have developed a program for them in which health comes first, family comes second and BMW comes third," explains von Sahr. This is not fun. The BMW boss wants to make the Indians fit to "make quick decisions worldwide". Employees at BMW should be able to do that.

What the German intends to do with the Indians is tantamount to a cultural revolution. Because despite all the zeal, India's Generation Y is still quite dependent. "I have to ask my father first," said a capable young employee to von Sahr, when he wanted to promote her to assistant.

Dad helps determine the career

"Fathers and families still play an important role in children's career decisions," observes Chandan Chattaraj, HR manager at Indian packaging giant Uflex. This then resulted in more traditional career ideas. "Generation Y in India is driven by a strong desire to climb the company ladder and to be with a company that increases its self-image," Chattaraj analyzes in HR jargon. Guido Christ, the managing director of the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce in Delhi, puts it differently: "It depends on the pride of the fathers!"

Traditional obedience among Generation Y elites in India is inherent in the education system. There is enormous competitive pressure in the country's elite schools. Many families invest a fortune in educating their children. In return, they expect measurable success, which should later be reflected in salary and status. "The children do not even notice how much they are programmed," analyzes Ganesh Shermon, HR consultant at the international auditing company KPMG. He therefore warns international companies against the Indian Generation Y. "The young are looking for quick money, corrupt politicians show them how to do it. Only those who have studied in the West understand something about long-term planning and innovative thinking," says Shermon.

The criticism goes on. Sociologist Ravi Sundaram from the Delhier Study Center for Development Societies (CSDS) describes the well-educated, working Generation Y in his country as "intellectually dead". Sundaram believes that only those who look at the lower social classes, where the self-employed with new ideas prevail in the Indian chaos, will find innovative and creative thinking among the younger ones. The competition from other countries may be reassuring. BMW boss von Sahr believes that Indians are available as "very good, resilient specialists" - but nothing more than that.