Is India's outsourcing leadership up to the task?

The tribulations that are putting top Indian executives to the test...

...the ability to work out a strategy to respond to change and build resources internally, he added.

In one well-recorded instance, at India's third-largest outsourcing firm, Wipro, leaders failed to anticipate change and alter direction. Wipro, like other top Indian outsourcing companies, earns the bulk of its export revenues from the financial services sector. Wipro chairman Azim Premji said the company's two co-CEOs did not anticipate the sector's quick rebound from the recession. The two were unceremoniously removed.

As client businesses alter dramatically, their expectations of their outsourcing partner are changing too. An unwavering customer focus, deep sector expertise and an understanding of how technology can impact customer business are essentials, Infosys CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan told Gopalakrishnan is moving to the co-chairman's role in July.

Companies sorely need leaders with charisma who can create opportunities, Gopalakrishnan said. At his company, co-founders long-time chairman Narayana Murthy and former CEO Nandan Nilekani were both industry poster boys and also recognisable brands who could open doors at Fortune 100 companies.

Growing anti-outsourcing sentiment

While these changes occur, outsourcing firms continue to service customers onshore in their main market in the US. But as an anti-outsourcing sentiment grows, India's outsourcing lobby group Nasscom says the Infosys visa troubles and recent immigration issues are all political hype to impede Indian outsourcers.

The immigration controversy highlights yet another failing of Indian outsourcing leaders - the lack of sophisticated communication. The political rhetoric could potentially tarnish big outsourcers' corporate governance image.

In the final analysis, India's outsourcing industry is showing the same shortage of top leadership talent as it is at the entry and mid levels. Whether CEOs or business unit heads, leaders at outsourcing firms have until now tended to grow from within organisations and have typically had engineering and technology backgrounds.

For their next phase of growth, Indian companies need top-rung leaders to think business strategy and value, and not just technology. And that might be the industry's biggest talent hunt yet.