Executive Search in India – 2021 Outlook

From Disruption to Transition

Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” Chinese poet Lao Tzu.

As the world was hit by the “Black Swan” event in the form of a pandemic, this prophetic phrase was often quoted.

The recession caused by Covid-19 has been the severest since the two world wars and the great depression of 1930’s. However, thanks to stimulus measures undertaken by all countries the global economy began recovery in mid-2020 but started losing steam as the virus struck back in the UK, the US, Europe and Japan. With the vaccine rollout starting from January across the world, a clear picture will emerge in next few months.

Because necessity is often the mother of invention, the pandemic could bring some positive outcomes. Individuals, communities, businesses, and governments are all learning new ways to connect. Businesses are finding faster, cheaper ways to operate. In-person conferences have gone virtual. Remote working has soared. These changes could make for better management and more flexible workforces

In terms of e-commerce, the pandemic has accelerated a change in shopping habits that was already well established.

The figures for telemedicine are just as striking. Teladoc Health, the largest independent U.S. telemedicine service, is adding thousands of doctors to its network, according to the Wall Street Journal. Sweden’s KRY International, one of Europe’s biggest telehealth providers, noted a 200% increase in registrations. France, South Korea, and the U.S. have all changed regulations to ease access to telemedicine.

As for automation, the robots were coming well before COVID-19.  These trends could accelerate. According to Mr Gopinathan, CEO of TCS, a global IT services company: “As technology is at the heart of solutions for the revival, the pandemic acted as a trigger for adoption and it put us on a new tech upcycle. We are seeing cloud as an integral part of this transformation journey across our customer base. This is only Horizon 1 of adoption. Horizon 2 and Horizon 3, where business benefits will be of an order of magnitude higher, are yet to unfold. That’s why we are optimistic.”

Robust GDP bounce back in 2021 for India

The IMF predicts a strong bounce back by the Indian Economy. GDP growth is forecast to be greater than 8% in each of the next two years. The World Bank is slightly more cautious, predicting growth recovery to 5.4 % in the second half of this year.

There are many data points feeding optimism and these include record FDI flows, IPOs, and stock indices. The waiting list for many popular car models has gone up between 2-6 months. Forex kitty is at an all time high at $ 580 billion. Recent transactions under the goods and services tax (GST) show that the economy is on a continued path of recovery with December collection at highest level. Gross leasing of office space in Oct-Dec 2020 reached 115% of quarterly average for 2019.

in 2020 India added 12 unicorns, (a privately held startup company with a value of over $1 billion), the highest in a single year, and more than 1,600 tech startups despite the adverse economic impact of the pandemic. The same NASSCOM- ZINNOV report says “India is on track to add more than 50 unicorns in 2021”

Drivers for Growth in India

According to Morgan Stanley, the cyclical growth strength is expected to be supported by a still accommodative monetary policy stance, recovery in external demand, and the government’s spending directed towards rural and infrastructure areas. A steady improvement in private sector demand is also likely as the coronavirus caseload gradually dissipates.

Emerging Trends- Executive Jobs and Leadership

After the pandemic induced hiring freeze in much of 2020, industry is firming up its hiring plans for 2021. Notable among the sectors that want to hire are IT, Healthcare, ecommerce & tech startups, educational services and banking, financial services & insurance (BFSI).

India’s auto industry is at the start of the next upcycle, and operating leverage gains, cost cutting and lower discounts will impact the auto market: Replacement demand alone can drive 2021 growth. The supportive financing environment of the $10 billion incentive under the production-linked incentive scheme will also assist this rebound. This Government support is also likely to have a positive impact on the Pharma and Tech sectors.

Consumers are expected to return to the stores and this will have a positive impact on the offline grocery market. A large chunk of the Indian population remains value-conscious, prefers the physical experience, and will revert to the offline mode of shopping.

Closing note:

We, at Cornerstone seized the opportunity of working from home and took several initiatives to expand and sharpen our service offerings especially in Executive Search, Employee Engagement, Board & Leadership Consulting and Executive Coaching. We have successfully transitioned to an automated tracking system. The benefits of this switchover will be visible in this calendar year as we progress with speed, accuracy and efficacy of client deliveries.

The market for leadership searches has reached more than 80% of last year’s level as of January 2020. As more sectors pick up we expect a surge in C-suite hiring and the numbers to increase. There is also a strong demand for Indian talent in many overseas markets including Europe, Asia, Middle East, Japan, Australia, Canada and the USA.

The “New Norms” are driving increasing needs for companies to be agile and resilient to stay competitive in 2021. Cornerstone is your trusted partner and we ensure rapid redeployment of scenario-specific workforce & talent solutions that create practical values & desired outcomes for you.


Contact the authors Vijay Karkare at vijay-karkare@cornerstone-group.com and Binay Kumar at binay-kumar@cornerstone-group.com

For information on Cornerstone’s executive search service in Bangalore, Gurgaon, New Delhi and Pune, visit Cornerstone Mumbai.