Doing Business in South Asia: A Conversation by the Penn South Asia Center on behalf of Current Penn Undergraduates
Today we are speaking with Laurent Demortier, previous Managing Director and CEO for Crompton Greaves Ltd. He earned a Masters of Business Administration from the Wharton School in 1990.
You have had a very eventful career in the business world that has involved extensive travel in Asia. Can you begin by telling us about your current position?
Actually, in April  I just stepped down from the position I've held since 2011 as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Mumbai-based multinational Crompton Greaves. The Company's business focuses on designing, manufacturing and marketing equipment involved in all of the phases-meaning, generation, transmission, and distribution- of power supply. So it is a big player in the electricity grid, the provision of business-to-business transmission services, and a key provider of equipment to big state utilities. While based in Mumbai as the CEO, I was handling some 47 factories Crompton Greaves has around the world, including in the United States and up in Canada.
Crompton Greaves is a significant player in the power sector and a prominent company on the Bombay Stock Exchange. So it was actually a company I was first trying to buy, rather than work for! When it became clear in the course of my purchase attempts that it would not be for sale, the then existing CEO asked me to instead come lead its management.
Can you tell us more about your background? How did you develop your interest in international business and how did you get to Wharton?
I'm originally from Southwestern France, from the Provence region. I come from a family of modest means that during my childhood, like so many in France at the time, was still dealing with the destruction wrought by the Second World War. I think from an early age [this] gave me a desire to travel and experience other places. [The] sense of wanderlust also informed my decision about ten years later, at the age of 28, to come back to the U.S. for my MBA. However, at that point I was not coming just for a trip.
How were your years at Wharton? Looking back, what do you value most about your time there?
To me, everything was valuable. The best part of those years, in fact, was that they laid the basis for me to have a lifelong relationship to Wharton that has continued in all the time since and through interactions that have only intensified as an alumnus. For example, having lived in Mumbai the last number of years, there were always a lot of professors from the university visiting the city, creating the opportunity for a continuous learning process.
In light of your experience working both in Mumbai and elsewhere in India and Asia more generally, what are your thoughts about the importance of being culturally and historically aware about the society one is doing business in? And do you have any further advice for current students in light of that experience?
[Cultural and Historical awareness] is critical. We should always remember that societies are complex and it is impossibly hard to know everything about them. But ignoring what you do not or cannot fully know is not an option. To those at Wharton who may have strong expectations about their summer internships, I would say that they should take some time to work on the ground in a place like India where those expectations will have to be re-calibrated. It is worth realizing the worth of forgetting one's assumed standards and remembering that there are few opportunities like the ones you are afforded as a student to fully immerse yourself in a business culture that you are otherwise not familiar with. It will be difficult but worth it in the long run.
For a transcript of the full conversation, please click on the following link: Laurent Demortier-Full Profile-Final.pdf