Many will have watched this recent ad introducing the Mia jewellery brand for working women from Tanishq. It opens with a young woman in a hurry to get to a business presentation. A senior colleague suggests she remove a bright piece of jewellery she is wearing, as it might distract from what she would be saying in the pitch she will be making. The next sequence shows the young woman confidently winning the pitch - with her piece of jewellery still on.
The ad asserts the dominant mood among young achievers today - they want to win, but they intend to do so in their own way. It is the underlying mood of most of those featured in the pages that follow - Business Todays eighth annual listing of Indias hottest executives under 40. Incidentally, two of these executives - Arun Iyer and Gaurav Bhuwan - were responsible for the Mia ad.
It was not easy zeroing in on these 25 people. There are young Indian achievers galore, given our countrys demographic dividend, but selection was difficult. We sat down with a list of over 100 likely names with our panellists - Sonal Agrawal, Managing Partner, Accord Group; Deepak Gupta, Chairman - India, DHR International; K. Sudarshan, Regional Managing Partner - Asia, EMA Partners International; Lakshmi Narasimhan, Associate Director, RGF Executive Search; and Purvi Sheth, CEO, Shilputsi Consultants. Discussions were animated as we gradually pruned the list down to the number we wanted.
Why was selection tough? First, there are our hygiene checks. Those chosen have to be professionals, working for some company, not entrepreneurs. They have to be completely free of the taint of nepotism - without any blood link to the founders of the company they work for.
Further they have to be men and women with proven track records, those who had spent at least a year in the positions they were holding. Nor do we feature otherwise bright sparks whose companies are floundering. Finally, we usually do not repeat names which have figured in the same list in previous years.
Second, the economic slowdown has made it difficult for executives to shine. "It has been marginally harder to identify the hottest young executives who have really stood out in the past year, more so, given the slight preference for relatively mature managers and the challenges of the economy," says Agrawal of Accord. Agrawal, along with Sheth of Shilputsi has been a regular on our selection panel since 2004, when we started featuring this list.
Third, the attitude of some companies made choosing difficult too. Companies often do not allow their best young people to be featured. This time round, for instance, we were unable to reach out to some people we would have liked to - Amrita Paddha, General Manager, Human Resources, Hindustan Unilever; Achin Gupta, Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals; Madhur Deora, Managing Director, India Investment Banking, Citigroup; and Mahesh Narang, Chief Operating Officer, Cummins India.
Even so, the list is a fair pointer to the trends among our successful young professionals. How these professionals hunger for experience and challenges. How they focus and multi-task. How most have awe inspiring qualifications. How, in many cases, their companies helped them shine. Final words: much as we admire champions, we adore prodigies.