October 30, 2008

Case Western Reserve junior studies American corporate culture at Target India

Nina Sreshta applied business anthropology theory to Target's satellite in Bangalore on Experiential Fellowship

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An anthropology major, Nina Sreshta sought to use the emerging field of business anthropology to help in understanding how the American work culture translates in an international business environment across borders into different countries. She chose to focus on one of America's largest retail companies, Target, and to view how its corporate philosophy and operational means were carried out half a world away.

The Case Western Reserve University junior, who grew up and resides in the Cleveland area, has already seen a lot of the world. She counts India, Costa Rica, Paris, Kenya, South Africa and Mexico among her visited locales. And she's seen American companies-turned-multinational corporations (MNC), like McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Apple and Wal-Mart, located in nearly every stop.

Thanks to the College of Arts and Sciences' Experiential Fellowship in Anthropology and a contact at Target, she spent three weeks this summer interviewing and observing staff members at Target India in Bangalore, learning how the company, which operates all 1,612 of its retail stores within the United States, functions in a different culture.

"Companies engineer a culture based on business rhetoric and try to cultivate a very specific atmosphere. I think that corporate culture is very interesting," Sreshta said. "Even more interesting is the way that this culture is translated across countries."

Established in 2005, Target India is an extension of the company's Minneapolis-based headquarters. It is comprised of three buildings in the country's third most populated city. The three offices share business park space with MNC's like Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and IBM. Approximately 1,500 employees currently make up the workforce of Target India, but despite not having any plans for traditional retail stores like in the U.S., that number is expected to grow to 5,000 by 2010.

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Sreshta met with 44 team members of varying positions and different departments. Some of her interviewees were expatriates, seen almost as company ambassadors, and the rest were natives, learning a new way of doing business that was different than they were used to. She also attended programs like new team member orientation and recruitment meetings.

What she found was that there is a conscious effort being made by the company to carry its working model across borders, but not to the point that it suppresses the culture. At the same time, there are differences in culture and adjustments to a different type of work environment for team members.

Target's culture is one based on collaboration, work/life balance, an emphasis on diversity and minimizing hierarchy. Its vision, to be "the best company ever," is carried out through three core values, commonly referred as FFF: fast, fun and friendly."

"The heads of Target have worked hard to create a high energy and enthusiastic environment," she said. "They also have a community involvement focus, which team members respect."

Target's aim is to replicate its structural culture in Target India, in order to maintain its integrity. This creates a level field for all employees, regardless of location.

However, cultural differences played a role in the acclimation of new team members in India. Where, rising "through the ranks" is prevalent in the U.S., the individual growth within a company mentality is uncommon in India, where professionals frequently move on to better paying jobs outside the company.

Leaders who have been brought in by the company to help run Target India seem to deal with the biggest cultural shock. These leaders—American expatriates—must cope with the juxtaposition of rich and poor, as well as developed and underdeveloped, and the loss of independence and privacy.

"Most of the expatriates and imported leaders have not lived and worked in a foreign country, so upon coming to India there's an initial cultural shock," said Sreshta. "It requires an alteration in leadership style."

Sreshta noted differences in conceptualizations of work styles and flexibility. Target prides itself on being a family company, and thus emphasizes work-life balance, where team members do not stay later than 6 p.m. It is also a highly collaborative and minimally hierarchical environment. These aspects of the company were observed to be radically different as compared to the Indian service companies that many of the technology team members had worked for in the past.

Sreshta's return to the U.S. was short lived. After a few months back in the states, she's currently in London, studying anthropology and social policy for the academic year at the London School of Economics.

"The classes are really interesting," she said, adding "the lectures are fast paced, and the organization of the university is very different."

"I'm learning a lot."

While she hopes to take full advantage of the opportunity outside the classroom to discover a new city, as well as backpacking and biking in Europe, Sreshta is fully intent on building on her summer experience in international business.

"As students, we need to understand that we are not just competing for jobs with our American peers, but that this competition is truly global," she said. "After meeting people from Target India, and now being at LSE- where 70 percent of the student body is made up of foreign students, Americans need to realize that jobs that were previously taken for granted are becoming globally competitive."

The Experiential Learning Fellowship in Anthropology is intended to provide an anthropology undergraduate student with the opportunity to have a meaningful experience in another culture, with the specific goal of enhancing his or her understanding of cultural diversity. The Fellowship is made possible through the generous support of Mr. Jonathan Plimpton, a 1969 graduate of the Department of Anthropology of Western Reserve College. For more information about the Fellowship, please contact Professor Lawrence Greska.

For more information contact Jason Tirotta, 216.368.6890.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, October 30, 2008 09:14 AM | News Topics: Collaborations/Partnerships, HeadlinesMain, Students, features

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