“I write to my colleagues in French, I communicate here in English or Tamil...”

Simplicity and a beaming smile are the two things that will first strike you about Joseph Lasante, CEO of Thales Software India Pvt. Ltd. (Thales). French at heart, but, of Indian origin, Lasante is an expatriate working in Chennai with a special advantage. He is among a new breed of global managers who lend to their companies a definitive edge – that of being able to bridge the gap between two different cultures and their separate work ethic. Lasante’s office is the milieu for a global working environment, one that is truly cross cultural.

Thales is a global technology leader for the Aerospace and Space, Defence, Security and Transportation markets. With operations in 50 countries and about 68,000 employees worldwide, its businesses are organised by market segment and it operates as a decentralised organisation close to its customers with global headquarters in France. Thales’s software production centre based in Chennai, is dedicated exclusively to the needs of the Thales Group worldwide, with its primary objective being to address the full life cycle of a software project.

Lasante has been a part of this organisation for more than twenty years and after his first expatriation to Singapore, he was given the opportunity to move to the company’s Chennai operation. In addition to the combined technology management background, his familiarity with two very varied cultures has been key in successfully managing the Thales Software centre in Chennai. And, as the global village continues to shrink, Lasante is an example of an emerging class of expatriate managers who bring the best of two cultures to the boardroom. In this interview with THE SMART CEO, he shares his expatriate experience and views and why he feels lucky to be in the position he is.

Tell us about your journey through the corporate world that brought you to India…

I was born in Morocco and lived and studied in France all my life and joined Thales (then called Thomson CSF) in 1989. In 2003, I moved to Singapore where I served as the chief technology officer (CTO) and in 2006, the opportunity to come to Chennai came up. My wife is from Chennai and even as I hesitated about the move to India, my wife really wanted to be here. So in 2006, I moved to Chennai with my wife and daughters to become the CTO of Thales’ first software centre globally. I have always felt half-Indian and half-French and the double culture background I have, contributed to my move to Chennai. Professionally, it was an important move for me as my role here is about managing and understanding Thales’s needs in France and being able to translate that to the team here.

How has the experience been here, especially of heading a company in India?

In India, a job with a world class technology company as Thales is highly regarded, and people in India are committed and hard workers. Software development pays well and some of my employees feel a need to come in even on the weekends, if not they feel something is wrong. There is a drive to demonstrate and prove oneself. When we successfully deliver a project, I am proud of the technological achievement and by the fact that it was made in India! The motivation is there, but management methods need to be taught. I feel that Indian technological skill and European management style is the right mix. Thales Chennai is very much like an Indian family, problems are solved within and people take pride in what they do. But, this is also a drawback. Ego sometimes plays alongside pride, its role in the Indian workplace is significant, be it through education or social background.

Has your perception of India been challenged after you came here and experienced it first hand?

I had known India mainly through holidays, which is quite different from living here as availability of infrastructure and basic amenities can be challenging. But India has also improved considerably over the past years, and in terms of shopping and availability of consumer brands, you can live as well as you do in Europe, provided you have the means.. Poverty is still wide spread, but the government is making considerable efforts in addressing the gap between social classes.

What is the one lesson you feel you have learnt from the Indian work ethic?

A can-do mentality. This is the attitude on all projects and no matter what happens, we will deliver! This is the first company where I have had to ask my people to work less and to relax and actually enjoy their weekends. They are all young and they should be having fun, going out, or spending time with family, but not working. I am worried that if they work more than five days a week it will affect productivity as well.

Do you think that Indian businesses or the Indian branches of global businesses require expatriate supervision? And if so why?

In the case of Thales Software India, there are two aspects to consider. One, a multi-national company like Thales has a number of processes and protocols and it is better to have someone who knows the company and its policies as a facilitator of local branch organisations. The office might be in India, but the company policies apply worldwide.. Secondly, trust is vital in empowering remote offices and having someone understanding both cultural dimensions helps – so why not make use of such a person? There are many like me, say, Americans of Indian origin who run Indian offices for various groups. I therefore correspond with my French colleagues in French while locally I communicate in English or Tamil – it is about adjusting to the environment.

What has excited you most about working in a booming economy like India’s?

I am excited and proud because it is the country of my origin and Thales has made a wise choice in choosing to do business and conduct development work in India. The people here are highly skilled and that is where India is rich.