- TitleGlobal vice president, Xiaomi, and managing director, Xiaomi India
Manu Kumar Jain knew nothing about smartphones when Chinese giant Xiaomi tapped him in 2014 to build its India operations from the ground up. But he did know a thing or two about startups. The last company he founded, Jabong, was a fashion e-commerce player that sold to Flipkart. In his quest for knowledge at the start of his new gig, the executive regularly carried between 30 to 40 smartphones in his bag, testing out features and checking out competitors. His (literal) heavy lifting paid off: Under Jain, Xiaomi overtook Korean colossus Samsung to become the smartphone leader in India in just three years, bolstered by a strategy to act more like an Indian company. How? For example, connectivity across the country is spotty, forcing consumers to use multiple SIM cards—so Jain added a second slot to the phone. He also sourced as many components as possible from within India, bypassing costly tarriffs. Today Xiaomi is not only the leading smartphone provider in India but also the top smart TV and power bank seller, too. Jain’s role has expanded along with his business. He now has a direct line to Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun and has a hand in the strategy of the overarching company in his role as managing director. That may be more important than ever amid rising geopolitical tensions between China and India that have led the latter to ban some Chinese apps.