Spotlight on Sponsors - Signe Spencer

Signe Spencer

Signe Spencer, Senior Consultant at Korn Ferry/Haygroup, formerly of the McClelland Center for Research and Innovation, is author of The Indian CEO, A Portrait of Excellence. She lives in Lexington, MA.

Every month, I make a donation to Aruna Partnership's Professional Training Program (PTP). It's an investment in the future.

Of all the projects that I support, this is the one where I feel every dollar I give will make the biggest and most long-lasting impact.

The richness and depth of civilization in India had always touched and fascinated me. Then, in 1985, I met David McClelland - a behavioral psychologist, Harvard professor, and the founder of McBer, a consulting company. He inspired my career for the rest of my life.

David was interested in identifying qualities that make people really good at what they do in a particular job, so others could be trained to be good at similar jobs. His cross-cultural research excited me because it required listening to people in the workplace with an open heart and an open mind, and with a lot of respect, to hear their experience. He had been doing research in India, and I knew he and his family went to India regularly.

In 2000, one of my colleagues, Tharuma Rajah, started a project studying Indian CEOs to find out what made the best ones great. He asked me to come help with it, which I did.

Signe meeting

After spending time in India, I knew there was a profound need for professional training. I already had a heart-feel for India, so when my friend Marian McClelland, David McClelland's wife, told me about Aruna Partnership's Professional Training Program, I wanted to help. I knew that any project she and David were involved with would make good use of donated resources, and I knew first-hand that the need was genuine.

When I heard that students in the Professional Training Program were picked not only for their academic abilities, but also for their character and interest in giving back to their communities, I felt sure that investing now in their education would pay off for decades.


There are thousands of kids in India who need an education. But I feel this program is exceptionally careful about choosing students, finding a good fit for their abilities, and then nurturing qualities of character and responsibility as they go through the program. These students want to make a contribution to their communities and to the world.

I have interviewed CEOs all over the world, in many different cultures. The thing that really touched me in my research with Indian CEOs was what we call "transcending self" - a willingness to take business risks because it will make the country stronger. This is a quality that linked back to David McClelland's research, achievement motivation for the benefit of the larger community - not just for oneself. The question for CEO's in India in taking a big risk is not "Is this good for me?" but "Is this good for India as a whole?" (The Indian CEO, A Portrait of Excellence, Spencer, Rajah, Narayan, Mohan & Lahiri, 2007, pp 107- 110, Sage Publications).

Already Ashirabee and Zakirhussain, whose stories are featured in this newsletter, express a longing to support the next generation and to help other students learn and grow and develop.

Thanks to the Professional Training Program, they have the ability to do something that will make an impact.