IN A speech at Harvard University in 1943 Winston Churchill observed that “the empires of the future will be empires of the mind.” He might have added that the battles of the future will be battles for talent. To be sure, the old battles for natural resources are still with us. But they are being supplemented by new ones for talent—not just among companies (which are competing for “human resources”) but also among countries (which fret about the “balance of brains” as well as the “balance of power”).
The war for talent is at its fiercest in high-tech industries. The arrival of an aggressive new superpower—Google—has made it bloodier still. The company has assembled a formidable hiring machine to help it find the people it needs. It has also experimented with clever new recruiting tools, such as billboards featuring complicated mathematical problems. Other tech giants have responded by supercharging their own talent machines (Yahoo! has hired a constellation of academic stars) and suing people who suddenly leave.
...Alan Eustace, a vice-president of Google, told the Wall Street Journal that in his view one top-notch engineer is worth “300 times or more than the average”. Bill Gates says that “if it weren't for 20 key people, Microsoft wouldn't be the company it is today.”
Reversing the brain drain. 20m Indians living abroad generate income equivalent to 35% of India's GDP, making them almost 20 times more productive than their counterparts at home!
Half the Americans who won Nobel prizes in physics in the past seven years were born abroad. More than half the people with PhDs working in America are immigrants. A quarter of Silicon Valley companies were started by Indians and Chinese. Intel, Sun Microsystems and Google were all founded or co-founded by immigrants. But now India and China are sucking back their expats, and America's European competitors have woken up to the importance of retaining their talent.
...Some of the best prospects in the competition for talent are émigrés—people who have gone abroad to make their fortune but still feel the tug of their home country. Both China and India are now trying to emulate Ireland's success in wooing back the diaspora, but China is trying harder. In 1987 the Communist Party's general secretary, Zhao Ziyang, described China's brain drain as “storing brain power overseas”. Officials from every level of government have been raiding the store since, as part of a policy of “strengthening the country through human talent”.
They have introduced a mind-boggling range of enticements, from bigger apartments to access to the best schools, from chauffeur-driven cars to fancy titles. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has established a programme of generous fellowships for expats—the “hundred talents programme”. Beijing has an office in Silicon Valley, and Shanghai has established a “human talent market”. China is littered with shiny new edifices labelled “returning-student entrepreneurial building”.
All this coincides with a change in the flow of people. For decades returnees were rare. The numbers began to shoot up in 2000, when the bursting of the Silicon Valley bubble coincided with rapid growth in China. Despite doubts about the quality of some of these people, there is growing evidence that China is going in the same direction as South Korea and Taiwan—first tempting back the diaspora (see chart 4) and then beginning to compete for global talent.
India has taken a different approach. The government has relied as much on the goodwill of prominent businesspeople as it has on the wisdom of bureaucrats; it has also cast its net wider, focusing not just on luring back expats but also on putting the wealth and wisdom of the diaspora to work on behalf of the mother country. There are an estimated 20m Indians living abroad, generating an annual income equal to 35% of India's gross domestic product. The Indian government is doing what it can, in its haphazard way, to let them participate in the Indian boom, making it easier for them to invest back home and streamlining visa procedures. There is a special visa for “people of Indian origin”.