Indigenization of American Multinational Corporations: Insights and Lessons from the Indian Advertising Industry

In the 1950s and 60s, a tide of government regulations overcame American multinational corporations operating out of India in a process that was termed ‘Indianization’ (Aldous and Roy, 2018). Indianization was an indigenization of foreign ownership and control; and a form of state-mandated protectionism that sought to push against the phenomenon of ‘Americanization’ sweeping businesses across the postwar and ‘free world’; yet it remains an under-researched area of inquiry in Indo-US business history. This paper offers insights and lessons on indigenization from an often-overlooked business sector – namely the advertising industry – and from the perspective of a non-Euro/West, post-colonial, and developing economy of the Third World, India. This paper discusses J Walter Thompson-India (JWT-India), the foreign-owned Indian subsidiary of the American multinational advertising firm and its Indianization to Hindustan Thompson Associates (HTA) in 1967 and reflects on its impact on the subsidiary’s management structure, leadership, and worker base. Wholly foreign-owned firms in post-colonial India were charged with rigid foreign-exchange legislations as a measure to coerce indigenization of its ownership structure. In 1964, the Indian legislations targeted foreign-owned advertising agencies in country, not solely because they were foreign-owned, but also because they were foreign-led and promulgated Western business practices of commercial advertising in a country that was being fashioned as a Soviet-styled centrally planned economy. Analyzing the change of ownership structure from JWT to HTA offers a window into the ways in which Indianization - and state-regulation of foreign capital more broadly - impacted an American organization and its local workers in foreign markets. The paper also strives for a more nuanced understanding of the role of state in what constitutes the discomfiting and often complicated histories of Americanization and indigenization in a multinational corporation. In so doing, this paper engages with transnational histories of capitalism, labor history, and business history from the periphery.