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The Great Indian Mind
Constructing departments where every place is filled by graduates of top notch business or engineering schools is not easy, but quite a lot of companies are now doing it.
Call it back to the future, India is recovering its title as the knowledge capital of the world, after centuries of languishing in relative obscurity. And the world is awakening to the fact, as company after company flocks to India to get access to the great Indian mind; a phenomena that best selling author Thomas Friedman has termed as the IQ suck. Thats at one level, but some companies are taking it to the next level, as they create teams of highly qualified, and highly talented world-class professionals inside the companies to do complex work in India.

Its not simply a case of hiring a few HT or HM graduates every year as management trainees and absorbing them across the organisation. What we are talking about is the trend of creating departments wherein 70 per cent or more of the executives are either from the IITs, IIMs or are PhDs or lawyers. In short they are creating islands of excellence inside the company. As far as the numbers go, take a dekko. American IT firm Headstrong has 400 employees in its financial services division based in Delhi and Bangalore, and more than 70 per cent are IITians.

Knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) firm Evalueserve has close to 80 people in its intellectual property department, of which more than 75 per cent are IITians. Consulting firm Inductis has close to 45 professionals in its consulting division in India and 40 of them are graduates of the IITs, IIMs of both. Pangea3, a small legal process outsourcing (LPO) based in Mumbai, has 23 lawyers from top law schools in its staff of 30. The IQ level in these companies would match the best of the Wall Street firms or even the consulting firms such is the concentration of the talent. And its an interesting explanation that they give for building such high IQ factories. "We couldnt build the biggest, so we just decided to build the best," chuckles Harsh Lohit, CEO, Headstrong India.

Moreover, these companies want to grow their talent pools. "We are going to the IIT campuses soon, and we will hire as many good people as we can get," says Ashish Gupta, Country Manager, Evalueserve, India and China. Lohit too says he is looking at doubling the headcount in near future.

The reason why companies are building these islands of excellence has much to do with the fact that it gets them top dollars and gives them the shine effect, which is a great asset in doing business. For example, the IP team in Evalueserve would be getting upwards of $45 per hour in some cases, though the company doesnt confirm it, citing confidentiality reasons. Similarly, the financial services team in Headstrong could earn upto $110 an hour for high end work onsite work, while the offshore guys could end up being paid in high $20s, much higher than other off-shore players. The Inductis team working at Gurgaon charges anywhere between $50 to $70 for the consulting work they do out of India for US clients. Pangea too charges top dollars to its blue chip clients. "We are a global professional services firm, and our rates are comparable to the best in the industry," says Sanjay Kamlani, Co-CEO, Pangea 3.

With such intellectual bandwidth, the companies also have to work hard to keep them busy. The teams do complex work, which require an understanding of cutting edge technology and business. For example, the IP team in Evalueserve does patent drafts, patent analysis and technology analysis, work that requires sound understanding of technology. Similarly, the lawyers at Pangea3 could be working on a 300 page contract draft of a JV agreement, or some cutting edge patent research for Yahoo while the Inductis team could be tackling a complex analytics problem for a Fortune 500 financial services company. "We need the high bandwidth talent because they learn things very quickly, are able to identify the business problems very fast, and then also solve them. Plus they are able to move from project to project very quickly," says Lalit Wangikar, VP-India Consulting Staff, Inductis.

Setting up such a team in India is easy, as compared to US where it would be difficult to gather so much good talent in one place. India churns out nearly three lakh engineers every year, of which 3.600 are from the IITs, so engineers are aplenty. For a LPO like Pangea3 which needs lawyers, the choice is wide: it can choose from one million lawyers already present in India, and 75,000 more who are added to the pool every year. The second advantage that India has is again the cost factor: salaries here are a fraction of what a candidate with similar qualifications will cost in US or a UK.

Take lawyers for example. Pangea3s Kamlani estimates that alawyer in India costs around $12,000 whereas the same person will cost any-where between $1,50,000 to 20,000 in US. Similarly, an engineer in US would cost the company anywhere between $55,000 to 75,000, whereas in India an average salary would be around $ 18,000.

Its no mean feat that these companies have managed to hire and retain such thoroughbreds. After all, IIT and IIM graduates are a well-courted lot, and often have multiple offers in hand. So what draws the elite to these companies, some of which are small and not in sectors, which are traditionally considered safe career wise? Ashish Gupta talks of how he hard sells his company to the potential employees: "We tell them we are a KPO, stable, growing, and large. The factors that draw them and also hold them, is the quality of work, growth opportunities, and global exposure. They get all that sitting here." Plus these companies offer them work with the best global brands, Inductis has clients like Merrill Lynch, Aetna, and DNB, Headstrong works with top 10 Wall Street players, while Pangea3 has Yahoo and Microsoft on its client roster.

If these companies can energize the best talent, it can only be great for the company as well as the country. As Lohit says, you need to match the horses to the courses you want them to run on.
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Posted on : 11/11/2005
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