20 Years of Corporate Life

This month I complete 20 years of Corporate Life.

I started working in 1992. That was the year Narsimha Rao rolled out the reforms in India ( I specify Narasimha Rao –  he was the man who did the job with Manmohan & Chidambaram – but all credit today for India’s reforms goes only to Manmohan Singh). People who have worked since 1992 belong to the lucky generation – we were the luckiest since we did not miss even a year.

We spend l7 years in school ( If I include the 1 year in Nursery) and I have already spent 20 years working –  but it feels like it all started yesterday. As I look at my First Pay slip dated June 1992 – nostalgia creeps in. Here are a 7  things that have changed drastically in the last 20 years – as I look back on how it was in the early days of my career.

1. Salaries 

As an engineering Grad from REC, I started my first job at a salary of Rs 3,200/Month. (At HCL Ahmedabad). We used to line up in front of Bank of India to withdraw Rs 2000 on the salary day. No Debit / Credit Cards . Annual increments were 8 – 10% and those with CTC of > 1 Lac / Annum belonged to Sr Management ( They could afford to own a Maruti 800).

A few years later I remember a colleague with 6 yrs. of work ex ( IIT – IIM) who was working as a Product manager at Wipro – he decided to join Compaq for a 6 Lac Package – 3 reasons for leaving 1. He could now buy a car  2. The company was giving him a landline 3. His PF Savings at Compaq would be 5K / Month.

Circa 2012 – A fresh Grad from REC ( NIT Now) earns upwards of 8 Lac’s / Annum. An IIT IIM Grad with 6 + Years of Experience would be grossing upwards of 25 Lacs. And Sr Execs with 20+ Years of Exp earn in excess of 1 Cr . So our Generation and the current generation should look back and be happy because even with a 9% + Inflation our salaries have grown faster.

2. Communication 

Telex was the most common  mode of communication. IOM (Inter Off Memo) – folloed by Fax. Paper courier was a prevalent mode of communication. Most offices had just 1 PC AT with Mail connection ,  no Mouse , B&W Monitors, 1.2MB FDD , Epson DMP Printers.  The STD Phone with the Manager was locked. STD Rates were exorbitant – and all long distance calls had to be made after 6 PM or even better 9 PM

In 1998 when I got a JTM Cell Phone at Bangalore – it cost 16 Rs / Min . I had to get it because we had no land line at home ( 10 + Years of wait) – and companies did not allow you to reimburse your cell phone expenses.

3. Travel 

Air Travel was exceptional – Train & Bus were the most common modes of transport. Even if the journey was Baroda – Bangalore , you travelled by train from Baroda – Bombay – Bangalore. No problem if it took 3 days to travel back and forth.  Indian Airlines was the  market leader Damania & East West were just making a beginning . With a splash as they had announced free beer inflight – and they had set high standards with their Air Hostesses. ( Jet , KF , Spicejet , Indigo – did not exist). BLR – BBY 1 way fare was just above Rs 1000/- .

In City travel was always by Auto – a Taxi travel required special approval. Hotel rooms were affordable Rama Hotel and Nahar Heritage at Bangalore were Rs 450/ night. Luxury 5 Star Hotels were 3K / Night. Food allowance was Rs 50 / Meal – which was great since a Thali was Rs 12/- .

4. Leading  IT Companies & Technology 

Wipro & HCL were the dominant IT Players . Hardware dominated – software exports were less than 10% of total revenues. ( They seem to be the only survivors from that era with TCS ).  ICIM , ORG , Shiva , PCL …. the other key players have all vanished. IBM , HP, Digital dominated the Servers and Compaq, DELL , Gateway , dominated the PC. Apple was  almost vanishing from the industry. What does Nokia make was a quiz question.

People used to demand premium on PC’s  based on features like Single Motherboard , ZIF Socket and the fact that company A had lesser Chipsets on the MB and hence was more reliable. 80% of the market was dominated by Gray / Unorganized sector. Customs duty was upwards of 50%. The cost of  an entry level PC AT 1MB / 40MB with B&W Monitor   was 40 K ( That price is now 25K).  I remember a program that Wipro launched in 1994 called perfect 10 – to sell 10K PC’s a quarter and achieve 10% MS – they scraped thru on the last day ( Total PC Sales / year in country was less than 500Ku – Thats 12M + in 2012)

The war for servers was between CISC & RISC. Common Operating systems were Novell & Unixware. Bids were won on the value proposition of Arcnet Vs Ethernet networks. Most servers operated with VT 100 Dumb terminals connected on RS 232 cables. Every company had a spur hero sales man in a city / region – who was the scorer for all large deals ( Large deals were a few Cr). Wipro & HCL were like India Pakistan – rarely would there be transfer of people between the companies – the culture was so different ( After 20 years HCL Has become less aggressive and Wipro has lost its old charisma – not much of a difference between the two today)

5. Work Culture 

Work was demanding. Commitment & passion was high. Sense of loyalty to an organization was very high. Resignations were rare. HR was functional – people were taken care of. Finance was still bossy – but not a “Controller” running your business Discipline & rules were firm. Exceptions were rare rather than the norm. If off started at 9 AM – everyone was there before 9AM. Work hrs were long . Sat was 1/2 day working – but people worked till 4PM. Managers were trusted and respected – they in turn added tremendous value to their team and helped craft their early careers. There was a strong sense of team bonding. Induction trainings were long programs stretching to a month. …. I could go on and on, its rare to find these in the best of organizations today.

6. Travel Abroad 

This was a rare perk. Reserved for the HQ people. It was the talk of the town if someone travelled abroad. Credit Cards did not exist – so companies gave you Forex Currency as advance. (1USD = Rs 30). In a foreign city you always used public transport and hunted for the highest exchange rate. Before traveling the Travel Department used to give you tips on where to exchange your currency. Most people took their first flight after a few years at work.

Getting a US Visa was a nightmare – long waits extending 12 – 18 hrs in the US Consulate at Chennai – standing in a Q in sun & rain. Thankfully that has changed

7.Brands 

There was a lot of pride in creating Brands. Ad agencies had great people – every company had a large Marketing Team. There was pride in trading punches – being smart & witty When TISL launched in India – they ran a campaign ” Think TISL Think IBM” – next day Wipro came back with a rejoinder ” Don’t Think – Act , Buy a Wipro PC Now”

I could write a book on how life has changed – but what hits you is the speed at which things have changed in two decades and how adaptable and flexible individuals and companies need to be to survive. Those who could not adopt change have sadly perished.

03 comments on “20 Years of Corporate Life

  • Ramesh Mamgain , Direct link to comment

    Brilliantly written account of your journey over the last 20 years. Rather it is the journey of all of us who have been a part of this era where transformations took place at a very fast pace.

  • Annapurna Srinivasan , Direct link to comment

    Seriously ponder over the last para of this writeup…Yes!! you must definitely start to author a book on smthng like …
    Corp-Then n Now !!

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