A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Tag: Wipro

Gaining Momentum, Losing Altitude

When my niece was graduating from REC (NIT) Surathkal I urged her to join Wipro or Infosys. Explaining that it was a great place to learn in your formative years Vs joining a MNC. Her response was that MRC (Mass Recruitment Companies) are the last option in  campus and only those who do not get any jobs land up in these companies.

Things have changed a lot for these companies. I recollect in the 1985 – 95 era Wipro & Infosys used to attract  the brightest talent from India’s best institutions. Students preferred these companies to leading Banks, FMCG and at times even Global Consulting brands. Having worked in one of these companies for nearly 14 years I have fond memories of their golden years.

As I drove past Salt Lake at Cal last week and saw a dull, faded, torn signboard of the bright & radiant Rainbow Flower I was reminded of a quote that Scott McNealy made of DIGITAL (DEC) in the height of the dot com boom. We were lucky to have Scott in our induction program at Santa Clara and  Scott is the epitome of  a sharp, intelligent, aggressive CEO –   on being questioned about the future of DEC he said ” DEC was a great company but its now gaining momentum and losing altitude” .  I just hope this is not true of Bangalore’s leading companies.

There are many thousands who owe their first salary, first car, first trip abroad, first house, kids US citizenship, and many more fond memories to Wipro & Infosys. A whole generation has benefited. But sadly the sense of loyalty and passion that was exhibited by employees a few decades back is grossly missing. When you visit any online TOI / ET article about these companies  almost all the comments are negative and downright nasty – and I ask myself what went wrong ? How could the Bangalore Tiger & modern Indias global picture boy take such a beating  and plunge from its global high’s?

Yes the market has slowed and there is global recession, but these are companies that are still growing 15% + YoY and delivering margins in excessive of 20% – both of which when compared to the manufacturing industry or global IT consulting companies are still very very creditable. They employ over 150,000 people each and are juggernauts who even in recession hire in excess of 10,000 employees every year. So what is the possible reason for this negativity both internally & externally ? Is  the 20 year wave  getting over or is there more to it ? I spoke to many old friends in both companies , some who had just left and a few interesting observations emerged. These companies still have amazing leaders and people like TK Kurien are razor sharp, hard working , analytical wizards who are doing all that they can to turnaround, but I hope that some of these constructive suggestions help them in accelerating.

1. Where do you want to go, what do you want to be ?    

20 years back this question had a clear answer, Vision was to be a leading player , get to 1B then 5B and be a global player to be reckoned with.  The thrust was on Quality & Value for Money – Six Sigma , SEI CMM all of this made the mantra work. The dream was realized. What next ?  Most people don’t see the dream for the next 5 – 10 years. Is it just chugging along with Growth , is there a radical change , how do we move from one plateau to the next high ?  This question needs to be answered – not as poster across the company but a clear direction on where you want to be and what you want to be in the future. One needs to look beyond the quarter results, the 1% dip in EBIDTA,  and the fear of losing the 2nd or 3rd position.

2. Applying Thought & Powered by Intellect – is it a ground reality ?

Thanks to amazing visionaries Narayan Murthy & Azim Premji the companies did practise what they preached for many many years. Applying Thought & Powered by Intelllect on the foundation of Integrity & Values was deep rooted. Every employee inculcated it & personified it. At a young age responsibilities were demanding  and the sense of ownership was high. People worked 6 days, long hours and were thrilled and excited. Managers were fair, worthy were rewarded and competition  amongst peers was healthy, attrition was rare.

Somewhere down the line the whole equation broke down – as quality of hires started going down , future managers were weaker, not all decisions were fair , growth slowed down  – while expectations continued to rise , 15% + annual hikes and a promotion every 2 years was demanded. The fear of attrition resulting in many unworthy employees getting pampered and the work culture changed from brilliant hard working to arrogant mediocrity.

Add to this press reports on  misuse of B1 Visas & financial irregularities  have all cast a shadow on the impregnable fortress of integrity & principles which was the hallmark of these companies.            

3. Managing scale – too fast growth a dangerous thing.

When you have 10,000 employees and a 30 % bench its manageable, but when you have 150,000 employees and a 30% bench you are paying salaries to 45,000 people for doing nothing. Thats killing. Thats exactly what is happening to these companies. The scale and size they have reached is unprecedented in India. Only the Indian Railways or SAIL probably have the experience of managing so many employees. Systems have struggled to scale, the personal touch is missing and the juggernaut is indeed huffing & puffing and like my niece pointed out – a MRC that no smart kid wants to join. Whats the solution ? Maybe its time to create smaller companies of 25 – 30 K employees each and allow them the roadmap of growing to 50K employees in the next 3 – 4 years. Restrict the size of each business with a CEO to a max of 50K and create scalable units.

4. Grooming managers with values

This is tough if you have high attrition. But what stops these companies from starting their own colleges in their own campus. Focused on CS & EC – a 4 year program that is geared to get them productive on day 1 , no finishing school training needed. Inculcate not just competency & skills but also embed values. If you do it right people will stick to you for long stints with no bond. I am happy to see that at least Wipro has started a University and I hope that in the near future they embark on a venture to backward integrate and start a graduate school for engineers.

5.The role of Finance Managers

In both companies the role of Finance Managers has far exceeded their scope. The whole purpose of functioning appears to be to squeeze that extra % of profit by cost cutting or innovative accounting. This is hurting and the core business team seems to be quietly resentful but helpless. Partly this is linked to the obsession with the Stock Market & the quarterly results – that obsession needs to wane down.

When Hema Ravichander the successful HR head of Infosys moved on and was replaced by the finance director it started to spell the beginning of the end of good robust people practices. A decline that accelerated over the years.

6. Are you a true blue Global MNC ? 

Or just another Indian company with offices abroad. The desire to hire & integrate people of other nationalities has been attempted again & again but not worked. At a top level the core team of 20 people who on an average have spent 20+ years each in both these companies do not allow outsiders to integrate. Of the total 150K employees how many are Non Indian , if  90% of work comes from outside Indias shores should there not be at least 30% employees who are Non Indians ?

Are you an equal opportunity employer? Or do you have different travel limits, hotel limits, food limits for different levels of employees.

Many Sr Executives from Wipro & Infosys have left and joined Indian IT Companies or Startups –  will say a company like Accenture look at hiring the top talent from these companies at C level jobs ? I doubt – or at least there is no history of the same.

Its time these companies stepped back and took a real hard look on the way forward. For the sake of  Bangalore , for the sake of India lets hope they Gain Momentum & Gain Altitude. Here is wishing them all the best in the years to come as they traverse this challenging journey.

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


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.

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