Threats from western economies like the US and the UK to enact legislation that protect their jobs are falling on deaf ears. The moment has passed and we’re too far down the road, so to do a u-turn would require a mammoth effort and defy logic – simply put, they’re hooked.
At least that’s the sentiment expressed by some of the IT titans that I interviewed for my newly published book that looks at the global achievements of India’s top 10 entrepreneurs. Of the top 10, N. R. Narayana Murthy, Chairman of Infosys Technologies; S. Ramadorai, Vice Chairman of TCS; and Shiv Nadar, Chairman of HCL Technologies speak frankly about where they’ve come from and what the future holds for their respective firms.
What I found spectacular was the manner in which each of them came to the fore. Shiv Nadar’s journey began in 1976 on a rooftop terrace, where he and his colleagues started HCL selling calculators – all at a time when India had a total of 250 computers! HCL began in the hardware space and later realised the need to move into software – ironic as India’s fame is based on the talent of its software engineers. His first breakthrough came courtesy of IBM, who were kicked out of India, leaving a void that Nadar’s HCL neatly capitalised on.
I describe Nadar as an opportunist, as he’s mastered the art of spotting trends to capitalise. In my view, his acquisition of a call centre in Belfast when the trade unions were kicking off demanding ‘British jobs for British people’ not only left critics dumbfounded but showed the vision which he had. Today, near-shoring is as popular as off-shoring, thanks to a trend popularised by Nadar.
Ramadorai’s strength lies in the simple fact that he knows how to scale up an organisation. Yes, he may be one of Ratan Tata’s trusted lieutenants, but his is a story about how Indian companies promote entrepreneurial thinking. Just cast your minds back to 1995, when TCS employed only 5000 people to today, where headcount stands at 120,000. Likewise with the sea change that Ram brought in, he also brought in a massive increase of revenues, which today sees them go toe to toe against the biggest and best in the industry and walk away with lucrative contracts, such as in the public sector which has long been dominated by a cosy club of vendors. Ramadorai disrupted the order of things, which he deserves credit for.
No book on Indian entrepreneurship would be complete without mention of Narayana Murthy of Infosys, who borrowed $250 from his wife to finance his equity in Infosys, Bangalore’s biggest and most known brand. Murthy explained that during their early days, they realised that it was tough to beat the blue-chip vendors of the West, on their terms in their territories, so he brought the competition to India, where he could compete in hiring the best talent by beating the Western majors in building the best work environments known to the industry at a cost that he could afford.
That he’s known as being the most ethical isn’t necessarily relevant for this article, but his behaviour at a time when the sector came under massive pressure following the Satyam scandal is worthy to note and is a pointer that Indian business leaders care about how they’re perceived globally.
The future of IT may rest on the shoulders of such giants, and for this reason it’s vital to not only know who they are but also know where they come from so we can get a better insight to where they’re headed.
Whilst in client meetings they may position themselves as being global companies, but there is no getting away from their Indian identity, something that should be embraced as opposed to hidden away. Rather than apeing Western business models, I’m certain they’re able to show an alternative way of delivering high-end solutions to a global client pool and by watching Murthy, Nadar, and Ramadorai, we may find the answers to some fundamental questions about the IT industry.