Bangalore: Wipro Technologies Ltd founder Azim Premji’s son once worked here.
The fact is frequently uttered from one employee to another at 24/7 Customer Inc.’s Bangalore call centre.
That Tariq Premji, now working in the family’s foundation, held
such a stint is more than company lore, but one indication of the limitless possibilities after toiling in a booming sector that has grown to nearly Rs34,000 crore in revenues in less than a decade.
Career progression: Ronald George (standing), manager (HR) at 24/7 Customer Inc., has been working with the company for six years which, he says, ‘has been worth it’. He has switched from late night calls to handling large teams and then to HR.
Defined by high attrition rates, the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is peddling career growth and opportunities, both to attract new blood, and hang on to existing talent.
And so it has come to be that 31-year-olds such as Ronald George, a human resources (HR) manager at this 24/7 call centre, are “lifers”. His tenure: six years.
In 2001, the Goa-born engineering graduate joined 24/7 Customer, based at International Technology Park Ltd or ITPL, a Bangalore business complex dotted with gleaming glass-steel-concrete structures housing firms, including the likes of Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and SAP AG.
Initially, it was working in ITPL that attracted George to the job, but soon the job grew on him—and he grew with it. He has switched from late night calls from/to customers in the US, to handling large teams, to HR. These days, George heads a team handling employee referrals for the India operations.
The six-year ride has been worth it, says George. He met his wife, Champaka, at work, owns a Chevrolet sedan, has bought property and made investments that make his retired army officer father proud.
“I have never thought of leaving this place,” says George, who aspires to be a director in five years.
The sentiment leaves him with little company in an industry that loses two out of five employees every year. But it means that hardworking long-timers find successful careers in the industry, better known for its tough work hours and physical exhaustion, even if they once began working at the bottom of the call centre food chain, the so-called “agents”.
In Mumbai, Manu Anand, 27, negotiates with customers in the US and Europe on pricing contracts for FirstSource Solutions Ltd, the back-office company started as an arm of ICICI Bank Ltd.
Anand moved from a domestic call centre in New Delhi to FirstSource in January 2003 to join as a team leader. Armed with an MBA, earned through a correspondence course while working, he moved from operations to the pricing team, rubbing shoulders with specialists such as chartered accountants making every dollar work harder for FirstSource.
“If you are good, then growth happens,” says Anand, who finds it exciting to get chances to travel overseas, to the US and Ireland, where FirstSource has centres. He aspires to take the top slot at the company.
George and Anand stand out among the half-a-million—from undergraduates to PhDs—employed in India’s BPO sector because they have decided to make a career out of it. George says he is the only one left at the firm, from a batch of 13, who joined 24/7 on the same day. In Anand’s case, of the 14 in his batch at FirstSource, seven are still at the Mumbai-headquartered firm; most of his colleagues have either progressed to managers or deputy general managers.
The BPO industry in India, which began a decade ago with General Electric Co.’s back-office unit to leverage the low cost of educated manpower in the country, has grown phenomenally since and is expected to grow annually by more than 30% to reach $20 billion (Rs79,800) crore by 2010, according to industry lobby National Association of Software and Services Companies.
Amid record industrial growth and consumer demand that has firms from financial services to retail frantically hiring, the BPO and tech services firms have been hit hard. “Attrition is (a pan-) India story. It is not just limited to lack of people with skills in the BPO industry. Every sector has shortage,” says Pramod Bhasin, chief executive officer of Genpact Ltd, the former outsourcing arm of GE, now an independent firm listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Companies offer those who join as agents the opportunity to move within their own operational areas or into new process such as HR, marketing, pricing and administration, for which they are assessed and provided training as they progress on their career path.
“Training is not limited to juniors, but everyone, including the management team, has to undergo rigorous training,” says Chandeep Singh, vice-president for process excellence at FirstSource.
FirstSource has a so-called six sigma training process where employees are trained to come out with new ideas to improve performance—at every level, from agents to top managers.
The BPO industry is also learning to hire people who look at the long-term, instead of taking it as a short-term run to earn some money before taking up higher studies.
“It is more mature now. Only serious candidates are considered and the evaluation is done at the interview stage itself,” says Pradeep Narayanan, chief delivery officer of 24/7 Customer.
Ask Birgit Neumann, a German who began as a call centre agent in the UK for Convergys Corp. in 1997 and now heads the operational delivery of a 12,000-member team, in seven centres of Convergys in India.
“It is the same in the UK and India. Investments in people help retain them and grow business faster,” says the Gurgaon-based Convergys vice- president.