Offshoring in Reverse

When many leaders think about offshoring, what comes to mind is Indian call centers, the loss of American jobs, and Indian workers replacing laid-off Americans. Meanwhile, more American executives are taking leadership posts in Indian — and other overseas — companies. Will it balance out?

After spending 20 years in corporate America, Richard Garnick came to a professional crossroads. Until September 2001, Garnick had run Global Digital Media Inc., a startup that provided Wi-Fi access at airports in Boston and New York City. The terrorist attacks grounded travelers and closed airport facilities. Garnick's investment in the startup returned little, and he wanted a way out. "I needed a new job," Garnick says.

Within a week of the attacks, Garnick met with Azim H. Premji, chairman and managing director of Wipro Ltd., an Indian IT giant, in Boston. Garnick and Premji were both grounded after their flights had been cancelled. A month earlier, Garnick had met with Vivek Paul, CEO and vice chairman of a Wipro Ltd. division, Wipro Technologies, India's third-largest IT exporter.

It looked like love at first sight: For nine months, Wipro Technologies had been searching for a U.S. citizen to replace the head of its North American operation, an Indian national. And Garnick was impressed with Wipro's business model. "Three things made it a great opportunity," he says. "Wipro provides a quality, predictable service. The company values the humanity, integrity, and innovation of its employees, which matches my personal values. And managing a global team offers an intellectual challenge."

But Garnick's family and friends were skeptical, fearing that Wipro didn't offer the sophistication and opportunities Garnick needed. Likewise, Garnick had his own concerns. Wipro was the first overseas company he'd worked for, and as one of the highest-ranking American executives in an Indian company, he was stepping into uncharted territory. He wasn't sure how long his new job would last. "I thought this was a one- to two-year assignment," he says. "It's an untested model for a U.S. executive to work for an Indian company."

Once on board, Garnick quickly acclimated to his new work environment. Decisions at Wipro are made differently than at his previous employers, which include Avnet Inc., Arrow Electronics, and Innovoice Inc. "It's more collaborative," Garnick says. Decisions have to be agreed upon by leaders of different departments, as well as approved by their respective bosses, Garnick says. And the fact that Wipro spans time zones makes it even longer for leaders to reach a consensus.

Now, Garnick has been with Wipro for almost three years and doesn't plan to leave any time soon. His 3,000 employees in 24 offices in the United States and Canada contribute more than 60 percent of Wipro's revenue worldwide. Garnick's goal: to move Wipro into the top 10 IT service companies globally.

Garnick is not alone. According to the National Association of Software and Service Companies, India's IT chamber of commerce, 15,000 Americans are working in the U.S.-based arms of more than 200 Indian companies, which have invested $500 million in their American operations.

Many of these Americans are IT professionals working on the project site of a client company, says Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group that represents more than 500 companies. "For every 100 workers employed on a particular assignment, approximately 30 will be in the U.S.," Miller says. "The other 70 will be offshore." In addition, Indian firms are increasingly hiring Americans with particular domain expertise and knowledge of how a particular industry is run.

Dr. Mark Temple-Raston is one of those people. Despite his title as senior architect, Temple-Raston doesn't build houses or office parks. Instead, he designs software. The Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, England, has one of the most respected jobs at MphasiS BFL Ltd., which has offices in New York City and Bangalore, India. Temple-Raston helps identify problems faced by the company's clients — mostly financial services firms — assembles teams, and develops software solutions. Team members in MphasiS's Indian office — as well as other locations around the world — then write the programs and deliver them to clients.

Before joining MphasiS four years ago, Temple-Raston was based in Los Angeles as the lead engineer of Hughes Information Technology. "I wanted to move to the East Coast, where my wife's family is," Temple-Raston says. He got to know Jeroen Tas, MphasiS's vice chairman, because their children went to the same school. Temple-Raston wanted to relocate. MphasiS was looking for senior IT people. So the company offered him a position in New York City.

Because of the Internet and improvements in telecommunications, projects can now be outsourced and offshored, completed, and returned — sometimes without collaborators even meeting each other. With cheaper IT labor costs and experience in managing distributed teams across time zones, Indian companies are positioning themselves to become global players that venture beyond IT development and foray into fields like consulting, media and entertainment.

Edward Altman joined Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) America in 2002, the U.S. arm of the top Indian IT firm. Formerly an IT leader at 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures, he came on board with a Rolodex of contacts in the media industry. Altman had also worked as MGM's CIO and led a project that helped cut the sales cycle of MGM's films to a couple of days from about nine months.

When TCS, which has primarily taken on IT work from U.S. companies, added a media and entertainment department in December 2002, Altman, who had consulted for TCS for a few months, fit the bill to head the new department. "This opportunity was very natural for me, with my background in Hollywood and working with major companies," Altman says. "Hollywood should be able to use TCS's services, and I was excited about the opportunities." Now Altman leads a team that produces and delivers digital content for five movie studios and develops online music.

Infosys Technologies, another top Indian firm, was also looking to get into the consulting business. That's where Stephen Pratt came on the scene. Having worked 20 years in U.S. consulting firms, Pratt was frustrated by the way consultants have worked for decades. "They fly to clients and fly home on weekends," which can be very expensive, Pratt says.

Now that off-site consulting is more possible and productive than in the past, traditional consulting firms need to change how they approach clients, Pratt says. In April, Pratt became CEO of Infosys Consulting, a wholly owned subsidiary of Infosys. Managing a distributed team across the globe, Pratt advises clients without sitting in their offices. "I was in Tokyo a week and a half ago, working with people from India, Japan, and the United States — and solving problems for a German car company," Pratt says.

Still a startup — Pratt says the company plans to have 75 employees by the end of the year — Infosys Consulting aims to rank among the Big Three consulting firms.

With an equally global vision, Francisco D'Souza joined Cognizant, a consulting firm, about 10 years ago. As COO, D'Souza has helped build Cognizant from what started as an Indian-based arm of parent company Dun & Bradstreet into a worldwide operation, whose 12,000 employees are spread across India, the United States, and Europe. If an airplane in the United States is unable to take off, D'Souza brags, his staff in India knows within minutes and works to get the plane off the ground.

Son of a diplomat father, D'Souza was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and lived in 11 countries. "Every three years, we moved from one country to another," he says. Now a naturalized U.S. citizen, D'Souza still trots around the globe and is hardly found at his Teaneck, New Jersey, headquarters.

D'Souza gives out awards to employees, who align their trophies on the table along with family photos. He makes the company's six values a common language of workers from multiple cultures and rotates staff among the company's offices worldwide. "I want to take my experience to build a multicultural environment," D'Souza says.

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