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‘We are an important cog.’ A CEO reflects on business purpose during the COVID-19 crisis

Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO of Genpact and a member of the Impact Council, explains how his employees are helping clients respond to work disruptions.

‘We are an important cog.’ A CEO reflects on business purpose during the COVID-19 crisis
[Source Image: Eightshot Studio/iStock]
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“Tiger” Tyagarajan, CEO of Genpact, says the coronavirus crisis has deepened his 95,000 employees’ sense of purpose. When clients moved to remote work and scrambled to virtually complete complex tasks, such as closing their first quarter books, New York-based Genpact, which provides professional services in the technology and digital space, had to find a way to offer support, while deploying its own remote work plans.

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“We’ve always realized that our purpose is to get our clients to be more successful, more competitive, and to run their businesses better,” says Tyagarajan, who is also a member of the Fast Company Impact Council. “We’ve come to the conclusion that we are an important cog in the wheel to make the world’s economy spin.”

Tyagarajan spoke with Fast Company editor-in-chief Stephanie Mehta earlier this month. Edited excerpts follow:

Tiger Tyagarajan [Photo: courtesy Genpact]
When did coronavirus first come to Genpact’s attention, and how did the leadership team initially react? We have 95,000 employees, of which close to 5,000 are in China. Vivian Ho, who is the chief operating officer for China, [told us] this could become big in China and it could spread. This was the 23rd or 24th of January, way before anyone thought this was in more than one province. What we ended up doing very quickly was [asking], “What happens if this spreads?” To make a long story short, we ended up [moving to] work from home. [We learned] what it takes to make 5,000 people switch to working from home, while continuing to sell clients and not drop the ball. And that’s when we realized our purpose as a company. We’ve always realized that our purpose it to get our clients to be more successful, more competitive, and to run their businesses better. We’ve come to the conclusion that we are an important cog in the wheel to make the world’s economy spin.

Can you give an example? We [work with] a bunch of consumer goods companies that deliver products to retailers: groceries, food, beverages, daily staples. They are seeing volume increases of 25% or 30%. Retailers are placing orders on the fly. They’re unable to forecast, and there’s a lot of agility in orders and supply. We make the order go from the retailer to the consumer goods manufacturer; we then orchestrate the supply chain information flow. We then ensure the delivery of the order to the transport network. And if that doesn’t happen, well, then you and I can go to shop and not find what we want.

How has this crisis underscored the role of technology and digital strategy for companies? We’ve always had the belief that the world of digital allows you to do a lot of things in an automated fashion, but that’s par for the course. If you’re [just] using digital to replace labor with machines, you’re losing the plot. The real value of digital is threefold. No. 1: Can you make everything more real time? The example that I use actually is Google Maps versus Waze. Google Maps can tell me the route I need to take to get to downtown from the Upper West Side before I end up in my car. That’s a 25-minute journey, but things can change. What I really want to know when I’m in my car is, “What’s my next move, do I go right or do I go left? Do I cut across to the East side and then go down or do I remain on the West side and then cut across the East side?” I love this because it tells me at the moment I am meant to make a decision. So our view is that digital makes everything real time.

No. 2: Digital makes everything a prediction. [Waze,] is saying, “Don’t take that route. Take the other route because the chances are that the other route is going to get clogged.” So how do you drive prediction?

And the third is [digital offers a] better experience. When you apply that to supply chains, [you can say], Don’t tell me what you [stocked] last week. Throw it out of the window because we just realized that milk is flying off the shelf, and people are not buying candy. This is a true story. Candy space in retail outlets is getting replaced by staples. There’s a 30% increase in staples consumption because restaurants are not open and everyone is eating in and needs groceries. How do we then inform the consumer goods company: “I don’t want candy anymore. Send me the staples you also make.”

We have the ability to use yesterday’s information to predict today and tomorrow and drive that cycle.

For some of your clients, the move to virtual must be a culture shock. Their business is not set up for it. These are 100-year-old companies, and they do a bunch of things brilliantly. They’re amazing at what they do. But they can’t go North, when earlier they were going South, on a dime. We were built on that basis—we tend to be able to switch from going North to going South. We’ve had to help clients switch to work from home, but in the [process], we’ve had clients say to us, “I can’t get my team to do all the forecasting and projects while they are struggling to figure out working from home. Can you do this for me?” Finance and accounting is a big part of the work we do for clients. The quarter just closed, and about 150 of our clients, Global 500 companies, are in the process of closing their books. And a lot of them are wondering: How I going to close my books when my CFO, my controller, and everyone else is working from home? How the hell is it going to work?

Well, you know, the human [ability to] innovate, when faced with a challenge, is just amazing. Our teams have found in a way to close the books faster than normal while working from home. We’ve created playbooks that say, “If you do the following things, you can actually close the books faster.” Productivity levels have improved because we are working from home.

If you’re actually able to close books faster remotely, do you envision that companies will revert to the old way of doing things when they’re allowed back into workplaces? I think the world is going in the direction of some work being done virtually and remotely, using digital and cloud technologies. So when life comes back to normal, I would argue 25% of the work may end up being [done] from home and virtual in the world of post-COVID-19. You are going to find many companies saying, “I don’t think my headquarters is needed anymore.” Or, “My headquarters is going to be half its size.”

Something that I’m very passionate about is how to find a way to get more women to work in our business. We’ve driven that really hard [but] it’s a tough journey because our business traditionally has required a lot of travel. I don’t think that’s true anymore.

So is there an opportunity to hire more fabulous women who checked out of the workforce a few years back? And actually we tell them, you can come back into the workforce. You don’t need to travel. You can work from home. You can work four days a week and add tremendous value. I think that that’s going to change.

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