Business Today

iGate Global Solutions: The rise of the underdog

In a market where big companies and brands are seen as the best employers, iGate Global Solutions has flown below the radar, jumped four places in this survey, to emerge as the second-best employer.

Rahul Sachitanand        Print Edition: January 25, 2009

You can’t be serious,” the technology practice head of a prominent headhunting firm told this writer, when he was informed that iGate Global Solutions was among the 20 best employers in the country. In a cut-throat employment market, iGate is seen as the flyweight, competing with super-heavyweights such as Microsoft and Infosys.

Understated performer: Srinivas Kandula (centre, in black blazer) Global HR Head with iGators at the company’s Bangalore campus
Understated performer
In engineering colleges, the company is given scant attention, with placement officers preferring to focus on big brands and better paymasters— Tier I Indian firms and global technology and consulting powerhouses. What’s worse, iGate is often perceived to be the front for what is (or, until recently, was) an onsite staffing company, with ‘body-shopping’ and not IT services at the heart of its business.

If Srinivas Kandula, Global Head, HR, is worried by these perceptions, he doesn’t show it. It is 9 a.m. on a December Wednesday, and he’s been at work for a couple of hours but shows few signs of fatigue. Attendance at iGate’s HQ in Whitefield, Bangalore, is sparse. “Around 40-50 per cent of our staff is on holiday and even senior management, including Phaneesh (Murthy, iGate’s CEO) are taking a break,” says Kandula, who has elected to stay back with CFO Sujit Sircar. “We’re happy with our understated image,” claims Kandula. “It allows us to under-promise and overdeliver.”

Across several parameters, iGate actually outdoes the top-ranked Microsoft. Its career tenure is longer, its diversity ratio stronger and its hikes are heftier. “We have a strong integrated approach to our HR processes and our people,” says Kandula. While some companies may pay more and some offer better benefits, iGate, he claims, is the perfect blend of all these factors. Kandula’s thesis is based on a survey he commissioned when he came aboard two-andhalf years ago. “We realised that people want a compensation with which they can focus on comfortable quality of living, not cost of living,” he contends. iGate is among a handful of firms to continue to offer stock options to its employees. “These are long-term investment measures for weddings, families, even retirement,” he adds.

iGate’s HR model is based on the 5C concept—compensation, camaraderie, career growth, culture, competency. For example, iGate’s competency module revolves around realising the potential of an employee and involves 19 engineering capabilities and 13 behavioural and leadership skills. “Each employee is expected to go through a competency assessment once in six months and this involves at least nine of these competencies,” says Kandula.

  • Number of people laid off in 2008-09 (as on Dec. 31, ’08)....0

  • Number of people hired in 2008.....1,600

  • Head count in Dec. 2008 vis-à-vis Dec 2007.....5,925 (6,500)

  • Head count post-March 2009.....Likely to go up

  • Pay-cuts resorted to/planned.....None

  • Innovative HR practice...Thank God it’s Monday— a one-hour cultural fiesta every Monday.

Source: Mercer, Company

Elsewhere, for iGate employees (or iGators), camaraderie happens at different levels ranging from regional and linguistic, skills (.net, SAP, Siebel) and even interests such as music (with iGate’s in-house band Rubber Band) and social welfare. Career planning takes place over a 10-12-year horizon and employees can map out their future on the company intranet.

Murthy continues to be closely connected with mentoring programmes. This, he explains, helps share the iGate vision across all employees and “once you make them believe in the vision and let them loose, they will fly”.

Part of the process, says Murthy, is to treat employees like responsible adults. “While most managers feel that they know what is good for their employees, we believe that employees should have an equal hand in making that choice,” he says. So, employees can choose whether to get their bonus in cash, restricted stock or stock options, depending on their cash flow needs in the next few years.

iGate wants to break several HR rules along the way and sugar-coat some of the tough times ahead. It has devised its own HR systems, rather than buy products from external vendors. “Large companies buy these expensive solutions offthe-shelf and try to force fit them for their existing HR systems,” says Kandula. Instead, iGate’s model, called iTOPS, hopes to de-link revenues and headcount growth. “We want to focus on enhancing the intellectual capabilities of our employees, not demeaning measures such as making them work an hour more, or on Saturdays,” says Kandula. Murthy is looking to boost iGate’s image by honouring all hiring commitments and moving to a just-in-time hiring model.

Like most companies, iGate has its hands full dealing with the downturn. While people may stay with the jobs they have (and help reduce attrition), iGate continues to struggle to find the specialised talent required to properly run its new business model. Murthy, Kandula and his team will have to work doubly hard to keep iGate’s flag flying high.

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