Business Today

Stay local, work global

The freedom and flexibility are addictive: after working here, it is tough adjusting elsewhere.

K.R. Balasubramanyam        Print Edition: February 7, 2010

Patricia R. Fenandoe, 41, comes across as an odd person in a sector where people frequently jump ship over a cappuccino at the corner cafe just for a fatter pay packet. Fenandoe, now a middle management executive, has been with IBM India since 1992, when the multinational re-entered the country, but the 17-year stint with the same employer has not induced any fatigue.

For one, juggling a job and children is easy at IBM. When her children were young and preparing for exams, her manager allowed her to work from home. When she felt she had spent enough time in a particular role, she was encouraged to take on another. "For women, IBM is the ideal place to work," says Fenandoe, who now works in sales at Big Blue in Bangalore.

Her colleagues explain why it's not hard to find IBM veterans. Big Blue, they boast, is actually many companies rolled into one. It's a marquee software company, an IT services company, a hardware maker and a consulting firm. An aspiring careerist factors in all this and hopes to benefit from the diverse growth opportunities within. "IBM provides myriad opportunities for growth, global exposure and learning," says S. Chandrasekhar, IBM India's Vice President and HR Head (India and South Asia). "You can't get more global than IBM—for all our work is truly globally integrated."

Out of IBM's total workforce of over 400,000, around 74,000 are in India. IBM, with global revenues of $103.6 billion (Rs 4.76 lakh crore) in 2008, is known for executing projects on a massive scale: Its current billion-dollar-plus bag of projects worldwide include work for Bharti Airtel, AstraZeneca and Telstra. One of the world's largest and most profitable corporations, IBM has been there, done that, from the Great Depression and World War II to the US economy's collapse. IBM's brand equity has more to do with the minds it has nurtured (five Nobel laureates came from its ranks) and less to do with the formidable processes it has created.

Last year, it hit the headlines when the US media latched on to internal memos talking of job cuts there. IBM officials deny any American jobs moved into India. Nor, of course, were any jobs cut here — performers not only got a modest pay hike, but also bonuses. "We have clearly demonstrated that IBM is a career company—being here means being part of a long-term growth story... Our customer confidence remained intact," says Chandrasekhar.

IBM enjoys a reputation for staff retention. (No extremes, please: The HR chief thinks firing a non-performing employee is not a bad thing.) IBM is a melting pot of cultures and ethnicity, and is agnostic on sexual orientation. "The company is continuously reinventing itself to adapt to the changing dynamics of customer needs….There is a tremendous emphasis on innovation," says Chandrasekhar, and cites IBM India's — you would never guess it — Contact Centre, which was set up solely to address HR and payrollrelated issues of employees.

It's tough to adjust to other workplaces once you have been at IBM for a few years — this is because of the flexibility given to you at work. Managers worry only about the outcome, not about how or where the work will be done. Staff can work from home, go mobile or work part-time. The mobile schedule allows an employee to work at different offices on different days, while part-time engagement means they can work on days or at hours convenient to them. (The salary and benefits are aligned accordingly.)

As for women, IBM actually rewards headhunters with extra bucks for each reference of a candidate who is recruited. "We often hold exclusive women hiring events. We want the overall women employee strength to be 45 per cent in India from 25 per cent now," says Chandrasekhar.

IBM recently began sending its executives on foreign jaunts to be part of community missions. "Globally, IBM will send 1,500 of its top professionals over the next three years to emerging countries where they will help build local communities," Chandrasekhar says. No wonder, IBM boasts of one of the highest retention rates in an industry where money rules.

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