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Busy at the back of the office

Even as they went about creating a fully-integrated steel colossus, the Ruias of the Essar Group were also quietly building a global outsourcing model via a string of acquisitions.

twitter-logo Anand Adhikari        Print Edition: August 23, 2009

In early 2000, no entrepreneur was willing to bet on the domestic market for business process outsourcing (BPO). Reason: It was a relatively lowmargin business (margins were a third of those in global outsourcing); also, there were not many large Indian corporations willing to outsource their business activities. That didn’t faze a 43-year-old Sandip Sen, who founded Customer First Services in Bangalore in 2001. This economics graduate from Kolkata’s Presidency College, whose last job was at Hutchison Max, sensed a big opportunity in domestic telecom and financial services outsourcing. It wasn’t long before the likes of BPL, Standard Chartered, the UB Group and Apollo Hospitals became his clients. In five years, Sen had some 2,500 employees in offices in half-a-dozen cities.

The Aegis Umbrella
Aegis BP0: A global delivery model serving clients locally with a delivery service centre. It’s already a billion-dollar enterprise with over 35,000 employees and 32 global locations
Aegis Tech: To provide end-to-end customised solutions in voice & data networking, managed services, information security and remote infrastructure management. Started just two months ago. Industry size: $20 billion
Aegis Engineering: A knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) firm that focusses on engineering designs for manufacturing, refining and electrical plants. A $20-billion industry
Aegis Direct: A direct sales agent-fronted marketing vehicle that targets companies in industries such as financial services and consumer durables, with a special focus on last-mile delivery. Kicked off last year; generating revenues for insurance companies
Aegis Aspire: Creating employability in the BPO industry in India and overseas markets. With a presence in major cities, this company churns out 2,500 trained youngsters every month

Cut to Lance Rosenzweig, a 47-year-old entrepreneur based in Los Angeles, who, in 1998, cofounded PeopleSupport Inc. along with a friend, David Nash. Rosenzweig, who had worked with GE and Morgan Stanley, did well to survive the dotcom bust in 2000 by migrating a bulk of call centre operations to low-cost destinations such as the Philippines and Costa Rica. Eight years down the line, even as the global economy was rattled by the subprime crisis in the US, Rosenzweig winged himself to Mumbai to explore opportunities in one of the fastest-growing economies of the world. “I met over a dozen Indian BPO companies before tying the knot with an Indian partner—one who shares the same core values and commitment to quality,” says Rosenzweig.

The common strand binding Bangalore’s Sen and LA’s Rosenzweig is the Ruias’ $18-billion Essar Group, best-known as an integrated steel giant (right from mining iron ore to selling ready-to-market products). The Mumbai-headquartered group is also known for its joint venture in telecom with Vodafone, a refinery, and shipping and construction ventures. But few would associate the Ruias with a thriving outsourcing model that’s been built brick by brick over the past six years. Sen and Rosenzweig are just two of the entrepreneurs who are a part of the lineup that’s at the forefront of Essar’s major—but almost hushed—foray into IT-enabled services (ITES). By merging their respective companies into an umbrella entity called Aegis, these entrepreneurs have got a second wind with more than a little help from the financial and strategic muscle that only a conglomerate can provide. “We are creating a platform for entrepreneurs so that they can survive and thrive,” says Aparup Sengupta, Managing Director & Global CEO, Aegis Ltd.

The 44-year-old Sengupta himself has been a serial entrepreneur, having founded ITES firms like 24/7 Customer, IonIdea and Think Harbor in the US. “We need people with passion, who can also bring innovative ideas to grow the business,” says Anshuman Ruia, Director, Essar Group. Ruia, the younger son of group Chairman Shashi Ruia, adds that the ITES portfolio is a well-thought-out strategy of the group to diversify the portfolio away from commodities (steel) and annuity businesses (power) to services (telecom and BPO).

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