Business Today

Warm comfort

Zubin Irani has returned to India twice - and it seems unlikely there will be a third time.

Saumya Bhattacharya | Print Edition: Jan 9, 2011

Do the tough things that no one else wants to do." Armed with this advice from his father Jamshed J. Irani, a director with Tata Sons, Zubin Irani left India immediately after acquiring an engineering degree from IIT Kanpur in 1996. His first stop was an auto component firm in Ohio in the United States, The Timken Company, where he worked for close to a year. He then went on to join the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to acquire a degree in material sciences and, eventually, in 1999 started working at McKinsey in the United States.

Zubin Irani
Senior Managing Director, United Technologies, India

Previous employer United Technologies in Singapore

Why I came back Two reasons. I wanted my children to spend more time with their grandparents. India is a growth market and I wanted to understand the market

If I was not in India India was the country that brought me back to Asia. Though I did move to Singapore for a short duration, India it was for me

High point in India Carrier India more than doubled revenues in five years; also very high customer satisfaction and employee engagement. Personally, a key high point has been the proximity to my parents and immediate family

Low point in India None
By 2004, Irani was back in India, as Associate Principal with McKinsey. A year later he joined United Technologies, or UTC, as head of Marketing and Strategy at its Asia-Pacific office in Singapore. But Irani was back home in 2006 as head of UTC group company Carrier Aircon, which was subsequently rechristened Carrier India.

The trigger for the return was a mix of personal and professional. "One, I wanted my two boys to spend more time with their grandparents. Two, India was the growth market to be in at that time… I wanted to understand this market," says Irani, now Senior Managing Director of UTC's India operations.

When Irani began working in India, the biggest revelation for him was "people". Some of the biggest learnings and challenges for Irani came from people - his customers and employees. That he was starting at the top in his first job in India prompted Irani to make some unconventional moves. For instance, customers were encouraged to write to the MD (Irani) directly. That helped Irani learn one of his first lessons in India: If you are in touch with customers regularly, you end up having higher levels of customer satisfaction. The next challenge was the employee.

When Irani came to India, 60 per cent of his time was spent in retaining and managing people. Lesson No. 2 in India: Be visible within the organisation. Communication is most important for employees. Today, Irani is thinking of starting a blog for the same purpose. "When I look at the work culture outside of India, people are committed to work but the connect is simply efficient and nothing more. After work, it is a different life for the employees." Whereas in India, Irani realised, the workplace is a part of life for employees. "You get great returns if you invest emotionally in your employees in India," he says.

From the business point of view, customer requirements in India are changing faster than in most other global markets. The focus is shifting from cost to green, infrastructure is evolving, power supply is inconsistent. Winning companies need to invent a new business model in India, according to Irani. "You need innovation and localisation to address the Indian market. You have to invent a new supply chain for India. The rest of the world can learn innovation solutions from India," he says.

Irani is proud of what the Carrier India team has achieved over the past five years: Revenues have more than doubled and profits have grown enough. During his tenure, customer satisfaction and employee engagement scores were at an all-time high. He hopes to replicate his Carrier experience at the parent, UTC.

A key high point in Irani's life has been the proximity to his parents and immediate family. Luckily, for Irani, there were hardly any adjustments needed in terms of education of kids and the family settling in. "My children were very young when I moved to India." As was the highgrowth phase of the Indian economy.

  • Print

A    A   A