Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The story behind the unquoted quotes!

On being asked about the ICC rankings (where some of our cricketing icons were nowhere in the top despite being among the highest achievers!), the Ogilvy & Mather Group President Piyush Pandey -the Creative guru quipped "that's research for you"!!

Research is a funny business. One often starts off with some hypothesis and attempts to gather a 'true representative sample' to evaluate them, before arriving at a conclusion. So you often get what you want to hear, and go ahead with the story-often not entirely using the quote in the context meant but more in the larger interests of the 'theme' being presented :-)!

Today I had a few calls regarding a quote of mine in regarding the plight of some trainees who had agreed to a bond . While it did carry the message, here is what I thought I had expressed:
-"It is a sad reflection on our education system that even after qualifying as a professional, one's vocational skills aren't exactly marketable to the industry. The last few years have seen companies 'catch' students  almost 2yrs before graduation, with offers-and so, the onus is really on the corporates teaching the trainees on the job. So the 2 lakhs bond could be construed accordingly. Especially since there is no concept of lifelong employment these days!!"
-To a pointed question about my impressions on Satyam charging 2lakhs-much higher than others..and more pointedly in contrast to Infy (50K) and Wipro (75K), I quipped that the fact that Infy & Wipro too 'charged' didn't make them any holier! It was a relative measure-whether a person had committed one murder or more, each one is still a murderer!!
-What are my feelings about the bunch who seem to be running the risk of losing the money, my response was " there is no free lunch anywhere! Higher the reward, the risk is always higher. The 7000 candidates really had choices-no one really forced them to sign the bond with Satyam. If they were good enough to get other jobs, I am positive they walked into the deal with their eyes open-(maybe even dreaming about the higher salary, foreign trips and a better deal in the dowry market!!) "

Last week I was featured in a very brief clip on Headlines Today TV-on the now still high TRP Satyam topic-about the 'sentiments of the employees seeking greener pastures'-even as the management was trying to arrest the flight of customers in the light of the horrid scam.There were rumours of renegade teams-and most quotes were driving home the point.

The clip did come a few times during Friday-even as I expressed the balancing opinions:

-"As a recruiter handling senior management positions,( GM and above levels), the number of people who reached out to me, was a significantly smaller number..a few dozens! Typically this is a bunch who otherwise would not be like to be known looking for jobs. I admire Satyam for having over the years been able to attract and retain, some very smart people-and it is a hallmark of the culture that quite a few have been with them for over a decade! When I interacted with them, it was more a shock or disenchantment with the turn of events in the last 3 weeks..than anything else.The disbelief that it actually happened. So while they did keep themselves aware of the opportunities-they prefer to 'wait and watch' -rather than pick up the first offer and rock the boat! "

Its nice when the media does present all sides of the story -and leaves the reader to analyse! We would probably have less people retracting on their quotes!!

Unlike the print or TV media, where the reader/viewer is left with no choice but to passively receive the news/information being dished out, on the internet, the reader can actively seek out a balanced picture of whatever he or she wishes to know! Incidentally, I got to know through a close pal of mine -who works with a leading international news agency, that their company generates more revenue from the Googles and Yahoos-than all the print /TV media put together!

Well..would we soon see the 'push from the traditional media' in India lose out to the 'pull of the internet' ??

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Salaries in 2009- the shoe will pinch

Nothing has really changed in the last year!!As I keep telling my pals who call to check if I am doing well..."the boom never affected me-so too the bust !!"

Well, if the same time last year, a recruiter never got used to handling 'drops' (remember most people had multiple job offers then, and could only join one employer and didn't even have enough time to keep all concerned informed?) -we always chided ourselves for not seeing those 'early alarms' -the unanswered calls/mails, sudden increase in meetings -and repeated extensions of the joining date- this year, the symptoms seem to have spread to the clients!! Suddenly, corporates seem to have developed cold feet -at times to defer making offers, or once having made an offer- to defer joining date ( one hears of thousands of campus hires who hold lucrative and juicy letters), even suddenly withdrawing them at the eleventh hour!!

It hurts -either way :)!!

Seriously, one can only keep our expectations more realistic this time around, and learn to manage disappointment better!

The economy has begun the new year firmly in grip of a downturn and the job landscape is littered with freezes and layoffs. I don’t think we should expect a respite for the next two quarters, at least.

It doesn't take an economist to predict!! As uncertainty on the jobs front deepens, cutback in household ( and impulsive consumer) spending will rise. If consumers curtail more expenditure, business sales and earnings shrink further. The collapse in profit margins and lack of demand will force more companies to freeze hiring or even implement lay-offs. This becomes a vicious cycle.

What would that mean for salaried professionals?? As per the Business Today Omam Consultants Salary Survey the indications are that salary increase will be lower compared to last year:

1.there are lesser jobs in the market compared to last year. Also, lateral hiring is less, as companies restrict investments in new ventures.
2.focus will be more on performance-oriented pay rather than fixed pay.
3. some functions like business development, technology and operations may carry a premium compared to (other) support .

Well, our individual performance is perhaps the only variable..we can control!!

Adapt and Change

Last weekend, we @ ERA Hyderabad Chapter, had the pleasure of having an exciting interactive session with Mr Srinivasa Rao Aluri, Managing Director, Morgan Stanley India Services Pvt Ltd.

For some of us, it was a great feeling-getting a perception of the 'manavaadu'- 'our own' -a prodigal Hyderabadi! Aluri was among the highest paid executives in town-even in the late nineties, as the CEO of Natco Pharma-before he embarked on a journey that has since seen him go places-London School, a stint in US in the in dot com era, in the VC world with ICICI ventures-and for now, as he now returns to Hyderabad and operate from here!!

I guess it is difficult to have any conversation these days without referring to Satyam-but we went on to have a free wheeling debate on corporate governance, role of directors, auditors, the regulators, the possible influence of PE and VC players, and the due diligence one can bring in!!

Dwelling on the economy, Aluri cautioned us that some of the business models of the recruiting industry would have to change! Especially those whose revenue model depended on the hiring of handful of senior professionals- would need to be innovative. The likely models that would thrive- would be
a) handling recruitment in a different paradigm than before
b)those that build on collaboration-and maybe
c) those who can roll on by aggregating!!

Psst..he opined that private equity could be considered, if a bunch of professional, competent and ethical recruiters came together!! And yes, he did share some of the sectors that would do better off the near future!

Personally, I did feel vindicated-as I have always felt that a slowdown like the present one, would bring in a lot of corrections, as recruiters would have to look beyond the 'low lying fruit" -(the job portals and active job seekers ) and beyond transactional services. One can distinctly notice the potential disintermediation creeping into our industry too- as professionals can connect with similar minded communities-across the globe-with linkedin or facebook -and other technology enabling online networking tools -why even blogs :-)!!

It is interesting to get an insight into the mind of Mr Kevin Kelly, CEO of executive search giant Heidrick & Struggles International, who feels 3 to 5yrs now, he sees a perceptible revenue shift from pure Executive Search to "Leadership Advisory Services"!! Companies would need advice on the complete talent agenda ( not just acquisition, but also development and retention of senior managers), assessment metrics and succession planning!! Which would mean breaking into the bastion of management consultants like Mc Kinseys and Accentures!!?

Back to the basics, right?? "It's not the strongest or most intelligent that survive," paraphrasing Charles Darwin, the future belongs to " those that are willing and able to adapt and change."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Time now for walking the talk!

The above cartoon is courtesy Keshav of the daily THE HINDU fame-who I am lucky to have studied along with-at school!! The election ballot -if converted into a cash box-would be apt for many of the businesses globally.

Be it President Elect Obama's vision, or the claim by HR experts about 90 million jobs likely to be available in India, there is an increasing fear that the services sector alone in India cannot save us from a possible recession!!

As a recruiter -I can see that people are getting tired of debating the 'slowdown' -and especially in India-about the Mumbai blasts and the Satyam saga. Over the last one week, I can distinctly see most of my clients getting 'real' and down to serious business. We have had some interesting sessions- with very clear expectations of SLAs, and innovative ideas of execution.

The order book is more than full than before- only this time around- almost all the openings are much tougher-with lesser room for compromise /error-and surely, no 'low lying fruit'!! Positions are across infrastructure, hospitality, IT products, SMEs, telecom -and yes, even some IT services companies choosing to beef up their practices -by hiring niche skills-in a bid to' grow' the business-visavis 'run a business'!!

On the supply side, there is a sense of 'wait and watch' adopted by most professionals- choosing to do their due diligence about the opportunities as much as possible- before nodding to an offer! A remarkable side effect -across levels, there is an increasing concern for stability and career growth..

The hurdles are more visible today..and yes, only the fittest will survive!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

L'affaire Satyam-the naked truth

It has been a display of a spectrum of basic instincts. Human emotions -greed, anger, fear, disgust, grief, curiosity, opportunism, vicarious pleasure,'s all happening!
Over the past week- the Satyam saga has been dissected-most surgically not just by the TV & print media , but also by bloggers , office & personal gossip, etc. In fact, during the week 'Satyam' even dominated collective mind share on the hottest 'online searches' . . (Out of the top 100 search threads, a whopping 40-plus dealt with the l'affaire Satyam alone.)

Scams and scandals are part and parcel of business and politics. Across the world, without any reservation among nationalities, creeds, races, ..and I am sure more skeletons will come out of the closets in future too. Just compare Satyam with Enron, Lehman, and even Madoff-it's indeed a hallmark of a truly 'not entirely de-coupled' globalised world!!

As a local Hyderabadi, where Satyam is a household name, it is ironical to see a parallel in an earlier (local) cricketing hero Azharuddin -becoming a pariah as soon as reports of his 'match-fixing' came to light-negating all the earlier achievements and glory attained!! Almost 2 decades of outstanding work-has been wiped out of memory instantly...

Personally, I am not as much surprised by the unfolding events as I am shocked by the 'reactions' by the various stakeholders-almost every section taking a pot shot at hitting some one who was already down and out!! Just imagine the damage that can be caused even on the best of banks, if a decent amount of customers orchestrate a 'run on their money' in a very short time??

Right from the erstwhile Chairman trying to favour his family, to the "ex CFO" selling off close to 100,000 shares a few months ago, one has since read/heard about the pecuniary gains of some board members, the failure/futility of the regulators, bankers, tax officials, et al. It is also amusing to note that even some ' speculative members of the investor community ' joining the bandwagon to sue the management for the losses!

There are also some veiled comments made by competitors, either directly or indirectly -to influence or entice /woo away business from Satyam. To me -the comments made by Mr Omkar Goswami -(who incidentally is among the board of directors of another leading IT major) in his personal capacity as a leading thinker -were most distasteful-especially in the context of 'conflict of interest'!!

Who knows, there could be a lot to gain for a few non-Indian companies , leveraging on "Brand India" and lap up some of the reluctant foreign customers! Some others are proactively exploring if they could attract some of the 'insecure' topnotch employees to their companies.

As a recruiter in the same city, we have been swamped with over a few hundreds of requests and enquiries-from Satyam employees unsure of their immediate future-as nothing could have prepared the 50,000 plus employees for such a situation-where there is no clear management control, and rampant rumours of fearing next months salary, with banks withdrawing credit limits, ...and even thousands of jobs likely to be axed!

My advice to most of them- have been ' not to panic-and not act in haste', 'wait and watch -time will heal' and so on. Satyam's strength today-are their customers and their employees. And a strong existing working relationship that would stand the test of uncertainty for a while. While Satyam may not get new clients for a while, in the present scenario, I am positive most clients would be content to maintain the status quo and not call off any existing contract-which is a decent revenue stream in itself and ensure continuity for Satyam for a few quarters for sure!

As I post this note, a new board of directors has been named by the government ,who would take charge shortly and even if conservative and tentative for a while, Satyam's future is very much different from the Wall Street financial majors who went down under late last year! It is any body's guess if they will spin off the company into several small businesses that could be sold off- or even if there are some M&A bids notwithstanding the huge liabilities.

There is a huge demand for the senior management (above VP level) professionals, as well as specialists, within the IT industry-or for HR/Finance and Business Development professionals whose competencies can be transplanted to other industries/domains. They would best wait for a compelling reason/opportunity to play more important roles leading to faster growth-rather than nodding to the first offer that comes their way.

However, those large numbers in the entry/junior management- would not have the luxury of a proven track record-and will need to draw on their networking skills at their best- to try and latch on to some star performers/mentors/seniors -who can help them navigate through these troubled times.

Those likely to be in trouble-are the generalists-who may end up not adding too much value. And the freshers-as also those campus hires waiting for the joining date. Not to mention a large bunch who have been 'on the bench'. It is a rude jolt-as their bargaining position is pretty much notional-and would even have to consider any avenue -as a stop gap before the economic situation improves. It is time to learn more, upgrade one's skills-and make oneself employable at the earliest inflexion.

It is indeed testing times for all concerned. Not just the stakeholders, but also the society in general. The HR fraternity especially-would do well to be most sensitive to the situation. Hopefully, the heart will rule the mind for a while till sanity returns!!

2009-taking fresh guard

It is exactly three weeks since I last blogged. While the last 6 days was a break from work due to personal reasons ( my father has since recovered -and back home, hale and hearty, from the hospital after some nervous moments!!), the earlier fortnight flew off –before one knew.
The general slow down helped me –to take time off from the daily routine, and travel-meet some ole pals, some fresh acquaintances, and kindle hopes for more determined alliances!!

Looking back 2008-it was -perhaps the best of my life -and Team Options so far!! Since my personal and professional lives are so seamlessly integrated, it was indeed a wonderful year for me. A year that gave me opportunities to back my instincts-and emerge stronger and wiser!!

Some of the best placements happened; exciting and challenging assignments- saw us stretching professionally-and me-learning from almost every meeting that I had.

Met a lot of new people –potential business partners across the world-as the visits took me to the USA, Australia, UK , Singapore and Philippines.

The perspectives have helped vindicate a lot of hypothesis..At Options, we tweaked around with a lot of experiments- building new practices, changing some processes-and welcomed a diverse set of team members-from across industries-and different functional backgrounds and temperaments. And like most things, some ideas were executed well-while some had to be aborted midway :(!

And all this -while the world around us kept crumbling around, with economic situations bewildering even the brightest pundits-the dollar went from 38 Rs to 52- the stock markets tanked globally-and most assets value severely challenged. So, it does give room for us to adopt some 'realistic optimism'!!

They say if one articulates ones thoughts in writing..the nature’s elements conspire to align themselves..and make them come true! So here are some of resolutions for 2009-not in any particular order

-Explore alliances in China, UAE , Europe and South Africa
-Generate a passive income
-Shed weight-one kg per month
- Fine tune systems and process and tighten the the delivery time. Improve response time. Empower and enable team members to go to the next level . And be prepared for taking the next boom…as it happens!

Here’s wishing all of us a great 2009..a year that brings the best out of us!! And continue to live our dreams…gritting our teeth and working harder than before!!