2000, when this magazine pioneered the concept of best-employer
surveys-essentially exercises with the objective of identifying
the best companies to work for in India-the short-list (of the
10 best) has largely been dominated by companies in the it and
it-enabled services businesses. Last year, for instance, 50 per
cent of the list was made up of companies from these two businesses;
this year, 70 per cent is. The lowest figure, accounted for by
these two sectors (as a proportion of the top 10) is 20 per cent,
and that was in 2003, and 2002-2003, for the benefit of those
who have forgotten what that year was like, was the year when
the slowdown in it spending in the us, the single largest (and
dominant) market for it and it-enabled services offshored to India,
a slowdown that had been two years in the making (2001 and 2002)
finally caught up with high-flying Indian firms in the two areas.
The dominance of the listing by companies
in the two businesses will likely continue for some more time
for reasons that have been explained elsewhere in this magazine.
The reason why it will continue only 'for some more time' and
not 'ad infinitum' is because firms in the it and it-enabled services
businesses will have to change their ways in sync with economic
and market realities. And it is because other firms, in other
businesses, old and new, will also have to change their ways.
There is one other point, but that can wait. Indeed, Fortune magazine's
listing of the best companies to work for in the US is a mixture
of companies large and small, known and unknown, and in businesses
that are mature and nascent. Five years from now, the 10th edition
of the survey, The Best Companies to Work for in India, 2010 will
probably throw up a list akin to that, one that reflects truly
the diversity of India Inc.
At one level, this will happen as it and
it-enabled services become more mature businesses governed by
the same rules and constraints that do others in other businesses.
At another, companies in a variety of industries will realise
that hr can be something that differentiates them from their peers,
in terms of building the equity of their brands as employees,
and, perhaps because of this, something that can differentiate
their product or service offerings. The most significant reason
for the change, however, will come from employees themselves.
Any period of economic hyper-activity creates wealth; over the
next five years, a significant number of the salaried will become
rich (sometimes rich beyond their wildest dreams); these employees
will end up making career choices driven not by the usual suspects,
money and career progression, but by quality of work, and quality
of life. That may sound inconceivable now; five years on, it won't.
|Former PM Gowda: The other guy blinked?
Deve Gowda, former prime minister of India, and Janata Dal (S)
supremo (not a word this magazine would have used; then, at a
recent televised interaction, the man himself said this was how
the media referred to him) is right. N.R. Narayana Murthy, Chairman
and Chief Mentor, Infosys Technologies, is wrong. It is as simple
as that. Black and white. True and false. Business, and businessmen,
have no role to play in the running of a borough, city, state
or country. The role of business is to effectively deploy capital,
and generate jobs and wealth, and just because a company-in this
case, Infosys Technologies-does this exceedingly well, and is
a 'good' company to boot, doesn't give its executives any claim
to tell other people how to do their jobs.
In many ways, this is the natural corollary
to laissez faire, the economic principle that forms the basis
of free market economics (something this magazine swears by),
and one that is often used (and rightly so) by people who would
like to see the government getting out of business (read: disinvesting
its stake in public sector enterprises) and focussing its considerable
resources on things it should have focussed on in the first place,
things such as primary health and education. Just as right-minded
businessmen would like to see governments follow the doctrine
of non-interference when it comes to business, right-minded politicos
would like to see businessmen return the favour when it comes
to things such as governance.
Companies, after all, pay taxes (at least,
the more progressive among them pay as much as they are supposed
to), and that should be the extent of their participation in government,
unless they are asked to do something more, like the government
asked Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Sons, to head the Investment
Commission that was formed to attract more foreign investment
into the country. That's a principle that has governed the actions
of Murthy's peer, Azim Premji, the Chairman of Wipro. The demarcations
are definite: businesses and individuals pay tax and obey rules,
and politicians in power take care of the rest, like ensuring
that cities have enough roads to deal with increasing volumes
of traffic, or enough power to feed more industries, or enough
drains to handle sudden rains (although it must be said that there
is something to a contrarian school of thought among some politicians
that rains can only be good, especially for rural people dependent
on agriculture for a living).
Murthy, then, broke this rule (repeatedly)
by speaking about what the government needed to do (such as at
a recent meeting on urban-rural reforms). What Infosys' Chief
Mentor seems to have not realised that when it comes to running
cities, or running them to the ground, India's politicians will
suffer no help, however well-meaning it is.
New Media, New Behaviour
|See what I got: Net-savvy consumers
know what to buy
It shouldn't surprise anyone
that new media (the internet, and the various ways by which it
can be accessed) is changing the way people shop, sometimes encouraging
them to buy brands that they would not have otherwise considered.
Much of this can be attributed to the fact that it is easy to
find information on the internet. Ten years ago, someone who wanted
to buy, say, a refrigerator, would have had to accumulate information
on the products and brands available in the market (price, features,
capacity and the like) on the basis of advertisements put out
by the companies in question (which are, by the very definition,
biased) or actual visits to dealers selling products, or both.
The result: imperfect information. And a purchase process based
on imperfect information is bound to be, as marketing experts
will vouch, imperfect.
Today, anyone shopping around for a refrigerator
can find information on most major brands from the company websites.
She can also, if she so desires, scour the net for reviews of
these brands (even in India there are a few sites that are focussed
exclusively on product reviews). Then, there are blogs she can
look up (thanks to some very efficient blogsearch engines). The
best thing about much of this information (apart from that on
the company-sites) is that they are likely to be unbiased (if
a little uninformed). What's true of refrigerators is true of
cameras, televisions, cars, banks and credit card issuers, and
just about anything else. Why, people can even use the information
on the net to good effect, deciding which companies to work for
and which not to.
Brands tend to become irrelevant (unless
they are really really strong brands that evoke strong emotional
responses from some consumers) when perfect information is available.
When a consumer doesn't have as much information as she would
like to, she is likely to justify her purchase decision by saying,
"Fine, I'll go with X; it is a well-known brand." When
she does have as much information as she would like, the consumer
may well end up buying a brand she may never even have considered