By Anand Parthasarathy
( a full version of this article has appeared yesterday at Swarajyamag)
October 4 2021: Amidst the doom-n-gloom scenario in the jobs market, with so many corporates struggling to survive in a post-Covid world, one technology player bucked the trend. The massively Indian-talent driven, US-headquartered Cognizant, said last month, it planned to immediately fill some 30,000 positions in this country with fresh engineering graduates and a possible 45,000 next year, to provide global support services for its global customer base of some 5.6 million users of largely Microsoft tools like Windows, Office and Azure. It also plans to hire another 1 lakh working professionals as lateral entrants.Cognizant calls this, its ‘Ninja’ hiring process, which will enable it to make 700 job offers every day, for many weeks this year.
In a separate announcement, the corporate social media tool, LinkedIn recently ranked it at no. 2 of 25, among Top Companies in India to work for: Cognizant calls its employees “associates” and they number just over 2 lakhs in India – over 70% of its global people power.
Cognizant is a very interesting example of how some infotech companies, deliberately shed their Indianness to become truly global entities in search of worldwide name and fame. And to a large extent, this has succeeded. But, while you can change your clothes, you can’t alter your DNA: and the extent to which Cognizant’s Indian talent fuels its global business and ambitions, remains an untold story of desi technological talent.
The company was founded in 1994 as Dun and Bradstreet India and was a joint venture with Satyam Computers, with Srini Raju its first CEO. Like other IT companies based in India, Cognizant leveraged the Y2K or Year 2000 business but cannily did not put all its eggs in one basket. It survived the dotcom bust by taking on the maintenance projects that larger IT services companies did not bother about.
From 1998, first as President and then as CEO, Cognizant was steered by Lakshmi Narayanan who refocused Cognizant on Business Process Operations and consulting. Under its co-founder and CEO from 2007 for12 years, Kenya-born Indian Francisco D’Souza, Cognizant saw booming business and revenues. Even after the company inducted Irish-born Brian Humphries, a veteran with stints at Vodafone, Dell and HP, as CEO in 2019, Indians continue to head most of the key verticals -- former Mphasis CEO Ganesh Ayyar, is President of digital business operations, while ex-IBM-veteran, Rajesh Nambiar is Chairman of Cognizant India and head of digital business and technology.
The changeover to a non-Indian CEO after 25 years, did see the departure of quite a few senior executives as Humphries brought in his own team; but to call it an exodus of talent as some sections of the media did, seems like an overstatement. More worrisome for the current leadership in India, is this apparent contradiction: While Cognizant is a very big supporter of Indian talent, it also suffers an attrition rate that, at around 18%, is above the national average.
Whenever the history of Indian Information Technology is told, Cognizant finds a place among the Famous Five -- turn-of-the-century pioneers including TCS, Infosys, Wipro and HCL who made ‘India IT’ a globally respected brand. Today, Cognizant has slipped out of the Top Ten tech players ranking in India – but often forgotten is one fact: at an international level, the company is among the Top 10 or Top 15 (depending on who does the ranking) Infotech companies, going by revenue. With the most recent annual earnings of $ 16.5 billion, Cognizant is in the global company of only one other Indian player –TCS.
It may be too soon to predict how it goes – but one thing is certain: the skills that make this happen at Cognizant, will be – mostly – Indian.