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Secret behind Cognizant's success

Last updated on: March 21, 2012 12:22 IST

Secret behind Cognizant's success

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T E Narasimhan

Cognizant's success has come from its ability to learn how to change quickly and adapt rapidly. Francisco D'Souza, the 43-year old CEO of Cognizant with boyish looks, grew up in three continents but spent most of his working life in the US, his company's biggest market, where he stayed anchored throughout the recession of the last two years.

But, just when the US was starting to come out of the woods, Cognizant's second biggest revenue earner, Europe, plunged into turmoil with the sovereign debt crisis. Despite these struggles, the company was able to grow its revenues from $1.4 billion in 2007 to $6.12 billion in 2011 - a compound annual growth rate of around 35 per cent.

The employee base rose to over 137,000 from 55,000. The man who was driving this growth was D'Souza.

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Image: Francisco DSouza.
Photographs: Rediff Archive

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After completing his Bachelors in Business Administration from the University of East Asia, Hong Kong, and a Masters in Business Administration from the Carnegie Mellon University, US, he was recruited by Dun & Bradstreet Corporation from the Carnegie Mellon University campus for their Global Management Programme.

He held key positions in marketing, strategic planning and new business development at D&B and spent two years at various locations, including the US and Germany. He came to India in 1993 to set up D&B's technology arm from scratch.

The country is not new to him. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, D'Souza is the son of an Indian Foreign Service Officer.

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Image: He came to India in 1993 to set up D&B's technology arm from scratch.
Photographs: Kamal Kishore/Reuters

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He grew up in a household closely associated with India, even though he spent most of his life outside of India, he says.

"When I was growing up, and every six years, we returned to India after a three-year stint abroad. But pretty much every year, we would come back to India for a vacation."

"D&B was a $5-billion revenue conglomerate of ten operating companies. And it was spending around $800 million every year on IT. There was no mandate that D&B would use our services exclusively. Thus we learnt to compete," he recalls.

D&B was clear about bagging large-scale projects in India and not just body-shopping, so the DNA for a full-scale business service provider was created right at the inception.

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Image: He grew up in a household closely associated with India.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
Tags: India , DNA

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"Soon we realised that we needed more challenges. So I went back to the US in 1998 to build a client services platform," he added.

At that time half of the revenue came from D&B, "and it was a matter of time before we learnt that bagging new businesses in new verticals and domains would be the only drivers for growth."

In 1995, D&B spun off its subsidiaries and Cognizant Corporation was born.

"As Director of the US operations, I had an amorphous role - one day I would be selling our services; the next I had to deal with how to get people paid," he says of his early days.

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Image: In 1995, D&B spun off its subsidiaries and Cognizant Corporation was born.
Photographs: Kamal Kishore/Reuters

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"If there is one thing in my personal life that has made a decisive impact on business in Cognizant, it is the multi-cultural experience that I have gained and cherished.

"From the beginning we have consciously built the organisation with this 'multicultural' flavour because, to serve the global marketplace, you need to be global. What I learned growing up in a microcosm, is very much alive in the DNA at Cognizant."

The company was "born global" - founded by a US Company (Dun & Bradstreet) that had operations in more than 60 countries around the world and wanted to tap the talent pool in India and other locations.

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Image: He says he cherishes the multi-cultural experience.
Photographs: Sherwin Crasto/Reuters

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"Far more than a global mindset, what I learned was how to change quickly and adapt rapidly. I think this, perhaps more than anything else, is a key to success in the business world today," says D'Souza.

D'Souza's career progressed from director, US operations, to vice president (North American operations), and then successively senior vice-president, chief operating officer, and now CEO.


Image: He says he can change quickly and adapt rapidly.
Photographs: Sherwin Crasto/Reuters
Tags: D'Souza , CEO , US

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