A year ago Sanjeev Aggarwal, managing director, Daksh e-Services was cautiously optimistic. Over lunch we discussed how Daksh, which had slightly over 3,000 people on its rolls, would stay in the fast track for the foreseeable future. By 2005 Aggarwal predicted confidently that the company would hit the magic figure of 5,000 people.
Cut to this week. Aggarwal admits that his calculations were way off the mark. Daksh is growing at a speed that even he hadn't dared to predict a year ago. The three-and-a-half year old company now has 5,800 people working from four centres in Mumbai and Gurgaon.
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Its original targets have all been left in the dust and Aggarwal is almost unwilling to offer predictions for the future. But he does have a new number for 2005: by then Daksh expects to have 10,000 people answering queries and solving problems for clients around the world.
A similar scenario is being enacted in another corner of Delhi. Raman Roy, chairman & managing director, Wipro Spectramind, is reckoned to be the pioneer of India's BPO industry. Roy heads a listed company so he won't offer predictions for the future. But Wipro Spectramind has been picking up new business and hiring young staffers at blistering speed.
At the end of its second year it had 2,200 people and a year ago that number had risen to slightly over 5,000. But those numbers are already history.
In the last two quarters Spectramind has been hiring around 100 people a week and it now has 8,492 staffers -- and the year is a long way from over. Roy reaches for the table behind him and touches wood as he says that it has been an extraordinary year for the industry. By the way, he's still counting in months when asked how old the company is.
Aggarwal and Roy are both B-school graduates but it's a safe bet that the casebooks of the '70s and '80s didn't prepare them for the hurdles they've faced in this era of unstoppable growth. In the early days, Aggarwal pounded the streets in America trying to drum up new customers.
But currently, he has none of the traditional problems that a fledgling company might expect to face. Daksh gets several new customers walking through its doors every week to talk about doing business. At the same time, existing customers are keen to hand over larger volumes of work -- the only constraint is how much Daksh can take on.
At another level, Daksh has more than enough cash in the bank for the time being. As a result an IPO is low on the company's priority list. "It takes an awful lot of management time," says Aggarwal.
Meanwhile, Roy is coping with conference calls that keep coming in at all times of the day and night. He's frequently taking calls till three in the morning from customers in places like California that are half a day away. To get the staff in and out of office, Wipro Spectramind hires over 1,000 vehicles. "I run a transport company," he expostulates.
The fact is that the companies at the top are sitting pretty in the BPO industry. There's heaps of business and there's no sign that it's about to dry up despite the outsourcing controversy in the United States.
In fact, the outsourcing controversy may have, ironically, added to India's reputation in the infotech and BPO businesses. When the anti-outsourcers vent their ire on jobs leaving the US, there's one country that is always mentioned: India. The result is that the country's prowess in hi-tech spheres is now more widely known than ever before.
Nevertheless, there are daunting numbers ahead. According to Nasscom (national Association of Software and Service Companies) predictions, over 1.1 million people will be working in the BPO industry by 2008. That will be up from the current 170,000. For that to happen the current hiring spree will have to continue unabated for the next five years -- to meet targets the industry will have to hire around 500 people a day for the next five years. It's a scenario that's tough to envisage -- if it happens, the first decade of the 21st century really will belong to India.