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Paran Balakrishnan |
December 29, 2003
As the stock market shoots through the roof, scores of Indian executives are looking through their books and wondering whether it's time to rake in the cash with an IPO. Sanjeev Aggarwal isn't one of them.
At first glance that might seem odd. Aggarwal's Daksh e-Services has all the right numbers to be a sell-out IPO.
The business process outsourcing company has blazed past its growth targets without even pausing for breath. And the money is pouring in from its customers around the world.
"An IPO would take an awful lot of management time," says Aggarwal, making it extremely clear this isn't high on his list of priorities.
It's hardly surprising that Aggarwal has his hands full at the moment. A year ago Daksh had 3,500 people on its rolls and a target of touching 5,000 by 2005.
Today it has shot past that number and has 5,800 people answering calls and taking care of other problems from customers around the world. What's more, it's still hiring at a frenzied pace.
Raman Roy, the godfather of the Indian BPO industry, doesn't have to worry about IPOs any longer. A year ago his company Spectramind got an offer it couldn't refuse from infotech giant Wipro.
Today Wipro Spectramind, the country's largest independent BPO company, has hired over 3,500 people in the last eight months and it now has around 8,500 people on its rolls. "The financial year is a long way from over," says Roy ebulliently.
Which of the two companies will be the first to have 10,000 employees? Wipro Spectramind is far ahead but Daksh is also moving extremely swiftly.
The company's HR manager reckons it can handle between 200 and 900 new recruits a month. In any other industry, that would be a logistical nightmare but somehow the call centres seem to be able to cope.
Mind you, Wipro Spectramind and Daksh aren't the only BPO companies that are blazing ahead at high speed this year. 2003 was undoubtedly the year of the BPO industry. In the top companies, growth has outstripped all the targets.
"The BPO industry has reached a point of inflexion," says one analyst. Industry experts are reluctant to make predictions about growth in the call centre industry.
The fact is that any number of tasks can be outsourced nowadays so, theoretically, the growth possibilities are boundless.
"These companies have barely begun to scratch the surface," says one industry analyst.
It is getting to the point where the top companies like Daksh and Spectramind are in a situation where they can afford to be a bit choosy about the customers they take on.
Daksh, for instance, gets three or four potential customers visiting it every week. More importantly, existing customers are eager to send more business to India.
Nevertheless, the extraordinary fact is that the BPO companies will have to keep hiring at this rate to reach their targets for the next five years.
The industry currently employs about 170,000 people and Nasscom expects that to rise to around 1.1 million by 2007. For that to happen, the industry must hire 500 people a day for the next few years.
Can these companies keep it up? Roy has been arguing relentlessly that the education system must be tailored to suit the industry's needs for people with strong accounting and other backgrounds.
He says, for instance, that the universities should start training people in US GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).
Roy first got into the BPO business almost a decade ago when he set up the American Express call centre in Gurgaon.He then set up operations for GE until he was headhunted and persuaded to start Spectramind by a group of venture capitalists. Wipro Spectramind now is almost four years old. What seems clear now is that there is no looking back.