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Subir Roy |
June 16, 2005
Infosys' top and bottom line certainly make it exceptional. But if you look a little deeper and seek what lies behind that exceptional performance you find a commitment to excellence and an ability to maintain quality even while expanding at a breathtaking pace.
If you are looking for symbols then Infosys' immediate real world performance, the sort that moves analysts, is represented by its glittering campus in Electronics City on the outskirts of Bangalore.
But if you look for a symbol of the deeper issues then you have to turn to the company's new Global Education Centre in Mysore. The erstwhile capital of the princely state, full of learning and grace, has been made famous to the outside world foremost by, perhaps, its most famous citizen R K Narayan.
But the Mysore of tomorrow, which signals the emergence of a globally competitive India, will probably come to be symbolised by the Global Education Centre.
Infosys embodies a contradiction. It lives in the real world and is numbers driven to a fault. It seldom allows itself the luxury of extravagant thought on anything that is not deliverable in a pre-determined timeframe. But it has ideals that are among the loftiest. The two come together in its Mysore centre.
The extravagance is in its dimensions, spread over 270 acres, able to accommodate nearly 5,000 students at a time. It is the largest corporate training centre in the world.
It is currently able to train 12,000 people a year, which can be taken to 15,000 when the need arises. The company is committed to spending $65 million on it.
The centre has India's largest gym, arguably its best cricket field and a library facility that will be the envy of any company in the world. When the prime minister inaugurated it earlier this year he and Infosys chairman N R Narayana Murthy competed in heaping praise on each other.
But if you think Infosys let itself go on the centre you will be mistaken. It will simply train its own fresh recruits to man its global operations. It will not become a deemed university offering degrees or management capsules to outsiders, it will not take on the job, except in a token way, of training the IT leaders of emerging economies.
It will not even become the core of a future Infosys which will aspire to become a global leader in technology. It may become all of this, but not yet.
That is right now not on our radar, says Narayana Murthy. And he will not even spell out a time frame to get there as he does not promise what he is not ready to deliver.
Every body trains but why did Infosys give such primacy to a training centre? The answer comes in several parts. "Our industry, which is primarily based on good quality talent, has to ensure that the quality of raw material, people, is very high. So right from the beginning we have realised that good quality human resources is a strategic resource for us."
And the scale? Naturally. Last year, out of 1.4 million applications, Infosys selected and offered jobs to 14,000, out of which 11,600 or so joined.
"One of the biggest challenge before any company is scalability. How do you scale up in terms of numbers without losing quality, productivity, response time, value system and focus on cost control. So our Global Education Centre is a classical example of enhancing scalability."
Why residential? "If we want to train very efficiently, make them efficient and effective in their work as quickly as possible, we have to create an environment where there is tremendous focus on learning, where there is an opportunity to work in a collaborative environment even beyond office hours, where there is opportunity to seek out faculty members on issues at all odd hours and make sure they learn whatever is needed quickly and efficiently."
Having set the scope and the scale, Narayana Murthy then raises the bar.
"My belief is that the first 14 weeks -- this is a 14-week training course -- must be the toughest. By this we can ascertain who among our new trainees can actually scale up to our expectations and who can't. IIM Ahmedabad is the same. If you can pass the first semester, the rest is easy. Once we know that these people can go through a tough yet rewarding experience, there is a lot of learning, a sense of fulfilment for the youngsters, and the job becomes easier for them."
You make people work very hard but simultaneously provide them with the opportunity to relax. They must do this to be able to mix well with each other. By interacting they get to know their batch mates very well so that later on they collaborate much better, even if they are in different parts of the world.
Second, with all of them living together, it also becomes easier to communicate the value systems, systems and processes of Infosys. The efficacy of training improves.
The Global Education Centre addresses a key aspect of the national psyche. "We have realised that our challenge is to take the reactive mindset of Indian youngsters and change them into proactive problem solving ones. By and large, because of our culture, family background. etc., we are reactive. To change that, we have to understand problem solving as a science and an art. We have to understand algorithmic thinking," he says.
"We have to understand interacting with people from other cultures, the ability to get into a new unstructured situation and use our generic learning to ask questions in a systemic way."
The Global Education Centre hugely benefits form Infosys's Leadership Institute which is also housed right there.
"We operate on three principles. One, our company is our campus. In a campus there is openness, receptivity to new ideas, meritocracy, a lot of porous learning. Second we say, our business is our context. We will teach our potential leaders what our business is all about so that they understand what kind of decisions they have to take, what kind crises they have to face."
Being on the same campus means "when we all go to teach in the Leadership Institute, we also go and give talks to our youngsters. They thus have an opportunity to listen to all of us."
Did Infosys seek inspiration from outside? Yes. "We have looked at several models, particularly when we started our Leadership Institute. We looked at eight models including Philips, GE, Motorola. In terms of the corporate training facility again we looked at five to six cases in different sectors of the economy."
These models and the felt needs gave the final shape to the centre. "We realised we needed more and more situations where there is teamwork. Second, we needed situations where they can relate to the kind of work they will do in their job. Third, we said we should create more and more situations which will aid their thinking, rather than rote learning."
These are the lessons Infosys learnt from others' and its own past experience. And from this was born the Global Education Centre and its curriculum.
Design: Rahil Shaikh
Photograph: Infosys Web site