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US firms downplay Indian connection

March 22, 2004 15:15 IST
Last Updated: March 23, 2004 03:28 IST

Growing backlash against offshoring in the United States is making the top executives of American corporations concerned that any association with Indian software companies would put their employees on "red alert," a media report has said. 

Even an inkling that they (corporations) had a meeting with India's software giant Wipro would put their employees on "red alert," Girisih S Paranjep, president of Wipro, was quoted as saying.

Another manager told the New York Times that the clients are so nervous in recent months about outsourcing that they had asked Wipro take their names off its website.

However, chairman of Wipro Azim Premji told the paper that Americans are unduly worried about offshoring which is their own innovation.

Referring to the opposition to offshoring being witnessed in the US, he said, "We are not dealing with cold reasoning here but with emotions of Americans whose personalities have changed after 9/11 (terrorist attacks on the US) and who feel threatened by anything that hurts their security, their wealth and their jobs."

Giving statistics to buttress his conclusion, Premji said India's technology industry employs 800,000 people. Against this, the American technology industry employs 10.2 million people.

Similarly 300,000 people work in Indian call centres compared with 6 million in the United States, he said.

Stating that offshoring -- shifting jobs to lower cost countries -- would benefit the United States in the long run; he said it is "another example of US innovativeness to stay competitive by reducing cost and cycle time."

"Look back, neither did we dream that outsourcing would be so big, nor did we imagine that we would face such fierce opposition to our business," he told the paper.

The Times said, so far, at least, there are few signs that the controversy is hurting Wipro's business but "heightened sensitivity" is hard to miss even with Premji's best customers.

In this context, it quoted Paranjpe as saying that increasingly, customers seem conflicted. "The head wants to offshore but heart holds them back," he remarked.

A customer, he said without identifying, who was catching a flight recently to Bangalore received a call from his 86-year old mother who asked if he was taking American jobs with him.

"That call must have played on his all through the trip," he said. In the last 11 months, as the debate about layoffs at American corporations reached a feverish pitch, Wipro has roughly doubled its workforce to about 30,000, the paper noted.

Its workers handle for the US such diverse tasks as baggage claim services and frequent flyers programme for top airlines to designing car navigation system for a leading carmaker and even interpret X-rays for a Boston based hospital, the Times said.

But facing backlash, Wipro's clients are asking not to reveal their names.

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