Tiger prowls the world of outsourcing

The head of one of the world’s biggest IT services companies tells Elliot Wilson, in an exclusive interview, how he sees outsourcing developing

It isn’t easy to pin down N.V. “Tiger” Tyagarajan. For one thing, the president and chief executive of Genpact, the leading information technology services firm, is rarely in one place for long, dividing his time equally between Europe, China, India and the US.

But Raconteur caught up with him at Genpact’s new London offices near Victoria on a scorching Friday afternoon, squeezed between a 90-minute board meeting and a short family holiday in Turkey.

Well into his mid-fifties yet looking a decade younger, Tiger – his nickname bestowed on him at Catholic school in Mumbai by classmates and scholars of William Blake’s poetry – does appear almost feline. He prowls around the room, his feet and legs jiggling impatiently when forced to sit. If told he slept with one eye open – or didn’t need to sleep at all – it would come as no surprise.

Genpact is in many ways a corporate anomaly, even in the obscure and often invisible world of IT services. For one thing, it’s neither an avowedly “Indian” IT firm with global aspirations (think of Infosys or Wipro), nor an “American” institution with global reach (IBM).

Rather, it’s a mix of the two, having been spun out of a fast-growing division of General Electric in 1997, setting up its first UK office – still one of its most profitable divisions – the following year. Tiger, one of the founders, ran the company between 1999 and 2002 before being elevated again, from chief operating officer, for another stint last summer.

Genpact’s slightly ephemeral identity extends to its main offices – or lack thereof. Throughout history, corporations have been associated with cities, regions or in the case of, say, Coca-Cola, entire countries. Not so Genpact, which evades such narrow geographical definitions.

Offshoring and outsourcing have moved on to become a much broader and richer story

Its biggest offices lie just outside Delhi, on the northern Indian plains, and it also has huge operations in Britain, Mexico, Australia, Hungary, America and China, as well as a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. Yet none of these locales, Tiger stresses, classify as a headquarters. “We don’t have one,” he says, with wry smile. “In the globally connected 21st-century world, headquarters are increasingly redundant.”

For a while even Tiger struggles to explain what Genpact does, falling victim to that cursed and shadowy area of the English language where technology and marketing meets management theory.

Thus, working hard and getting employees to meet customer needs isn’t simply “the right thing to do in order to get paid”, but something to do with Six Sigma, a business management strategy loved by some, hated by others, and popularised by former GE chief Jack Welch. And convincing an existing customer to recommend your services to a new client isn’t just “word of mouth” but, in Tiger’s terms, “a big metric called ‘net client delight’”.

The reality is both simpler and far more complex. When a credit card bill is delivered to your door, chances are that Genpact pulled some or all of that information together and delivered it to the right address. Or if, say, a scanning machine at a hospital or a jet engine needs to be repaired or serviced, a Genpact worker will log in externally, quantify the problem, locate a new part and ship it from source. This makes it a little like The Matrix movie. It’s everywhere and nowhere: hard to see, yet impossible to miss once you know what you’re looking for.

In Tiger’s eyes, offshoring has run its course. “We don’t use the word ‘offshoring’ and haven’t done for years as it’s such a narrow definition. We don’t even use ‘onshoring’, or ‘BPO’ – we call it ‘business process management’, given that we work alongside our clients every step of the way. Offshoring and outsourcing have moved on to become a much broader and richer story.”

Genpact opts for regionality, rather than simply shuffling all work willy-nilly to India. Clients in Eastern Europe are served out of its operating offices in Budapest, just as Latin America and South-East Asia are served respectively out of regionally focused offices in Mexico and the Philippines, each infused with its own local flavour.

“You can’t do everything from India,” says Tiger. “There are some tasks that can be done better closer to a client, just as there are things you can do better from a distance. That is why we have distinct, regional operating offices.”

This allows Genpact to go a step further than more traditional providers of lower-value, higher-bulk outsourcing services. Its employees are encouraged not just to devote themselves to customers, but to think and operate as if they are employed by those corporations.

“We behave like an extension of our clients and we are maniacally focused on them,” says Tiger. That way of thinking is clearly working: last year the firm, which employs 55,000 people worldwide, pulled in $1.6 billion in sales, with profits rising nearly 30 per cent to $142 million.

Yet it isn’t merely about replicating services; if it was that simple, anyone could do it. Genpact profits by pushing its clients in new directions: reading market conditions, consumer behaviour, stock and commodity prices, and entire economies, and helping clients roll out the right product at the right time.

This is vital for no other reason than that at a time of austerity companies need to work smarter. Tiger says: “Clients therefore want more intelligence these days. They want to know more about their products and markets, to know more about the customer.”

And with that he’s off, bounding away to another airport, to yet another flight, on this occasion to spend some deserved downtime with his family. Even his most demanding clients, one feels, wouldn’t begrudge him that.