Employee Speak: Binno Joseph, CEO, The HR Practice ; V5 Issue 1

About Binno Joseph

Binno Joseph an alumnus of XLRI has a decade and half experience that cuts across five diverse industries. He started his career with Madura Coats, at their Madurai Plant. He joined The HR Practice in the capacity of a CEO on June 1st, 2011. He has worked with Hindustan Times Media, Accenture, HCL and Pepsico amongst others. In his own words every now and then he loves to push himself into ‘higher planes of discomfort!’ Here is catching up with him as he shares his moments of truth with the ‘Prerana’ readers.

  1. Have you always wanted to be in the field of Human Resources or were there other dreams that you had while growing up?

    Honestly HR was something I heard of only in the final semester of my engineering. My first dream was to be a pilot, then to be somewhere with the services. I almost joined the air force clearing SSB, in the engineering cadre.

  2. What challenges did you face in pursuing your dreams? How did you tackle them?

    I am not sure whether many people are endowed with clarity of what they are good at and not so good at in black and white. In that sense the first step was to know what/where I want to be. But I guess it’s always there at least as a hazy image. The challenge was to translate that to a touch and feel picture of where one should invest the 10000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about.

    I started with engineering because I was good with numbers. But then I realised that talking to machines was not my calling, I wanted to get to somewhere that gives me legroom to use my right brain a bit more. So I got into the management stream which again was somewhere in that hazy image I talked of before.

    In reality one has to deal with a variety of constraints; for e.g. in a designated role, you have deliverables in domains which might not be in adherence to where your heart lies. For one, I kept seeking opportunities within the constraints of a designation to see if I can bring value in ways unique to me. To me, that was slightly different from looking at it say, as “I seem to be dragged into this for a living …”, and when I did manage to, those were moments of satisfaction and pride.

  3. That’s interesting! So then, how did you stumble upon HR?

    Sometimes I think planning ahead is a lot similar to driving in peak traffic. A regular person behind wheels sees the three buses blocking his/her way ahead, whereas a good driver can visualise the path and he is not concentrating on the constraints ahead. When that split second opportunity comes, he is ready with the right engine speed and is on the right gear to propel. Everyone else loses out while he advances.

    Two values are central to me – courage and pride. Thanks to my parents, I did not come under extreme pressure to be always orthodox in my outlook. Hence I had the freedom to take some risks earlier on in life. Pursuing HR was one such adventure for an engineering graduate as was seen by my near and dear ones. Though my dad did not use these precise words, he more or less conveyed to me “I will not hold you guilty of failing, if it is from trying out something that you believe in.”

  4. What factors helped you succeed in this alternate professional life you adopted?

    I guess there are multiple perspectives possible to every single situation. If one extends that a bit, there are multiple ways of coming to the same end result also. As Dr Kalam puts it, the peaks are crucial, but one should be able to enjoy the sides of the mountain too! In other words you always have the opportunity to bring in that unique value to whatever you do rather than waiting for the D day and the perfect role.

  5. Having worked with large Corporations what prompted you to join a boutique HR consulting firm like The HR Practice?

    Despite being an engineer I am someone who listens to my right brain a lot to the extent of someone saying “That’s a pie in the sky!” And I believe it.

    On one hand it was a belief that you can bring ‘original’ ideas to the table as against say enjoying excellence in execution. Execution excellence is characteristic of big organisations with set practices and thoughts. And on the other, the realisation that one has probably reached a milestone on the learning curve and here is the time to dip into that gold mine and unlock potential. My initial conversations with Anu reaffirmed these thoughts…here was a model where success is measured by how well one strays from trodden paths rather than a vision that is built on compliance.

  6. Did you encounter naysayers, people who discouraged you from pursuing an unconventional career? How did you deal with them or are dealing with them?

    Not naysayers so to say but well wishers who encouraged me to look at it clinically. Well actually prodded me to use my left brain as well! Having said what I have said about listening to my heart, I am also someone who does consume a lot of data and enjoy doing my own analyses with as much inputs as possible. So, most of these conversations with my well wishers included a presentation of two things. One was certainly my desire and conviction. The other was an assessment from a logical point of view. At no point in time was I telling them “This is my decision …this is none of your business” or that “You won’t understand”, it was rather on the lines of “Let me take you through my line of thinking.”

  7. Having joined and been with The HR Practice and its team for a month now, how does it feel?

    If my boss is not reading this …let me just say this is still the honeymoon period and I want to enjoy it for a few more days!

    On a more serious note, the last one month has put me through as many different contexts as I would have gone through in the last decade. The Positive side of that is.... this very same scenario has induced me to exercise my own thinking much more.

    The effort that goes into getting into the client organisation’s shoes and mind amazes me. There was this young girl who said she is associated with manufacturing industry assignment for the first time. I have crisscrossed industry landscape with years in manufacturing too. She taught me a few things that I did not know…well, looks like I am in for some exciting times that would stretch my limits! Looking forward to it ….

  8. In your experience what is the single biggest factor that stops people from following their dreams?

    In my view the biggest riddle of life is making a decision (does that make me sound like Socrates or Plateau?). Life always presents one with multiple scenarios and one goes through the fear of having to regret a decision later on. I say this truly is the battle; constraints are there everywhere. Rather than saying one is constrained by such and such …...it is about taking your own decision and staying on course far enough to be able to realise your dreams.

  9. Instead of living their dreams, many are stuck in jobs they do not like, with bad bosses, and nightmarish workloads. They want to be independent and do what they like, but they don’t want to step out of their financial security zone. What can these people do to build a life of their choice?

    It is important to be armed with awareness; awareness about self as also awareness about what one is getting into. If the surprise factor has not been taken into account then that will be one more demon to deal with! “Forewarned is fore armed!” And if I may add, everything starts with a desire though ‘hope’ is not a management tool! As Robin Sharma puts it “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!”

Interviewing : Basic Managerial Skills; V4 Issue 4

Effective interviewing is the key to identifying the best candidate for a job, and creating a positive impression on the candidate. Ineffective interviewing can be a put off for good candidates, lead to bad hiring decisions, be a waste of your time and efforts and negatively impact your company’s Employer Brand.

Tips for effective Interviewing

  1. Prepare:Understand the job description, skills required for the job and candidate’s resume details. Provide the candidate information about your company and job, beforehand. Thus valuable interview time will not be spent in understanding facts already available to both of you. Schedule adequate and uninterrupted interview time and appropriate space. Write down in detail the skills you want to hire for to help you make a decision when you meet the first suitable candidate instead of waiting to meet the “ideal” candidate.

  2. Build a rapport with the candidate:This is essential in being able to elicit high quality information from the candidate. You want the candidate to be able to demonstrate himself/herself at his/her best which is more likely if he/she is at ease with you. Being warm and opening the interview with a few easy, non threatening questions can help you achieve this.

  3. Create a positive experience for the candidate: Treat candidates well from the moment an interview is scheduled. Little things like giving directions to reach your office, offering water when they arrive, not keeping them waiting for too long, thanking them for coming etc can go a long way in creating that positive experience. Whereas discrimination, rudeness, inappropriate questions etc can all leave a bitter taste in the candidate. At least 80% of them will tell up to 10 people about their bad experience!

  4. Use a structured interview format: Research shows that the best way to conduct a job interview is by structuring all aspects of the interview process and content. Asking different questions of each candidate leads to a skewed assessment of who would best perform the job. Ask questions to get particular information, only in the context of a core set of questions asked of all candidates. To avoid the same questions being asked by multiple interviewers, record details of your interview.

  5. Ask the right questions:Be prepared with questions and the way you will ask. Open-ended questions such as "Tell me about X project and your role in it" will get a better response than closed-ended questions such as "So you were leading X project?” Avoid questions that address issues irrelevant to job performance. Understanding the context (i.e. degree of difficulty) of a candidate’s past job performance is critical in ranking competing candidates and choosing the most suitable candidate. Use evidence based answers drawn from past performance. Theoretical knowledge or speculative answers (‘would do’, ‘could do’, ‘should do’) have a low correlation to actual skills/attitude and performance. An interview should focus on specific and key role requirements of the job and not on finding reasons for rejecting the candidate.

  6. Ensure you have face to face meeting and fast closures: You learn much more about candidates when you interview them face-to-face than over the phone. It is important that the time between the initial contact with the candidate, first interview, second interview and the offer is less since good candidates get other opportunities and you can lose them.

  7. Avoid common interviewing errors: Some of the common interviewing errors apart from, not selecting candidates smarter than you, that you need to watch out for are listed below. Detailed note taking during the interview, being aware of possible errors and a reasonable period of time between interviews may help reduce some of these errors.
    • Leniency /Central Tendency/ Stringency ErrorRating all candidates as superior/average /poor.

    • “Similar-To-Me-Error”, Physical Attractiveness: Evaluating an interviewee favourably because he/she is similar in some ways to you or is physically attractive.

    • Stereotyping: Forming an opinion about people of a given gender, religion, race, appearance, or other characteristic without any evidence.

    • First impressions: Making a snap judgment based on people’s first impression.

    • Negative emphasis: Rejecting a candidate based on a small amount of negative information.

    • Halo/horn effect: Allowing candidate’s one strong/weak point to overshadow everything else.

    • Nonverbal bias: Undue emphasis on nonverbal cues like a soft voice that have nothing to do with the job.

    • Contrast effect: Strong candidates who interview after weak ones may appear more qualified than they are because of the contrast between the two.

  8. Sell the company and job opportunity during the interview: Most candidates are evaluating several jobs simultaneously. So, prepare a couple of powerful selling points that you will highlight during the interview. Don’t try telling the candidate everything before you have established that there is mutual interest. Provide candidates with information that will create an interest in them for the job and your company.

Employee Speak: Sunil Kulkarni, COO, Akshayini Oorja

A brief on Sunil Kulkarni: Sunil Kulkarni has a bachelors’ degree in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Mumbai. He has an extensive ‘Power Sector’ experience that spans a period of about 26 years primarily in the hydro sector. He has spent about 13 years with BHEL, 11 years with Tata Power and 1.5 years with Reliance Power. Apart from the technical expertise in hydro power domain, Sunil has had opportunities to develop keen insights into project management. He is currently looking forward to putting his expertise and insights in to the development of a healthy small hydro sector.

1. Can you explain Akshayini Oorja’s unique business model for the benefit of our readers.

With the increased awareness about environmental issues and growing energy needs of large populace, Renewable Energy Sources are receiving additional attention. Governments are increasingly offering incentives in the form of subsidies and assured purchase at reasonable rates. Carbon credits are also available to many of these projects under emission control regime. This has de-risked the business to a considerable extent and hence has generated a lot of investor interest. In spite of this, you do not see many projects coming up. This is mainly because of the lack of proper technical expertise, project management skills and inadequate financial resources. This opens up a good window of opportunity.

To capitalise on this opportunity, India Value Fund (IVF) has formed the company Akshayini Oorja recently to manage (by providing technical, project management and financial expertise) their investments in renewable energy sector, with primary focus on small hydro power projects. We look forward to building a portfolio of about 300 MW in a period of 3 to 4 years.

2. Akshayini Oorja is about to invest in the first hydro power company. Apart from acquiring hydro power companies what would your focus areas for the coming year be?

Now we are in the start up phase. So our main focus areas apart from the core business activities would be to establish the company in the true sense. So we would invest in building the team, setting up processes, developing the competencies of the team etc.

3. According to you will performance management of the organization be a challenge for your kind of set up? In what way will it be a challenge?

This is a start up with a difference. The team has no entrepreneurial stake in the business. A professional team would be meeting the entrepreneurial ambitions of IVF. Recruiting the right people, getting them to work together and leveraging their expertise and experience to meet the business goals are the challenges in the first year. In the first year building a strong team will be important.

4. How are the performance parameters different in the kind of business model that you have as compared to other types of organisations?

The parameters will be more related to desirable behaviour patterns like team spirit, integrity, holistic thinking, leadership etc. Things like domain specific skill excellence will come later. Encouraging cross functional skills will be an important parameter. Everybody needs to understand what the other person is doing, so that he/she can support and stand in for his/her team members when the need arises. Team performance will matter more than individual excellence.

Performance management has to be informal initially. Later the companies in which we have invested can replicate our model in them. Ultimately their performance will be a critical parameter for assessing our performance.

5. I know it is early days; but what are some of the mechanisms you are planning to put in place to ensure you achieve your organisation vision?

We are defining processes in HR, Finance and Project management with help of experts in these areas. When the full team is on board, all the relevant structure would already be in place. This will help us ramp up quickly.

In the initial days informality would be the key. Maintaining the cordial environment for the team to coalesce as one unit and each member to find his/her slot itself would be good Performance Management. Pre-defined KRAs and evaluations based on them will be counterproductive in the beginning. It may even generate performance anxiety.

6. What according to you are the characteristics of high-performance teams / individuals?

While the usual ‘Never say die’ attitude etc is important, there are a few characteristics of high performing teams that are not talked about. One is diversity in the team, not only in terms of skill sets, but also in terms of temperaments. In a team everybody can’t be a Virendra Sehwag, Rahul Dravids are also required and one person cannot be the match winner always. So while somebody could be of a brooding nature, another could be bubbly. Essentially they should be able to support and complement each other. The second characteristic is the basic cross functional appreciation that team members develop across functions. Sehwag knows what Bhajji does and understands Bhajji’s value for the team.

7. Based on your experience how can organisations and leaders encourage and support high performance among teams and individuals?

Every organisation and leader do encourage and support high performance. Some over do it, some under do it. There are various ways…

  • The key is to having at most transparency in the process of measuring the performances.
  • Non monetary avenues can work well. It could be a mention in an assembly, nominations for conferences, exhibitions etc.
  • Special Reward and Recognitions programs for both individual and team performances were developed by HR in one of my previous organisations. That was received extremely well.
  • Delink the process of reward from annual increments, bonus etc. According to me this creates unnecessary division in the team.
  • Fast track schemes where talented people get higher responsibilities and rise faster in the organisation, can motivate higher performance in the individual.
  • Job rotation also helps in acquiring the cross functional appreciation and acts as a motivator. Cement industry is a good example of this where an engineer works in all important departments in the span of 10-15 years and understands his strengths to choose the right career path at senior levels.
  • Performance Management System should not just be a measurement process. One needs to go beyond it and actually focus on managing and improving performance.
  • We need to adapt Performance Management Systems to the nuances specific to the sectors and industries. For example, the Performance Management System mostly designed for FMCG or Software industries are imposed on the hapless people in the power sector where output is difficult to quantify. Smart people always develop a method to cheat the system and sincere ones can get deterred from taking on challenging goals.
  • Getting the ownership, of the people running the business, for the Performance Management is very important.
  • One also needs to nurture diversity in the team.

Employee Speak: Tiger Ramesh, MD, Vignani Solutions; V3 Issue 4


1. What is the importance you place on building good business relationships for your company’s business? Why?

Relationships are built on trust. In any business, people buy from people. People conduct business with people. Organisations come later. Thus, it is very crucial to build good business relationships to further your company’s business.


2. What according to you helps a company build a great business relationship?

The 3 successful ingredients of building a great business relationship are:-

  • Having a transparent approach
  • Understanding the customer’s problems
  • Helping the customer win

3. Are the ways used to build great business relationships different in different geographies?

The approach has to be different in different geographies. Each of the geographies has a very different culture. Thus, it is highly critical that one must understand the social and cultural aspects of the geography while approaching someone from that geography.

4. Business relationships are increasingly being built online. Is Vignani as a company using any of the social media tools to build business relationships?

According to me relationships can’t be built online. Only introductions can be made/gained through online media. Social media tools shorten the time period required to connect with people, but they do not guarantee a relationship. Relationships are still built through a person to person contact, face to face. Building good relationships take a long time and do not happen overnight.

5. How important has building business relationships been in your own professional life? Can you share an example of how it has made a difference?

Over the last two decades, I have developed a few significant business relationships based on transparency, trust and promise of delivery. These have helped solve customer problems. Some of these business relationships have resulted in good friendships. Even though some people changed organisations, we have ended up working together because of the relationship we had developed. An instance that readily comes to mind is that of a CIO of a large banking organisation. He had so much confidence in me that when he moved to another banking organisation, he invited me to do business with him.

6. Please share a few ideas that our readers could put into practice which would help them improve their business relationship building skills.

The first thing that one should keep in mind while developing a business relationship is that he should not try and sell to the customer.

One should understand the pain points of the customer, organisation and of the industry as a whole. If you are unable to solve the customer’s problems, then don’t approach him. Successful business relationships are built when you have been able to solve the pain points / problems of the customer. Else you would have made a sale, but no relationship would have been built.

One should understand the customer’s business thoroughly. The customer should clearly understand what you are offering him / her. If this is achieved, the customer will look to you for help.

Assess how you can make your customer win and look good – in business, among peers and in front of his boss.

Make a little extra effort to keep in touch constantly / periodically even though there maybe no immediate business opportunity.

Employee Speak: Name: Sunil Lulla, Director & Group Chief Executive Officer, Alva Brothers Entertainment, Miditech: V3 Issue 2

1.  Your leadership has acted as a catalyst for the success of TV channels such as MTV, Sony and Times Now.  What was your success mantra for these channels?

I would not say it is my leadership or a mantra. I happened to work with some very smart people, good companies, great business partners and clients. The fortuitous mix clicked. I have passionately followed a few diktats and shared them at the cost of sounding old fashioned.

  • Dream and follow your own dreams. Set the rules, own the game. Win !
  • God is in the details and atheists don’t survive to be successful.
  • Don’t just work hard. Work harder. Eventually the other guy just gets tired.


2.  An old adage says “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.  What made you launch the ‘Real’ channel during difficult times? 

Well you don’t choose tough times. But one cannot remain “pregnant” for long either. So we thought why waste a recession. It is easier to make market entry under such circumstances. However it also makes the revenue climb steeper. Tough times test you and makes one tougher. In the case of REAL, the channel was ready to roll and given its differentiated offering we wanted to take it ahead.


3.  People make companies. How do you energize and motivate your team in these challenging times?

I try and inspire people to think differently; challenge their own expectations. Make sure they eat well. I am a walking, wondering, doing kind of manager. Encouraging, pushing, making them laugh. (Ask them, I would like to know what they honestly think). Making friends, but being tough when needed.


4.  How do you get different teams or for that matter even different people to work together in synergy?

Understand their dreams and give them a common one to chase. High enough to stretch and close enough to reach out too. Involve their passion and their strengths. I do not ask people what their weaknesses are, as you don’t pay to work on their weaknesses. Team players are more important – but you always need the one solo maverick to score the goal. Noah’s Ark of complementary differences is a great example.


5.   In the course of your career you would have worked with many teams. What do you feel contributed to the success of the best teams you have worked with?

Pressure to be innovative and the genuine respect and care people have for other members of the team. Their belief in the goal has made them stronger.


6.  What hampered the productivity of the other teams that were not that successful?

Deafness – not listening to the wind that is whispering in one’s ear, all the time. 


7.  What are some of the things you typically do to motivate your team to deliver exceptional results?

Create an experience for them. It’s not 9 to 5 – it’s the joy of creating something magical and being applauded for it.


8.  What message would you like to share with our readersto enable them to build teams with greater commitment to the team objectives and more contributionto the company?

Don’t copy anyone’s style. Yours is great. Just practice it with honesty and originality.

Employee Speak : Neeraj Roy , Managing Director and CEO, Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.: V3 Issue 1


1. Congratulations on Hungama’s new visual identity!  It is very interesting – do share your thoughts on what prompted this change in identity?

The new logo is more contemporary and is represented by a triangle, which is actually a depiction of the ‘PLAY’ button.  It is formed by the intersection of three triangles represented in blue, green and orange indicating forward and continuous motion. It is also synonymous with the entertainment world, which we are into, be it mobile or online entertainment. The three colours are derivatives of the primary colours from a digital perspective. They actually represent the three digital screens that make up the world today – PC, mobile and Internet TV. The brand name, Hungama, is written in lower case in blue. Blue is a universal, natural and sky colour indicating infinite possibilities. The letter 'G' in the logo is incomplete and will remain so in the quest for perfection, adding irreverence to our brand identity and indicating our urge to challenge convention and define our own benchmarks. It also highlights our desire to innovate and represents a work in a state of motion.


2. You were the only Indian to address the Mobile World Congress at Barcelona in February 2008? In hindsight, has the mobile entertainment industry progressed as envisaged?

Yes it’s been good but it could have been much better had we taken decisions on certain infrastructural related investments earlier.  It’s been now 3 years and we are still talking about introduction of 3G whereas the world is already moving into more advanced environments of 3.5 and 4. The government has aided certain parts of it but has created some kind of an over competitive environment right now. Scenarios where you have 11 telecom companies in 1 single market and another 5 coming up rarely exist.


3. Are you as a company ready with products centered on the 3G technology?

Oh yes! There is a suite of products and services that we have. Essentially, 3G or broadband will enable more people easy access to the internet through the phone. If you look at the internet today as the new form of education and not as a medium of information, then this will not only enhance people’s livelihood but also overall economic prosperity.  Research conducted all over the world shows that there is a direct correlation of enhanced and deeper broadband penetration with GDP growth of those countries.  So I think in that context what it leads to is a more digital lifestyle.  For e.g. young couples using an internet enabled 3G product can keep an eye on what is happening with their children. If a country like ours understands the platforms and technologies for this then as a company we will definitely be  at the forefront of enabling and leading to a digital and mobile lifestyle.


4. Considering that 3G phones are fairly expensive wouldn’t this technology cater to only a certain section of the urban population?

Not true!  In the mobile business niche is the new mass and everything is mass as it were if you see this thing more holistically. Globally the mobile data business will be 124 billion dollars next year, of which Mobile Entertainment will account for 42 billion dollars. In that, music, imagery video, gaming are principal constituents to it.  Now there are two things.  One is the device - the mobile phone, the laptop, the PC, or the television. It has an ability to store more now because memory is becoming a commodity. The second is that connectivity is becoming faster and therefore you can access a lot. And once you start thinking in that manner that’s really what this ecosystem is all about and in many ways convergence is becoming a reality.  You are on your PC or laptop and then you move forward into your blackberry, you are connected and you get into your Tata Sky.  The adoption of this is of course related to price point because it has to be viable for a large enough audience. But today a 3G enabled phone is available for Rs.5000/-.


5. As the new chairman of Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF) what are the top two initiatives on your agenda?

MEF, a body that founded in the UK about 8 years back is made up of 250+ of the most prolific companies across a range of businesses that are all a part of the entire mobile and digital entertainment ecosystem - content owners, broadcasters, record companies, companies like ours, a whole host of technology companies etc. Among the numerous initiatives our thrust areas in 2009 are:-


6. How do you see the economic slowdown impacting the mobile entertainment industry globally and in India?

I think there is not an individual or business in this world which has not or will not continue to be impacted in some manner or the other and I mean it.  Whatever has happened, is happening and is likely to happen can only be best described as unprecedented and certainly somethingwhich there will be very few people who can turnaround and say that I have witnessed something of this nature before in my lifetime.  Even the economic depression in 1929-33 etc did not have this enormity and the world was not as flat or as connected as it is today. The scary part is of course that whatever is about to happen is likely to be even more dangerous in many ways than what we have witnessed till now.  So that’s a given.  So everything gets calibrated, adjusted and has a caveat attached to them in the current circumstances. 

But when you look at the mobile telephony data in India, the last 3 months have consistently been record breaking months.  The reason for that is that the mobile phone today has become such a utility that it not just makes you connect with people but has the power and potential of changing economic lifestyles.  For eg: If there are 350 million people currently accessing mobile services, even ITC and Unilever don’t reach more than 250 million customers.  Now to a customer in a small town, even basic information like electricity today will come at 3 pm empowers him to utilize the time before 2 pm to do other work rather than just wait by the pump.  Even something as elementary as that opens people’s mind. So even if one has to save 1000 Rupees to get a phone connection one will do so.  It is no longer a luxury.  So I think in that context the trend is positive and insulated from the rest of the world.  If the condition deteriorates then there is bound to be more pressure. Therefore ME growth is very closely linked to customer acquisition growth. If customer grows and gets on to a service there is no reason why he will not want his music, video etc.


7. What about the Digital Entertainment Industry? How do you see it getting impacted by the economic slowdown?

People may not want to change their music so often. Until now, that is the first few months of this blood bath; we have not witnessed that trend.   This is unlike a lot of industries which have literally cramped up like the realty industry.  Because construction is cramped up, steel goes through a crunch, cement goes through a crunch.  You cannot produce. And even if you do how do you stock that because there is lack of space.  Whereas our products and services being digital do not have a physical element to it and can exist somewhere in the ecosystem.


8. What are some of the measures that you have taken for managing the impact of the economic slowdown on Hungama?

All CAPEX is being very closely reviewed. We are preparing our people in a fair way, giving our employees a chance to enhance efficiency or pull up their socks if required.  The investments related negotiation process has seen a very hard nosed approach and as a result, we have seen a tremendous amount of positive fall out.  For example when we were looking for an office space in Delhi, we just stalled saying we are not buyers in the market right now.  And within a matter of four weeks we have seen as high as a 30% drop in prices.


9. Please share your thoughts on what you think business leaders should be doing differently to be prepared for or even prevent another economic meltdown like this in future?

I would like to talk about this more from an entrepreneurial perspective rather than how to avoid an economic crisis of this nature.  In my mind there is a very simple straightforward two word solution “Prevent Greed!”   I think that’s essentially what has resulted in this.

What can businesses do?  I think conserving cash is the first on the agenda for any business at this point in time.  It is going to be a commodity which will be fairly scarce.  It will certainly be available for businesses that have robust profitable pieces because it is not as if liquidity is not there but you have to be very tight fisted the way you approach it.  The second part is that you have to at times like this, talk more, both internally and externally. You have to communicate a lot more, both good and bad news.  You should not be shielding and protecting people from bad news or hiding things because I believe these are times which call for demonstration of even higher levels of transparency and trust to the internal and external stakeholders. This will ensure you come out holding hands, forming human chains and saying that we will not succumb to scenarios like this and we will overcome. That brings about a certain sense of motivation and drive. And the third part is that if you are fundamentally in businesses that you are confident about, then I would urge and encourage businesses to demonstrate pragmatic aggression. So you should certainly be on the look out for assets, whether it be human capital or in businesses. But do not necessarily jump to concluding deals right now because you are likely to get some very very good deals at this time so you can consolidate and strengthen your position even more.  In our own small way that is also the practice we are following.

    • Mobile Internet initiative: This is related to what you can do with getting more access to internet through mobile. To give you a perspective - there are a little over a billion people who are accessing the internet mostly through their PC, where as there are 4 billion people who have access to mobile phones, there are only 4.2 billion people who have access to toothbrushes in this world.  So you know it is the highest adoption of any form of technology in the world.  It is our belief that the next 2 billion people will access the internet not necessarily through the PC but through a converged mobile device of sorts. 

    • Ad-funded mobile entertainment: Until now this 30 to 35 billion dollar industry has largely been very transactional in nature i.e., it’s a consumer buying a product from a telecom company. Now the telecom companies are themselves becoming media companies thus reaching 85 to 87 billion consumers.  When you become a company of that size, you are also in that zone where you are a media company and when you are a media company, brands naturally need to participate in that entire ecosystem. So we feel that this wholebusiness of ME which is currently a transaction between a consumer and the operator will soon get a big boost because the brand will then turn around and say… “You know what, you want this video?  This game? This music? This service? I will give it to you or subsidise it for you” and that is what is called Ad-Funded mobile entertainment.  That is another thing that we are looking at and within that mobile advertising will be another area. 

Employee Speak: Saurabh Chandra, Co-Founder and CEO, Neev Technologies

1. According to NasscomIndia’s IT industry is insulated from the financial crisis that has hit many economies globally, and companies here have not stopped hiring either. According to you what will be the impact of the current economic slowdown on software services industry in India?

This economic slowdown is surely going to have an impact on the software services industry as with all industries. People who claim that the IT industry is not going to be affected are fooling themselves. Cost cutting is the order of the day. At the moment confidence is shaken in businesses and new projects are going on hold. A contrary view is that more outsourcing will happen since people want to save costs.


2. In what ways will the economic slowdown impact Neev Technologies?

There will be no immediate impact on Neev Technologies, as Neev is not highly US centric. The United States accounts for only a small chunk of Neev’s business. Neev has clients spread across Europe, the Middle East and India. Europe is not yet saturated in terms of outsourcing and businesses there are looking at outsourcing more work to cut costs on account of the recession.


3. What steps are you taking to minimize the economic impact to your business?

Neev too has taken a few measures proactively to minimise the impact of the recession. We are cutting costs aggressively and reducing overheads. For sales, we are shifting from the retainer model to a commission model. We have started sharing risks with our vendors and partners.

We are trying to become more efficient as a ‘Software Development’ organisation. The focus is now on increasing profitability, rather than increasing revenues.


4. What steps are you taking to minimize the impact on your employees?

At present, we do not see any direct impact on employees. The economic slowdown has not yet come to that level in India where individuals will get affected. I do not see a problem at an individual level in the near future. We are not looking at downsizing at the moment, but yes growth may be slower. We are still recruiting for a few positions.


5. How have your priorities changed on account of the downturn? Will you continue to focus on adding more client accounts and setting foot in newer geographies?

Yes, our focus has shifted from the top line to the bottom line. We are trying to increase our focus on every aspect of the business. We are focusing more on fewer geographies. We are paying more attention to our existing clients, to deliver more value for their money. We are also tapping our old clients for new projects. As always we are getting referrals from our clients.


6. There is a silver lining to every cloud. So while people are talking of the various negatives of this downturn, what do you feel are the positives of a downturn?

People will now realize the value of money, especially people in the IT industry. Earlier companies hired for numbers rather than quality. Correction was required in the mindset of people. People will now focus on performance. The quality of work will improve. Employees are becoming more conscious of their drawbacks and are looking at learning new skills, technologies etc.


7. What are some of the opportunities you foresee for players in your industry during a time like this?

This is a time when the genuinely strong companies will prove themselves, and emerge stronger. Weaker companies will perish. We, at Neev, see this as a time to excel and get ahead!

Employee Speak: M C Muthanna, Chief Operating Officer, Firepro; V2 Issue 1


1. Firepro has experienced exponential growth in the last couple of years. Can you share some of the factors for this growth?

I attribute Firepro’s phenomenal growth to strategic initiatives we invested in.  Our geographical expansion within India and overseas has powered us immensely. As has our decision to evolve our service offerings by acquiring more capabilities, and offering wider, more technological solutions to our customers. Our focus on building capabilities grew from our intent to meet customer needs by paying attention to detailed design and engineering methodologies, procurement efficiencies and implementation mechanisms. Today, we are able to offer quality solutions to our targeted customers, across locations, in spite of fierce competition.

Our offerings today, include not just safety and security solutions but also include network infrastructure - the backbone of any Building Management System (BMS). We have made immense progress in developing home automation solutions as well. Diversification for us was the most natural route to consider being a solutions provider! Most importantly, the contributions of our highly committed and motivated team have powered us to be one of the most sought after companies in the industry.


2. What were the key growth drivers for business – both internal and external?

Vast development and growth in the infrastructure market has invariably accelerated the business. The knowledge and awareness of potential safety and security solutions in the market have also broadened Firepro’s horizons. Our focus on quality, our scale of operations and our ability to envision and implement newer initiatives in the infrastructure space are among the internal growth drivers. The formation ?? and the research done by our internal focus groups have helped us to further enhance our expertise. I would consider our ability to attract talent across various levels as one of our biggest internal growth drivers.


3. What were the kind of responses that you got from different stakeholders in this journey ?

Our reliability and commitment towards customer needs has helped us retain customers. They know we have the ability to understand their business environment – this has enabled us to offer better and effective solutions to them. Our clients have a great deal of confidence and faith in the way we operate!

Our biggest asset has been our employee strength – strength is the word to be used to describe the mighty workforce that we have! They are a committed team, always willing to take up challenges and ensure successful completion of projects before moving on to the next one. They are happy and excited to be part of this high-growth environment though have to constantly deal with change. We instill an understanding in the new joinees that it’s a tough place to work, and they have to deal with high pressure situations frequently! I remember sometime back meeting two promising boys from Hubli who came looking for a job with us. They were among the first entrants in the instrumentation department, and I’ve seen them toil and burn the midnight oil time and again to ensure that everything went right at the client location. They have worked diligently and today have a fulfilling career, with a potential to move up the ladder!

We have been able to attract industry’s best and highly experienced senior and middle management talent who want to be a part of our ambitious and high-growth environment! Apart from this, our association with business partners dates back from the time of inception. Firepro’s stability and the platform that we provide for their growth has resulted in long-term and viable relationships!


4. Firepro recently won the Best Company of the Year 2007 - Fire Systems Integration at the Frost and Sullivan Building Technology Excellence Awards? What were the main criteria that led to Firepro winning?

This award recognized the company’s effort and commitment to continuously evolve and remain a leading participant in our industry segment. The award acknowledges the leadership position Firepro retains and its ability to:

  • Proactively cater to changing customer needs
  • Adopt latest technology
  • Continuously deliver exceptional customer service and
  • To take advantage of market opportunities through the execution of innovative strategies


5. You are operating across international locations. Can you share your experience of setting up the infrastructure business in these locations?

It’s been an eventful journey expanding our operations. In Australia, we were fortunate to hire the right leadership team and they provided a great deal of support from the day we began operations. The Victorian TC government was very helpful and we were able to set up operations in Melbourne within 3 days. The Information and Broadcasting Minister of the state launched the company which further enhanced our credibility in the market. We were able to meet our all our targets, owing to the team’s efficiency. We plan to expand further to Sydney and Brisbane soon. Middle East was all about speed and scale of operations! Although it took us longer to establish operations there, we have successfully entered the market and are providing solutions to many large-scale projects. Within a year of establishing operations, we have today 135 committed team members. In Singapore we started operations in a day’s time - the Government was very supportive again.

We intend to leverage the learning from our overseas experiences into the Indian business, further strengthen our process efficiencies, enhance our ability to tackle contingencies, and also increase our speed and scale of operations!


6. Firepro is highly customer focused. What would “Customer focus” mean in the context of Firepro’s business?

We believe that one of our biggest strengths against any other competition is our ability to be committed to our clients from day one of our association with them. The solutions offered are customized to meet their needs and are of world-class quality. We are in a position today to complete the entire project as per the specified deadline. This ensures that the customer’s plans are completed well within their project timelines as well. We center our service offerings and operations on customers’ evolving needs which further enrich the “customer experience”.


7. How have you instilled customer orientation among all employees?

We believe that communication is the backbone of any project association. We ensure that the team understands the customer requirements and that from the start it is focused on delivering what was promised to the customer. There is constant reinforcement from management on the customer orientation. We, as a senior management team ensure that our commitment levels are visible to the team. This further guarantees a positive response from the project teams as they are aware that their management team is just as much accountable and focused on delivering customer value. .


8. Firepro has been growing at a scorching pace. What may slow the pace of growth in the short term?

The infrastructure market may undergo rapid variations. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this change would slow down Firepro’s pace of growth. Our focus on consistent evolution into different service offerings would enable us to sustain the growth. Economic conditions may not adversely affect business growth, but a certain element of precaution would be taken to face the inevitable.


9. Can you share some of the interesting experiences that you’ve had during this successful journey at Firepro?

Yes, there are many such experiences that have changed our business outlook and had an impact on the Firepro’s management team. One such exulting experience was when we received the 2004 ICICI-CNBC Crisil Award in Delhi. We were among 25 companies short-listed. In the management team, we did not pay too much attention to the award among pressing client demands and operations. We were not even remotely aware of the impact the award would have on the entire team. When we (Naren and I) returned from Delhi, the sight was exhilarating! We were completely overwhelmed by the warmth, excitement and celebration at the Bangalore office. We then understood that this award would trigger a greater sense of commitment and passion within the Firepro team. They were proud of the achievement and were proud to be part of this venture!!
Another one is how the Firepro team came together to deal with a very tight schedule for a client. The base for us to set up operations was Uttaranchal. Tough terrain conditions required us to focus on details and take into consideration many other complexities. We only had a weekend to work on the requirements-too short a timeframe for us to complete it! Within no time, the word spread. Many volunteers came forth to help, although they did not have the required skills or the background. They rapidly put together the necessary documentation to kick start the assignment. 13 other team members flew to Delhi and worked the whole weekend, hour on hour, to complete the project. To this day, I admire the courage, passion and pride that drove my team to finish an unfeasible assignment on time!


10. Is there anything you would have done differently looking back?

I personally feel focusing on building efficient people processes and holding a number of employee engagement activities, which we began only in 2005, would have added value and accelerated Firepro’s growth.

Employee Speak: Mr. Amit Kumar Das, Director - Human Resources, Allergan India

Tell us something about Allergan?

Allergan is a global health care company focused on specialty Pharmaceuticals products. Founded in 1950 in US, it is currently headquartered in Irvine, California. Allergan was launched in India in 1995 as a joint venture with Nicholas Piramal. The inspiration for setting up Allergan came from the need to deliver value to the end consumer and to provide an improved and promising future for the life of a patient. The primary business focus of the company is in the Eye care, Aesthetics and Neurosciences areas of specialty pharmaceuticals.

What is Allergan popular for in the Pharma market? What are it's specialty areas?

Allergan is popular in the Pharma for Eye care products and treatment of eye diseases like Glaucoma and Dry Eyes. We are currently the market leader in eye care products and have taken the initiative to create awareness for the various treatments. Over a period of time, Allergan has also become extremely popular for Botox, a patented product, which enjoys 95% of the market share in India. Botox is used for both therapeutic as well as for cosmetology purposes. Botox is also approved for indications like Cerebral palsy, migraine and urinary tract infection to name a few. It is injected only by a trained medical practitioner.

What is your role in the company?

As the Director - Human Resources, I am responsible for developing and executing all the Human Resource policies for the company. Our entire Human Resources team is committed to ensuring an employee-friendly environment where each individual would be provided various opportunities to realize his/her dreams and goals. We partner with the business managers to ensure that the company’s goals and objectives are met.

What are the key challenges that you face in your industry and specifically in your role? 

The Indian Pharma market is characterized by companies with generic products who are quick in copying (or bringing out copies of the) patented products at lower prices and who have a large sales force reaching all corners of the market. Capability building, attraction of right talent, availability of talent pool and retention of employees are some of the high priority challenges for Allergan India. We have institutionalized right processes and taken active measures to address them.

What are some of the best practices in HR that have been implemented in Allergan?

Allergan has established a robust Performance Management System, Capability building and Career development processes. Our global recognition program ‘Hidden Gems’ recognizes excellent performers in the organization and the selected employees are flown to California to be a part of the recognition ceremony which is part of Allergan Quarterly meeting. Individuals who contribute significantly in any specific assignment or project are rewarded with Excellence Award and cash incentive. Employees who have been in the system for more than 5 years, also receive awards for their hard-work and commitment to the company. We also have excellent employee development initiatives.

What are some of the employee development initiatives?

Learning has been given a great deal of importance in Allergan. We have institutionalized the Allergan India Learning Resources Centre and Allergan Institute of Management to increase the competence level of the employees. We have also put in place a process to ascertain the knowledge level of the field sales team. Regular tests are administered to check if the sales executives keep abreast of the recent pharma industry developments. A knowledge allowance is also provided to them if they perform extremely well. The training programs are categorized as:


Integrate - focuses on bringing the new team together

Improve- focuses on capability building of the team

We believe that learning has to start from the time one joins the company. Hence the training provided at that stage covers all the basic aspects of selling and product knowledge with specific programs like Torque and Momentum. Torque is a fast-track 3-day program and Momentum is a 16-day product training program for new joinees. The intensity of the training programs increases as the employee moves up the ladder, focusing more on acquisition of essential competencies for the next role.

Tell us something about the real-time data capture software at Allergan.

‘Envision electronic reporting’ (PDA) was introduced to track and capture real-time data from the Sales executives who make regular sales calls with medical practitioners. The field sales executive carries a PDA which has a list of doctors that he/she has to meet. Once the meeting is complete, he/she updates the PDA. These details get captured onto the main database.

How significant are Research and Development activities for Allergan?

In this growing age of incurable diseases, it is vital for any Pharma company to pursue and continuously do research on new cures for diseases. We invest a great deal in research and development because that’s what we believe will give us our edge over other pharma competitors. Every year, the investment spent on R & D has been significantly increasing and will continue to increase in the years to come. The kind of Product pipeline we have is a matter of envy for all our competitors. We also have a Clinical research set up in Bangalore, India.

What do you think are some of the key success factors of Allergan India?

Allergan India is the acknowledged leader in the eye care segment with roughly 21% market share. Low input costs and customized formulation for Indian markets have also helped us to sustain large volume production. Our competitive advantage over other Pharma companies in India is the trained, knowledgeable and motivated field personnel. Precisely this is the reason for us investing heavily in development and empowerment of our employees. World-class infrastructure and use of innovative technology cannot be discounted from our success factors.

What are some of the future plans for the company?

The company plans to rapidly move into the health care segment with emphasis on Botox. We intend to introduce state-of-the art products for reducing morbid obesity in individuals. We will continue to leverage our expertise in R&D activities to create new and better products for consumers and ensure an improved life for them.

Employee Speak: Mr. Ashutosh Atray, VP Training and Fleet Management, V-Link Taxis Pvt. Ltd; Jan'08


1. Tell us something about your company and what it is trying to do in the Market.

V-Link Taxis is a service oriented company. Its main aim is to provide hassle free, quality, premium service to its commuters which is not yet available in so many cities.

2. What is your role in the company?

I am responsible for Training and Resources.  Besides developing and ensuring that quality training is imparted to drivers, I am also responsible for effective utilization of resources like infrastructure, vehicles and the mobile servicing team.

3. What are the key challenges you face in your industry and specifically in your role?  How do you deal with them?

Tapping, attracting and retaining the talent pool among taxi drivers is a great challenge. The second key challenge is to maintain quality in service delivery to the customer.  Quality is required at several levels and departments, ranging from the call center, vehicle fitment, driver selection and training, IT systems and Recovery/Accounts.  In order to ensure quality, the entire machinery needs to be well oiled and work as a single unit. Each department needs to perform as a team based on set processes in a timely manner with a firm focus on business goals. The third key challenge is driver training and attitude.  Each driver reacts uniquely to different situations and to the same situations at different times.  Ensuring their adherence to processes to deliver the same quality each time is challenging.

4. What kind of training do you provide to the drivers who are deployed in Meru cabs?

In a way the driver is the face of our company. A lot depends on how the driver performs on that day.  Every thing becomes null and void if the driver makes the customer unhappy. We have a 5 day comprehensive training program that covers several topics like good driving, road safety, basic maintenance, technical specifications, city topography, personal hygiene, etiquette etc.

5. Is the training provided by V-Link to it’s cab drivers unique to the taxi industry in India?

It is unique.  Besides being very comprehensive and covering various aspects as mentioned before, strict adherence on the part of the driver to the set processes is largely dependent on the driver since he is not just an employee but a mini entrepreneur.  Our training also touches upon this aspect and raises the self esteem of the driver by making him understand the finer nuances of his new role. He not only needs to perform well but also needs to exhibit a finer behaviour and process adherence as this impacts the company as well as his business.

6. Recently V-Link was in the news regarding the training facility provided at the Regional Transport Office. How is this unique and what are the advantages for the driver undergoing such a program? Do you feel this can be replicated anywhere else in the country?

The transport department would like to groom and educate the drivers of Mumbai city.   Being in the industry we would like to actively contribute towards this social cause.  Whenever a driver comes to the RTO for a new license or renewing an old one etc, the RTO encourages them to meet our team specifically designated permanently for training at the RTO. The training is conducted by professional trainers in a room set up for such training.  The purpose is to raise driver awareness to higher levels thereby ensuring safer roads.  This training is on ongoing basis.  When the driver completes this successfully he is presented a certificate as well. This initiative is 3 months old now and we are proud to say that every day about 60 to 70 drivers are trained and a total of over 6000 drivers have been trained so far. We have two more requests from the RTO and we are in the process of developing a multilingual training in Hindi and Marathi as well.

7. What are the unique challenges of training drivers?

Ensuring satisfactory levels of service is very challenging indeed.  For example, our training chalks out that the driver be well dressed, clean shaven, wearing good shoes in other words very neatly turned out. To ensure the above he is also given a uniform and shoes.  In addition to this he needs to display positive attitude and caring guest handling. However the driver does not consider appearance as a key factor for his success and many drivers do not realize that they can really make a day for a guest by giving perfect service. The driver is an integral part of customer experience of Meru.  Our driver relations team meets this challenge by closely interacting with the drivers and putting them through periodic repeat trainings.  In addition we also have a news letter as a point of contact with the drivers.

8. Can you tell us a little about the work done by the fleet management team?

The work of the Fleet management team is very specialized since there are a large number of vehicles involved.  The key performance indicator is efficiency.  Greater efficiency and lesser vehicle downtime results in better output and thereby translates into greater revenue.  For this purpose a large database of vehicle information is maintained and data analysis is done on key parameters like servicing and preventive maintenance.

9. What are the future plans that you have for training and fleet management that you have for V-Link?

For training we would like to establish a world class futuristic training facility where anyone can send their drivers for quality training.  This facility would adopt the best training methods and practices with handouts, top class professional trainers and multilingual training.  The MCT (Mobile Communication Terminal) will have all routes mapped and a driver will have the discretion to use best possible route to his destination.

For Fleet management we are developing software systems and processes for data analysis. We are also planning to open multi-model service centers that will service and repair all kinds of vehicles.

10. What is different about working with V-Link?

The company is growing very fast. The operations are going to be pan-India. The company has already established a good name for itself in the market place. It is a challenge to come up to expectations. A management which provides the right mix of support and liberty makes working here extremely satisfying.  I am happy to be a part of this dynamic new business initiative.