Pramod Bhasin is the non-executive vice chairman and former President and CEO of Genpact, one of the largest business process outsourcing (BPO) companies in India. Bhasin was also instrumental in bringing GE Capital to India. Bhasin shares his pearls of wisdom with YourStory. Excerpts:
YourStory: From GE to Genpact, what does it take to scale a company?
Pramod Bhasin: When I came here to set up GE Capital, it was a startup, started from scratch, one person at a time. When we built Genpact as an idea it was a complete startup, but since then you know the BPO industry has grown. The biggest key is learning how to build terrific organization — most people do this quite badly. The error rates in hiring people is very high initially, and then as company expands beyond its various phases, goes from phase 1 – 2 – 3, the company goes up the value chain. So you also need people who can change, people with different skills. What you need for a startup in the first 2-3 years, becomes very different from what the company needs in next few years. In the initial phases, you need people who are very entrepreneurial, people who can find solutions to difficult issues, who can be evangelical in terms of promoting the product / service / idea – who are truly passionate about what they are trying to build, and how they are trying to build and the value they can bring. In the next phase, you need people who can build scalable processes, systems and capabilities, and who understand how to do that! I had the privilege of working with GE for 30 years, it is the best organization in the world in people development. A lot of CEOs in the world have come from GE, and they’ve applied that framework to other businesses. Today if you look at Genpact, you’ll see that the entire top level of Genpact is the same group of people who have been there for 13-15 years. This is unheard of in industries other than banking where you have big options which we didn’t have. They have evolved and adapted! And that is the single biggest challenge and opportunity.
YS: What does it take to build a scalable structure within an organization?
PB: I think it is culture. You have to set culture expectations upfront, so that they can be scaled. It has to be translated from top management to other people. At Genpact, we went from 0-60,000 people and today we’re in 20 countries, but what binds us together are the culture and values. You have to be very clear, what you stand for, what you’re trying to do, the rules that you play by, behavioral aspects of your organization. How will you deal with customers? Employees? These are standards you must set early and then communicate them relentlessly across the organization as it grows. It is very important, else as the organization grows, every branch will have its own politics, its own behavior, which is not scalable – and will bring in errors and variances that organizations cannot afford to have. Keep in mind your company values in mind when bringing in new people on board too — how you hire, whom you hire and place a significant emphasis on training. The only way to retain people is by consistent training.
One of the great things about Genpact is we are extremely customer focused. If a customer needs something, we jump all over it. That’s the culture. Many companies don’t do that because they are focused on cost, on maximizing profit but lose focus of the customer. Our attrition is half that of industry standards though we pay them similar and that is because our culture is to give our employees great training, great opportunities. People don’t leave for money, people leave bad managers!
YS: How can one hire the right people for one’s company?
PB: First, you’ve to be very careful about how you write your job description. You need to be focused. What do you need? Do you need a team performer / an individual player? A problem solver or a business developer and so on. All these become important and defining these clearly is important otherwise you will get it wrong.
Number two, hire people according to the culture you want. For example, I never hire people who I think can be political, people who will create a mess in our office. At Genpact, there is no politics allowed, no bullshit is allowed, so you must always hire people for culture. And, you can tell. You must always ask them why they left their previous organization – how do they look at a job, how they solve interpersonal problems, how they gel with supervisors, because you need people who are not going to play politics. You need people who are very direct; open and transparent. For example for us, we are a very open and transparent company. When we have an internal review at Genpact, 45 people are sitting in the room, everyone is listening to what is working well and what is not. You don’t want people who are empire builders – we want people whom we call boundary-less. You want people who have the energy and hunger to go on for a very long time because this is a long distance run, when they don’t have that they get tired and complacent.
Then if you are looking at experienced people, then I am always thinking of where I am hiring, which organizations are they coming from, their values. You have to be careful while taking interviews, and you need to have a lot of people taking these interviews, to avoid hiring mistakes. The number of times people get hiring wrong is 50% and you pay for that for years later.
YS: We heard you are starting up again! Please tell us about your new startup.
PB: It is a vocational training business, a skills business, called Skills Academy. We would really like to go live at a huge scale and quality. Our aim is to train people in construction, retail, agriculture and IT BPO. We just started four months ago, it is too early. We are just building up our team. It will go live soon!
YS: How does it feel to startup again?
PB: We are driven by a desire to create some social impact. We know how to train people from the BPO industry, so hope we can offer that at a larger scale via this platform. But, there is a huge social element, it is our way of giving something back to the country.
YS: What are some of the big areas of opportunity in India for entrepreneurs to leverage?
PB: There are many areas for entrepreneurs. There are so many ideas — say in healthcare, water, food processing, retail, in training in skills – I can go on . I think the opportunities are huge, to serve middle class, rural markets, develop ways to leverage cost effective solutions for these markets. There is a massive amount of opportunity. The challenge in India is always in execution actually, getting supply chain to work, getting products and services to your door, the cost of red tape and all that causes problems. Problems exist on the execution front, opportunities are plenty. The ecosystem is now coming together very nicely where in we can provide funding, mentorship — so all those areas are beginning to develop quite well.
YS: How was working with Jack Welch at GE and what have been your best learnings from him?
PB: Lot of things! One is clearly commitment and drive — you should be able to take ups and downs, have enormous commitment and staying power. You should be able to live through ups and downs.
People who help develop organizations, help themselves. Entrepreneurs have to think very carefully about systems and processes. I have never seen a business that goes according to plan. All initial plans fall apart in the first six months that applies to big companies as well. When I started GE capital I presented a business plan, one year later we completely tilted that plan. When I started Genpact, I didn’t even have a business plan! Your ability to turn, change your business model and stay flexible is very important. The team matters a lot. How you build your team matters a lot. How you build your team defines whether or not you will be able to support your own growth.
YS: What have been the biggest learnings from your career of 30 years?
PB: Put in a lot of effort in building the organizational structure. Think deeply about processes and systems when you are thinking to scale. Most entrepreneurs think that is stuff that someone else should do, but it is important that you do it yourself to build a scalable model.
One of the biggest problems with India today is everyone wants to be a philosopher and economist, no one wants to get on the ground and implement. The difference between us and China is, there the mayor of the town ‘implements’ everyday and here we have political discussions! Most people don’t spend enough time on culture. That is extremely important.
Lastly, this is relevant to both big and small companies, you should be able to answer this question all the time. What is your core competitive differentiator? You must answer that with crystal clarity, because if you can’t you will always be vulnerable. Most people are unable to do that as well as they need to.
YS: You have made a bunch of angel investments through IAN and in individual capacity. What is your advice to entrepreneurs coming to pitch to you?
PB: I don’t think there is a cookie-cutter. I look for human attributes; I look for business model, for intellectual depth, how smart is someone. I look for how are they going to build an organization, what are the key areas they want to focus on? They should be ready to help me understand how they propose to build an organization. What sort of organization they are looking for, what sort of people do they look for, they should be able to tell me what is their competitive differentiator and how it is sustainable?
We at YourStory.in thank Pramod Bhasin for sharing his valuable insights with us. Stay tuned, as we shall bring to you all the latest updates from Pramod’s new startup!
[Image credit: Outlook India]