Cognizant’s Indian Talent Drives Its Global Services

Cognizant’s Indian Talent Drives Its Global Services

by Anand Parthasarathy - Oct 3, 2021 04:45 PM +05:30 IST
Cognizant’s Indian Talent Drives Its Global ServicesCognizant's global delivery centre in Chennai.
  • Though technically an American company, its Indian employees number over 70 per cent of its nearly 3-lakh strength — making it the Number 2 employer in India after Infosys.

    Other than TCS, it is the only India-talent driven IT company to rank among the world’s Top 15 IT players — revenue-wise.

    It is consistently rated one of the best places to work in India.

Amidst the doom-n-gloom scenario in the jobs market, with so many corporates struggling to survive in a post-Covid world, one technology player bucked the trend.

The massively Indian-talent driven, US-headquartered Cognizant, said last month, it planned to immediately fill some 30,000 positions in this country with fresh engineering graduates and a possible 45,000 next year, to provide global support services for its global customer base of some 5.6 million users of largely Microsoft tools like Windows, Office and Azure.

It also plans to hire another 1 lakh working professionals as lateral entrants.

Cognizant calls this its ‘Ninja’ hiring process, which will enable it to make 700 job offers every day, for many weeks this year.

In a separate announcement, the corporate social media tool, LinkedIn, recently ranked it at Number 2 of 25, among top companies in India to work for. Cognizant calls its employees “associates” and they number just over 2 lakh in India — over 70 per cent of its global people power.

Cognizant is a very interesting example of how some infotech companies, deliberately shed their Indianness to become truly global entities in search of worldwide name and fame.

And to a large extent, this has succeeded. But, while you can change your clothes, you can’t alter your DNA: and the extent to which Cognizant’s Indian talent fuels its global business and ambitions, remains an untold story of desi technological talent.

Cognizant Indian leadership over the years: Top: left:  Lakshmi Narayanan. Right: Francisco D’Souza. Bottom: Left: Ganesh Ayyar Right: Rajesh Nambiar.
Cognizant Indian leadership over the years: Top: left: Lakshmi Narayanan. Right: Francisco D’Souza. Bottom: Left: Ganesh Ayyar Right: Rajesh Nambiar.

The company was founded in 1994 as Dun and Bradstreet India and was a joint venture with Satyam Computers, with Srini Raju its first CEO.

In 1997, it was renamed as Cognizant Technology Solutions and its headquarters were shifted from Chennai to the United States by the then-CEO, Kumar Mahadeva.

Like other IT companies based in India, Cognizant leveraged the Y2K or Year 2000 business, but cannily did not put all its eggs in one basket. It survived the dotcom bust by taking on the maintenance projects that larger IT services companies did not bother about.

Booming business
From 1998, first as President and then as CEO, Cognizant was steered by Lakshmi Narayanan who refocused Cognizant on Business Process Operations and consulting.

It proved to be a milch cow for the company. Under its co-founder and CEO from 2007 for 12 years, Kenya-born Indian Francisco D’Souza, Cognizant saw booming business and revenues.

Even after the company inducted Irish-born Brian Humphries, a veteran with stints at Vodafone, Dell and HP, as CEO in 2019, Indians continue to head most of the key verticals — former Mphasis CEO Ganesh Ayyar is President of digital business operations, while ex-IBM-veteran, Rajesh Nambiar is Chairman of Cognizant India and head of digital business and technology.

Four of the company’s 12 senior executives are Indian and its innovative epicentre lies in Chennai rather than New Jersey, USA.

The changeover to a non-Indian CEO after 25 years, did see the departure of quite a few senior executives as Humphries brought in his own team; but to call it an exodus of talent as some sections of the media did, seems like an overstatement.

More worrisome for the current leadership in India, is this apparent contradiction: While Cognizant is a very big supporter of Indian talent, it also suffers an attrition rate that, at around 18 per cent, is above the national average.

Examining its human resource practices to ensure that its 2-lakh-strong Indian workforce, has the motivation to stick around, might be a priority in coming months.

Whenever the history of Indian Information Technology is told, Cognizant finds a place among the Famous Five — turn-of-the-century pioneers including TCS, Infosys, Wipro and HCL who made ‘India IT’ a globally respected brand.

Today, Cognizant has slipped out of the Top Ten tech players ranking in India — but often forgotten is one fact: at an international level, the company is among the Top 10 or Top 15 (depending on who does the ranking) Infotech companies, going by revenue.

With the most recent annual earnings of $ 16.5 billion, Cognizant is in the global company of only one other Indian player — TCS.

The word ‘digital’ is to be found in all of Cognizant’s offerings across sectors like healthcare, banking, financial services, retail and communications — and helping her clients harness digital technology and artificial intelligence as they start on the road to a post-pandemic recovery is the challenge.

It may be too soon to predict how it goes — but one thing is certain: the skills that make this happen at Cognizant, will be — mostly — Indian.

Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.

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