RACY CASES-44 From Donkey to Datsun to Donkey

V Pattabhi Ram and A V Vedpuriswar

Wafers adored her dad.  She often wondered whether a father could be any better.  Now the CEO of a manufacturing major, he had handled factory operations when Wafers was a kid.  She remembered the night when he took her to the factory to see how the plant worked.  That night Wafers decided that she would never work in a factory!  Nights are meant to be slept and not worked was her argument. “No night shifts for me”, she told herself.  And hence she decided to do CA!  Some original thinking indeed.

To Wafers the name Raman Roy spelt sheer magic.  He, the father of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) in India, was her new icon. To her he was the Tendulkar of business. She had read somewhere that the BPO industry was to the 21st century what the information technology industry had been to the 20th.  It was offering mind-boggling job opportunities and had placed India in the global spotlight.

In a different context her professor had once told the class that geographical boundaries had begun to collapse.  That the new world in which they would make a mark would belong to transnational organizations. Companies where production would be carried in one part of the world, marketing in another, design and development in a third, money would be raised in a fourth, the organization itself would be headquartered in a fifth and all routine accounting and other back office operations would be carried out in a sixth part of the world! Wow. Part six, she later learnt, was BPO.

Come July 06 when she would be a CA, should she join a BPO she wondered?

That evening as she sat with the gang at the coffee pub she poured her heart out to China.  He said, “My friend works in a BPO and handles their South African operations.”  “Wow,” said Wafers.  “Where is he placed? Johannesburg or Antwerp?” she asked all excited. “Neither place” said Rinku, the journalist. “In fact, he works next door! Sitting in India he does the accounting work of South African clients”.  China explained, “He works when it is daytime for South Africa.  Between 4 pm and 12 midnight, Indian Standard Time.  And there is this girl who works in their US operations. Works when it is day time for America.  Between 9 pm and 9 am, Indian Standard Time”.

“Night shift” screamed Wafers.  “I thought only factory workers worked night shift.”

China decided to rub Wafers.  “When the outsourcing concept broke out years ago, they first outsourced transport, then security, later water service.  And now Accounting! Your profession is in illustrious company.”   Wafers ignored the jibe. “Its not that,” she said.  “Thanks to C K Prahalad, companies are simply focusing on their areas of competence and outsourcing the rest.  HR, investment banking, back office operations and IT too are being outsourced,” she added remembering what she had read the other day. And closed out saying, “The arrival of the Internet and the availability of cheap and abundant telecom bandwidth are hastening the process”.  China jibed, “wisdom from the mouth of babes.”

Rinku decided to add his two bit.  His dad, when he started his chartered accounting practice in the mid seventies, had gone around scouting for clients.  A senior professional had then told him: “Whatever you do, do not get into maintaining books of accounts for clients! That’s a donkey’s job! You must do high end jobs; of the Datsun variety.” To Rinku, the irony was palpable.  Today companies, big and small, were vying with each other to set up BPOs that essentially offered accounting services!

Wafers asked,  “Do you think that a slot in a BPO company can be my first job?  Will the work experience in a BPO count?”   Under different circumstances Rinku would have loved to pull Wafers’ legs. Not now. “There are divided views on the subject”, he said.  “One view is that a stint with a solid manufacturing company could give the right kind of grounding.  After all, accounting is a staff function.  An accountant should sit where the heart of the business operations, the line function, takes place.”

China supplied the other view.  “Working in a BPO you get to learn how to set the right processes. Moreover, you are offering the service to global companies. So you become familiar with global benchmarks. You will probably get to know more about international accounting standards than what your course might have taught you.”

Wafers was concerned.  But what about making job switches?  A HR consultant had once told her, “Your first job is crucial for your career. Choosing your first job is like marriage.  Marry in haste and repent at leisure.  In either case there is a need for sure thought and sound knowledge.”  Would she be able to later switch from BPO to say banking or manufacturing?

Rinku said, “Over time it is possible to switch    from BPO to manufacturing and vice versa.  In today’s world you need man management skills much more than technical skills. Moreover, in an IT driven world, skills in handling automated processes are invaluable. A BPO experience can come in handy”. China remarked, “In any case with many well managed companies trying to focus on design, brand management and other high value adding jobs and moving out of manufacturing, the traditional argument that you must work in a manufacturing company is slowly but surely losing weight”.

Wafers who wanted to work abroad because that experience would provide her the necessary fire in the belly wondered whether there would be global mobility in a BPO career.  China provided the ultimate answer.  “Every job is like the curator’s egg.  It comes in a package – with the good, the bad and the ugly all rolled in one.  You must pick up the good and learn from it”.

When they walked out of the coffee pub Wafers remembered what she had read in a magazine.  That in fiscal 2004 India’s BPO industry had recorded a sales of $3.6 billion and that by 2008 the figure would touch $24 billion.  So far only American and British firms had outsourced work to low-cost economies, but other rich economies such as France, Germany, Italy and Japan would soon follow suit.  So global mobility seemed to be very much on she told herself.




About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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