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August - 2006 - issue > Cover Story
India Calling
Keerthana Venkatesh and Sanjeev Jain
Thursday, March 4, 2010
With most technology companies off shoring their major operations to India, there is an increasing and compelling encouragement and perhaps need for Indians or Indian—Americans working in the U.S. to return home. This may be a strategy to tap into the emerging growth market. But, for the Indians it’s an offer of a lifetime. Says Gautam Sinha of TVA Infotech, a recruitment company based in Bangalore, “We have seen a steady trend of about 10-15 Indians applying with us for lucrative offers in India, partly because of growing kids and ageing parents to care for. But the action happening in the tech-world here is an attractive feature for them.”

While some returnees relocate lock, stock and barrel with the same company, there are others who prefer to change their companies to become a part of the Indian growth story and create history. And for some others, the pull was concern for the family and the pull of roots, or pushed by falling job opportunities in the Silicon Valley and tightening U.S. visa regulations.

Six-year-old Shreya bid adieu to her Montessori friends in Texas and joined another in the western Indian city of Pune. At the end of her first day at school, her parents waited to see her reaction of a new school and seeing newer faces. They were amazed when she ran home all excited, “Guess what, the school here is so good,” narrates her returnee father, Anshoo Gaur, managing director, Enterprise Management-India, EDS Inc.

Nearly a decade and a half after he left India for the U.S., Kalyan Gangavarapu of Four-Soft, Hyderabad, never expected to return. Even during the boom in India he had a stint with Indian conglomerates in their U.S. wings. “But somewhere I felt I was missing out on the action happening here. If you want to grow well, India is the place now,” says Gangavarapu. With the backing of his family, he took the plunge. He quit his job in the U.S. and joined the startup at Hyderabad and he’s enjoying every moment of it.

Gangavarapu and Gaur are just two among the thousands of techies who have returned to India and are glad they made the move. Drawn by a booming economy that is growing at 8.5 percent or more each year, in which outsourcing is playing a crucial role, and the money to buy the lifestyle they had back in the U.S., Indians are returning in large numbers. All the returnees’ siliconindia spoke to unanimously voted that the best way to grow is to move back.

What began as an experiment to check if India stood up to the returnee’s expectations in the late 1990’s is now significant enough to be talked about as a “reverse brain drain”syndrome. By one estimate of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), the trade body of IT companies in India, there are more than 40,000 “returned Indians” spread across the length and breadth of this developing country. Yet an appropriate figure is hard to come by. For a country like India, implications of the reverse migration are potentially vast. India gains from the experience, skills and work culture they bring along.

For decades, India has been a mute spectator as many of its cream doctors, engineers and scientists moved to the U.S. and Europe in search of careers befitting their talent, ingenuity and education. The socio-economic and political situations then held them from the thought to return some day. Neither was the government really concerned about the people leaving this country. With a small portion of that talent returning today, their influence has magnified beyond numbers, just by their high skill—levels and education, new cultural perspectives and, in most cases, copious wealth to live luxuriously in India. They are both staffing and starting companies. For most of them technology development happens in India and technology consumption happens in the U.S. In effect though they stay in India, they are close to their lifestyle in the U.S.

Changed Environment
Since early 1990s to be precise, India was known for its coders. MNCs came here for cost arbitrage. But as companies took the risk and transferred more work to Indian shores, they realized there was more to India than what just met the eye. As the IT industry picked up steam, and as foreign firms started pouring billions of dollars into having their India dream fructify in a more open and deregulated Indian economy beginning with the 90’s, returnees think they have a role to play in the global delivery model.

In software, the global delivery model is a runaway success in India. From their origins in code writings and call centers, India is climbing the value chain competing neck to neck with Silicon Valley to perform more complex and more profitable functions like data management, market analysis, consulting and computer aided design. India’s annual software exports have gone up from non-existent to $17 billion in barely a decade. Consultants at McKinsey predict India’s IT revenue to reach $87 billion by 2008 while Nasscom modestly claims it to amount to about $60 billion by 2010. But for all that growth, India needs skills. Of course India has skills but skills that can make India a true IT super—power are still lacking. People who made U.S. a force to reckon with in the IT industry can play a role. Indians, who have been part of the American IT success stories, have a role to play here. If the early returnees brought hopes, those were the hopes to see India as a legitimate rival to Silicon Valley.

Tracing the lines of history, India has graduated from a services industry to a product-manufacturing zone over the last few years. “I always wondered if I could work on the kind of cool technologies in India that I have been working on in the U.S. It was growth in the R&D sector of industry here that made me decide to shift,” says Siddharth Ram of Intuit, Bangalore. Like many, Ram researched the Indian markets for a technical opportunity to move. He met Intuit India at the siliconindia Job Fair. Two months later he was busy setting up the India center for them.
Of late, there’s a trend among Silicon Valley occupants. One needs to have an Indian in the management as a guide to set up an India operations when need be. So when Indians returns to either setup India operations or head a group, they bring along considerable experience. In return they are respected for their camaraderie.

Says Srinath Subhramanyam, director, Data Group, Yahoo, Bangalore; “There’s a significant value when you return after a considerable experience. You get recognized at the highest echelons and also knowledge of both the work places gives you an edge over others.” Having travailed missing opportunities then in India, and migrated to the U.S. returnees today find the growing Indian market an exciting adventure zone to try new things in a familiar land, amongst familiar people but with an added advantage of knowledge of the Silicon Valley culture.

Work Culture Difference
If there’s one thing that concerns prospective returnees immensely, it is the work culture. Working in the U.S. has its positives like early career progression. Reaching the ranks in India is a slower process when compared to the U.S. where talent reigns supreme. Young techies with only a few years of hardcore technology development in the U.S. find themselves among the top league in India. They are most sought after and are revered.
The U.S. experience finds these 30-40 odd young Directors and COOs belonging to the returnee category surprising their Indian counterparts. Naren Dubey, director and head or Product Development with Applied Materials, Bangalore, muses over a recent incident, “I attended a client meeting a couple of days ago. One look at me found them scanning me from head to toe. The lack of gray hair on my head made them wonder if I was the person they were to meet.”

But this trend acts as an inspiration factor for the young techies in India, believes Umer Farooque of Informatica, Bangalore. The success stories of young returnees have nurtured an encouraging effect on the youth in India today. “They are more focused in planning what they want they want to do today than say, even a year ago,” says Farooque.
Most returnees seem pleasantly surprised at the dramatic change in the professional culture in the Indian tech industry. Says Gangavarapu, “When I planned to return I was prepared for a ‘Boss is the boss and he knows best’ attitude. But here people actually come and tell me when I’m wrong and I’m glad.” Independence in thoughts and ideas that techies in India possess today and their ability to respect the higher ups is a good mix to reap the best professional attitude. In a conversation with a Japanese client, Gangavarapu was praised for India’s progress in its professionalism. Says he, “The client was surprised that this was the only country in the Asia-Pacific region that has such a neat professional attitude.”

With the old and new blood amalgamating, returnees find a lot of other facets to adjust with. While it’s been a challenging return for many to raise kids with a grounded- attitude, calling everyone around respectfully with an “aunty”-”uncle” suffix, bringing them closer to relatives and grandparents and teaching them more of their heritage, yet adjustments in a land that has changed tremendously since they left it is something that they need to make a little extra effort to balance. Says Vinay Bapna, Manager Product Marketing with MetricStream Infotech India in Bangalore, “Ethnic diversity in the U.S. found us bound by cultural associations. But India’s westernizing trend is something we need to adjust to. It’s been an unbelievably quick transformation here.”

Pulling Ahead
Goes an old saying, “Home is where my heart is.’ You feel at home when you are at home. Housing in India at the time of relocation is something that haunts returnees. Most of the senior techies left when the country had just seen the emergence of the IT industry. Today when they think of coming back, they do not settle down in their hometown but stay in those select cities where IT is the defacto industry. They always have a concern- will they get to stay in the gated community as they did back in the U.S.? How facilitated is the country today? How about maids and a chauffer?

Much of the IT industry in India is located in few clusters like Bangalore, Chennai Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune and the National Capital Region. These are places where the real estate is seeing the zenith. There’s hardly any place left where one could find decent accommodation. If at all one finds a decent house, the difference of rent is not much between lets say- San Jose and Bangalore.
To offset any problem related to housing, preparation is a must. While real estate dealers are cashing in on the returnees by launching schemes of state-of-the-art NRI housing societies, finding a decent house at the right time is a preparation that a returnee is advised to arrange for before shifting. Says Subhramanyam, “I traveled to Bangalore four times the same year to study the industry, the opportunities and to check on the housing before the shift.” Growing cities like Hyderabad and Pune are better places to bet on when it comes to housing, quip many. siliconindia’s survey revealed that most returnees prefer apartments to individual houses, not because they are more affordable, but kids get to network better. “Four in the evening, and my child is out of the house,” says Naren Dubey, who smiles at the freedom his child has in India as against the regimented time table for the day back in the U.S.

When it comes to adjusting with relatives, friends, the new society and re-networking, adjustments and patience is the lesson that everyone’s learnt. Driving on the right side of the road, zooming past cross roads are things that we’ve had to learn over a period of time, echo some while people like Gangavarapu have given up driving in the Indian traffic altogether. He laughs out, “My driver drives me to office much before time. If I were to drive, I would never reach early.” It’s just the way you adjust to enjoy.
However one need that is addressed is the easier availability of maids and a chauffeur. For a little over $200, one could afford a full time maid and a chauffer for those paranoid of driving on Indian roads. Dubey says,” Back in the U.S. if I had to afford a maid, it would have cost me quarter of my salary, but here it’s lot cheaper.”

Children’s education is another major concern. It’s true, techies want their children to study in the same setup as they did back in the U.S. and that’s another factor that makes them return. Locating to India before April is advisable as academic sessions begin then. India has a good network of schools offering world-class syllabus based on CBSE and ICSE. India also has some good international / residential schools that offer IB courses. However one word of caution, some international schools’ education is a costly affair compared to schools in the U.S. The annual fee difference would be just between $500-$1000.

Most techies with children feel that the best time to relocate would be when the kids are in junior school as yet. Grown up children who are more acclimatized to the U.S. environment may find it quite difficult to adjust to a new set up altogether. However, Gangavarapu vetoes this thought. “Education in India is of an international standard. It really doesn’t make a difference in the quality, either here or there.”

Relocation and HR strategies:
Companies with scattered hubs across the globe, makes relocation for its employees easier. With a centralized HR managing the entire business, it eases the transition and helps employees settle down in the new strategic location. Taxes and temporary housing accommodation are things that one needn’t bother much about during an internal transfer, says Karthigeyan Vaidyanathan of Centillium Bangalore. Companies are often ad hoc in their approach in such cases. There is lot more flexibility in the HR practices that one needs to follow before the final relocation.

But for those who quit a job there to join a new one in India, it’s an experience of a lifetime. The transition can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000 on an average, that includes the lowest airfares and shipping costs. Taxes are a factor to look into. In such a shift, returnees generally appoint attorneys to manage the global taxes that they pay both in India and the U.S. for a year.
For those planning to shift to India, April is the suggested ideal time with reference to schools and taxes, advice most returnees. “The fiscal year in India begins in April and one quarter is done with in the U.S. So the tax payments become more organized,” says Subhramanyam. Academic sessions in North India begin in April while June is the starting session in the Southern part of the country. April would hence conjoin with these sessions as well as with the tax-year, sing most returnees.

One interesting trend that we observed among the returnees with kids was that none of them expressed a desire to apply for Indian Citizenship for the children. The voted unanimously that the children could always return to the U.S. at a later date pursue higher studies, if they intended to do so. Their U.S. citizenship would hold them against visa problems and so on.

Culture Shock,
By Design and Default

Most of the techies returning to India have observed vast improvements. Much beyond their wildest imaginations is a safe statement. Today there are more roads, quality power and even better telecom connections. They find that a telephone connection that took a year to come once upon a time is available in a day today. Indians are driving more Toyotas, Hyundais and Fords than the boxy Ambassador and stodgy Premier Padmini that dotted Indian roads for almost 40 years. They have access to all the major brands in India that they see in the U.S. and shop at malls that are cropping up almost everyday even in towns where IT is not a significant industry. American food is a delicacy in the Indian malls as well.

Less Salary. To Be or Not To Be
Dubey is of the firm opinion that if techies are thinking of better compensation in their decision to move back to India, then he disappoints. He says, “People that want to take a look at India with salary point of view should rather stay there.” That’s because when compared in dollar terms, salary might be less. But Dubey says, “For techies with a U.S. background, salary is not an issue. With their kind of salary, they can live luxuriously.”

If you have your way and want to make India your home, then time is ripe for that move of lifetime.
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