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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Keshav Murugesh, CEO, WNS, on the BPO sector

Shibangi Das  |  Mumbai 

Among the oldest BPOs to have set shop in the country, and ranked among the top-five by Nasscom seven years in a row, started operations in 1996 as an offshore unit of British Airways. It was then an in-house shared service organisation. From there, to being the first Indian to be listed on the NYSE in 2006, has constantly kept ahead of competition, winning a slew of awards along the way. The company is among the top employers in the space.

Keshav Murugesh, who joined in March 2010 as Group CEO feels the organisation's inclusive and stimulating culture, and committed employees have kept it growing. Strong HR practices, good employer branding and a stream of projects have always attracted the right talent to the organisation, he says in an interview with Shibangi Das.

“We empower our people to take decisions. That forms the crux of great performance,” Murugesh says. He believes that hiring the right kind of people makes all the difference. “It is like a club, where we choose our people carefully.”

Since the time Murugesh started his career in this industry, the sector has moved from being only voice-based call centres, to data processing and management units, to the current phase, where it is mostly about knowledge gaining and transfer. And WNS has been leading this transformation, he claims. The ride, though, has not been smooth for a sector where the workforce was referred to as glorified blue-collared workers, graveyard shifts were unheard of and taboo and unprofessional behaviour made news.

As a thought leader in this industry, Murugesh sees the need for the BPO sector to work closely with the government to overcome this negative image. WNS recently concluded a workshop on cyber security for the Maharshtra Police Force.

“BPO work,” says Murugesh,” is not anymore about reducing costs or building efficiency for the clients only. BPOs now deal with knowledge of the clients’ business to positively impact their toplines and bottomlines.”

The change in philosophy shows in the company’s performance in FY11. It earned revenues worth $616.3 million, which is a 5.8% increase from FY10. It’s net income was $9.8 million.

There are still challenges to overcome. Wage inflation, according to Murugesh, seems to be among the bigger worries of the industry. But it is a factor that is out of the industry’s control. What it can do, however, is to transform its workforce into a knowledge workforce. That is where the opportunities lie - domain specialisation, non-linear working models, working form on-site, near-shore and off-shore locations and making the best of the client-partner working model. A combination of these, he feels, is most likely to bring about a successful and desired transformation in the clients’ businesses.

As for what the future looks like in terms of India’s performance in the BPO industry, Mr. Murugesh says, “China is definitely a long-term bet in this industry, but for the next few years, India is really the country that has all the potential.” The population of India, the average age of which is 26 years, is largely used to speaking in English. While China is trying hard to get there, it will be some time before it can produce volumes. Also, The legal construct in India makes the clients more comfortable in operating their businesses here. Moreover, no one can contest the commercial acumen that India has gained by virtue of being market leaders in this sector.

However to maintain its position as a leader, India needs to produce more qualified candidates, whose degrees are relevant and where the curriculum makes them proficient in communication, managing client situations smartly and have basic domain knowledge. “The ultimate and most welcome challenge would be for companies to create tougher selection processes because of a rise in the number of employable candidates,” asserts Murugesh.

WNS has also taken big strides in doing its bit for community development. Employees across levels engage in the company’s CSR initiatives. WNS Cares Foundation (WCF) takes charge of schools around their office campuses, creates fully functional libraries and computer centres, and employees interact with the children regularly to become their mentors and to aid them in garnering real-life education. These initiatives, employed across all WNS locations over the world, help create a bond between the associates and the kids, which boosts the confidence of everyone.

Murugesh also heads an organisation called Students in free Enterprise (SIFE). Inspired by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s 2020 vision for India, he brought the idea to India’s colleges despite a lot of skepticism from others. But it took off very successfully. Students now engage themselves in projects, aided by a college faculty member, in projects that encourage the spirit of community development and entrepreneurship framed by ideals of leadership, financial literacy and sustainability, ethical behaviour and a concern for the environment.

Murugesh, gadget-lover, movie buff and connoisseur of coffee, believes, “At any level, whether you are the janitor or the CEO, if you say you don’t have free time to engage in your passion, there is something wrong with you.” Clearly, it’s not all work at WNS.

First Published: Thu, July 07 2011. 13:10 IST