Infosys: A Bit of Paradise in Bangalore
By Bruce Einhorn
Forgive the top executives of Indian software company Infosys Technologies if they feel as if they've been drafted into India's diplomatic corps. Lately, besides running the top publicly listed information-technology company in the country, they've also been playing host to foreign and local dignitaries in an almost-endless series of visits.
In mid-January, it was Chinese Premier Li Peng who brought an entourage to the sprawling new Infosys campus on the edge of Bangalore, India's answer to Silicon Valley. This week, it's the Prime Minister of Mauritius, followed by Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Next week, it's the President of Algeria. Other recent visitors include the Prime Ministers of Japan and Singapore and the President of Nigeria. The head of the World Bank has stopped by, too, as well as Lawrence Summers, Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration.
PLANT A TREE.
The visits may take up their time. But make no mistake, the Infosys executives crave the attention. On the lawn, next to the expansive food court for Infosys employees (or, as they're known here, Infoscions) and across the way from the golf green, a grove of saplings on the lawn symbolizes Infosys' importance in the Indian IT world. Each visiting VIP plants a tree, and a neat little white sign reminds Infoscions and guests alike who planted each. "This place is really on the map," marvels Nandan M. Nilekani, the president, chief operating officer, and managing director of Infosys.
More than anywhere else in India, the Infosys campus represents the country's aspirations to become an IT superpower. In the past few years, Indian IT companies like Infosys have emerged from obscurity to become important parts of the global economy. Thanks to their thousands of highly skilled, English-speaking engineers, Indian software companies have won recognition as low-cost providers of software services to multinationals such as General Electric, Reebok, and Citibank. Infosys has been one of the most successful of the Indian companies and has enjoyed dynamite growth. In January, it reported quarterly earnings that were up 125%.
A symbol of Infosys' rapid growth is the drab, red-brick building that housed the corporate headquarters. Built only in 1994, it's now almost a museum piece. It has even been renamed the Heritage Building.
Indeed, the Infosys headquarters is like no other place in India. It's a 29-acre outpost of the New Economy in the midst of one of the world's poorest countries. Even in Bangalore, the country's high-tech capital, problems that plague India's poorer cities, such as New Delhi and Bombay, haven't disappeared. Power outages are run-of-the-mill events. Dismal slums are commonplace.
But that's a world away from Infosys, a 45-minute drive from the center of town. Inside the grounds at lunchtime, smartly dressed men and sari-clad women lounge at the open-air food court (complete with a Domino's Pizza and five other food outlets), while loudspeakers at the nearby outdoor amphitheater blast the music of Sting. On the weekends, Infoscions have parties there, sometimes featuring the in-house rock band, the Algorithms.
It's even grander inside some of the buildings. There's the auditorium, complete with a 40-screen video wall, the biggest in the country. The other walls are covered with tan silk, to lend a rich feel. Outside the auditorium, a smaller video screen shows off other amenities, including the library and the exercise room for the 4,000 Infoscions who work here. After a while, it's almost possible to forget you're in India.
And for Nilekani and his boss, Chairman and Chief Executive N.R. Narayana Murthy, that's the point. The two recognize that for Infosys to continue to succeed, they need to create an almost Hollywood-like paradise. That's an important way to win the loyalty of those Infoscions. "Our employees are globally mobile and in demand all over the world," Nilekani explains. "In every possible way, we want to make Infosys the most desirable place for people to work."
Infoscions have responded well. A recent article in a top Indian business magazine named Infosys the No. 1 employer in the country. But it faces increasing competition for Indian talent. On Jan. 17, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers was in New Delhi, announcing that his company was investing $200 million in India, with much of the money going to development centers around the country. Cisco plans to employ 10,000 engineers in India. Other American companies, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, General Electric, Motorola, and Texas Instruments, have similar plans. So Infosys will need to keep improving its otherworldly campus if it hopes to hold on to those Infoscions.
Einhorn covers technology from Hong Kong for Business Week. Follow his weekly Online Asia column, only on BW Online
Edited by Beth Belton