The birth of the BPO industry and many other stories

Raman Roy – the Father of the BPO Industry in India and Life Achievement Award Winner for Dataquest 2023 had a very interesting chat with Editor Sunil Rajguru where he unravelled the story of BPO industry’s rise both as a back-office and a third-party specialist.

DQI Bureau
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Lifetime achievement award

Raman Roy – the Father of the BPO Industry in India and Life Achievement Award Winner for Dataquest 2023 had a very interesting chat with Editor Sunil Rajguru where he unravelled the story of BPO industry’s rise both as a back-office and a third-party specialist—and, later, its ascension to the IT industry’s fairy-ring in India. He also looks ahead and tells why, or why not, India can be the future superpower – specially with regulatory bottlenecks. Excerpts:


Tell us how your story began.

I am an accountant by profession. I spend a lot of time educating myself all the time—I have about 33 letters accompanying my name as degrees. When I began, jobs were not easy to come by. It only happened if your Dad knew somebody. I decided to educate myself. If you had met me in college, you would have seen a guy with torn jeans – and not because they were fashionable. Ultimately, I ended up working for American Express. I was a big-time achievement to get in an MNC. I still remember one evening in the basement of the Hindustan Times building—where our office was. I was walking to the parking area with my boss—he to his car and I to my motorcycle. He said: We are looking to launch the American Express card in India. I said: I am only an accountant. My boss said: We think you are the right guy. It is a big job. Think about it. He got into his car and left. I did not want to stop being an accountant. But I thought and realized—it was a huge opportunity. I took over the operations for American Express.

What happens next?


We launched the card and I looked after technology and operations. This allowed me to interact with a lot of international people. It was the first time that American Express had chosen a local guy to launch a card. They could not afford an expat then. I became part of a card-issuing community and I got invited to conferences and meetings—we discussed both good things and not-so-good things. India was miniscule in card business, then. Very soon I realized that the issues they had were different from what we had. A few months afterwards, I started raising up my hand to say, “You have this problem, give it to me, I will solve it.” These were meetings attended by very senior people – so big that they could sneeze and I could lose my job. I kept asking for challenges. It came to a point that they got sick of me. “He will start talking of India, please take him away, we don’t want anything to do with that.” I heard that too. One of them came up with an idea—give that tricky Korean P&L reconciliation job to Raman. “He will fail and give it up.” Everyone agreed. They gave me that task. It was a difficult job—the reference numbers were garbled and knockoffs were complicated due to many open items. They told me, “Go and fix that!” I came back with all that data, put a team together—and lo and behold! In six weeks, I got it solved. I now had bragging rights. “We Indians fixed that, give us more.”

I love bureaucrats — they understand a lot how the country runs. But they do not understand how startups run. We need that collaboration to be a superpower.

Is that how a back-office capability spawned?


Yes, Amex decided to test off more things—which we did. Then they decided to invest and set up a back-office in India. I got the opportunity to handle the back-office work of accounting – simple to complex kind – and of 33 countries. That was the inception of what is lovingly called today ‘the BPO industry’. We showed that Indians could do some things better than others. GE also got excited to see what we were doing. The Then-CEO of GE Capital invited me for a lunch – which went for four hours. He wanted to know how we do this, how we do that. Like how, we had a lot of import restrictions on equipment and other challenges. He then declared: “So, when are you joining us?” I said: “I am not. I am only here to share my experiences. Am happy with my job.”

He stood up and said, “You don’t know it. You are joining us!”



A few days later they contacted me and I decided to become part of their team and set up what is known as Genpact today. The BPO industry, hence, was born in American Express. In GE, we pioneered the call-centre part. We did business across US and Europe. It was a resounding success. One of your sister publications called me the ‘Father of the BPO industry’ and that stuck with me. The press got excited because we were creating jobs for the educated unemployed in the country. When we gave out ads for recruitment, we had to call cops to control the crowds. It was a huge success. We were able to demonstrate to the world – what Indians could really do. That’s what drove me- really. It was not an easy journey. We were committed that if we could give the same training to Indians as their global counterparts- our people could do a better job than them.

How did the third-party industry emerge?

We created a model to train people in multiple cities. Infosys and TCS etc. were doing a lot of IT work but ours was about BPOs. Everyone said: You are doing a good job but you can’t do a third-party set-up. I started Spectramind then. I corralled a good team. Soon we had our first customer and then the next. Soon we were the largest back-office in the country. Somewhere along the line, Wipro came along. We were looking for investment money to grow. We thought it was a good idea to give them a minority stake. Later they asked for a 100 per cent subsidiary deal. I personally committed to (Wipro founder Azim) Premji that I will stay for 2-3 years. I did it as a gentleman’s handshake. When I left, I started Quatrro. It had a different model. Each business line was a different subsidiary.


That’s serendipity at work. Not many people know it began like this—as an accident. Fascinating!

Yes, this is how this industry came about. Especially the passion that Indians could be better than others. I still remember how we struggled with late night transport. We came up with the idea of having our own vehicles for our people.

Interestingly, BPO also became a part of the IT industry. You were also associated with Nasscom.


Right, that’s another story. At one point, the rate of growth in IT industry was slowing down. Some clever people in Nasscom and some large companies decided to add the growth of BPO industry here – so that the rate of growth looked good. We were the ‘IT enabled’ industry. Not IT. Because Nasscom started including the data, we became part of this industry. I joined Nasscom and was part of the executive committee for many years, including being a Chairman.

India went from ‘then’ to ‘now’. What’s the future like? India can become an economic superpower. You agree?

Undoubtedly. We need some fundamental changes. Today, there is no one better than India to handle the ‘services’ of designing software, delivering it and doing mega projects. But only as a service provider. We have not really launched products. For example, Google was incubated on campus. From what I hear, a professor encouraged some students. Can you see that happening in India? An IIT professor cannot invest in a company. If you are a company registered as a startup, you cannot give ESOPs to that professor. If we want to be a superpower, some of the basics have to be corrected. Of course, some of these can be misused. Then let’s address and control what can be misused.


Any example to explain your concern?

I am a founder of the Indian Angel Network. We have many companies here and I have personally invested in some of them. Every year, I deal with so much documentation work. I want India to be the startup capital of the world- like the government encourages. But how can that happen when angel investors deal with so many constraints and approval-work. Yes we can be a superpower with our talent and the ability to leverage technology but we have to change our laws with that objective. We have to interact with the industry to know what’s required. We should work with the industry to set up regulations and laws.  I love bureaucrats — they understand a lot how the country runs. But they do not understand how startups run. We need that collaboration to be a superpower. We also need to find ways to see that opening of barriers is not misused.

(Catch the complete video interview on the CyberMedia Series YouTube Channel.

Raman Roy

CMD, Quatrro BPO Solutions

Session report by Pratima H)