Learnings From South Africa

DQI Bureau
New Update

The sudden resurgence of South Africa in the group stages of the

Champions' trophy cricket tournament was a revelation for many of us who

expected them to roll over and die after their early reversals in the

tournament. It showed us the mettle that some of their senior players are made

of-an object lesson for many of our cricketing heroes whose feet turn out to

be made of clay all too often in major tournaments. And a recent visit to

Springbok land was an eye opener too-in more ways than one!


At the dawn of this decade our young sales team in South Africa

was often more eager to talk about bullets chasing their car in one daylight

encounter than their prospects of doing business in the country. That was the

level of insecurity that prevailed in the country.

People are

excited about their work and quality of life in South Africa...dismissive

of the danger to wallet and life, a fact they feel is grossly exaggerated

Five years later, I was amazed by the difference. Three

encounters over a period of forty eight hours showed how much has changed, and

yet how much is still the same. Harish Lala, one of those scared young Zensar

salespersons in 2001 and now the successful country manager for South Africa,

exuded confidence as he drove up to pick us up at the airport, talking about the

stellar work his team was doing and the appreciation they were getting from many

discerning clients in the country's booming Financial Services industry. His

wife talked to us animatedly at dinner about the great school experience their

young daughter Anika was having and the multiple Hindi movie options available

just in the suburb of Sandton. A group of seventy five of our consultants who

met me over a pizza and coke lunch was excited about their work and the quality

of their life, almost dismissive of the very real danger to wallet and life that

they felt were grossly exaggerated by security firms out to make more money.

Strangely, the only cautionary note was struck by my local friends Debbie and

Etienne. They felt the threat of a "reverse apartheid" backlash

against both whites and colored was very real.

It is a credit to our young consultants that they are flying the

India flag in all parts of the world and showing the prowess of Indian IT in

many lands beyond the original happy hunting grounds of the US and UK. Global

leadership in any industry is not built in a day and needs hard work and the

willingness to expand to new segments and markets through a judicious

combination of direct investments, joint ventures, acquisitions and

collaborations. The good news is that for smaller firms, new market are showing

significant promise because first time outsourcers are happy to work with Indian

companies with good process credentials and client lists without being affected

by the flight to scale that forces firms in more traditional markets to work

only with the biggies. That should gladden the hearts of many CEOs and

entrepreneurs who have the niche skills to aspire for dominance in their chosen

areas of expertise. Of course, one needs to exercise caution in any new market-enough

research into the opportunities needs to precede any attempt at market entry

which is the case in any new venture! After all, where angels fear to tread,

fools do rush in!

Finally, one clear indication that the world still treats South

Africa as part of Africa and not a real economic power house. The business class

cabin on the British Airways flight was one of the older versions of the kind

that London-Bombay flights used to have before India started appearing on every

business map as a force to be reckoned with. Maybe an indication of how far we

have moved up in the totem pole of global business! But will the African

continent be far behind? The recent summit for African leaders organized in

Beijing shows that the far sighted Chinese politicians and business community

are taking this continent seriously. We in India would do good to follow the

Chinese rather than the Western approach and seek out opportunities in the

countries of Africa before the whole world starts to beat a path towards a new

pot of gold!