Philips Medical Systems: Making Things Better

When Philips was constructing its two new buildings at Bangalore, the company
asked all employees for a wish list. They ranged from the hilarious to the
brilliant. Niranjan Nerlige, quality manager, software division, Philips Medical
Systems, (see main story) sent in a long list, hoping at least some of his
suggestions would be accepted. To his surprise, all of them were. The long list
addressed one basic need: he and his wheelchair needed access to the building
and everywhere within the building.

The company did more than fulfill his wish list. "They thought of
everything," says Nerlige. "The way from the parking lot to the lift
is completely flat. In one place inside the building there was a six-inch
difference in floor levels. They made a slope over that. They made sure all
doors, all over the building open so that I can get in easily. What this company
did was truly amazing." His immediate boss, S Bhaskaran, director, software
competency center, Philips, personally measured Nerlige’s wheelchair and
ensured that all doors would allow him entry. When he found that one door was a
little small, he had it broken and rebuilt. "Even now, everyday when I
reach the office, there is a man waiting to help me out of the car."

C Mahalingam, head, HR, Philips, has now authorized a refitting of Nerlige’s
car so that he can drive to work himself and when the quality manager recently
left for an official overseas visit, the company sponsored his wife’s ticket
so she could go with him.

Nor is Nerlige an exception. R Srinath applied to the company for a job two
years ago, mentioning clearly in his resume that he was virtually deaf. They
called him for an interview, checked with their in-house doctor on whether the
problem would interfere with his work and gave him a job. Srinath is now a test
engineer in the company.

Philips is among the few companies that has started putting processes into
place to see that they do not inadvertently reject qualified candidates on the
basis of their disability. Says Mahalingam, "We’ve told our headhunters:
Please don’t disqualify candidates because they are disabled in any way. If
they have the basic professional qualifications, send them to us, we will decide
for ourselves."

More importantly, the company has gone proactive. According to Mahalingam,
"Starting soon, all our recruitment ads will clearly and prominently
mention that qualified, physically-challenged people are encouraged to
apply." These are unusual, if simple things to do. But they have a high
dividend: Commitment from employees and a lot of goodwill from people who hear
of these policies.

Sarita Rani, in Bangalore

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