Shilen Sagunan, managing director of Arbitron Technology Services India, believes that Kerala is the go-to place for companies looking to set up business

“The thing about techies is that we hate finance and we like to be cowboys. Technology comes first and the fundamentals of business second. In order to become a good manager, I had to give up being a cowboy and focus more on the business part of things.” This is one of the many nuggets of knowledge that Shilen Sagunan, Managing Director of Arbitron Tecnology Services India, talked about as he described his journey from being an engineering scientist at ISRO to climbing the ranks to his current position at Arbitron.

Shilen, who hails from Kannur, fulfilled his dream of becoming a scientist early in life when he joined ISRO after completing a course in aerospace engineering from IIT Bombay. He is currently heading the India operations of Arbitron, a company that deals with market research and multimedia measurement in the USA. Arbitron is also responsible for pioneering the development of the Portable People Meter (PPM), a tool for measuring radio listenership.

He was in charge of the first PPM implementation programmes and as the company went public and the organisational structure changed, Shilen went from being part of the technical team to the Vice-President of the company, and was given the chance to oversee off shoring of some of their non-core services.

Once a move of these services to India was confirmed, Shilen lobbied for operations to be set up in Kerala despite resistance from multiple fronts. “There was opposition due to the perception of labour ethics and the frequency of strikes here,” he says with a smile.

“Eventually I was able to convince them that it is not a master-slave model that works here, but one that treats its employees well. There are companies here that have not had an employee strike in their entire history, and I had an instinct that for the talent and culture required for a world-class operation, Kerala was the place to come to.”

Despite initial struggle to recruit the right people and support staff, Shilen’s operation has gotten off the ground and begun running smoothly since Arbitron’s India office started in 2008. Wary about not being a well-known brand in India, Shilen says they adopted a referral system for recruitments and provided more incentives to employees, from recreational areas with television facilities to free, unrestricted internet.

Apart from this, he says his job has been made easier by the positive attitude towards entrepreneurship in the State. “Some of the Government’s initiatives are commendable, the Startup Village being one of them, but there are still challenges ahead. The northern part of Kerala still has limited exposure, and not many focus on the need for business acumen.”

Shilen’s current goal is job creation in the State, especially in the Malabar region. “We have tied up with my alma mater NIT Calicut, and have set up the Arbitron Centre for Excellence For Media And Market Research. The problem here is that there is a large gap between what the industry requires and what colleges produce, and that gap is growing, which can create social issues. We are trying to create dialogue between academics, students and the industry.” Also as part of his efforts to help youngsters find employment, he has joined the board of directors of UL Cyber Park, an initiative by the Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society (ULCCS), in Kozhikode.

Despite his busy schedule managing the company and his mentoring activities, Shilen says he still finds time to unwind. “I cycle a fair bit everyday, and I also play the mridangam. When we have time, my children Aromal and Kannan sing Carnatic music and I accompany them on the mridangam. And when time permits I head to our beachfront house in Kannur for some fishing,” he concludes.