Indian companies need to have a sense of legacy, says Subroto Bagchi
One of the biggest ironies of the IT industry is that it remains an enigma to most people despite being in the spotlight on and off for over a decade. Barring the media's coverage of company results and of gadget launches there is very little information about the innards of the industry. Media professionals usually blame the industry for revealing little about how the industry actually works or about the working conditions in IT establishments.
But ask Subroto Bagchi, Vice-Chairman and Gardener of MindTree Ltd., a prominent player in the outsourcing space, and you get a completely different take. More interestingly, it is a non-partisan viewpoint, nuanced and placed in the context of a much larger social canvas. He blames the media, but is also quick to blame his own peers in the industry and in academics for the inadequate coverage.
Obsession with Big Bs
Author of three books, Bagchi, says coverage of issues in the IT industry is impaired by the media's “obsession with the two Big Bs - Breaking News and Big Business.”
The notion of competence in journalism, says Bagchi, is based on placing greater value to chasing a Reuters feed, rather than taking six weeks to complete a well-researched piece. “If this is what we value more, why should we waste time on research,” asks Bagchi. “The frontline news media – newspapers and television – has no idea about the 5,000 members of Nasscom. The media does not really understand issues related to the inception, growing up, pains and challenges of anybody who is not a Big B.”
The unwillingness to chase long and hard for a story reflects a mindset that is not just “a media problem,” says Bagchi. “Our lack of affection for research is a national problem. Look at the quality of research produced by Indian academics. It is our single biggest drawback as a nation. Industry suffers from the same mentality.”
IT poster child
The stepping down of N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys, marked “the going down of the mid-day sun for the industry,” says Bagchi. “The industry was under a mid-day sun when he was active as the CEO and Chairman of Infosys. There wasn't a day when an industry issue was not front-page news. The media did not go to NRN only for Infosys' results. You spoke to him on the reservation issue, about the Bangalore International Airport and on what should happen to the education policy.”
Bagchi argues that the IT industry, like Bollywood or the Indian political system, needs its own “poster child” because “iconic presence is what the media picks up.” “Of course, companies are doing succession planning, but will a company CEO become a poster child or a social icon,” he asks. Bagchi says every industry must have “a visible pipeline of stars”.
Bollywood has, over its seven-decade run, managed its star pipeline much better, says Bagchi. “Do you realise that at no stage in its history was there a five year period when there was no supply of stars – male as well as female?” He attributes the decline of the Bharatiya Janata Party to the party's failure to project a “young face,” unlike the Congress, which has Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka as its young mascots. Moreover, after the Satyam scandal, people, he says, started asking: “Are these IT guys real?”
A “positive development,” in the form of a more broad-based industrial expansion since the onset of liberalisation, has also contributed to the diminishing media interest in the IT industry, says Bagchi.
The industry has to compete with construction, infrastructure development, retail, healthcare and several other sectors for media attention, he argues.
He observes that in the advanced economies, IT and the hi-tech sectors get their “fair share of media attention,” but have to share it with many others. “The same has started happening here.'
The media's obsessive focus on breaking news and quarterly numbers, says Bagchi, is explained by the way the media, industry and the academic environment functions. Indian academic institutions are “under-invested in either the media or industry.”
“How many of your bylines are by professors teaching in the universities,” he asks. Teaching in management institutions is “based on case studies designed in Harvard, downloaded from Cornell or borrowed from Stanford.” Academics is critical, he says, because processes and practices in an industry need to be first discerned by those who are equipped to analyse them before they can be made available to a larger audience, through the media.
“When the academic embeds himself in industry, we build something that is newsworthy,” Bagchi observes. “The Indian media does not embed itself, it prefers to report from the sidelines, which comes from the obsessive focus on Big Business.”
“The Indian media,” he says, “has been like the BPO services industry in the last 10 years.” And, rather provocatively, he observes, “It has seen phenomenal growth in a short period of time, which has led to a decline in the intake level of the average journalist.”
And, finally turning reflective, Bagchi observes that companies require “maturity, intellectual depth, calibre and a long view of time, which only the top companies have.” “The big hole we have — the difference between us and the best-in-class European or American or Indian companies — is that we do not see that one of the key responsibilities of enterprise is not just to execute business but to generate content.”
Indian companies, says Bagchi, “do not realise that content has a role – and power – to build legacy.” “Karl Marx is dead, but Das Kapital remains. You can create content only when you have a sense of legacy. But content cannot be written by a PR agency. It has to come from industry.”