Ford, Barclays and Walmart, global giants in automobile, banking and retail respectively, which have their captive arms in Chennai, share a common link. The captive arms are headed by women who are proud of their leadership role and hail the talent base here. Ford started its global captive arm, Ford Business Solutions, in Chennai in 1998. In 2019, the company consolidated its footprint across six facilities in Chennai by opening a Global Technology and Business Centre (GTBC) on a 28-acre campus with an investment of around $240 million.
Currently, the Centre has over 11,000 resources and the company plans to take it to 12,000 in coming years, making it the second largest centre of employment globally for Ford, after Dearborn, Michigan, United States.
The GTBC acts as a hub for product development, mobility and business services for Ford globally. “Women have always been in key leadership roles in our company, and Ford has been a pioneer in breaking such biases. Who can forget Ford employing women on the shop floor in the late 1990s when it was unheard of in the country? That inspired many others to join the ranks of our organisation and help build a diverse workforce,” said Gangapriya Chakraverti, Centre Lead, Ford Business Solutions-India.
The availability of ‘exceptional talent’, along with constant encouragement and support from the government, has helped Chennai stay strong on the world map. “With strong roots in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education, we today have quality talent in areas like manufacturing, product development, finance, analytics and more. In addition, the industry-friendly policies of successive governments have helped Chennai transform into an automobile, finance, and IT hub,” she said.
Ms. Gangapriya pointed out that people in Chennai have strong work ethics and culture, which has led the city forward, despite its facing many natural disasters over the years.
She also sees a potential for women in leadership roles. “Organisations, today, are taking deliberate steps to create gender-balanced workplaces by bringing in more diverse talent. This not just helps in creating a safe workplace but also weeds out biases that may exist. Adoption of such culture, policies and initiatives over a sustained period can certainly result in many more women leaders,” Ms. Gangapriya added.
Barclays has had a significant presence in India through its banking business and Global Service Centre since 1990.
The bank began its Chennai centre in 2009. It is one of its key strategic locations with teams working across finance, operations, controls, risk and HR functions. It is increasingly becoming a value creation hub providing re-engineering and process design capabilities. “I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to lead a world-class Global Capability Centre in Chennai,” said Ms. Uma Ratnam Krishnan, Co-CEO, Barclays Global Service Centre, India.
The city has many premier institutes which generate a vast talent pool every year. Increasingly “we are seeing many IT and finance professionals graduating from these institutes” and entering the workforce with a strong work ethic and an innovative mindset. Additionally, Chennai is considered the safest among the top 10 Indian cities. This helps in attracting the best women talent in the market,” she added.
“Chennai Centre has time and again taught me resilience, the need to remain agile and think innovatively. There have been many situations where the centre has come together to harness the collective creativity of the organisation in order to stay at the cutting edge. All these lessons have helped me mould my leadership style so as to make it more inclusive, flexible and open to change,” Ms. Uma Ratnam said.
“For more women to enter the boardroom we need to work towards building a supportive network with men as allies, realise the importance of a healthy work-life balance and create a culture of respect where transformational ideas are valued for their uniqueness,” she said.
Undoubtedly there is a huge potential for more women to take up leadership roles. At Barclays, women are given a wide array of learning opportunities, especially in the field of technology. “Many of our flagship programmes are dedicated to coding, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing and honing leadership skills. These programmes cater to women at all grades and aim to support colleagues in their career advancement,” Ms. Uma Ratnam pointed out.
In India since 2008, Walmart Global Tech India has centres in Bengaluru and Gurugram and Chennai. The Chennai centre was opened in March 2020. It now has 1,800 employees. “I lead the Chennai centre with a focus on emerging technologies in the key areas like fintech and people tech. And as a centre head, my vision is to amplify the Walmart Tech brand in Chennai and create a very strong hub for tech talent for ourselves,” said Prashanti Bodugum, vice-president-technology and Chennai Centre Head, Walmart Global Tech India.
“Our motive was to tap tech talent in and around Chennai. We have a very diverse skill set across technology and product development in Chennai also,” she added.
Ms. Prashanti sees a very strong tech community in Chennai, which is also a retail hub from a technology standpoint. “So we see a large part of retail work happening in Chennai. There is a very strong manufacturing base for generations. That created a very interesting mix of diverse skill base and culture which created a very inclusive environment where we see both men and women working pretty extensively,” she added.
Ms. Prashanti said having an inclusive workforce has been a focus area for her company and it runs an internship programme with a focus on bringing women on career breaks back to the workforce. In the over-three-month programme, candidates are put on internship and based on performance absorbed into Walmart Global Tech for full-time roles. The company is hiring the sixth batch in the next couple of months. The programme is a paid internship in a remote format.