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Genpact’s Pramod Bhasin: Generating global impact

Nandita Mathur
The founder of Genpact talks to ‘Mint’ about building businesses, the importance of non-banking financial companies in achieving financial inclusion, and pioneering the BPO industry in India

It's a story Pramod Bhasin, 66, chairman of Clix Capital, loves telling. His eyes shine as he narrates how one man came to India in 1994, built a business from scratch and, in the process, created history.

We are meeting on an overcast November morning in his ninth floor office in Gurugram's Two Horizon Centre. The former CEO of GE Capital India & Asia and the founder of Genpact Ltd reminiscences about “ancient times”, referring to the early 1980s when he was working for General Electric (GE) in the US, under the charismatic leadership of Jack Welch. “I have been very lucky to work with a company like GE that is iconic in terms of management strength, organizational capability and entrepreneurship. I learnt a lot about being in a big company with the nimbleness and agility to be real entrepreneurs, which is extremely unusual. It helped me prepare for the future.”

In 1994, Welch sent Bhasin to Delhi to set up GE Capital in India. Building a business ground-up was both daunting and exciting-exciting as the country was, in the process of economic liberalization, expanding the role of private and foreign investment and daunting because there were a lot of teething issues on ground.

“I used to carry a bag with me, which had my briefcase on one side and clothes on the other side, so I could travel anywhere at the drop of a hat. I was mostly on the road looking for joint ventures and partners to set up businesses,” recalls Bhasin.

The first GE Capital India office came up in Nehru Park in 1993, which later moved to Rafi Marg in 1994 and then to Gurugram in 1996. “Most of my employees thought I was mad moving to Gurugram because it was a village back then. But suburbanization of Indian cities had to happen and that's when I took the leap of faith.”

Just when things were beginning to look up, Bhasin says, the RBI released a regulation around 1995-96, asking banks not to lend to non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). “Our money flow dried up. I was out of business. And I realized that I cannot run a business that is so subjugated by regulatory whim,” says Bhasin. That is when the idea of Genpact took root, of doing something with the enormous talent pool in the country.

GE Capital India was running its operations from Chennai. “I wondered why we don't run operations from India for the rest of GE Capital around the world? It was really quite a simple concept given the talent available in India at much lower costs,” he recalls. “I didn't know anything about BPO or what that was at the time but I bounced the idea off my boss (Nigel Andrews) who was visiting Chennai with me. He agreed to try it out and that's when the idea was born.”

Setting up back-room operations at that time was unheard of in India. Only Raman Roy was doing this at American Express in a very small way. Bhasin decided to meet him. “I met him at Belvedere in Mumbai and he asked me for my business plan. I took a blank sheet of paper from my wallet and told him this is the business plan,” says Bhasin with a smile. He asked GE for $2 million (around ₹14 crore now), hired Raman, started building the team and the rest, as they say, is history. What started as a pilot project for running GE Capital's back-office operations in 1996 transformed into one of the first large-scale captive companies in the world. Bhasin is still referred to as one of the fathers of the Indian BPO industry.

“I believe luck and timing play a very big role,” says Bhasin. “Unemployment in the US was at its lowest during this period. GE could not hire enough people in Atlanta so it worked in our favour. I can laugh about it today but imagine doing mission-critical finance, accounting processes from 8,000 miles away with people you don't know, on phone lines that did not work half the time.”

But as luck would have it, Roy found a way through dedicated satellite network phones that allowed the company to transmit documents back and forth and experiment with the first call centre in 1996-97 with 20 people. “I knew I had a tiger by the tail when we advertised for 20 people and got 8,000 applicants,” says Bhasin.

The company's initial mandate was to provide business process services to GE Capital's businesses globally, with the goal of enabling outstanding process efficiencies and operational effectiveness. “We did that and much more,” adds Bhasin, from building infrastructures brick-by-brick in multiple cities in India, to hiring and training tens of thousands of young people.

“We started treasury operations for Europe, started training actuaries, processing healthcare claims over $50,000, legal agreements, financial analysis of a project or product... it just erupted. I remember Welch saying then that ‘Anyone who doesn't go to India is an idiot',” he recalls.

In the subsequent years, Genpact ran a wide range of processes across all of GE's financial services in addition to their manufacturing businesses. In January 2005, the company was spun away from GE to become an independent company. In August 2007, Bhasin took the company public and listed it on the New York Stock Exchange. In the next three years, the company expanded internationally, replicating its success in India in other parts of the world.

Bhasin stepped down in 2011. “Genpact is my baby but once I quit, I didn't hang around-this is a very important lesson for Indian promoters if you don't own a majority stake. When you go, you must go. Again, we learnt this from Welch. After he left GE, you never heard from him, whatever the issue.”

He has only one regret though.

“That I didn't own more of it. I was making money for others, not for myself,” he says. “I had created this as much as Azim Premji created Wipro, only difference is he owns 80%, while I owned only 2%... big difference.”

After leaving Genpact, Bhasin dabbled in a few things but was eager to start an NBFC.

Again luck and timing played a big role. GE Capital, the organization he built, was up for sale in India. “This was the entity I had set up when I came to India in 1994!” Bhasin had come a long way. Along with former colleague Anil Chawla, he acquired GE Capital in India with the backing of AION Capital Partners Ltd in September 2016. The company was also renamed Clix Capital Services Pvt. Ltd.

Today, Bhasin spends his time focusing on creating a digital lending platform that will cover all kinds of loans and disbursals. Last year, Bhasin says, Clix Capital had disbursed loans amounting to over ₹3,000 crore.

“The industry is doing very well. Low penetration, increasing digitization and a rising middle class is bound to fuel demand,” says Bhasin. “NBFCs play an important role in India, reaching out to customers that banks don't serve or don't serve well.”

As NBFCs go digital, the industry will only evolve further and competition will get intense, which is ultimately good news for consumers.

Bhasin thinks banks should be more decisive in dealing with non-performing assets (NPAs) as delays in decision-making cause enormous loss in asset values.

Bhasin calls himself a China watcher and is amazed at how the Chinese companies have grown. “Innovation is driven by people, not the government. They have some of the finest colleges in the world, they have eliminated illiteracy...their companies are at a ridiculous scale,” he says. “Tencent has 900 million daily active users on WeChat-the messaging, social media and mobile payment app it developed.... We have the numbers but we don't have that kind of usage. The world has so much to learn from China and how they have innovated.”

When he is not thinking business, Bhasin spends time travelling and watching cricket. However, he is disappointed with the current crop of cricketers.

“Our team needs to have more all-round strength. We are getting carried away by the captain…. I was at Lord's watching the India–England test match. We lost the Test series 4-1. Last year, I was at The Oval watching the Pakistan-India final of the ICC Champions Trophy where Pakistan hammered us. We don't spend enough time reflecting on our losses. The women's team is more inspirational but we aren't paying enough attention to them.”

His current favourite travel destination is Scandinavia. “The quality of life is easily the best in Scandinavia. The advancements in technology, the way they have deployed technology in their cities is fantastic,” he says.

He loves plants, has a home in Goa and a farmhouse in Delhi's Chattarpur where he lives with his five dogs. He is also happy working from Gurugram. “I don't know any other city in the world which has grown so fast-it has world-class apartment buildings and offices, with the finest restaurants. There is also a determined group of citizens in Gurugram who come out and voice their opinions on various social and environmental issues.”

As we wrap up, Bhasin looks satisfied with his journey so far. After all, he was the first to spot the opportunity in the BPO sector.

Who are your favourite cricketers?

The trio of Dravid, Tendulkar, and Ganguly.

A country you haven't travelled to?

There are many countries that I haven't travelled to. Specially in South America: Chile and Antarctica and Argentina.

Favourite destination

Estonia, a country in northern Europe, which borders the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland.

Loves to eat at

NOA in Estonia is the finest restaurant in the world with its eclectic cuisine.