Corporate Jobs : Facing a Fade-out

1 04 2009



The other day I was watching an interview of Sam Pitroda (a man I have high regard for) on NDTV Profit. While narrating his story of why he returned from the US to India, Mr. Pitroda made a very important point – “The best brains are busy solving problems of the rich, whereas the problems of the poor are far more complex and they need the best brains.”


So true!


Until recently, the best brains used to join B-schools, law schools, IT and other lucrative professions to serve the rich and thereby becoming rich themselves. The best brains were creating exotic derivatives in the Wall Street Banks or devising strategies for Fortune 500 companies in consulting firms or writing complex enterprise software with the hope of catching the eye of a VC.


But the recession seems to have turned the tide away from these jobs. Suddenly people are realizing that along with the high returns, these jobs carry high risks. The Public Sector career looks more stable, even if less paying.


In a recent news item on UPSC exam, The Economic Times (ET) has mentioned:.

“As per data received by ET, after filing an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, there are 4.09 lakh applicants for the first leg of the three-stage civil services examination, conducted by the Union Public Services Commission, to select officers for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), the Indian Police Service (IPS) and other government jobs. Indeed, the jump in the number of UPSC aspirants is coming after three consecutive years of decline. There were 3.83 lakh applicants in 2006, 3.33 lakh in 2007 and 3.25 lakh in 2008 — a steady decrease.”


The interesting twist is that after seeing a steady decline over the last three years, the tide has turned this year. It is not as if people are moving away from B-schools. In fact, the number of applicants to CAT have also gone up this year by 15 %.

ET says : “ The exact number of applicants for CAT is not disclosed, but 2008 estimates suggest there were 2.7-2.8 lakh applications for around 1,800 IIM seats, an increase of 15% compared to the previous year.”


It also appears that the trend of Civil Services officers joining corporate houses also have significantly come down, perhaps due to the downturn and also due to the Sixth Pay Commission. If anything, in this election season a few civil servants are quitting government jobs and plunging into electoral politics. Jayaprakash Narayan of Loksatta party being one prominent IAS officer taking this route. 


In an interesting development, Infosys has announced a new scheme for their employees wherein employees can work for Non-profit organisations. In an interview to Forbes, Nandan Nilkani, Co-Chairman, Infosys says: “We’ve also launched a program where an employee can go work with a nonprofit organization for a year and we’ll pay him half the salary for the duration.”


Mohandas Pai, a board member and Director, Human Resources and Education and Research and Administration, told The Indian Express that the option was available to 50 of its senior most employees. “They come immediately after the top deck,” he said. Pai said the company has restricted the kind of non-profit organisations employees can work with. “It has to be in the areas of public health and education or in regulatory bodies and industry associations,” he said, adding that these organizations must be secular and not have any religious affiliation. This is the first year of the program and seven Infosys employees have opted for it.


The intention of Infosys management is very laudable in making available some of the best brains for solving complex problems in the Non-profits. My own guess is that only a few of these Infosys top managers would be able to make a serious difference in the  non-profits during the one-year sabbatical. The majority would face problems of several kinds. For example,

  • They would find it difficult to deliver in the absence of an efficient system and structure , which they take for granted in a corporate set-up
  • They will need to work with people who are far-less competent and differently-abled than the regular professionals they are used to. They would take a while, adjusting to the lack of professionalism all around. In many NGOs, deadlines have no meaning, they are just dead lines
  • In social issues which they would work for in the Non-profits, the level of interaction with the local politicians and bureaucrats would be very high, which they are really not used to
  • By the time, they get adjusted to the difference in the two worlds, the one-year would be up

Even if a few of the best brains stay on to solve the complex problems of the poor in India, we can say something good came out of this downturn. My best wishes to those who decide to take this road. 


 – G. Mohan




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