Focus is on hiring freshers, re-skilling: Cognizant CEO

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on February 28, 2020

Brian Humphries, CEO, Cognizant, with Ramkumar Ramamoorthy, CMD , Cognizant India, in Chennai on Wednesday   -  Bijoy Ghosh

Despite a tough 2019, company confident of getting back on the growth trajectory

In April 2019, Brian Humphries replaced Francisco D’Souza as the Chief Executive Officer of Cognizant Technology Solutions to set the house in order as the US-based software company faced a series of challenges, including a court case on tax evasion, enquiry on illegal construction in India, and charges of bribery in the US.

The company also faced enormous pressure from activist investor Elliott Management Corp for a total shake up in the company. All these had put a dent in the company’s image considerably.

However, in the last nine months, Humphries, former CEO of Vodafone Business, took some drastic measures, including a plan to remove 10,000-12,000 mid-to-senior level associates globally, to ensure that the company’s profitability is restored to earlier levels. He says, “Over the next two years, the focus will be on four areas — Data, Digital Engineering, Cloud and IoT— that are critical for clients to accelerate their digital journeys. There will be increased focus on hiring; talent re-skilling and mergers and acquisitions (M&A).”

“Due to the distractions in the last few years, Cognizant lost a little bit of that edge but the core competency of technology expertise and the winning spirit of the employees has not been tarnished. I am now tapping back into that energy that has always existed in Cognizant,” Humphries told BusinessLine.

He said, “I want to make sure that Cognizant is at the top of the pack again just like we have always been. The hard work and the strategy put in place in 2019 will now start paying dividends in 2020. It is about execution this year. We are very optimistic.”

On a hiring spree

The company will continue to hire employees, which has been one of the hallmarks of India’s second largest software company. “We are committed to making sure that we scale India operations and increase fresher intake,” he said.

This year, Cognizant will hire 23,000 freshers, up from 17,000 last year. “Since we are so confident in the company’s future and the importance of employing freshers, we proactively gave a 18 per cent salary increase to fresh graduates from over ₹3.4 lakh to ₹4 lakh per annum,” said Humphries.

Ramkumar Ramamoorthy, Chairman and Managing Director, Cognizant India, who took over the post six months ago, said that despite many distractions, the company’s brand is ‘rock solid’ in college campuses. “Our offer acceptance rate among students was over 80 per cent. This indicates that our brand continues to be exceptionally good,” he added.

Commenting on the 21 per cent attrition rate especially mid-level managers leaving Cognizant recently, Humphries said, “Yes, because I have asked them to leave. Maybe they are not openly saying that.” However, the real measure is in voluntary attrition, which in the December 2019 quarter was at a two-year low to ‘teens.’

He added, “This is a remarkable statistics. People are confident that the company will return to its growth trajectory. When you beat Wall Street expectations three quarters in a row andthe stock goes up 10 per cent a day, then there’s a feel-good factor starting to flourish and people are clearly behind our strategy,” he said.

India capabilities

On India as a market, Humphries said out of the total 2.90 lakh employees globally, nearly 2,00,000 are in India. However, many people think of that as delivery capabilities. One of the tasks is to understand how Cognizant can have ‘India for India’ business and be able to leverage portfolio capabilities.

“Given the tremendous skill sets in India, Cognizant should be able to do proof of concepts and be able to invest in India to make sure the company can be successful here,” he said. Cognizant has about 80 clients, including Future Group; Escorts; MG Motor India; National Stock Exchange and Cholamandalam Investments and Finance, in India, he added.

Published on February 28, 2020

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