When a $25 billion US healthcare enterprise was looking to set up its Global Capability Centre (GCC) in India recently, it roped in a senior IT services leader with 30-plus years of healthcare expertise to spearhead it. The leader not just helped set up the India unit and define the processes but also brought along a team of senior delivery talent to help in the execution. Another media conglomerate that recently set up its GCC in Chennai also tapped an IT services veteran with decades of experience in the media and technology space to lead the India centre.

Chief HR officers, senior vice presidents, engineering heads, India MDs - these are all a few key GCC leadership roles being occupied by IT service top heads as they look for their next challenge.

As the Indian IT service sector faces turbulent times and as more multinationals in-source technology operations, the top-level at India’s marquee IT services firms is seeing increased churn. Leaders with decades of experience in delivering client projects are choosing to build technology solutions from scratch at GCCs opened by such clients.

GCCs in India started as back-office operations but today these captive centres of MNCs hold ownership of global products. End-to-end business services across finance, HR, operations, technology and other functions happen out of India with leaders here having more autonomy.

Executive search firms and IT industry trackers that businessline spoke to say that the IT services churn was at its peak in 2021 and 2022, and while it has moderated since then, C-suite at IT services are constantly on the look out for greener pastures. GCCs give them global standing and come with a 20-25 per cent pay premium making it a top pick.

Senior talent moves

As per data from specialist staffing firm Xpheno, the IT services sector has over 102,000 active professionals in senior suites roles such as CXOs, Directors, VPs/AVPs etc. and over 11,000 of these people have switched jobs in the last two years. While a majority of this movement was within IT Services, around 10 per cent have gone to GCCs, Xpheno’s data shows. Software, banking, and healthcare GCCs have been most successful in attracting the senior talent.

“For GCCs, specialist IT services leaders ensure quick turnarounds and deployment windows. For the talent, there is an advantage of working directly with international brands, and getting onto long-term strategic pathways for leadership positions,” Siddharth Verma, business head, Xpheno Executive Search, said.

Gaurav Dev Burman, senior client partner and co-leader of the technology practice, at executive search firm Korn Ferry India, says GCCs are keeping their vertical extremely busy in recent years as movement from services to India captive units of MNCs is more prevalent. “It’s not just IT services but also consulting (Big 4) leaders who are looking at GCCs as attractive career options. 30-35 per cent of our technology vertical revenue comes from GCC mandates,” he adds.

At executive search organisation Transearch too, majority of the services hiring mandates are from GCCs looking to staff roles such as country leads, engineering heads, and technology heads among others. “These are typically small and mid-sized GCCs in pharma, engineering research and development (ER&D) and retail. They look for senior leaders with capabilities in delivering niche services such as analytics and AI and sector specialists,” Meenakshi Thakar, partner, Transearch India, says.

The great tech migration
India currently boasts over 5,000 GCC senior leadership roles
Large-size GCCs are transferring senior talent from parent location to head India centres; Small and mid-sized GCCs seek IT services leaders with domain expertise
By 2030, around 20,000 GCC leaders are expected to be based out of India
IT services leaders moving to GCCs get average pay hikes of 20-25 per cent
Inch-wide and mile deep

Balasubramanian Sankaranarayanan, CEO of healthcare GCC Thryve Digital that has offices in Chennai and Bengaluru, took up the role after a 25-plus years of experience in the IT services world. “GCCs offer an inch-wide and mile-deep look into the sector. This is a complete reversal of the IT services world and this is what attracted me,” he says. “For an IT services leader with relevant domain expertise, GCCs are a chance to set up something from scratch and gain global exposure while doing so,” he adds.

Korn Ferry’s Burman agrees, and says that the move to GCCs is a way for IT services leaders to take on global roles without having to live out of a suitcase or move their base. “This is particularly critical for women leaders, and this is why GCCs fare better in diversity and have more women at the top than the outsourcing companies,” he adds.

Perhaps the best example of this is Gangapriya Chakraverti, the India head and MD at Ford’s 25-year old GCC in India - Ford Business Solutions. The 12,000-plus strong GCC unit in Chennai takes care of software engineering, data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, finance and other functions for the larger group and is headed by Chakraverti, who joined Ford as director of human resources in 2012. She came to Ford after spending over a decade at HR consulting firm Mercer and is now a global leader at Ford’s largest centre outside the US.

“Senior IT services leaders with a proficient track record and services delivery mindset are one of the biggest sources of filling roles like MDs, VPs, SVPs and others,” Vikram Ahuja, Co-Founder of ANSR and CEO of Talent500, said. “As the ecosystem matures, organisations will also be able to fill these roles from other peer GCCs of similar sizes,” he adds. ANSR hand-holds multinationals in setting up GCCs in India.

However, experts also note that senior leadership churn at IT services is generally cyclical and does not spell doom for the industry.

“The first wave of senior leaders from large IT services companies migrated to mid-tier IT companies. These leaders had a large fan base so much so that talent at multiple levels followed them,” Ramkumar Ramamoorthy, partner of tech advisory firm Catalincs, says. “Today, we are seeing the next wave of senior leaders going to GCCs of all sizes.”

With industry estimates pointing to a GCC rally in India in coming years and with IT services battling poor demand, the ‘great resignation era’ will likely continue at the tech C-suites.