By guest author Tony Scott
I recently interviewed Vivek Chopra, one of the early employees of Wipro, former head of IBM’s Daksh services business in India, and now president of CSC’s India operations. Vivek has a long and deep history in the IT industry in India and in the global outsourcing and off-shoring arena. His insights into how this market has evolved and is still evolving are fascinating.
Vivek’s History with Wipro and IBM
Tony Scott: Vivek, to start off would you talk a little bit about your own background, how you got to where you are today, and what your organization within CSC is doing these days?
Vivek Chopra: I spent thirty years in two organizations. I was the eighth employee in Wipro back in 1980. Wipro was transitioning from a consumer product company to taking over a niche space that had been catered to by IBM, which was the only large IT company operating in India at that time. India was a still largely a closed economy. IBM was exiting India, and there were two or three odd companies that started to serve the IT segment.
Tony: What year was that?
Vivek: That was 1980–81. IBM exited in 1978–79. There was a vacuum for about a year, and then couple of companies – HCL was one, Wipro was another, and there were a couple of others – became active in this area. HCL and Wipro are the two remaining companies; the others have disappeared from the face of India.
Wipro said, “Hey let’s start out something of our own.” We literally started with a garage-like operation that was tied up with a company in the United States and began manufacturing 16-bit computers.
Tony: You were doing assembly?
Vivek: Yes, assembly. Getting printed circuit boards and assembling them, not manufacturing them. We later tied up with Sun and with Tandem. I spent ten years with Wipro building their brand from ground zero in the hardware and the services marketplace.
When the IT services business was getting started in the United States, we had relationships with Sun and GE. We were actually doing some manufacturing work for GE. Jack Welch knew my former bosses at Wipro and he said, “Hey, why don’t you do some services work for us; you have some incredible competence.” So that led to my coming to the U.S. in 1992–1993. Our positioning was that we had established a brand of hardware and some software services in India, and we can do this in the international market as well. I was here in the United States with Wipro for ten years. Overall I spent about twenty-one years with Wipro, ten years in India and eleven years in the United States, and grew their business from the ground up. In India we grew it to a multimillion dollar business, but here we grew it from $2 million to over half a billion dollars over ten years.
Tony: What segments of the business was Wipro competing in at that point?
Vivek: It was largely application maintenance and development. The Web-enabling piece came in later. We were also doing some product work for companies such as Nortel. Basically, all of the business was in the area of software services.
Tony: So why did you leave Wipro?
Vivek: After twenty-one years, I felt that I had stayed long enough in the company. The dot-com boom was going on, so I thought maybe it was a good time to start something of my own. So for about a year and a half I ran a startup out of Seattle that was largely focused on Microsoft. Then a company came around in the BPO space that had some focus in the IT services business. I thought it was a good time to look at the business process side because that gives you a holistic view of the services marketplace. IBM acquired that company a year after I joined it, and it became IBM Daksh. After that, I spent another five years with IBM and grew their business in India from 1,000–1,500 people to about 35,000 people.
Tony: So you were based in India at that time?
Vivek: No, I was in Chicago and traveling to India. I was looking after the overall North American operations for Wipro before I left there, and at IBM I was looking after the global operations for the BPO piece, which is called IBM Daksh. Then CSC came along.