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BIG PROJECTS OFF BIG CITIES
A million projects done right: that is what it will take to make India a developed country. These are projects that create capacity and assets. And they also provide jobs. Their mission, vision, and execution will determine the course of our economy, and ultimately, the future of our society. Effective project management, therefore, is vital to our national agenda.
The geographic location of these projects, particularly critical ones, is an important question. This determines how balanced the country’s economic development will be. Today, the best paying jobs that come from critical projects are almost entirely in the major metros. This means that talent in smaller towns or villages have to move there. Now each high paying job also creates many smaller jobs that are needed to service it. For example, an executive may need a driver, his office may need a lunch caterer, a high bandwidth internet connection, and so on. Up to 80 percent of the income may be spent in the same location. Therefore, when the high paying job moves, it takes along with it these smaller jobs. This creates a multiplier effect on migration numbers.
The imbalance such unchecked migration results in is a major cause for concern. Our metros are already bursting at the seams. Half of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. The air quality index of Singapore on the day of this writing was around 50, which is considered good (source, the AirVisual app). On the same day, Mumbai registered a reading of close to 200 (unhealthy) and Patna 220 (very unhealthy). In some areas in Delhi, the index was near 400, which is regarded as hazardous. Unchecked migration also results in overcrowding, traffic congestion, infrastructure woes, water and sanitation problems, and increased cost of living.
Now imagine how worse this already chaotic situation will become if each of those million projects is run in big cities. On the other hand, if we can move many critical projects with high paying jobs to smaller towns and retain and attract talent here, we could curb, and ultimately reverse, the direction of migration. Then, the multiplier effect would also work in reverse, infusing the smaller towns with economic vitality. It would also protect the bigger cities from the disaster they are headed towards.
This is not an outlandish proposal. There are examples from history. Consider AT&T Bell Labs whose projects have won eight Nobel Prizes. Pathbreaking innovations like the transistor and the laser, the development of the Unix operating system, and the programming languages C and C++ happened here. This research center is in a borough called New Providence near the US east coast with a population of 12,000. FANUC Corporation, headquartered in Oshino, a Japanese village with a population of 9,000, is considered a leading industrial robot maker in the world. The 'hidden champions' of Germany are companies that have set up shop in inconspicuous locations, created a thriving economy around them, and are top in the world in their niche markets.
We, at Zoho, are committed to pushing as many of our operations as possible outside big cities. We have set up an R&D center near Tenkasi, a town in the south of Tamil Nadu with a population of 75,000. We've done a major product launch from this location and you can read all about our experiences
. Just last month, we inaugurated an office in Renigunta, a town in Andhra Pradesh with a population of 26,000. As we grow, we would expand more in these places. And we do not want to stop with India. We have opened a satellite office in Kawane-hon-cho, a small town of 6,500 in Japan that is 300 km from Tokyo.
We consider two factors while taking work to rural regions.
The first is infrastructure — roads, electricity, sanitation, education, and healthcare infrastructure. These are certainly vastly better in the major metros. But the good news is that the situation is rapidly changing in smaller towns, particularly in Southern India. We can now find good schools even in small towns, and the healthcare infrastructure is growing as well. And thanks to the development of e-commerce, you can buy anything, anywhere.
The second aspect is hiring and retaining talent. If you are looking for flashy credentials that only talent from high profile institutes possess, or look to address vacancies with specific expectations, then you will find it difficult to match those requirements. But if you take a more fundamental approach and are willing to find smart people and invest in them, then you can find talent everywhere. Most of our hires are picked straight out of engineering colleges. Many of these colleges are away from big cities. A majority of the leaders in the company, who manage various product teams today, started out fresh in this fashion.
Zoho University is another initiative that helps add to our workforce. Students join our program after completing school and we train them based on our needs. And they are ready to start working with us in a year. This approach takes foresight and patience, but in time it pays rich dividends.
Working in a place like Tenkasi comes with its own perks — the clean air, fresh unadulterated food, lots of space, lower cost of living, and a life more leisurely paced. Many of us who are used to these cannot think of living in a city.
(Sridhar Vembu is the CEO and a founder of Zoho Corporation. Headquartered in Chennai, the company makes software products that are used by more than 30 million users worldwide. Besides the 10-year-old
the company has now launched
for project managers.)
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