At the Taj Mahal of training centers, a fast-growing Indian outsourcing company lavishes attention on its recruits.
NEW YORK (FORTUNE Magazine) - In the Jeff Bezos Room, there's a lecture about the importance of body language. Down the hall, in the Harley-Davidson Room, four students are performing a skit about missing curfew after drinking too many cocktails at a local bar. And in the Gordon Moore Room, 100 students in front of computer monitors are learning J2EE, a Java platform.
Welcome to Infosys U., one of the world's largest corporate training centers, where India's best and brightest are learning to take their places in the global workforce. The new $120 million facility in Mysore, India, about 90 miles from the software company's headquarters in Bangalore, is part Disney World, part Club Med, part American college campus.
There's a Domino's Pizza, an infinity pool studded with palm trees, and a geodesic dome housing three movie theaters that looks as though it rolled in from Epcot Center. But the real mission is teaching the Infosys Way to the 15,000 employees the fast-growing company hires a year--an average of 40 a day.
While many global firms are preoccupied with downsizing, pension cutting, and benefit slashing, Infosys Technologies and several of its Indian competitors face a rare and welcome challenge: boundless growth. But recruiting, hiring, and training at a pace that can satisfy this insatiable appetite for talent require more than simply showing new employees to their desks.
"There aren't many companies growing like this," says Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani, who helped found the company 25 years ago. "Companies haven't been investing enough in people. Rather than train them, they let them go. Our people are our capital. The more we invest in them, the more they can be effective."
Many of the 4,000 "freshers" (as they're known) who are on campus at any one time come with little or no practical work experience. Infosys doesn't mind. In fact, the company prefers hiring a mechanical engineer who lacks computer skills but shows a high aptitude for "learnability" over a computer scientist who can't solve problems beyond his technical training.
In many ways Infosys treats its new recruits as if they're still college students. Inside the Mysore campus, strict rules are in force. Men are not allowed in the women's dorms (and vice versa). There's no alcohol, anywhere, anytime. But you won't hear many complaints. For most, the opportunity to work for Infosys is a dream come true.
Yesha Bhatt, a 21-year-old engineer, remembers hearing about Infosys and its founder, Narayana Murthy, while growing up in Mumbai. Her father, a banker, talked about how Murthy was "the most down-to-earth person." Yet on her first day of class at Mysore, Murthy was anything but down-to-earth: There was his image, 12 feet tall, beaming down from two screens in the Mahatma Gandhi Auditorium, welcoming all the freshers.
In 1981, when Murthy hired his first recruits, there were few rules, and training happened on the job. In those days that meant working out of a makeshift office in Murthy's home. As Infosys has scaled up its workforce, it has come to rely more on technology for training purposes.
"Productivity improvement comes from converting synchronous transactions to asynchronous transactions," explains Murthy. His example: switching from phone calls (synchronous) to e-mail (asynchronous). There's an online database of Infosys case studies for employees who need help with client requests. And because of the ever-increasing class size in Mysore, the company is turning to computers to do much of the teaching.
Infosys still depends on dozens of instructors, especially for those lessons computers can't teach. While most of the training focuses on technical skills, freshers spend a lot of time working on softer skills such as team building, comportment, and improving interpersonal communication. In one class Bhatt listened intently as the instructor told students to practice smiling in front of a mirror. "You are all brand ambassadors," said a teacher in another class, on corporate etiquette.
It is ironic that Murthy and Nilekani--two low-key and modest executives--created a global branding powerhouse in a country that favors the subtle over the brazen. But at Infosys U. the corporate logo is rarely out of sight. It adorns sugar packets, coffee mugs, polo shirts, and umbrellas. Each of the seven dormitory buildings is in the shape of one of the letters in "Infosys"--an effect visible only from the air.
The brand now attracts attention far beyond India's borders. The company has offices in 18 countries, including China. Jake Hu, a fresher from Jiangxi province, who eats dosas with chopsticks, is one of 100 Chinese undergraduates selected by the company and officials in Beijing to spend seven months training at Infosys. The exchange, an attempt to deepen the relationship between the two countries, is also a way for Infosys to find and train talent while it ramps up its operations in China.
"Infosys China is developing fast and provides a lot of opportunities," says Hu during a break from a programming class. He will return to China this spring and expects to graduate with a software engineering degree in July. But he and several compatriots aren't sure the salaries Infosys pays in China can compete with those of other global firms. His dream job, he says, is to work in marketing for Procter & Gamble (Research).
The Chinese students aren't the only ones talking about pay. Outside the Gandhi auditorium, two Indian freshers are planning their escape. "The pay is lousy," one woman says. (Salaries start at about $5,000 a year.) While the two say they're thrilled to be at Infosys and think its training is the best around, they also know its market value and plan to find a higher-paying job or apply for an MBA after a year with the company.
Paying for talent could end up being the industry's--and perhaps the company's--Achilles' heel. The competition for well-trained engineers drove salaries in India up 15% last year. And job hopping has become commonplace. For now Infosys has no choice but to continue scaling up. Blueprints for expanding the Mysore campus have been completed, and by 2007 it will have the capacity to train 10,000 employees at a time.
The Mysore training center may or may not help win the coming battle for talent, but one thing is certain: These 4,000 engineers didn't come here to laze around the pool or burn calories on the company's treadmills. After a week at Infosys U., Bhatt has yet to make it to the gym.
AT A GLANCE
Founded in Pune in 1981 by Narayana Murthy and six others. Develops
business-process software and provides outsourcing services for Cisco,
Nordstrom, Microsoft, and others.
$1.6 billion (fiscal 2005), up 50% over the previous year.