Saturday, January 17, 2009

After Satyam, Is Wipro Next?

What’s going on in India? Specifically, with its outsourcing businesses. First, there was Satyam and their little bookkeeping problem. (What’s a billion dollars more or less among friends?) Now, Wipro is announcing ( ) that it had been banned by the World Bank from bidding on business for four years because of inappropriate dealings with its employees. Since we are focused on the pharmaceutical and biotechnology businesses and its service suppliers, a question that immediately comes to mind is what is the impact of such seemingly unethical practices by key suppliers to the "ethical" pharmaceutical industry. Does this have the kind of collateral damage that makes the industry question this aspect of their "globalization" and/or "outsourcing/out-tasking" strategies. More to come on this as the situation unfolds.

In the meanwhile, a few questions about the WIPRO situation. First, why is the announcement made now? Compared to Satyam’s problems, this is the proverbial parking ticket. A cynic might say this was a great smoke screen for what otherwise might have been a serious ethical violation. Second, do these ethical violations indicate more substantial problems in the Indian outsourcing sector? Third, could these ethical lapses impact growth possibilities especially in the United States with its holier than thou attitude in these matters? Finally, could legislation like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or Sarbanes-Oxley preclude Wipro from actually bidding for work?

Back to the first question, why make the announcement now? OK, take advantage of the confusion, but could there be more? Either more transgressions or more firms? I don’t know, I’m just asking.

Second the question of fraud and questionable payments. While Bernie Madoff has proven that the Western world doesn’t have a lock on ethical behavior, India’s problems could be the tip of the iceberg. What other controls could be compromised? Information privacy is important to companies that outsource and offshore, especially the health care/pharmaceutical industry. How can anyone be sure that their information and their secrets are safe? Might there be HIPAA violation if such privacy concerns surface?

Third, growth for the outsourcers could be affected in several ways. One way is by potential customers staying away from the affected companies. Another could be new competitors arising, playing on the Indian companies’ weaknesses. Maybe Singapore is more expensive but has a much higher ethical rating. (Remember an American teenager getting caned for vandalism? Think what they’d do to Bernie.)

And, last but not least, what’s the potential for fines and liability in the United States? Or, look at it another way. How many government agencies and other quasi-government bodies might ban these companies from bidding on work? Could we see policy decisions preventing work from going offshore? Let’s not forget that the US government is slowly acquiring the US financial services industry while I’m writing this blog. The new administration might have an opinion about these Indian companies doing work there. Should such events occur, what is the spillover effect to the Pharmaceutical and allied businesses?

So, let’s summarize. I believe that the Indian outsourcing industry after a good run that began with the Y2K work of the Nineties is going to go through a period of consolidation. Unfortunately, combined with the recent tragic events in Mumbai, foreign companies may begin to have second thoughts about doing business there. The stronger Indian players could acquire the business of the faltering firms and be stronger than before. Proactive responses to the problems in the industry could provide opportunity. However, more spending may be required to put the controls and processes in place that large, multinational companies are expecting. There are still good reasons to outsource to India, but, India will have to work harder to keep what it has and gain new business.

As always, we welcome your feedback. Please contact us at We look forward to hearing from you.

Contributed by Guy de Lastin

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