From the beginning of our trip through Monday night’s farewell dinner, our 19 SHRM delegates and guests had little time off – clocking 14 hours on occasion but, not all of it was taking meetings.

Sunday we were tourists (three of our days in India- counting our trip to the Taj, were devoted to tourist activities) and a few of us “shopped til we dropped” whenever we had a chance to do so.

(About the buying of India’s wares, I’m sworn to secrecy- with the holiday season upon us, I do not want to give away Christmas surprises to those in my family who might be monitoring these notes. )

Suffice it to say that there are families in Kashmir along with their well versed representatives in Delhi, Agra and Mumbai who are smiling today. There are descendants of the artisans who once worked the marble of the Taj Mahal who are celebrating this week. There are shop keepers in each of the cities and retail representatives of the 10s of thousands of “1-room factories” (I will never be able to adequately describe this) who surrounded us and our bus and who on occasion succeeded in breaking through our reserve (although we never bought directly because that would cause a riot. Instead, we got on the bus and pointed to what we wanted to see more closely) who are happily counting the many Rupees we parted with.

Two regrets. In China, the most iconic item street people had to sell was a Rolex watch… for $2 (they start at five dollars and you negotiate down to two). One of these ( they stopped ticking the moment the plane landed in the US) is on my credenza along with a Montblanc pen that would leak before you got back on the bus. In India the street wares were of a much higher quality but I do have my doubts about 1 ubiquitous item- the purple peacock feather fan. If those feathers are truly from a peacock then that bird should be extinct…or bald having long ago sacrificed every conceivable feather. I failed to buy one. I think 50 Rupees (about $1) would have done it.

My second regret is not finding a hat I could buy. I have hats from every country but India. No one was selling turbans probably because they were tribal or religious but I would have paid to learn how to wrap it. Next time.

One stop in Mumbai on Sunday was at an historic hotel, the Taj Mahal, which overlooks the Arabian sea. It was a reminder us of the present world we live in. The hotel is the equivalent of the Plaza and the Waldorf in New York. it was the focus of the four hotels attacked by terrorists last year (November 26) and was still closed for repairs with the exception of one tower.

The longest stop in Mumbai was at the house Mahatma Gandhi lived in during the years leading up to India’s Declaration of Independence and subsequent Independence in 1947. The house serves as a museum depicting Gandhi’s impact on the country and there is no way you could overstate his importance. The building sits in an upscale but older neighborhood and a steady stream of tourists and citizens quietly flow through it. No entry fee. No guards. No tchotchkes.

It hits you how young this country is politically. Gandhi is George Washington and Abraham Lincoln rolled into one but his death was so recent in the context of the nation that he is a contemporary as well as an historic figure.

Monday’s itinerary included an Institute of science and Engineering and a company call center.

IIT Bombay is arguably the top Engineering and Science college in India. Given the awards and sources of those awards I’ve no argument. US News & World ranked the Institute 30th in the world. They have a significant number of joint programs with elite institutions in the US as well as other countries.

Unlike the US, the Government controls the colleges. The IIT campuses in India essentially got their start as acts of parliament starting after the country’s Independence. Competitive exams determine who can get into the various Institutes for engineering in the several cities. Last year 287,564 Indians “appeared” for entry to get a bachelor’s degree in Engineering and Science. Only 4950 qualified. 200,941 “appeared” and were tested to start their Masters degree in science and technology specialties. Only 7061 were eligible to begin their studies. I have an engineering degree and advanced degrees from an engineering university but this level of competition is not something I’m familiar with.

What was so interesting to me about the IIT Bombay is that we were hosted by the placement office and that the head of “Career Services”, Dr. Ravi Sinha, was also one of the school’s professors of Civil Engineering. On the way in we noted that recruiters were being welcomed.

We were offered details of their placement stats and given a list of more than 200 firms that recruit on campus. Clearly every one of our multi-nationals was represented. And yet, the relationships are probably not very deep. The firms that come to campus do not seem to look to develop stronger relationships to better mine the alumni. The placement office saw lots of turnover among the recruiters and firms that did come there. There were reasons for this that relate to how these schools are funded, turnover of professors who can make more on the outside etc., etc. This meeting was an eye-opener.

Our last stop, FIS, was a visit to a call center. It also was an eye opener. The area included dozens of financial services firms and it seemed almost like the corporate campuses we are used to…but not quite.

Our brief meeting and tour was enjoyable in no small part because the head of HR, an Indian woman with a wealth of experience and a no nonsense approach, was clearly numbers driven. We bombarded her with questions before taking the tour. I asked about sources of hire (really, what else am I going to ask about). She felt their Employee Referrals (14.2%) was too low and was concerned that their number 1 source, agencies, too high but job boards were increasing. All of the new hires were degreed. The tour was anticlimactic but I did manage to get a better look at their ER campaign.

My summary and final comments shortly.

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Comment by Eric on December 16, 2009 at 1:21pm
Thanks for sharing, Gerry.
One thing, I really feel you should have bought the most inexpensive (for less than a dollar) hat - Gandhian white color hat. Although they call it 'Gandhi Topi' in India, it is a cultural (not religious) hat for ages in India. (
Also, I like those 'Khadi' shirt and jackets from 'Khandi Bhandar' too.


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