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What is a doctor doing working as director of a software company? In the answer to that question lies some of the creative practices adopted by Replicon Inc. in India, which has come a long way from its origins in Calgary.

The director of the company's India operations, based in the technology city of Bangalore, R. Shoba, 41, joined the company in 2006 after switching careers from medicine to pursue her business passion.

She says the company's culture of encouraging staff with trust and opportunities for growth is a big plus.

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Why is that so important? Apart from the human virtues, it makes sense in the hunt for talent in a country where a lot has changed in the last decade, especially in the information technology, back-office and knowledge-based service industries.

Cheap talent is no longer that easy to come by. Having to compete with homegrown giants such as Infosys Technologies Ltd., a tech services company based in Bangalore, and global ones such as I nternational Business Machines Corp. in attracting and retaining talent, a medium-sized company like Replicon has to think outside the box. That's why so much focus is placed on people.

Replicon offers Web-based software for scheduling and time-keeping to corporate clients in a "software as a service" (SaaS) model. The privately held company has 1.5 million users across 70 countries.

Founded in 1996 by Indian-born Canadian Raj Narayanaswamy and his wife Lakshmi Raj, Replicon first got into an outsourcing partnership in 2004 with HCL Technologies Ltd., a large Indian firm, which set up a software development centre that was transferred to Replicon in 2006 under a "build-operate-transfer" model.

"We realized more could be done out of India," Dr. Shoba said.

Now, apart from software product development, the company offers services such as customer support, revenue collections and remote monitoring of overseas client data centres from a base in Bangalore – because many clients are not yet ready to rent applications that are not physically located on their own premises. Replicon even does product customization and installation out of India, earning carbon credits -- besides slashing costs -- by cutting back on travel, as it eyes a bigger future.

"We see a whole lot of opportunities," Dr. Shoba said.

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Annual revenues of the privately held company are expected to double over the next two years from a current $25-million (U.S).

A recently opened office in San Mateo, Calif., is increasingly taking the marketing focus. Replicon splits product development between Canada and India and adds its range of other backup services from Bangalore, where it currently has 102 employees. The number is expected to grow by June to 140. The company's Indian staff account for roughly half of its global head count.

"Touch wood, attrition has been very, very low," Dr. Shoba said. "And one of the reasons for that is that it is a fairly open company."

For one thing, employees are free to use social networking sites and the company doesn't snoop with time-check mechanisms, both enticements to younger workers.

"We say to them that you are accountable, and we trust you," Dr. Shoba said, noting also that internal job openings are discussed informally to see who fits best. "There is no politics or manipulation. People enjoy that."

And there's room for growth. At the Canadian office, the director of sales started out as a receptionist, she said.

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While the privately held company does not offer stock options, it does offer a profit-sharing plan. And, unlike many Indian companies, it is not limited by a ceiling.

Having experience dealing with patients and their families, Dr. Shoba said some of the people skills she developed in medicine work well in people-centric businesses such as IT. And that may be just what the doctor ordered for a smaller company competing for talent with the IT service giants that now crowd Bangalore's landscape.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Narayanan Madhavan is associate editor of the business news pages of Hindustan Times, a leading Indian daily newspaper. He has previously worked for Reuters, the international news agency, as well as The Economic Times and Business Standard, India's leading business dailies. Though focused mainly on business and economic journalism with a strong focus on information technology and the Internet, he has also covered or written about issues including politics, diplomacy, cinema, culture, cricket and social issues. He has an honours degree in economics and a master's degree in political science from the University of Delhi.

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