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Hatch brings 'Western-style' approach to India

In the bustling, skyscraper-dotted hub of Gurgaon, a suburban Delhi farm town that has turned into one of India's hottest corporate enclaves, two Australians sit across a large oval table, talking about the Indian story of a Mississauga, Ont.-based company.

The location and the two executives symbolize the global spirit of Hatch Ltd., a 10,000-strong employee-owned consulting company that blends high-quality niche expertise with decades of experience.

And it's using it to help India's industries modernize and adapt global practices.

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"We are building business here to support local operations," said Mick Camilleri, director of Hatch India. "India does have a whole lot of capabilities and experience. But experience is critical. It is important to have international experience for Western-style delivery."

Hatch's Indian subsidiary was set up in 2006, though it was around in the country earlier, doing one-off projects.

Hatch may have been late to the party that started in 1991, when India kicked off wide-ranging economic reforms and then ushered in a decade of heady growth during which global companies set up shop to take advantage of low-cost knowledge workers and increasing telecom bandwidths to set up back-offices.

But nobody at Hatch is complaining, because its different approach has paid off.

Unlike many firms that treated India as a low-wage hub to save on expenses, Hatch decided to hire the best, expose them to global quality by travel and training, and make them work seamlessly.

That works for the company, which has 65 worldwide offices with more than $35-billion in projects under management for which its experts draw consulting fees.

"We work as if any employee can move from one office to another and fit in there," said Dale Garson, project delivery group director for Hatch India.

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Head count in India has nearly doubled twice over the past two years to a current 85, with a similar rise in revenues, Mr. Camilleri said. About 10 per cent of employees are expatriates who include Canadians.

The key business drivers are not global clients looking to cut costs, but local giants trying to improve cost management and timely delivery of high-investment projects. It makes sense. A lot of bank money is riding on such projects. India has raised interest rates to cool the economy about 13 times in a year and a half.

Hatch's clients include the state-controlled steelmaker SAIL and private-sector Jindal Steel.

The Canadian company, which has also grown by acquisition, works on minute details to help Indian companies diversify into new areas – such as starting iron ore mining – or in completing projects with operational efficiency. Often, Indian clients need a reality check on how soon a unit can be built – or not.

With its software tools and seamless links with its global offices, Hatch considers phased approaches to projects, starting from pre-feasibility studies.

Focus is critical. For now, Hatch has its eyes on the ore, steel, metals and water industries. It works mainly with corporate clients and not so much on government projects – though it has global expertise in infrastructure, where India is facing hiccups because of fast expansion.

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Regulatory issues, ineffective pricing policies, environmental checks and financial constraints are holding up many infrastructure projects in India.

"We don't chase every business opportunity," Mr. Camilleri said. "Our key philosophy is relationship. What you do today will reward you tomorrow."

One big challenge is that cost-conscious Indian firms, particularly state-controlled ones, have historically insisted on the lowest-cost execution, but things are changing enough for them to turn quality-conscious and think of long-term costs as well.

"We are seeing a positive movement here in the public sector to entertain deviations from the norms," Mr Camilleri said.

The global, high-value approach works because, over the past decade, inflation and growth have raised wages for high-tech and knowledge workers in India. One of Hatch's U.S. competitors recently did a huge layoff because it was working purely on low-wage considerations, Mr. Garson said.

Global efficiency occurs when an expert in Montreal creates a three-dimension model and then someone with complementary skills in India picks up from where the Canadian office let off.

Similarly, a light metals consultant in the Canadian office can step in to help the Indian operation just when that kind of expertise is required.

Water projects are an emerging focus, with Hatch's experience in desalination projects, but energy projects are off the radar for the moment because of the risks involved.

Quality and safety huddles happen every week to help local hires catch up on international practices.

For Hatch, the focus seems to be largely on three Es – expertise, execution and experience.

"No one wants a guy who makes a mistake," Mr. Camilleri said. "But everyone wants a guy who has made a hundred mistakes."

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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About the Author
Small Business Columnist

Narayanan Madhavan, a senior Indian journalist, columnist and editor, has more than 25 years of experience in journalism. He is currently Associate Editor running the business news pages of Hindustan Times, a leading Indian daily newspaper which is part of the capital city New Delhi's culture and growth. More

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