HR turned entrepreneurscan make the mistake of focusing more on processes,than on contracts, revenue and budgets
Coming from a middle class and non-entrepreneurial background, Ajit Isaac obtained his degree in Economics from Loyola College and a Gold medal in his postgraduate programme (Personnel Management & Industrial Relations) from the Madras School of Social Work. He began his professional career as a Management Trainee at Godrej & Boyce; and it was during his stint as head of Corporate HR at Essar that he was selected for the British Council Chevening Scholar, under which he completed, ‘The Managers for Leadership Program’ from Leeds University. It was during these days in 1997-98, that he started understanding the opportunities that lay in the HR domain and the very thought to become an entrepreneur and venture into the unchartered territory was forged during 1999-2000. It was during the same time that the private equity market in India was undergoing a metamorphosis and raising capital was becoming easier for first time entrepreneurs. Ajit decided to end his brief stint with IDFC in the year 2000 to found Peopleone Consulting – a full spectrum HR services firm. His entrepreneurial dream got a shot in the arm as he managed to raise approximately $1 million from JP Morgan. As a matter of fact, JP Morgan’s investment in Peopleone Consulting was the first of its kind private equity investment for HR activity in India. Ajit reminisces, “The idea of staffing really came from a trip to the US in 2001, where I realized that companies were using temp staffing for positions like clerks and secretaries and there were many players providing this service. There was nothing like this in India. We saw the opportunity and created an offering around staffing, recruitment and executive search to cater to all needs of sourcing people.”
The year 2001, was the time when telecom operators were readying themselves to build operations in newly acquired circles. For Peopleone Consulting, its first client for staffing was Airtel in the telecom domain. Ajit continued to manage and lead the company until 2004, when he decided to sell a controlling stake in the company to Zurich based company Adecco, which today is the world’s leading provider of HR solutions. He joined the executive committee of Adecco and continued his association with it till 2007. In 2009, he bought a significant minority stake in IKYA Human Capital Solutions, and also took executive responsibilities. Thereafter, the private equity backed IKYA Human Capital Solutions, which focuses on executive search, recruitment solutions and staffing services and provides value-added services to a broad range of industry sectors, and acquired Delhi based Coachieve Solutions offering recruitment services to IT and ITeS space. The momentum continued with the acquisition of Magna – India’s largest professional staffing company. The acquisition of Magna by IKYA was the largest transaction in the HR industry in India. On the acquisition spree, Ajit says, “We will continue to do acquisitions in areas where we do not have a presence or to build on skills that we do not have internally.” With many a firsts under his belt, Ajit further says, “We look at being the first HR company to go public; we believe we have the horse power, scale and financials to take it to a public offering.”
Ajit has been instrumental in each of the landmarks in the Indian HR industry. Thanks to what Ajit terms as inorganic growth, IKYA, over the last 2 years, has recorded a CAGR of 92 percent and presently employs over 45,000 people. His target is to grow at four times GDP growth and if the current CAGR is any indicator, he is definitely miles ahead of it. It is perhaps the two rules that IKYA adheres to viz. “first don’t miss your budgets” and second “don’t miss the first rule” that keeps the balance sheet robust. He advises entrepreneurs who dream of making it big someday to invest in best people, best infrastructure, and best technology. For that matter, the very DNA of IKYA is ingrained in what is termed as FIT - Focus, Integrity and Teamwork.
He, however, feels that the problem with HR entrepreneurs is that they tend to focus at the process part too much while entrepreneurs from the marketing and sales background look at contracts, revenue and sales numbers. Also, those who come from the financial domain understand metrics very well; so they know which metrics to track for market expansion or market penetration.