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Forbes: “Prodigal Son, Harsh Manglik – The Future Is Being Designed”

Posted on July 15, 2007
Filed Under Asia, Global Staffing Perspectives | 2 Comments

Companies, People, Ideas
Back to India
Robyn Meredith 07.23.07

“He left his homeland 35 years ago for a high tech career in the U.S. He thought he might never go back. Now Harsh Manglik has returned to India to ride the outsourcing wave and oversee 35,000 employees for Accenture. … The Future is Being Designed”
Harsh Manglik

Harsh Manglik spent 35 years building his career in the U.S. Then he went home.

On a starry night 55 years ago, deep in a remote forest of northern India, a 4-year-old boy nicknamed “sher baccha” (Hindi for “tiger cub”) rode safely in the arms of his father, who carried him into the moist night air. “Can you hear that?” the boy’s father asked. Then it came again: a deep, threatening rumble from a mile away. “That,” his father said, “is a tiger.”

The father was Ved Mitra Manglik, part Indiana Jones and part Robert Moses, a towering figure famous for building dams and irrigation projects critical to the development of postcolonial India. He had dragged his family to this remote outpost, a hundred miles and a two-day trek from the nearest railroad station. No schools, no roads, no running water. He would always sling a rifle over his shoulder before stepping out of the tent that served as the family home.

His son, the tiger cub, is Harsh Manglik, 59, chief of Accenture’s (nyse: ACN – news – people ) thriving India business and overlord of 35,000 employees–4,000 more than the $16.7 billion American consulting giant employs in the U.S. Five years ago the firm employed only 800 people in the country. In his own way Manglik is helping to build modern India, just as his late father had done half a century before him. “It is heady to think you’ll have a role in shaping things and seeing your fingerprints on it,” Manglik says. “The future is being designed.”

Yet Manglik long ago left behind India and the $100-a-month job he got after graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur to seek a better career in the U.S. And for most of his 35 years in America he doubted he ever would move back to his homeland. Instead, he got a graduate engineering degree at Case Western Reserve University, followed by an M.B.A. at Carnegie Mellon. He became a U.S. citizen and climbed the ranks of big names in high tech–Booz Allen, United Technologies (nyse: UTX – news – people ), Accenture, IBM, Symantec (nasdaq: SYMC – news – people ).

And then Manglik shocked his wife and two grown daughters and his relatives in India by doing the one thing they never expected: He moved back to India. He rejoined Accenture in September 2006 to run its far-flung India business from Bangalore, overseeing the hiring of 1,000 new employees a month, expanding service to U.S. clients and wooing Indian companies that could become the global giants of tomorrow.

“We know it is going to be big, and we know we have to get in now,” he says.

Ever more executives, engineers and salesmen, India-born and U.S.-trained, are returning to their homeland to cash in on the Asia boom. The same is true for returnees to the once backward but now surging economies of China and Vietnam (see box). In India these returnees are known simply as NRIs (for nonresident Indians); in Vietnam they are called Viet Kieu, meaning “overseas Vietnamese.” In China they are “sea turtles,” or Hai Gui Pai, although some jealous Chinese who never left dub these new arrivals Hai Dai–“seaweed.”

Some 20,000 people of Indian descent have returned in the past two years, says Kiran Karnik, president of India’s Nasscom, a tech trade group. Last year 40,000 returnees resettled in booming China, up from 7,000 in 1999, says David Zweig, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. In Vietnam the government has eased visa requirements and investment restrictions to encourage the flow back, and since the 1990s thousands of Vietnamese have returned.

India’s return tide started with the tech bust in 2000, when many Indians working in California lost their jobs; the joke then was that B2B meant not “business to business” but “back to Bangalore.” The trend grew as U.S. companies began sending data processing and call center work to cheaper labor markets in Asia and India.

Now Accenture’s worker hordes serve the world’s blue-chip companies from Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad. For companies like Best Buy (nyse: BBY – news – people ), Kimberly-Clark (nyse: KMB – news – people ) and Wyeth (nyse: WYE – news – people ), they answer customer calls, maintain the payroll, keep the books and even sort through résumés. Others tackle higher-end work as strategy consultants, researchers on systems integration and customizers of Oracle (nasdaq: ORCL – news – people ) and Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT – news – people ) software.

Accenture runs four small research labs around the world, and the newest one was set up in Bangalore in November 2006, two months after Manglik arrived there; it will have a hundred researchers in three years. Manglik is hiring 2,000 management consultants in India to bid for more gigs. “India is a key country for Accenture, a critical element in our global delivery network” and “integral to our growth strategy,” says William D. Green, Accenture’s chief executive. He personally wooed Manglik, who had put in two years at the firm before leaving in 1992, to rejoin and run India operations last year.

To use a phrase uttered by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, on the night India won its independence from Britain in 1947, for Manglik it was a long delayed “tryst with destiny.” Like Gandhi, Manglik’s grandparents on his mother’s side had been jailed by the British for fighting to free India from colonial rule.

But Manglik would spend most of his adult life in the U.S., and with each promotion any thought of a permanent return to his homeland faded a bit more. “When I left India [in 1972] I was very clear I wanted to come back,” Manglik says. “As I progressed in my career, it began to recede to the background.” His father and mother seemed to accept this. “Fathers are heroes to most children–particularly to boys,” he says. “But he brought me up to be independent. Never once did he say, ‘Why don’t you stay here?'”

He lived in Washington, D.C. , New York and Connecticut; in 1981 he married an Air India flight attendant. They settled in northern California and raised their two daughters there (neither of whom speaks Hindi). Every three years Manglik and his wife brought their American children with them to visit family in India.

As India’s high-tech sector boomed in the build-up to the Y2K scare (the computer glitch that later fizzled), Manglik began to imagine returning to India once his daughters finished college. The scenario grew more real as his once swashbuckling father, in his 80s, had a stroke in 2004.

One summer afternoon in Delhi, as the father lay in bed, his health in rapid decline, Manglik’s sister Kalpana visited his bedside to read him a passage she had penned in a biography she was writing about him. She wanted to describe how he felt about the long absence of Harsh, the only one of his five children to leave India. She voiced a hope that their father had harbored silently:

“I know my son will come back, because he knows his history is in the dust of India. One day he will know that this dust is his mother.” She paused, waiting for her dad, ever stoic, to speak. He could not. His eyes filled with tears, and finally he managed to say, “I could not have said it better.”

A few days later Kalpana read the passage over the phone to her brother, who was up late at night at his home near San Francisco. She listened for a reaction, from 7,690 miles away, but could hear only silence. “He didn’t say anything,” she says now. “He is the last person to cry.”

Within a week Manglik visited her and their father in Dehra Dun. He began flying from San Francisco to India more often, each time finding the country modernizing before his eyes. His father died in September 2004, and Manglik attended the funeral, watching his dad’s ashes sink into the same stretch of river where the elder Manglik had swum as a boy. A notion began to gnaw at him.

“My father never said it, but I do wonder what he thought about the fact that there I was, somewhere else, building my career, and whether I was being selfish.”

And so when Accenture’s chief, Bill Green, called him one day in August 2006 to entice him into quitting Symantec to take a job at Accenture–maybe a post running India?–Manglik’s answer came quickly: “When do I show up?” He began his new job a month later.

The Mangliks moved to Bangalore in September 2006, and for months they lived out of a hotel room, having left behind their two grown daughters. This month they move into their new home, an apartment in central Bangalore. Manglik’s wife, who had gone by the nickname Sally since she was a girl, has reclaimed her Indian name, Madhuri, meaning “sweetness.”

Booming Bangalore, a place of palm trees, traffic jams and tech entrepreneurs, is as close to Silicon Valley as you can get in India. It takes Manglik an hour, in a chauffeured Toyota (nyse: TM – news – people ) Corolla, to navigate the 9-mile drive to work each morning. “I’ve adapted to that,” he says. “I make my phone calls in the car.”

Along the way he passes roadside food carts where a fresh coconut tapped with a straw costs a quarter, and dusty lots filled with cricket games already under way, and women in colorful saris, walking with heavy bags on their heads. Noisy yellow-and-black motorized rickshaws wriggle through standstill traffic as pedestrians press past a sacred cow grazing along a sidewalk here and there.

Past the shopping mall with a KFC, Citibank and Sony (nyse: SNE – news – people ) and Adidas (other-otc: ADDDY.PK – news – people ) shops, a row of office towers houses IBM, EMC and Oracle. Just past the Hindu temple, marked by a blue, red and green dome, lies his destination, the seven-story glass-and-concrete office complex housing Accenture India’s Bangalore hive.

The brightly painted hallways are crammed with new hires in a rush, high-potential prospects who, in Manglik’s generation, had to leave India if they wanted to exploit their technology degrees. But Manglik says he is lucky to be back in the land he left 35 years ago. “These are not even once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” he says, “because you don’t usually get the chance, in an entire lifetime, to shape your country.”

His father could not have said it better.

One recent afternoon Manglik braves blistering heat and gridlock to get to the Bangalore airport. He arrives at the grimy terminal, pushes past myriad touts and steps to the counter of Jet Airways, a transient home since his return to India. As he checks in for a flight to Delhi, a route he now travels more than the San Francisco-to-L.A. trek of his past, the lights overhead flicker erratically throughout the airport, a symptom of this boomtown’s chronic power shortage.

He climbs aboard the plane and leaves behind the Third World for a cushy seat in business class, where a flight attendant offers a cold towel and a chilled glass of coconut juice. Manglik reaches for a copy of A Transition Across Ages, the biography of his father that he helped his sister self-publish last year. He turns to page 152 and runs a forefinger across the text, translating elegant Hindi script that quotes his late father predicting the return of a son who, one day, will realize that his history lies in “the dust of India.”

Then he comes to a passage about the lullaby he heard as a 4-year-old boy–“sher baccha”–in a tent in the remote forests of northern India, where tigers still roamed. He pauses to let the flight attendant pass, then sings the lullaby softly as stars sparkle outside the plane’s portholes, the land he had left shrouded in darkness seven miles below. It transports him back to the place where it all began.


2 Responses to “Forbes: “Prodigal Son, Harsh Manglik – The Future Is Being Designed””

  1. Anurag Sujania on February 19th, 2008 1:38 am

    Hi all,
    He is the most fascinating person I had ever met in my life. The one who has guts to accept his past and move ahead in search of new realities.

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