Americans Discover the Global Commute

Stephen DeAngelis

October 26, 2006

One of the reasons that America became great was that it attracted bright, energetic people from around the world. They often came here to get an education and then stayed to make the U.S. an intellectual powerhouse. Those already educated came looking for opportunity and wealth. One of the countries that keenly felt this flight of human capital was the United Kingdom. Supposedly, spokesmen for the Royal Society of London coined the expression “brain drain” to describe the outflow of scientists and technologists to the United States and Canada in the early 1950s. More recently, the brain drain has occurred in Asian nations (like China and India). In his book Blueprint for Action, Tom Barnett wrote concerning emerging nations, “You’ll know you’ve really made it when young Westerners themselves actually start ‘outsourcing’ themselves to your nation because they feel [you are a place with a future].”

Somini Sengupta, writing in the New York Times, reports that America is beginning to suffer a brain drain of its own [“In a Twist, Americans Appear in Ranks of Indian Firms,” 17 Oct 2006].

Talk about a reversal of fortune. Where once the brains of India left for more lucrative pastures in the United States, today a handful of fresh American college graduates are sampling the fruits of the Indian economic boom. The recruits from America and elsewhere are not expected to fill the looming labor pinch. But they do illustrate the efforts by Indian companies to extend their global reach and recognition.

The article is about an initial training class conducted by Indian tech firm Infosys which includes 126 U.S. citizens. One of the participants, a University of Arizona graduate, received encouragement from his college advisor (an Infosys stockholder) and discouragement from his uncle, who grumbled that it was just another foreign company taking away American jobs. In this participant’s case, after six months of training, he will return to Infosys’ Phoenix development office.

Infosys is not alone in its quest to draw talent from abroad. A handful of other Indian companies are also making an effort to add foreign faces and accents to their rolls, though it is hardly a flood. Only a small handful of Americans and others have been wooed by Indian companies so far.

Another company actively recruiting around the world is Tata Consultancy Services, India’s largest software firm. In an earlier post on the global commute, I wrote about Tata’s efforts in South America (particularly Uruguay) [Updates on the Global Commute]. There are other non-tech Indian firms recruiting as well.

Roughly one in 10 of the 72,000 employees of Tata Consultancy Services, India’s largest software firm, are foreigners. Many trained here before being sent back to one of the 35 countries where it has operations. Air Deccan, the country’s second largest carrier, is growing so fast that it simply cannot find sufficient numbers of trained Indian professionals; nearly a quarter of its pilots come from abroad.

Workers are attracted to foreign companies for many reasons. First, of course, a job is a job. Second, companies like Infosys offer some of the best training programs around. Infosys conducts its programs on a beautifully groomed 300 acre campus in Mysore. Finally, there is the opportunity to travel and learn more about other countries and cultures. These kinds of opportunities are ideal for those with an adventurous spirit. Resilient countries stand out. They attract resources, capital, and people — the building blocks of globalization. Although India still has enormous challenges, it continues to demonstrate why it’s a country with a future.