How a Contrived H-1B Message Can Backfire on an Indian IT Services Provider

Don Tennant

OK. They still need to bring people over on visas. I get it. But with all that hiring in the United States, the number of people they need to bring over on visas is declining, right? Well, not exactly. According to the website myvisajobs.com, in 2010 Mindtree applied for a grand total of 24 H-1B visas. But contrary to the message Staples was trying to convey, that number rose to 174 in 2011, and jumped again to 317 in 2012. Didn’t that necessarily mean that Mindtree is, in fact, increasingly dependent on H-1Bs? Confronted with the numbers, Staples explained it the best he could:

Increasingly dependent, but I think that’s a reaction to the fact that we were not able to beef up our operation capacity in the U.S. fast enough, and open up our delivery centers fast enough. I think we’re about a year behind on where we wanted to be. So I see that increase in visas as us implementing a Plan B when our Plan A was just a little slow in development.

I asked Staples if he had any sense of what the number of H-1B applications will be for 2013, and he said he didn’t. He did go on to say this:

One way to help you visualize this is today we’ve got about 1,000 people in the U.S., and we have clear plans from the management team and the board to take that number from 1,000 to 4,000 by the end of 2016. That’s a lot of hiring, that’s a lot of U.S. delivery center creation. Obviously you can see it’s going to become more and more of a significant part of our business model.

Perhaps I should have let it go at that point, but I couldn’t help myself. I asked Staples what percentage of that 4,000 at the end of 2016 will be U.S. hires.

“The vast majority,” he said. “I would say somewhere between 80 and 90 percent.”

Really? Mindtree is going through this big transformation, and after another 42 months it’s still going to need to as much as 20 percent of its U.S. workforce to be brought in from overseas? If the percentage is going to be that high at the end of 2016, what on earth is it now? I asked Staples what percentage of those 1,000 people he has in the United States today are U.S. hires. His response was troubling.

“I don’t know the exact number there—we’ve been asked this question before,” Staples said. “I don’t even have an educated guess on it right now. I just know the trend is obviously more local hires.”

Seriously? He’s the president of Mindtree’s Americas operation and he can’t even make an educated guess on the percentage of local hires? I told Staples that would be tough for my readers to swallow.

“That’s understandable,” he said. “But for me, I’m sorry, I just don’t look historically, I look forward. I know what the model for the future is, and that’s what we’re driving toward.”

So there you have it. Make of all that what you will. For me, all the contradictory shenanigans speak to the need to just tell the story as it really is rather than focus so blindly on messaging. My advice to Mindtree is to recognize that trying to downplay its H-1B dependency to create a certain identity will backfire for as long as that identity is as contrived as it is now.

By the way, despite all the H-1B tap-dancing nonsense, Mindtree’s Gainesville delivery center is, in fact, an important step. I’ll cover that center, and Mindtree’s plans for additional U.S. delivery centers, in a forthcoming post. 

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