Lawson CEO Explains Why We Need the H-1B

Don Tennant

Harry Debes, CEO of ERP vendor Lawson Software, has a well-earned reputation for speaking his mind -- and giving Lawson's PR team ulcers in the process. A 2008 interview in which he likened software to cocaine, in that it hooks users who become incapable of switching providers because of the difficulty and expense involved, is the stuff of PR-nightmare legend. So I thought he might have something interesting to say on the H-1B visa controversy. I was right.


I spoke with Debes at Lawson's Customer and User Exchange (CUE) conference this week in San Antonio, and I asked him if he thought the H-1B program is good for the U.S. He responded affirmatively, basing that assessment partially on his view that labor is becoming a commodity:

If you don't have the skills that you need, if you can't source the skills that you need in the U.S., why not allow [imported labor]? We have free trade of commodity items, and labor has become somewhat of a commodity. I think it's incumbent upon universities and schools to train people and produce engineers and software technicians that have the skills and capabilities that the industry needs. If we paid attention to that, we wouldn't need to import as much labor.

Debes said there continues to be an IT skills shortage in the U.S., and he seemed to have little patience for unemployed U.S. IT workers who say the fact that they can't find jobs proves there's no skills shortage:

I think maybe their expectations are out of line. A lot of young kids are saying, 'Unless I get $50,000 a year and these kinds of benefits, I'm not going to work.' That might have been OK when the economy was very robust. That's not a good attitude to have today.

In any case, Debes expressed another more sublime-and, in my view, far more compelling -- reason for being in favor of the H-1B visa program:

I think the diversity of having people move around the world is, frankly, good for everybody. You realize that people from India or from Germany or from Spain or from Sweden are just like you when you get to know them, when you get to work with them side-by-side every day. Otherwise, they're strangers.

That's a point I've been trying to make for years, and of course I've taken a lot of flak for it. Debes probably will, too, which is unfortunate. He might have made a faux pas or two in his time, but this isn't one of them. Regardless of its flaws, the H-1B visa program has helped us to recognize that those strangers from foreign lands are, indeed, just like us. Debes is to be commended for reminding us that that recognition is good for us all.

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Apr 28, 2010 8:47 AM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to Donna Conroy, Director

Debes is so far out of touch with the reality of H-1Bs and available American talent that his driver's license should be yanked and he should be placed under supervision. Just another greedy suit, sits in meetings, does lunch, gets interviewed like he was someone who mattered.

Apr 28, 2010 10:40 AM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Dolores

Everybody matters, Dolores.

Apr 28, 2010 10:46 AM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to yoyome

If you have a question for me, ask it in a civil, courteous manner.

Apr 28, 2010 11:06 AM Steve Smith Steve Smith  says: in response to Don Tennant


Can you find a single empirical study that shows a worker shortage in IT? Everyone last one I know of that has been produced has found there is no such worker shortage. Go to the RAND web site and look at the reports commissioned by the government.

The evidence of a worker shortage has as much support as the proposition that the Holocaust was a fabrication created by ZOG: Just people repeating over and other their view that is not supported by the evidence.


Apr 28, 2010 11:14 AM Dave Chapman Dave Chapman  says:

I am a Software Engineer and I am running for Congress in Palo Alto, California.  If you really want to get rid of H1-B, you should support me, and you should support any other candidates who are opposed to the importation of slave labor.


Apr 28, 2010 11:18 AM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Dave Chapman

Please do not use my blog for electioneering.

Apr 28, 2010 11:21 AM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Steve Smith

I'm not arguing that there is a shortage, Steve. I pose the question to people so that in a forum like this people like you can respond with informed commentary.

Apr 28, 2010 11:39 AM yoyome yoyome  says: in response to Don Tennant


A tofu head like you don't deserve my courteous manner. You must earn it OK. Don't you get it ???

Apr 28, 2010 1:37 PM Indian_H1B Indian_H1B  says: in response to yoyome

Tofu-head's a hilarious insult for which I quite qualify. Love the soy

Not sure I get the diversity angle on H-1B. If 2 job candidates are equally qualified, and one is American and the other Indian, are you saying, you should hire the Indian? How can you justify that adds value? The only job for which I see some advantage to diversity is when your market itself is diverse. To understand the buying decisions of your consumers, you may want to have a marketing think-tank that's abreast of all cultural leanings that go into the purchasing decision.

My own personal experience says diversity can be a bad thing. In leading a team of all white American male engineers, I did not have a pleasant time. My approach to management stems from a more aggressive value system where the best employees are challenged and the worst employees are rebuked. Basically "Shape up or ship out". My team members resented it and my management style underwent a volte face in a hurry! I don't think that would have happened to a more homogenous outfit where the lead was also American.

Apr 28, 2010 2:41 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

In 2002 the BLS projected 35% job growth between 2002 and 2012.  Instead, we have lost IT jobs as of today (compared with 2002 numbers).

Given that fact, I find it absurd that anyone is using the words "IT labor shortage" in the year 2010.  In fact, anyone who believes that has not done their homework or simply does not care about the facts - since it doesn't support their financial interests.

I'm relatively certain you can find a number of IT lobbyists or CEOs claiming shortages.  Unfortunately those claims are parroted without actually doing any fact checking of your own.  Find independent data and the picture changes dramatically.

Apr 28, 2010 3:27 PM Bob Bob  says:

"You realize that people from India or from Germany or from Spain or from Sweden are just like you when you get to know them"

no, actually, they're not

becasue it's always US training THEM to take OUR jobs

Never the reverse

Apr 28, 2010 3:43 PM Buddy Y. Buddy Y.  says:

So he thinks $50,000/yr. is an unrealistic expectation.  That supports the notion that using H1-B workers is about cheap labor, not about any shortage of skilled workers.

Apr 28, 2010 4:15 PM Vincenzo Vincenzo  says:

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!  Oy vey!

Apr 28, 2010 4:59 PM Donna Conroy, Director Donna Conroy, Director  says:

Don, drop the sanctimonious humanitarianism.  The H-1b program codifies discrimination against American talent and displace Americans from their jobs in favor of foreign citizens -and it's legal.

It has created a flow of Indian bodyshops that recruit Indian techies into unemployment and bondage contracts- and then sell these techies to larger Indian labor contracts.  So much for humanitarianism...

Silicon Valley now has fewer White, Black, Hispanic and female IT professionals than in 2000. Black Computer Science graduates essentially reached parity in 2006; no longer can they be dismissed as an 'under-represented minority".

American 4th and 8th graders matched their German classmates in the latest round of TIMSS, the prestigious math and science international test.  India and China, the two countries where tech companies recruit most from, don't participate in TIMSS.  And you have the gall to blame our children!

Techies, pass on the Good News. Because Americans Don't Let Americans Blame the Children.

Apr 28, 2010 5:31 PM Tunnel Rat Tunnel Rat  says:

Tennant is a collaborator and H-1B shill that will soon be unemployed when American techies revolt and throw out all the guest workers.  Writing columns supporting a high-tech slave trade is not a good career move. 

As for diversity, I didn't see much diversity in the I.T. curry dens that were 80-90% Indian.  Nepotism, racism, castism, and misogyny where rampant there. 

American techies are now standing up for themselves and not buying the vile propaganda that we are just too dumb and expensive for the likes of slave traders like Debes.  Try living on 50k with 200k in school loans.  Debes should stop looking for young, low-wage guest workers to exploit and invest in own country's workforce, and Tennant should STFU.

Apr 28, 2010 5:33 PM ConsiderTheSource ConsiderTheSource  says:

Mr. Debes holds a B.A. in History from the University of Toronto and an M.B.A. with an Accounting major from McMaster University.


Apr 28, 2010 5:36 PM yoyome yoyome  says: in response to R. Lawson

This is ain't nothing yet... Only 10+% unemployment rate. They will even declare IT Shortage even when the unemployment rate goes up to 50%. You have to realize there is always a shortage for $10/Hour software developer even how bad the unemployment rate is. They will use Don as their mouth piece or propaganda tool. Don will be the volunteer for them without pay. What a cheap guy ...

As you can see google news website. You can see many Indian outsourcing companies hiring unbelievable rate. TCS hires 38000 and other companies hires 20,000. One of my Dallas, TX home town company hires 80 employees made to the news like crazy and the whole town knows it. What a depressed !! If it keeps going like this USA will be dead. Hopeless...    

Apr 28, 2010 5:37 PM Drunken Economist Drunken Economist  says:

Looks like Mumbai Don is back on the- err, 'got his case' this week.

Are we all surprised yet?

Apr 28, 2010 5:53 PM yoyome yoyome  says:


You are on the issue again Don !! Why ???

If the H-1B is intent for the purpose of shortage of talent in the US I am the first one to support it. It is not the case. What are you eating Don ??? Why you still don't get it. Why don't you go talk to American engineers and scientist instead of interviewing the rich and crook CEOs. You still don't get it. I suggest you go out get some mental pills and take care yourself or shut the hell off this topic.

Apr 28, 2010 6:39 PM Tunnel Rat Tunnel Rat  says: in response to ConsiderTheSource

McMaster is the home of another bought and paid for shill for the H-1B lobby, a professor who fabricates bogus stats to justify the displacement of American techies.

Apr 28, 2010 7:33 PM jj jj  says:

Question 1: What did US employers do to get STEM workers before the H-1B (1990)?

Question 2.  For any piece on new technology (C, C++, UNIX, etc) where did US employers get the STEM workers during that time period between the date of the first commercial implementation and that time an employer could reasonable expect to hire a worker with one experience using that technology?

You could make a reasonable case that I was unqualified for every tech job I got before the H-1B.   Example:  the first time I was hired for a job using the mainframe operating system VM/CMS I have never used it before.  During the interview for the job I was not even asked about it.  The first day on the job someone set with me for an hour to get me started.   Likewise I had never used UNIX the first time I was hired for a job using it.

The nature of technology is such that it is unlikely that employers will find the exact skills they need because almost every shop is in some way unique.  Before the H-1B Americans got a job by convincing the hiring manager they could do the job whether or not they had experience.  After the H-1B any lack of experience by an American was justification for rejection while H-1Bs got the job by convincing the hiring manager they could do the job whether or not they had experience. 

Apr 29, 2010 10:33 AM yoyome yoyome  says: in response to Don Tennant

What is the different between respect and "If you have a  question for me, ask it in a civil, courteous manner." ???

I have my own way of fighting for my right. Some people fights it soft, other fights it sissy, other fights it rough.

Now I have a question for you; why you snuff behind the guy pant "Lawson CEO" to post out a junky H-1b article like this. Are you a coward or just a troller or just NASSCOM propaganda ? If you are throwing rocks at American IT workers then don't hide your hands. Just be yourself ..

Apr 29, 2010 11:12 AM BB BB  says:

Before H1B, you learned new languages or operating systems the first week or two in a new job. Now, you have to already know them or you are unemployable.

Any competent software engineer can learn a new language well enough to be productive in a week or two. But learning it on your own does not even count. Only actual provable work experience counts.

Employers are actually shooting themselves in the foot by hyper-focusing on minimizing short-term initial training costs, and not trying to actually hire the best engineers for the longer term.

The H1B visa is nothing more than the United States government interfering with the free labor market by creating two classes of employees: one that can be fired, and on that can be fired AND immediately deported. Which one do you think will be more "motivated"?

Employers can legally discriminate against qualified Americans by firing them without cause and recruiting only H-1B guest-workers to replace them.  The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has said:  'H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of a foreign worker.'  Some companies that discriminate against American workers are so brazen that their job advertisements say 'H-1B visa holders only.'  And some companies in the United States have workforces that consist almost entirely of H-1B guest-workers.        

Reference: http://durbin.senate.gov/showRelease.cfm?releaseId=311910

Apr 29, 2010 11:27 AM Sarah Sarah  says:

Underlying Mr. Lawson's faux social conscience is a real failure to acknowledge the powerful and real contribution of the American tech force. As someone said here, we train them. Not the other way around.

Whether it is Gates or Lawson or the brokers on Wall Street, this is nothing more than contempt for the very people who built the boat which Lawson is now sailing on.

He might have said he loves babies. Bringing us closer together indeed. Ask the out of work tech workers languishing in American suburbs. In America we do diversity just fine thank you. Corporations only use this as a wedge, not a real value.

It remains to be seen if the tech workers will finally build a real coalition to fight these liars. I hope we do. And, if we do, we'll see how interested they are in creating opportunity for all, not just themselves.

Apr 29, 2010 12:21 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Sarah

Just to be clear, although my last name is Lawson - I am in no way associated with the software company in this article.  My last name happens to be the name of the company.

Apr 29, 2010 2:37 PM Sarah Sarah  says: in response to R. Lawson

Thanks for the heads up. Here's my correction:

Underlying Mr. Debes' faux social conscience is a real failure to acknowledge the powerful and real contribution of the American tech force. As someone said here, we train them. Not the other way around.

Whether it is Gates or Lawson Software or the brokers on Wall Street, this is nothing more than contempt for the very people who built the boat which Debes is now sailing on. Greed is driving this boat, not social concerns. Ha!

He might as well have said he loves babies. Bringing us closer together indeed. Ask the out of work tech workers languishing in American suburbs. In America we do diversity just fine thank you. Corporations only use this as a wedge, not a real value.

It remains to be seen if the tech workers will finally build a real coalition to fight these liars. I hope we do. And, if we do, we'll see how interested the Debes of this world are in creating opportunity for all. At the moment their creation is destroying opportunity here at home.

Apr 29, 2010 5:56 PM yoyome yoyome  says: in response to Tunnel Rat

Tofu brain Mumbai Don interviewed the Canadian ... No wonder.. I suggest Mr. Tofu interview Bill Gate or his buddy Vineet Nayar (American graduates "unemployable"). Next he switches to race topic. Oh ! my Son is black la blah blah. He does not have to teach us about Racism. We all know all races are equal. We all in this blog are talking about fairness and equality not racism. We all try to prove companies and CEOs are bunch of liars about H-1B and Mr. Mumbai Tofu tried to steer us away from the problem. Many times I suggest him to skip the topic and he keeps talking about it to create more traffic for his blogs. He asked me for respect which he never deserved it. He should be known that when he step into the ring he would expect lot angry American are waiting him. Get a real life why don't you be a painter instead of writer or something else. I would suggest you to change your career to toilet fixer.

Apr 29, 2010 6:00 PM Tunnel Rat Tunnel Rat  says: in response to R. Lawson

The reason the Indians kick some American techies around so easily is because castrated collaborators like R. Lawson, who isn't even in real I.T., spend their time attacking their fellow countrymen for not being politically correct.  They are mocking you, R. Lawson, calling you a coward, and know that as long as there are buzzkills like you around, they can promote their campaign of ethnic cleansing. 

And some of us, unlike you, are in real I.T., not civil servants, and we don't sh*t where we eat, and thus must stay covert. 

Step aside, pops, and STFU.  Real techies with gonads are making things happen, not wimps like you.

Apr 29, 2010 6:23 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to yoyome

I did not ask you for respect. I asked you for nothing. Do not attribute statements or requests to me that I do not make. What I said was, "If you have a question for me, ask it in a civil, courteous manner."

Apr 29, 2010 6:36 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Don Tennant

I'm not sure why people have such a difficult time discussing this issue with a minimum level of respect. 

Use of language like "curry den" discredits us all.  Makes one wonder if that is the very reason such language is used.  Tough to tell since most of the people using that sort of language hide behind anonymous profiles.

Apr 30, 2010 8:12 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Tunnel Rat

IT doesn't get more real that what I am in, TR.  I'm not a civil servant - not sure who you have me confused with.  I'm a consultant and I'm always on some bleeding edge project.  I'm the canary in the coal mine.  I don't have some job that will probably be here in 10 years.  I've got to remain as current as they come.  I've got to compete for every hour that I bill.  And compete I do.

For the last 10 years, I have fought for our rights and organized people to oppose the ITAA's and Harris Millers of the world.  I've been anything but a pushover - attacked by people much more significant than yourself.  My strategy has been just that - a strategy.  I win the debate using facts and I persuade people to come to my side tactfully. 

You aren't doing anything for our cause by calling people names.  If anything, you are setting us back.  You seem to be clueless when it comes to both the media and to politics.  I can guarantee that your approach is not going to have any positive effects.  So for the sake of all of our careers - please stop it.

Maybe this is some sort of therepeutic exercise for you, but for the rest of us it is damaging the image of our profession.  Isn't there a pillow you can punch or a dog you can kick?   Sounds like you have some anger that needs to be directed in some other direction.  Seek help immediately.

Apr 30, 2010 8:32 AM FedUpWithDonTennant FedUpWithDonTennant  says:

Don -- once again you miss the point on the H-1B invasion.  We are not against the H-1B because we don't like the H-1B visa holders -- we hate the H-1B because it allows employers to treat H-1B visa holders like indentured servants.  Further, it minimizes the return we make on our very expensive educations -- which in many cases, the H-1Bs have purchased on the local street corner.

If employers really feel that workers should get paid less, and make less, then why aren't they putting their money where their mouth is, and ask the high-priced engineering and STEM colleges to lower their prices of education.  We all know that is not going to happen, so as long as American employers decide that it is cheaper to hire offshore labor and ship them here, rather than pay a wage that will allow a student to pay their loans, and maybe get married, and have a life, then students will choose other fields where the pay is better.

This guy complains about paying a new graduate $50K/year -- where does he think he can get anyone that cheap, when it costs well over that to live almost anywhere in this country?  Further -- he thinks that programmers are just dying to work on his crappy accounting and ERP system, when there are lot more exciting and lucrative jobs out there.

He needs to get a clue, and the H-1B program needs to be abolished to put an end to his nonsense.

Apr 30, 2010 10:36 AM EMM EMM  says: in response to Indian_H1B

Indian H1-B shows another thing that is wrong with the H1-B program: it brings in people who are not diverse and in many case cannot appreciate diversity (with exceptions of course.) The experience of a Hispanic, an African American, a woman, a gay person is generally totally different from that of a high caste Indian dude. Or a white middle class male. Tell me Indian H1-B, how many single women H1-Bs are there? How many are working mothers? How many are widows? In fact, how many of either gender are over age 30? A very minuscule amount.

It took a long time but companies finally learned to value diversity because of the perspective it provides and the markets it opens. Ask Ford what happened when they finally had a pregnant women engineer on the minivan design team.

Apr 30, 2010 2:07 PM prousa prousa  says:

Actually all people aren't the same.  Indians are VERY discriminatory.  Let's not forget the caste system.  On balance H-1B and immigration really are about flooding the labor markets and undercutting American wages.  How else do you explain that such a high percentage of H-1Bs come from low wage countries (forget Japan or Western Europe)?  We've really got to stop letting employers compete us against the entire world through easy immigration.

For evidence of abuse go to utube and watch the Cohen and Grigsby video where immigration lawyers tell how to AVOID hiring qualified Americans.  Talk about discrimination!

Apr 30, 2010 3:38 PM Tunnel Rat Tunnel Rat  says: in response to R. Lawson

R. Lawson, stop being a little prig and focus your energies on the real problem -- the high-tech junta and the Indian slave traders.  You are in the same camp as Don Tennant -- a group of pansies who don't have the intestinal fortitude to call this invasion what it is, a purge of Americans from our very own I.T. industry, in our very own country.

I don't have time for pissing contests with whiners like yourself, who always demand that they moderate the message, like that has got us anywhere.  You old farts that claim to be leaders of some techie movement have done us no favors with your hand slapping and whining.  

The time has come for Americans like myself, who fought for this country and believe in its principles, to take matters into our hands.  We will not be silenced by the likes of wimps like you or other folks who bring up their battle scars, as if 10 years of failure gives them some credence.

I know all about politics, thank you very much.  And I know all about history.  The time has passed for American techies to listen to cowards like yourself or Dan Tennant.  Nobody gave a damn with your demands for civility and cooperation with the enemy in the name of diversity.  Every American techie now needs to know that the only way to fight this upper-caste invasion is with resistance and militancy. 

Apr 30, 2010 4:17 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Tunnel Rat

"I know all about politics, thank you very much.  And I know all about history.  "

Then you should know that there are very few people in politics who will embrace your message.  And you should also know that history won't look fondly on the things you are saying. 

You will be to us what the anarchists were to the anti-WTO movement: an excuse to label the entire movement a fringe group.  You must know this so that leads me to one conclusion: you don't want us to be successful. 

I know people who claim to know you and they swear you aren't a plant - but I'm not convinced.  If I were the ITAA and I wanted to destroy the anti-H-1b and anti-offshoring movement I would create a persona just like yours.  You do what no amount of PR can do: delegitmize a cause. 

May 1, 2010 12:46 PM Blue Blue  says: in response to EMM

I agree.  The whole 'diversity' argument is a sham.  Having a work force that is 99% Indian male and under the age of 35 is not diversity.  But what did you expect?  Almost the entire H1b program is a scam.

May 3, 2010 12:23 PM US Citizen (with common sense) US Citizen (with common sense)  says: in response to Blue

? ?

Please give details of the Org(or country/location) having a work force that is 99% indian male and under the age of 35?

I think, H1B program has a min wage mentioned, law-enforcement needs to enforce such rules so that there is no cheap labour available in US which will hurt the citizens.

Let us discuss in a polite manner.

May 15, 2010 11:13 AM Harry Debes Harry Debes  says: in response to US Citizen (with common sense)

Just for the record:  of the 4000 people at Lawson Software - here is the breakdown

Americans - 1500

Swedes (in Sweden)  700

French (in France)  200

Germans (in Germany) 100

Brits (in Britain) 150

Australians (in Australia) 120

Chinese (in China) 80

Philippinos (in the Philippines) 800

Canadians (in Canada) 80

Other nationalities (in their country - about 300)

Indians/ Chinese / Philipinos in America under the H1B (less than 30)

Every once in a while, we bring a Swede or German to America to help with a project in which they have real expertise.  These are 2-6 month assignments and real knowledge transfer takes place. We also send Americans all over the world for their expertise and to gain knowledge about customers in other countries and to experience other cultures - because it makes them better at their job and because in a global company, you need to relate to different people. 

Aug 4, 2010 7:20 PM weaver weaver  says:

From 2004-09, IT employment grew by 602,000. New H-1B initial approvals in Computer related occupations was 315,249 or 52.4% of employment growth, similar temporary foreign worker categories likely raised the temporary foreign worker percentage to above 80% of employment growth. Over a similar period (2003-08), there was an abundance of new IT workers, as U.S. Citizen/Permanent Resident degree production exceeded demand at over 757,000 degrees conferred.

Feb 26, 2011 5:36 PM jacob smith jacob smith  says: in response to weaver

Debes is right. Most of the kid today have  a higher demand than ever. The market has flooded with foreign skilled workers simply because of the great deal they could offer. Someone must learn that nobody gets to the top immediately. There's no shortcut to success.


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