Guatemala brought me the adventure and excitement I was looking for in my career and life. I joined Genpact in 2003, was handling 800-1,000-people team, mostly based out of Hyderabad. So last year, when the opportunity in Guatemala opened up I was excited. It was like setting up a new business from scratch in a country that I didn’t know anything about. It sounded like a great adventure. The only hitch — if my wife would buy in without compromising too much. Thankfully, things fell in place.
Quality of life here is beyond my expectations. Roads are good, power is uninterrupted and houses — typically bungalow style — are good and easily available. I work between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. My office commute is 15 minutes and even during peak hours, traffic is not bad. Weather is brilliant. This is called [the] Land of Eternal Spring. Normally, you don’t require an AC.
Tourism is big here. In two-three-hour-drive from the city, you can be at the black sand beach on the Pacific Coast or you could be sunbathing at the white sand beach on the Atlantic side. There are lot of volcanoes here. You also have the option to go trekking and camping. There’s history too at the Mayan ruins. A tourist can get a flavour [of] virtually everything here and [it’s] doable over the weekend in three-to-four-hour drive.
People are friendly — inclusive and welcoming. Spanish is the national language but many also speak English. When I landed here, communication was a problem. I found it difficult to understand English with heavy Spanish twang and my colleagues found it difficult to understand my English as Indians tend to speak fast. I am now picking up Spanish.
For some Indians, this could be a difficult place [as] there are no Indian restaurants and very few Indians. But for me, I always wanted to explore and meet different cultures and people. So, my social circle is big with lot of expats, [from] UK, Denmark, etc., [people] from all over. I am not a fussy eater and this being a tropical belt, spices, fruits and vegetables are available in plenty. There are plenty of international restaurant chains. Italian, Chinese, Mediterranean cuisine is easily available too.
For the last two decades, there is a stable democracy here. That makes a big difference. Law and order is fairly okay. There are petty crimes. You can get mugged if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. But overall, it’s okay.
I lead a team of 500 here. We have grown rapidly from 100 people last December to 1,000 likely by the year end. Over 95 percent of the staff here are locals. Since we are creating employment, the government has been very supportive. Indians now don’t need visa. We worked with the government to push for this change early this year.
Guatemala is largely an agrarian or services-led economy. BPO is an emerging industry here that began its journey barely two-three years ago. Companies like 24/7, Transactel are present here. At a very rough count, there would be around 12,000-15,000 people working in this sector.
There are many things that make Guatemala attractive for the BPO industry. Bilingual people who can speak both English and Spanish is a big plus. Its physical and cultural proximity to the US works very well. Being in the same time zone, it’s easy for our US clients to do a one-day trip to the facility. It also helps that the senior management here is available during their working hours.
So far, it’s been great. Guatemala city has a 2.5 million population but in terms of people, we haven’t faced a supply problem. In quality, at the entry level if I compare Indians and Guatemalans, it’s almost the same. Because we can offer the youngsters a good career we do not have a supply problem. At senior levels, we are hiring from other companies and sending them to other geographies to understand the business before deploying them here. At the mid-level, we are building the pipeline by training them. Talking about talent crunch, I don’t see it in the foreseeable future. But may be it will show up, if the industry continues to scale up rapidly [in] the next four-five years.
Talent is not readymade and requires effort. The professional work culture is still setting in. Latino culture prevails with people preferring to lead a laid back life. Locals are less competitive, especially compared to the Indians, but that probably is a good thing, leading to a stress-free work style! They are not assertive or aggressive, in case of disagreement. The society is not very patriarchal, more like the Philippines. Out of our 500 staff, around 300 are women.
Nitin Bhat is vice president, Genpact Guatemala (As told to Malini Goyal)
(This story appears in the 28 August, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)