Company Profile: Tholons is a leading full-service Strategic Advisory firm for Global Outsourcing and Investments. Their advisors pioneered the offshore advisory space more than a decade ago and continue to lead and evolve it. They offer the full range of service from developing globalization strategies, execution of outsourcing strategies and monitoring and tracking of outsourcing outcomes in order to meet client’s business objectives. Tholons brings together “Best-of-Breed” globalization advisory and private equity to help companies maximize their returns using an innovative risk-reward model. Tholons’ vision is to bring the missing ‘skin in the game’ / ‘equity participation’ to deliver significant ROI and equity leverage.
CEO Profile: Avinash holds an engineering degree from IIT Kanpur, an MS in Computer Science from University of Alberta and MBA from Arizona. He has over 20 years of experience in various aspects of business leadership, globalization, and equity management.
He has evaluated and conducted due diligence on over 200 supplier firms, including companies in India, Russia, China, Philippines, Malaysia, C&E Europe, US, Canada, UK, Ireland and Vietnam.
His opinions are often sought by worldwide organizations such as IDC, NASSCOM, CITEM, C-Level, Private Equity Conference, The Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, CII, SBPOA and IAOP. Leading media conglomerates such as Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Time, The Straits Times, The Business Times, USA TODAY, CNN, CNBC, Forbes, Business Week, Bangkok Post, NDTV, Times Group, Business Standard and Cyber Media have featured him extensively.
He has been recognized by HRO Today as ‘HRO Superstar’ for 2006 and 2007 in the category of thought leaders and advisors on outsourcing. He has also been recognized as ‘FAO Superstar’ for 2007.
CEO Under Scan: Mr. Avinash Vashistha, Chairman and CEO, Tholons Inc.
Telephonic Interview by: Dheeraj, Facilitator, The CEO Insights
Your Ist venture in 1999 (NeoIT) and then 2nd in 2006 (Tholons). Can you please brief us that how you started of with these two? The major hurdles you face. How you overcame all these.
I used to work with Nortel which was the first large company to give outsourcing work to large companies in India, Russia and Vietnam, even before GE did. In 1996, I was expatriated to India for Nortel and to execute a critical offshore outsourcing strategy. Within a couple years, as head of global outsourcing, Nortel’s outsourced operations grew from a headcount of 300 to over 2000 outsourced resources.
Importantly, the years I spent in India helped me earning the respect of the Asian and Indian IT and BPO communities and build relationships ranging from CEO’s of India’s top 10 companies, to mid-level project managers.
Then rather than going back to US and doing the same Technology Development for Nortel, I thought it would be exciting to start with NeoIT. This will change the way the service is being delivered globally. I thought; let me help other clients other than Nortel. So this became the mission and Mandate foe NeoIT which was started in 1999.
Then in 2000 my brother who was International marketing Vice President in a fortune 20 company in the US decided to bring the process of Service Procurement to Internet. Everyone wanted to do an “E” something at that point. We raised capital as a technology company and we actually did very well. We won against even PeopleSoft and other companies in terms of Service automation Software, we won P&G and we won another accolade on that product.
Then technology burst happened and it became difficult to go on with the technology firm at that point as it does not matter how well it was performing because it needed some double digit million in terms of funding. So we just kept on doing advisory at that time and we became the premier advisory firm in offshore advisory. We have been rated by Wall Street as a No. 1 Corporate Advisory firm in outsourcing.
However, I used to think that the company needed to change and it needed to work on supply side also. The demand side of our company is like Pepsi, Coke, GM but the supply side is like Infosys, Wipro, Accenture, IBM, so we did not address the supply side.
And at that point in 2006, we basically set out to do that, so quite a few team members along with me of NeoIT formed Tholons. For the last 2 years we have been doing essentially the buyer side, the supplier side plus the investor side. We also go to different countries and work with clients, find out how they can scale their work in that country. Right now we have 2 different firms that is Tholons Consulting and the other one is Tholons Capital
Do you agree that to start any business some sort of risk ability should be there in a person? As you were working and then you started with one company and then another? So how would you define yourself, a risk taker or a risk averse?
Well you can’t really do business being a risk averse person, as a person you may be risk averse, but under some circumstances your partner also enables you to take risk. This makes you a risk taker eventually. It does not matter what your basic personality trait is, you have to be a risk taker to be an entrepreneur and to do business.
You are an engineer from IIT-Kanpur/Kharagpur and an MBA from Arizona. How does it help?
Well I graduated from IIT, Kanpur and out of the 5 year degree; I spent one and a half in Kharagpur and 3 and a half in Kanpur. So I must be one of the 2-3 people in the entire history in IIT who have completed their degree in 2 places.
Obviously, IIT has always been a great place. You just get a natural training because it’s too competitive. It has very bright people which help building a lot of confidence. This much confidence helps you end up having 5/7/10 scholarship and so many Job options that the campus allows you to take. It also makes you feel that you are something who is not ordinary and this confidence stays with you throughout your life. This significantly contributes to your success.
I think that basically it tells you that you have the ability to compete and perform and also gives you strength in terms of taking risks.
You have been associated with clients situated both on the left and on the right part of the map. So how do you comment on their leadership skills?
It is true in general that a country has certain traits and you can obviously find people in any given country which are still better than what the average trait is there in that country. If you look at the leadership in US, I would define it as very direct and passive. They are very business oriented and contrast to that would be Philippines where the leadership is very consensus based, very non confrontational and not only just business oriented.
India, I guess would be slightly in between Philippines and UK, where the leadership is conscious of the personal side and it is still focused on the business. UK, I would say that definitely not as aggressive as US.
So to sum up as you go from Philippines towards the US, the trait you see is increase slightly in India will continue to increase much more in the UK and increase even further in the US. In a way India is certainly in between UK and Philippines.
You have been recognized by HRO Today as ‘HRO Superstar’ for 2006 and 2007. So please comment that.
EXULT is the first company that created HRO (HR Outsourcing) and I happened to be involved with it. We worked extensively on the customer in terms of shaping and implementing their strategy that actually led to multiple projects. In the same context this recognition has been awarded.
Please tell us about “The Offshore nation” which is written by you?
“The Offshore Nation” was a practical guide on services globalization especially off-shoring, coming out of our years of experience and pioneering work as sourcing advisors to Fortune 1000 clients in NeoIT. Personally, it was an attempt to share my knowledge and experiences gained over the years on outsourcing/off-shoring industry and give back some learning back to the society.
Please tell us about your organizational structure?
We have a global team with company headquarters in USA. Main delivery office is in Bangalore. We also have offices in Philippines and UK. In terms of organizational structure we are very similar to any big consulting house. People here start as an analyst and move up the ladder as a consultant, principal, partner and finally managing partner.
What are the services being offered by your company? How are they different from your competitors?
We offer the full range of service from developing globalization strategies, execution of outsourcing strategies and monitoring and tracking of outsourcing outcomes in order to meet client’s business objectives.
a. Business Advisory Services
b. Government and Trade Bodies
c. Custom Research Services
Who are your major competitors?
For us, different service segments have different competitors. In the Business advisory services, we compete with likes of TPI, Equaterra and Everest, etc. In Government and Trade Bodies services, we compete with global consulting giants like McKinsey, Booz, Bain etc.
What kind of background and domain expertise you look for in your employees?
Difficult question!! Definitely, the first thing is that a person need to have is a basic trait of a consultant. We do hire some fresh graduates. However, we don’t expect that graduate to have traits of a consultant, so for fresh ones we are looking for the very good analytical skills. Hence they should be exceptionally good with numbers. They absolutely have to be Team Player and even for fresh guys we have to see a passion for working hard.
Moreover for experienced employees, till we know why they want to join us, we will not hire them. We look for the people who have the right experience or education from known companies or from a good college/institute. This is good because initially we expect the people who come from good institute would be bright and equipped with high aptitude and analytic skills. It is also expected that people who come from very good companies would have gone through a rigorous selection process before they entered those companies. So there is already a natural selection happening and that forms a good base to select from.
In a nut shell, we take those who have analytical skills, who are team workers and if they have experience then it has to be pretty much consulting experience, because if someone has worked in traditional Indian sector for 4-5 years is probably already wired wrong for us.
How do you see this present economic downturn? Is it affecting your business?
It has definitely impacted our business. We have quite a few clients that are now extremely serious about reducing their costs. In may be good for us also as Business in general is under a huge pressure and not every business is going to successfully handle that pressure.
So the meltdown is going to impact the business negatively. I think outsourcing in the mid to long term will benefit significantly. However, people who are in the outsourcing will benefit in both IT and BPO sectors. Consultants who are in this field of outsourcing/off-shoring/turnaround strategies would be benefited.
What are your future plans? How do you see your company evolving in the next five years?
Supply side, buyer side, government side, M&A, Private Equity, so those are different business we would be associated in. Definitely in 1-2 business we would aim to be No. 1 in terms of quality and size (market share).
So when you say private Equity, there are many Private Equity firms but we would focus on service globalization field. M&A is not something we plan to be top essentially.
If you look at the supplier side, consulting with clients in terms of leveraging services globalization for their growth. Then it would be again in the area that we probably are going to top and built in as a significant business.
Who is your role model whose leadership trait you follow?
I think that there is too much learning from lot of people, but I don’t really have a role model as such. I like different attributes in different people. I am a very deep oriented leader in that sense.
So I don’t like the GM model’s example. so the GM’s CEO would not be my model that is really about very large business, focus is more towards high cost cutting and they have more process orientation. I would not plan to run a business like that so that would not be my role model.
I guess you won’t find stars in the consulting companies. There are very few CEO’s who are consultants and running the company.
John chambers led an industry very effectively, the Industry I was born in terms of work. His focus was more towards business on long term profitability. I like that one.
I guess on the innovation side Apple’s Steve Jobs has done a great job. In terms of really knowing what the customers would want because in our field we pride ourselves in understanding and putting ourselves in customer shoes but definitely hats off to him in terms of the innovativeness beyond imagination, So he is a role model in that respect
Do you think we have started to live with terror? Would you like to make any comments on the Mumbai Episode
Very unfortunate, it just highlights the fact that India as a country, India as an administration, India as citizens, really are not risk averse. Risk does not mean much to them and they are very complacent, and that’s my issue with the Indian public, Indian mentality perspective, Indian administration and the country. I hope that the public at large and the international community will not forget this incident and they do take certain steps that it is not repeated; and also if there is an instance like this again, it is managed much more effectively.
Click on the link below to see Mr. Avinash speaking on the Mumbai Blasts and the loss of business due to this barbaric incident