What Dell meant, and what its exit means

  • Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 08, 2014 09:18 IST

Seven rounds of tests and interviews over two anxietyfilled weeks — that’s how long it took for Dell to finally reject me for a job as a customer support executive. Add another two weeks of depression, and you’d know how I felt. Rejection is hell.

That was nine years ago. A call centre job still remains the beginning of the great escape for boys like me, who had come to Chandigarh — or the tricity, including Panchkula and Mohali — to escape the drab future presented by the hinterland. Better still, working in an ‘international’ call centre in the pre-Facebook era meant you knew your English fairly well, could use a fancy accent, and took home five times the salary you would get at a ‘domestic’ call centre. Your social status went up several notches, even as your sleep cycle turned upside down.

In that context, at a fancy Rs 20,000 a month plus free pick-and-drop, Dell’s US customer care centre in Mohali was the pinnacle of glory when it opened in 2005.

But it wasn’t to be mine. A moustached MBA-type in my final interview told me I was “too confused in life”. I had to go back to my 3,800 a month job at a mobile company’s customer care, where most calls were from men who used some unprintable Punjabi and repeatedly asked, “Oye, mera balance kithe gya?” We bore the insults quietly. There were college fees to be deposited, PG rent to be paid, beer to be bought. In my heart, I wished for Dell to close down.

Nine years on, the Mohali Dell centre is being closed. But life goes on, grudges turn into anecdotes, and I am far from celebrating now. Having since become what anyone who cannot become anything else eventually becomes — a journalist — I now see the Dell exit as a story that not only spotlights the Punjab government’s failures but also shows how dreams attached to a technology boom can come crashing down within a decade.

On the government front, things are quite clear from how Punjab Infotech — the state’s nodal agency for IT projects — has done nothing in the past seven years. The SAD-BJP regime, in particular, has failed to encourage industry despite its fancy promises and well-advertised campaigns such as the recent Progressive Punjab investors’ summit held quite close to the beautiful Dell building. Maybe now there will be an Orbit call centre in place of Dell, says one joke on social media. (Google the words ‘Badal+Orbit+Corruption’ to know what that means.)

For Dell, it is a brutal business decision taken as part of a global downsizing. But unlike firms that just fold up one fine day, Dell is offering decent severance pay. Its offer for transfer to Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Bangalore, however, is clearly a ploy to get people to resign. The Mohali centre, when it ends operations in November, will mean a cut of around 1,000 jobs. Worldwide, reports put the number at 15,000, though the company’s officials told some media channels that only 2% of the global workforce of more than 1 lakh would go. This is the nature of private business. The PC market is not what it used to be, and the company needs to look at its balance-sheet as it struggles to crack the new-age market.

For the tricity that represents aspirations of generations, the exit of Dell is symbolic of how important just one company remains even after a decade of its operations. Barring a couple of call centres in Chandigarh’s IT Park, there are hardly any new, decent, entry-level jobs for youngsters here. (Even one of the trophy firms in the IT Park is cutting jobs globally; the effect on Chandigarh is imminent).

Sadly, given the quality of the region’s engineering colleges, thousands of overqualified, undereducated young men and women still compete for the same jobs, where listening to Americans whining or Punjabis abusing is the primary task. As Dell or others exit for business reasons, we await the day when it will make business sense for more companies to set up shop here, and then stay put.

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