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Most people might not be aware of TomTom as we use more of our smartphones for navigation, but it is still one of the largest map builders in the world. Apple and Uber are two of its customers.” TomTom’s map technology is developed by our 800 Indian developers in Pune, almost a quarter of our global workforce,” explains General Manager of India, Werner van Huyssteen. “It is also one of our most important systems.”
Almost seven years after TomTom was founded, in 1991, the company entered the Indian market via a joint venture with TeleAtlas India. TomTom’s earliest digital maps were developed by a Dutch company that specializes in geographic databases. “At that time, not only did we want to tap into the country’s immense talent pool, but we also needed to go to India to develop a world map,” van Huyssteen explains.
“You can’t make a digital map of India outside of India, and that map has to be stored on an Indian cloud, “So, it was an easy decision to go to Pune and start working with TeleAtlas.”
In 2011, TomTom increased its stake in the joint venture to 100% and TomTom India was officially established. “Initially, the move to Pune was mainly a practical one, because employees in India were cheaper and Indian regulations forced us here. But the office in Pune is now TomTom’s largest and most important development centre worldwide, partly because this country is a breeding ground for talent”. According to van Huyssteen, because of that India is not only an important location for TomTom. “All major map developers are located in India for this reason, including Google and Garmin. This is where you find the development talent that makes you a world class product.”
Despite the fierce competition of the other big tech giants, TomTom has no shortage of applications for their job openings. “That’s because of a mix of things,” the GM explains. “We produce very interesting and different products, so we offer creative and challenging jobs. In addition, our corporate culture is based on the European model. No Indian hierarchy, as few managers as possible and open communication through all levels. We did have to do a few tricks to get the open communication rolling.
For example, we noticed that hardly any questions were asked during meetings at which we were present as managers. Because of that, we have introduced a new kind of virtual meeting where we, as management, answer questions that are submitted by our employees of any topic. There are often so many that we can’t answer them all in one sitting and we send out a special mailing with all the answers afterwards. This way we make it clear to our teams that everything can be discussed in our office”.
This open culture is also one of the reasons why TomTom has been able to keep turnover within the Indian branch low in recent years. “But our openness is obviously not enough. The young generation in India is very ambitious and would like to work abroad. To prevent them from leaving for, we offer the opportunity to gain experience in one of our European or American offices. This way they learn important skills for us as a company and we can keep them on board. Furthermore, according to van Huyssteen, the position has proven to be a huge benefit.
In terms of pay, we provide competitive pay for Indian norms, which is sometimes lower than that of other companies. We do not, however, lose our abilities as a result of this. They are very willing to come to Pune. With our location we offer them a pleasant place to live with lots of greenery, clean air and no endless morning rush hour”.
“But our most important advice for finding and keeping good staff is referrals. We see more and more applications from friends and acquaintances of our employees coming in”, says van Huyssteen. “Through their contacts they are already familiar with our values and corporate culture and are attracted to this. So, it’s a sincere choice for our company, for our way of working and not only for the experience at a multinational. We see an interesting growth in the number of applicants that organically find us and apply, without a recommendation from someone they know. That says something about our reputation as an employer, because we don’t have a real consumer presence in India”.
The products TomTom manufactures in India do not enter the Indian market. “In recent years, India has made a big jump, skipping many steps and landing directly in the smartphone era. That is why we do not produce things exclusively for India, nor do we make products for other countries. Our most important product is our global map, which is for the whole world”. Through its partnerships TomTom does contribute to special products for the Indian market, such as the MG Hector. The first connected car that MG Motors designed specifically for the Indian and South-East Asian market. “In this case, MG has bought our global map but enriched with local data of the region they are selling the car in.
But TomTom does more than just making maps. “We provide a lot of different services such as location services, traffic insight through our traffic index and technology for self-propelled cars”, van Huyssteen gives as examples. “Besides our partnerships with other companies, we also collaborate with local governments, like our partnership with the city of Pune. We have a traffic centre there where we translate all our traffic data into useful insights that can help city planners and residents make smarter choices and reduce the number of traffic jams in the city. For example, many Indian commuters see our traffic information on large screens along the roads so they can plan their route accordingly.”
Van Huyssteen expects these smart traffic developments to continue under India’s smart cities plan. “You can see a lot of interest in India for sustainable alternatives like electric vehicles and ride-sharing.” Through the smart city initiative these solutions can be implemented more easily and that will change India a lot. There are very interesting opportunities in India at the moment for companies like TomTom that offer such solutions. That’s a big change from a few years ago.”
One of the most fascinating personal lessons van Huyssteen took from his first year in India was the Indian mentality of being able to make substantial changes in a short amount of time. “I learned from Indians how to deal with crisis situations. This country and these people are so resilient. You not only see that now during the corona crisis, but for example also nine months ago when we had heavy floods in Pune. The adaptability with which this was handled, as well as the inventive solutions that were devised, were remarkable. People here aren’t afraid to dream big. India has the capacity to grow into a powerhouse.”