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If you are short of technical personnel, India is the place to be. The Van Boxsel engineering firm set up its own branch in India back in 2004 and is now reaping the benefits.
Companies that work on a project basis or operate in a highly cyclical market all have the same problem: they always have too many or too few good people to do the work. “Flexible employees do not have the same commitment as regular people,” says Willem van Boxsel, owner of engineering firm Van Boxsel from Oosterhout. “You prefer not to outsource, because you want to keep the knowledge in-house.
Looking for the perfect solution, in 2004 Van Boxsel took the decision to set up his own fortress in India. Through a Dutch architectural firm that already had a branch in Delhi, Van Boxsel quickly found personnel. “Within a few months we were operational and a year later the Indian department was running smoothly”. Meanwhile, the entrepreneur set up his own Indian private limited op, the equivalent of the Dutch BV. As soon as that arrangement was made, his Indian employees began joining Van Boxsel Engineering Pvt Ltd in Delhi.
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Indian Business Culture
To employ their Indian staff, Van Boxsel sends an employee to Delhi. This employee, Bob van Gils, initially went to the capital New Delhi for a year, but is still living and working there. “Van Gils is married to an Indian woman and it doesn’t look like he’s coming back to the Netherlands yet,” says Van Boxsel. It’s good for business too. “Thanks to his wife, we have more knowledge to understand Indian business culture better.
How does that work, with such a club of engineers on the other side of the world? “Designing remotely is not convenient,” says Van Boxsel. “In the design phase, you want to have all the parties around the table. But after that, working on drawings can be done out perfectly well in India. Calculations can also be done there. In total, 80% of our work is now done in the Netherlands and 20% in India.
Initially, Van Boxel’s Indian office only carries out drawing work for Dutch clients, but when the crisis hits, Van Boxel also begins to orient itself towards the Indian market. “At first we gave a try of competing with local engineering firms, but that did not work. We couldn’t distinguish ourselves in that market. In India, there’s a lot of construction going on, but builders have great difficulty delivering buildings on time. There are also many buildings that are not yet complete. Because we have a lot of experience with prefabricated concrete construction – with which you can plan more easily, manage costs better and need fewer people – we took decision to actively promote this building method in India” (below one of Van Boxsel’s projects in Bangalore).
That turns out to be a hit: suddenly the phone rings in the Indian office. “In the beginning, potential customers mainly ask us for free advice. You do that a few times, but when we realize that nothing came of it, we began selling feasibility studies to project developers. This led to follow-up questions and we have now erected several buildings in India. 50% of the total turnover of our Indian branch nowadays comes from India.
Van Boxsel took the step to India to solve his personnel shortage, but has now also tapped a new market in that country. “During the crisis, we no longer did work in India for Dutch clients, but for clients from the US, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Dutch work is now going to India again”.
Van Boxsel now employs twenty people in the Netherlands and twenty in India. And if demand grows, the company can easily scale up. “Our capacity is actually infinite,” says Van Boxsel. Two hundred Indian CVs are sent to us every month and without advertising! If we need people, we pick out the best 5 CVs from last month and talk to them”.
Van Boxsel strives to convey the Dutch corporate culture to India as much as possible. “We recently had celebrations for one of our colleagues has been employed for 12.5 years. This is quite unique for India. On the other hand, we also suffer from staff turnover. Indians like to keep all options open. What do we do to retain people? The most important thing is to radiate confidence: pay on time and treat everyone well. The other day, an employee had an accident in his first week. He was fearing for his job. But of course we don’t fire people like that. The whole team sees how we support such a person and treat them well. That creates trust.