Starting out in an industry that he had little in-depth knowledge about, Mahesh Shahdadpuri has managed to turn TASC Outsourcing into a highly successful enterprise in a very short timeframe.
With his initial capital of somewhere in the region of $150,000, Shahdadpuri has built TASC Outsourcing into a company that now has a turnover of close to $100m in just six years.
The workforce, from an initial handful of IT engineers, has reached 3,000 employees working across IT, retail, contact centres, financial services, administration support, as well as his latest addition, oil and gas.
The son of Paras Shahdadpuri, founder and chairman Nikai Group — the electronics and appliances giant with 400 products and tens of millions of consumers in about 60 countries — the easy option for Mahesh when choosing a career path would have been to follow his father into the family business.
Ambitious to succeed in his own right, after a graduating with a degree in engineering from India’s Manipal Institute of Technology, and a subsequent MBA in marketing and entrepreneurship from Boston University, he spent just over two years as business development manager with Digital Equipment Corporation (bought by Intel) before branching out on his own with his first venture.
He formed IT firm Ad Astrum Technologies in 1999, with support from his father, and set up offices in New York and Bangalore. He also established, at that time, some of the first Subway restaurants in Dubai.
The attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001, however, saw him lose clients and Ad Astrum Technologies was wound down.
Shahdadpuri returned to Dubai to work with his father in the Nikai Group until late 2007, when he decided to use his knowledge of the IT industry to start an outsourcing recruitment firm.
“I had to pay my bills and all I knew at that time was the software outsourcing business, and part of that is leasing software engineers, and you have to recruit them and lease them. That’s all I knew. I thought to myself — what do I know, and how can I scale it up?” he explains.
The lack of knowledge about the industry, he says, has been his strength.
While the first clients for TASC (Talent Asset Software & Consulting) Outsourcing were fairly significant, initial growth was affected yet again, by forces outside Shahdadpuri’s control.
“My first client was Emirates Airline. They let me through because I was an IT software company, although a very tiny one, in Dubai. We [also] won an order with ADNOC, beating some big companies for a small order.
“Emirates started with one or two IT engineers. When I started TASC, I think I was running about ten engineers there,” he says.
The initial capital he started with paid the wages of the workers, while making a small profit. The big break came in 2009, in the height of the recession, when he won a big contract to supply 300 people.
Having worked its way through the global financial recession, the company came out the other side with a business that saw TASC grow to 3,000 employees, all outsourced in companies around the UAE, and ranging in payscale from $1,000 (ex-bonus) to $30,000 per month.
Shahdadpuri explains the business model with two recent examples — a client who needs 15 project managers on a $19,000 per month salary and another client who needs 200 engineers to build towers in a timeframe of four weeks.
“My team in the first case (15 project managers) would go and talk to 150 senior people at salaries of $200,000 to $250,000 a year. Set up a whole programme management for the client, case studies, assessment and go and travel to do interviews. There would be long interview processes, very specialised,” he explains.
The second example, he says, involves a team of up to 30 carrying out intensive interviews to try and narrow down the selection process.
“In another project, my people would go and talk to 8,000 people in two weeks. The third week would see a big filter down to 500 people, who would be interviewed in three different countries by the client, who would select 300. We then give out offers to 200 people to start joining,” he says.
And when the people join TASC, Shahdadpuri says the commitment is there to pay the employees, even if the client doesn’t pay right away.
“Sometimes clients don’t pay for four months, and I can’t stop salaries. That itself is an investment I must have.
“We have a history of never delaying salaries ever. If a client doesn’t pay us for six or eight months, we cannot stop salaries. Sometimes clients take time to sign a contract. Generally, all contracts are long-term, multi-year contracts,” he says.
The billing can vary, depending on the sector. In IT, it’s a billing model, based on a daily rate, whereas other industries operate more on a salary and fee.
“By using us, clients can have a flexible workforce, and they can focus more on their transformational HR initiatives and not get so involved in transactional initiatives and admin headaches,” says Shahdadpuri. The client list is impressive: Emirates, Etihad, Etisalat, Samsung, Procter & Gamble and LG all use TASC’s services, and have all helped grow the company to what it is today.
“This market is a small market, it’s a limited market. It’s how you identify what your core strengths are,” says Shahdadpuri.
“Our strengths were to be able to recruit from over 20 countries, to get people quickly over here, to on board them very, very quickly, to do their visa, payroll, in a very high quality, fast time turnaround.
“Surprisingly, in our industry, it was fragmented. People were poorly treated. We have three floors here — one of which is an employee care floor, where a team of 35 people look after employees,” he adds.
The attention to detail and care for employees has, Shahdadpuri says, enabled TASC Outsourcing expand into a variety of sectors.
“We started creating different specialisations but at the core of it is ‘people’ — it’s how you treat them, how you recruit them, and how you run them,” he says.
Shahdadpuri says it has introduced a number of best practices that have been a cornerstone to the company’s success and its rapid growth.
“I think in the past perhaps people were not very well treated. Today there is greater awareness — I think we may have a small part to play in that. We brought in a lot of best practices, treatment of staff, and we don’t treat staff as product. When our rates need to be cut, we absorb it, we don’t cut their salaries.
“We scaled up very fast. We had to build skills in different industries as opposed to specialise, because it’s a small market. I’m a growth-hungry entrepreneur. We had to innovate every year in our business model — build confidence, expertise and innovate in our internal org structures to bring the right people in,” he adds.
And the ambition does not stop there. This, he says, is only the beginning and recently the company took its next step along its growth path with extra senior management coming on board.
“I have a plan in two years to double our turnover from where it is today. Yesterday we were interviewing a COO and recruited [a] CFO two days ago,” says Shahdadpuri.
Akin to when he started TASC Outsourcing, he’s looking for people from outside the recruitment industry to help push the next phase of the company’s expansion.
“I interviewed more than 30 or so senior professionals and I said I don’t want anybody from the industry. I think you will see TASC as a very different company three years from now.
“It’s just going to be something where we are effectively differentiate ourselves, by delivering more value to the client, maybe through technology.
“We need people looking at the sky and the stars slightly different because more of the same is not going to get us where we want to be,” he says.
Part of that expansion will involve oil and gas and energy, a new area for TASC Outsourcing.
“We are starting to build that; it’s a smaller division. It’s very different and specialised — riggers, drillers, reservoir engineers. If we see a growth in the next two years it will be in oil and gas for us,” he says. The next significant move, he says, will be to look elsewhere in the GCC, with Qatar firmly in his sights, as well as Saudi Arabia.
“Our international growth is going to happen now. In the last two or three years, I’ve started building management.
“Some of our clients are so happy they say that the day you’re in Qatar, we will give you business and that’s actually prompted us to go there,” he says.
Shahdadpuri says while planning for Expo 2020 is just that bit too far ahead at the moment, they do have initial plans in place.
“We’ve seen a lot of talk about it, but haven’t seen a big jump in recruitment, and I think that’s normal.
“I think right now there’s a lot of planning going on for the Expo and I think you’ll see a spurt in hiring in 2015 and 2016. We’re still on planning stage right now.
“We’re planning to scale up and looking at doubling our turnover in two years. I think the infrastructure we would create would serve the 2020,” says Shahdadpuri.
That’s more of the forward thinking that has transformed TASC Outsourcing into a multi-million dollar enterprise, and created what has been one of Dubai’s modern-day success stories.
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