Gurujot Singh Khalsa :Sultan of Outsourcing and Off-shoring

Khuswant Singh

Gurujot Singh Khalsa :Sultan of Outsourcing and Off-shoring

This interview with Gurujot S Khalsa is from 2005 when I was working on my book, Sikhs Unlimited. This interview holds significant historical importance in the context of Offshoring and Outsourcing, and it should be shared on The Global Sikh Trail, despite many changes that might have occurred since then.


Sterling, Virginia , USA (17 September 2005) 

If I could outsource it, I would. Imagine waking at 2.30 a.m., to catch a flight at 5.30 a.m. from Chicago with a change-over at Atlanta and New Jersey to reach Washington DC’s Dulles airport at 3.30 p.m. And, of course, the airline had left my luggage behind. Continuous travel, hopping in and out from hotels, houses and airports for almost two months had starting fatiguing me, and the luggage episode was the last thing I needed. ‘Sat Sri Akal,’ I said as I immediately recognised the white American Sikh, though he looked more like our Bhaijis in the gurudwaras. A paunch and a white kurta pyjama, a similar coloured turban and a flowing beard. Khushwant Singh, he said. I heaved a sigh of relief at the baggage claim area as I had been running from pillar to post trying to trace my luggage. ‘I’m Sri Daya Singh, brother of Gurujot Singh and he is waiting for us outside in the car, probably doing laps as you cannot park the car.’ ‘Ah ok,’ I replied and hurriedly scribbled my contact details for the United Lost Baggage Claim agent. 

Gurujot Singh was not to be part of the book, until I reached America and was told that I would be naive not to include one of the pioneers of off-shoring and outsourcing to developing countries, especially India. Driven by the late Harbhajan Singh Yogi’s desire in 1989 to create employment opportunities in India, Gurujot Singh had humbly obeyed his master’s orders. Harbhajan Singh Yogi had instructed his disciples to transfer American technology into India but Gurujot Singh went a step further. 

Based on the philosophy that there is $200 billion being spent on jobs performed in the US that could be off-shored to less developed countries at one half of the current cost, he set about creating call centres, technical help-desks, telesales, customer service and other services that could be provided over the telephone, internet, mail or facsimile for American corporates in less privileged countries. 

Gurujot’s HealthScribe Inc, a medical transcription firm set up in Bangalore in 1993 and now valued at over $1 billion, had set off a chain reaction that was to have a far-reaching impact on Indian socio-economic life. The back office business processing project that was meant to be based on a model to boost social engineering to create wealth and employment in developing countries rather than to only make money, kicked off a new lease of economic freedom amongst youth, especially young women who, because of their economic dependence on a male dominated society, were at times subjected to physical and mental torture. 

And what Punjab missed, but Bangalore gained and Pakistan’s Punjab and South Africa are gaining, is a story that would be unravelled after I reached Gurujot Singh’s office at Sterling, Virginia. 

‘Welcome,’ said Gurujot Singh as I got into his car, unhappy with the events of the day. Gurujot Singh, an army boy, wore an aqua shirt and white trousers, had a paunch—though not to compare with his brother—and very bright eyes, probably hawkish enough that made him see the opportunity that lay in India. ‘We are putting you up in the Marriot Suites,’ said Gurujot Singh. 

Interestingly, by now the trend of interviews had changed, as I moved from one entrepreneur to the other. Unlike before, where I was staying with families, starting from Cleveland onwards, I was being checked into luxury hotels by my hosts and the interaction was more over meals or in offices rather than the usual at-home chit-chat that I had become used to. 

‘Worldbridge International’ read the signboard on the door that Gurujot Singh opened with a click of a key, guiding me to his office. As it was a weekend, the office had zero attendance, except the three of us. ‘So what are you looking for?’ he asked. ‘I am at the door of a man who I believe triggered what the world calls BPO activity. I have simply come to have a 

peep into your life and your work,’ I replied, and like any other corporate meeting, we got right down to business. The digital recorder was switched on, and Gurujot Singh began. 


Offshoring In Exchange of Yoga 

‘It was Yogiji who set the idea rolling when he said that he had got the Indian technology of yoga to America and it was time to transfer American technology to India and asked us to go to India.’ ‘You mean it’s so simple—off-shoring in exchange of yoga? This aspect has not been revealed to the public, surprisingly,’ I added. ‘Yes it is, technology for technology,’ he replied emphatically. ‘Yoga is nothing but a technology, a science of living that was introduced in the USA by various yogis, including Parmahansa Yoganada in the early twentieth century.’ 

A veteran traveller to India to spread Harbhajan Yogi’s yoga, Gurujot Singh showed up in India for the first time for the purpose of technology transfer only in 1990. ‘Thinking about it, the first seeds of offshoring were sown when we started to digitalise manuscripts under back office processing in New Delhi and Chandigarh for an American publishing company Simon and Schuster,’ he claimed. 

Sikh Dharma under its company Kriya Systems in 1980 had launched an educational software called Typing Tutor which went on to become one of the highest selling software of the world (1983–1991) with over twenty million users. In 1990, Kriya Systems, using the Typing Tutor, trained young Englishspeaking, semi-literate Indians in typing and off-shored data entry work to them from the USA. 

In publishing, three persons would work on one book and separate software would detect an error if one of the typists typed a different spelling for the same word. Before this, the entire ‘legacy inventory’ was converted into digital files with the help of a character recognition process called Optical Character Recognition, which was only eighty percent accurate. OCR included feeding paper to the scanner that in turn tried to read the character. The proof-reader had to still go through it and correct it by reading each and every word. With the new method, the software would indicate any mistake, and highlight it, thus making it simpler for the proof-reader to correct it. Through this technique, 99.9 percent accuracy was achieved and all at a cost of 100$ per person per month. 

A good wage for a simple graduate in 1990. ‘Off-shoring was the cheapest way to digitalise books,’ said Gurujot laughingly. 

‘You see, software development was already taking place in India in the late eighties whereas we were only looking at doing business processing,’ said Gurujot Khalsa. But then it did not come without its glitches. India did not have an earth station at that time so no real time data transfer could happen. First the books were shipped to India; data was transferred and then shipped back. 

Gurujot in the meantime also began a dialogue with the Indian government, highlighting that there were a couple of 100,000 jobs in the offing if the government brought in new laws and created infrastructure to enable real-time transfer. Now there are two million jobs, he said. And the man who saw the opportunity in the Indian cabinet was none other than the present Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, then the finance minister, whose policies gave a new lease of life to a beleaguered Indian economy (1991–1996). 

Manmohan Singh had immediately seen the potential and got infrastructure moving. ‘It is largely due to his efforts that India is where it is,’ commented Gurujot Singh. 

‘We were almost at the same level socially as top political leaders including the former President of India Giani Zail Singh and former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Yogiji used to regularly dine with them, so having access to the top leaders was not a problem,’ informed Gurujot. 

‘If Harbhajan Yogi had such proximity to senior politicians, then why didn’t Chandigarh and Punjab become the hub of BPO activity?’ I asked, interrupting the monologue. A shocking revelation followed. 

Khushwant Singh