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A Good Heart Makes Good Business Sense

India is two countries. One is a country populated by highly educated people creating and using the technology that makes life in the developed world what it is. The other is rural India, where most of the population lives. This is a world in which the ox and cart is considered “Hi-tech.”

Arun Jain, CEO of Polaris Software Lab Limited, believes that these contrasting worlds can be united. The CEO of a company that was the worlds first company to be given a Level 5 by the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute is one of 12 children of a village schoolteacher.

His intimate knowledge of these contrasting worlds has inspired him to try and bring them together. And he intends to use IT to bridge the gap between the two worlds. This can be seen in the way in which Polaris seamlessly blends in its focus on its business mission with a social conscience.

As the son of a schoolteacher he is aware of the value of education and understands that his business depends on the power of the human mind. Polaris under Arun Jain’s leadership has played a role in increasing educational opportunities for India’s poor. Polaris donates one percent of its annual profits into the “Ullas Trust.” (Sanskrit for Hope.) And in addition to that the 4000 plus employees make a point to donate money to the trust. To date more than 3000 students in Polaris’s home state of Chenai received an education.

As well as contributing to charity to help create opportunities, Jain is a hands-on man. He makes a point of returning to his home village a fortnight every year to work on ways to use IT to improve the lives of the villager. He personally writes the code for the IT that has helped improve the lives of the villagers.

This generosity has not dented Polaris’s financial records. It is as if this charitable contribution has been like an investment. In spite of the recent down turn in the IT industry, Polaris remains debt free with a cash reserve of US$20 million. And in the quarter ending December 31, 2003, Polaris posted a 34% growth in revenue and a 30% growth in profits, while most IT companies lost money.

Much of Polaris’s continued success can be related to Arun Jain himself. He attributes success to aspects of his up brining. For one, his determination to follow a dream has been unshakeable. He turned down the much-desired “ US Green Card,” in 1986 when he worked at Wang Computers in the USA so that he could go back to India to build a global software powerhouse.

And he’s also placed a great emphasis on relationships to achieve this dream. His claim to be “A global company with an Indian view rather than an Indian company with a global view” can be seen through Polaris’s source of revenue. At the heart of the business is an 18-year old relationship with Citibank. Polaris has provided a range of solutions for the global financial service giant throughout the world and most of its revenue comes from outside India.

Under Arun Jain, Polaris has grown from a 10,000-rupee start up where code had to be written by hand, to a listed company that Forbes Magazine rated as one of the best small companies (Sales under US$ 1 billion) for 2 years in a row. Much of this success has been ridding on the boom in outsourcing.

However Arun Jain has plans to move beyond that. In late May 2004, Polaris will launch a new product that it developed from its own intellectual resources. Can he bring Polaris and India’s software industry to the next level? – Given his determination, vision and value of relationships, as well as the source of brainpower he’s developed through the Ullas trust, it would be a long shot to bet against him.

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