If you look at Fractal Analytics’ website, you will see a video commercial of smiling young adults extolling it as “happening” and “vibrant” place to work.
This is by design. From its start in Mumbai in 2000, Fractal’s co-founders, former analysts at the big Indian bank ICICI, realized their growth depended on one thing: talent. A specialized mix of capabilities including mathematics knowledge, problem-solving prowess and communications skills to work with the consulting firm’s clients in a range of industries. That the company has been working on this for 12 years—since just before technology analyst Doug Laney first cited the big data trend and long before reports and surveys citing a talent gap means that Fractal has learned some important lessons as it has grown to approximately 450 people in India and four other countries including the U.S.
Executive Vice President of
Global Client Development
Pranay Agrawal, a Fractal Analytics co-founder who is executive vice president of global client development, says the lessons are straightforward: Stick to the top universities. Pick people who not only have talent but also share your values. Invest in their training—repeatedly. And recognize their success.
“Our philosophy, as a company, is that we’re growing a talent pool, number one, where our clients are, which is in the US, in Europe. But we are also growing our talent pool in India where, at this point of time, about 80 to 90 percent of our people are,” says Agrawal, who adds the company hopes to open a training center in the U.S. within a year.
In the past year, Fractal’s recruiting campaign showed the company is choosy. It hired only about 100 people this year, or 2 percent of the 6,000 applications it received. In the interview below, edited for clarity and brevity, Agrawal discussed his company’s approaches to recruiting and training.
Data Informed: What is the philosophy behind your recruiting process?
Pranay Agrawal: I think it’s now amply clear… that businesses have realized that they want to leverage data and analytics. One of the key ingredients of being able to successfully implement analytics programs is the talent.
Therefore, using a global talent pool is not a choice. We have to access talent today wherever the talent is available. Thankfully, we live in a time where, because of technology and communication, it is possible to do that very effectively.
Fractal Analytics’ University Relationships
Fractal Analytics has relationships with several Indian universities. Here are some of the academic institutions in India where Fractal searches for engineering, economics, statistics and management graduates.
- Indian Institutes of Technology.
- Indian Statistical Institute.
- Delhi School of Economics.
- Mumbai University.
- Chennai Math Institute.
- Indian Institute of Management.
- Bajaj Institute.
How do you overcome the competition for these top graduates?
Agrawal: We believe that the data and analytics evolution has just started. We are very well‑positioned to be one of the companies that will be recognized for changing the way business is done using data and analytics. This is an opportunity for these people to be part of this process, to be part of this entire revolution of data and analytics.
The second thing is that the work itself, we believe, is very compelling. It provides an opportunity to not just leverage your technical skills, but also really make an impact on your client’s bottom‑line, top‑line, and so on.
It’s not very often that you can get work which is interesting. Both from a technical standpoint, it’s intellectually challenging; at the same time, you’re able to see a very immediate impact on your client’s business, which is extremely satisfying.
Of course, there are hygiene factors that you should take care of. You have to offer competitive salaries. You have to offer a great work environment. That is something without which you don’t have a play. If you’re not competitive on the salary side, if the office culture or organization is not that great, then you don’t even have the right to play, and people are going to go elsewhere.
Because you’re drawing so many different types of degrees ‑‑ engineering, statistics, economics, management ‑‑ what is your training program like, where you can bring everyone up to speed to about the same place?
Agrawal: When people join us straight out of university, we have what we call an induction training program. Training and development, it’s a very, very big part of our organization. We believe it is integral to our success and a very strong part of our strategy. We have, within Fractal, Fractal Academy of Analytics, which is exclusively focused on training our people. There is a head for this academy, and that head reports straight to the head of human resources.
When people join the company, they go through various training programs. One is a training program on our values, our culture, our Fractal way of work, because we want the people to imbibe the Fractal culture, and the way we do things, so that there is a certain way which we have developed the organization. We want people to operate in that manner, so that we continue to build and develop that culture of excellence and openness within the organization.
On the technical side, our training program includes modules on areas such as tools, the various tools that are used for analysis, the data and modeling techniques, the statistical techniques, the machine learning techniques, and so on.
The third is the area of domain expertise. And then there is an additional area of soft skills, which is around communication, business etiquette, cultural sensitivity, how to make presentations, and things such as those.
If you think about the total skill set that is required to be effective in this business, number one is the area of techniques, the machine learning statistical analysis techniques. Number two are the tools. Three is domain expertise. You need to understand your client’s business because without that, you’d be applying data and statistics in vacuum.
Three is the ability to communicate this back to your client very effectively in a language that they understand, the entire soft skill of communication, of working with the team, of working with the client.
What are some of the challenges that Fractal sees with administering such a crucial training program for new employees?
Agrawal: Number one is that you need great training material and you need good trainers. You need people who can really train people. They may know the stuff, but do they have the right skill set to train the people?
We have & spent a lot of time and resources in creating the training materials. A lot of it is because we have been in the business for this long and … we have been doing so many different kinds of assignments & so that certainly helps.
It is important that the trainers keep getting feedback on the programs. Every training session that is conducted, it gets rated by all the people that attend it. The scores are public. The trainers get the score. Everyone gets to see the scores.
People have very specific and pointed feedback that they get back from the people that are attending the program, which tells them what went well, what did not go well, and how they can improve on that.
One challenge is that you have to balance the amount of time that people spend in getting trained, that people spend on training other people versus the demands of your clients.
We have made a very conscious choice that we have to invest for the long term. We have carved out that time out of people’s schedules to be part of this program of getting trained and training other people because, really, it’s all about the knowledge. Without the knowledge we will be obsolete very quickly. For us, it’s not a choice. We really have to do that and we make that investment.