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Cisco Builds a Local Workforce in Emerging Markets


Its Bangalore campus, the brainchild of globalization chief Wim Elfrink, trains scores of young techies from around the globe

Like many companies, Cisco Systems (CSCO) has focused on emerging markets to sell its products, which range from Web plumbing to videoconferencing systems. But San Jose-based Cisco doesn't simply set up sales offices staffed with expatriates. Instead, it has adopted a hyper-local approach to recruiting the people it needs to ensure its wares and services are tuned to specific markets. The man in charge of the effort is Cisco's globalization chief, Wim Elfrink, whose idea it was to set up a second headquarters in Bangalore in 2007. "It wasn't just about being in India," says Elfrink, who now lives in Bangalore with his family. "It was about being outside of California, so we could look at Cisco outside-in."

With hundreds of engineers from emerging markets to choose from in Bangalore, Elfrink deploys teams to build networks for governments and companies from Russia to Chile. The teams then return to Bangalore to turn these custom jobs into solutions that can be sold around the globe. Elfrink also has launched what Cisco calls its Global Talent Acceleration Program in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and elsewhere. Cisco likes candidates who have worked on at least two continents and speak two languages. Engineering grads and young managers train for six months or so to learn selling and basic finance. Cisco then provides follow-up mentoring by hooking up trainees with Cisco veterans. "We want to prepare the next generation of leaders," Elfrink says.

Besides spotting up-and-coming managers, Elfrink says, it's crucial to develop a high-tech workforce in these regions to help Cisco maximize sales there. To that end, Elfrink has added thousands of Cisco training centers in emerging markets and has championed Silatech, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs among Middle Eastern youth. There's even a program to encourage employees to invest $100 in micro-startups in rural India. Says Elfrink: "One of these kids is going to be the next Bill Gates."

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Burrows is a senior writer for BusinessWeek, based in Silicon Valley.

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