Awards Category: Corporate Employee (Private/Public Sector)
Head of Globalisation Services, SAP
V.R. Ferose graduated from the National Institute of Technology (Warangal) in 1997 with a B. Tech. Degree in Computer Science and Engineering. He was hired as a developer at SAP AG in 1999, and within four years was made Development Manager before he was hand-picked to become the Executive Assistant to board member Gerhard Oswald in 2005. At just 33 years of age, he was then made the Managing Director of SAP Labs Gurgaon – the youngest ever to hold such a position in a global multinational in India, and the first non-expat to hold the role. Probably more significantly, this was just 11 years after he was told he was entirely unsuited for the IT industry. While his professional achievements are impressive, it is his efforts in developing ground-breaking new inclusion policies across SAP that are of particular merit, built on his passionate activism on behalf of people with autism.
Creating a Better Future
In 2010, after a string of management successes, Ferose was handpicked for yet another challenge; turning around the struggling SAP R&B labs in Gurgaon. With productivity at rock bottom, sky-rocketing staff turnover rates, and plummeting profits, it was up to Ferose to get things fixed.
Ferose began by instituting changes to engage younger employees and overturn the company’s hierarchal structure and culture. He encouraged staff to experiment with novel ideas and innovations within their work time, and asked employees to come up with solutions to problems that were frustrating staff, including childcare facilities and bureaucratic financial practices. He also instituted AppHaus, an open space within the campus which allowed staff to work together collaboratively on new projects. Within the first 18 months of his appointment as Managing Director of the R&D Labs, he halved the employee attrition rate and ranked #1 in employee satisfaction across all of SAP, and #4 across all the companies in India. At age 36, he had a staff of 5,000.
Then came his biggest challenge yet, one directly resulting from the birth of his son, who was on the autism spectrum. Determined to see how far he could push the envelope when it came to opportunities for people with autism, he flew out to Denmark, where he had found a small group that employed autistic children, learned from them, and joined their board. He then proceeded to do something no Fortune 500 company had ever done; hire four employees who were on the autism spectrum. Research showed that these four engineers proved to be 20% better at testing work than regular recruits.
With the president of SAP throwing support behind his ‘experiment’, and a very timely Forbes article by Ferose entitled “Everybody is Good at Something” that captured countless hearts and minds, it was inevitable that more than 20 organisations would start hiring autistic employees. SAP, too, made a major commitment; 1% of its hires would be individuals on the autism spectrum. Even UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, is now pushing the world’s leading business leaders to do the same.
Ferose has also piloted a first-of-its-kind Inclusion Summit in Bangalore, the theme of which was the title of his Forbes article. The event was attended by over a thousand people.
At the height of his success, Ferose and his wife welcomed their first child, who was diagnosed with autism. Though initially devastated, Ferose began researching the condition and discovered that autism affects one in 68 births. Inspired by the work of Steve Jobs, he created Project Prayas, a computer and iPad training programme for individuals on the autism spectrum. He also hired four individuals with autism to work at SAP, after recognising the unique abilities people with autism could bring to the workplace. Ferose credits the support of his mentor, Kiran Bedi, who told him that in the disability of his child, he had found his purpose in life.
As Managing Director of SAP’s India R&D Labs, Ferose transformed a loss-making company with low productivity, high attrition rates and poor morale into one ranked #1 in employee satisfaction across all of SAP, and #4 across all companies in India. His activism has also led to SAP committing to 1% of hires being from individuals on the autism spectrum – the first of any Fortune 500 companies to do so. His innovation in terms of diversity and inclusion continue to create opportunities for differently-abled people around the world today.