- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

HYDERABAD, India — Priscilla Nelson remembers the moment she stepped off the plane on her way to a new job and a new life.

“The airport was quite a shock,” recalls Mrs. Nelson, whose family was relocating to India from Reston. “We were used to high-tech — the Hyderabad airport is small and the conveyor belts for luggage are old. While we had anticipated seeing poverty during our stay, I don’t believe we were prepared for the shock of seeing so much of it upon arrival.”

Mrs. Nelson, an executive coach, had never set foot in India before the day she moved there nearly 15 months ago. She and her husband, Ed Cohen, a former executive with Booz Allen Hamilton, had been asked to move abroad for work in the past, but this time they received an offer they couldn’t refuse: Satyam Computer Services, a giant of the Indian technology and outsourcing industry, wanted the pair to lead coaching and leadership programs at its headquarters.

“It was a very difficult decision,” she says, pointing out that both she and her husband were happy with their jobs in the D.C. area. “We both had to put ourselves in the future and look at what we wanted for our lives long-term.”

The test applied to their teenage daughter, MacKenzie, as well, Mrs. Nelson said. (The couple’s older daughter, Jennifer, lives with her husband and children in North Carolina.)

“We both saw the tremendous opportunity in her living in another culture while she was still young,” Mrs. Nelson said of MacKenzie, then 15.

Hyderabad, the fifth-largest city in India, is one of the country’s major high-tech hubs. Google, Microsoft and Motorola all have offices in the area known as “Hitech City,” a vast expanse of glassy, futuristic information technology parks on the outskirts of town.

Still, the family experienced culture shock. For all the niceties of their new neighborhood, described by many as Hyderabad’s version of Beverly Hills, the trio were now living in a developing country.

“Finding a home, buying groceries, a ladder or a hammer are all different in this culture,” Mrs. Nelson explains. “Large conglomerates like Harris Teeter or Home Depot are unknown here.”

Dealing with scenes of poverty has been a major challenge, Mrs. Nelson says. Thatched-roof huts, youthful beggars and garbage-filled streets are common in even India’s most cosmopolitan cities. The family decided ahead of time not to give handouts to individuals and focus instead on charities.

“When you are faced with that much pain and suffering all at once it’s a hard thing to imagine, your heart and mind don’t line up. For most people, the result is to look the other way,” she observes. “We don’t do that. We experience it fully.”

But, she says, if there ever was a company to move across the world for, it was Satyam. The company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has a market cap of nearly $7 billion and about 38,000 employees worldwide. Its 120-acre campus boasts of dormitories, pools, a state-of-the-art gym and even a zoo.

As head of the company’s executive coaching, mentoring and development business, Mrs. Nelson not only helps train executives to partner with customers, but encourages them to collaborate with each other. Along similar lines, Mr. Cohen leads the company’s corporate university, the Satyam School of Leadership.

Satyam executives view the couple’s hiring as a major coup, with Hari Thalapalli, human resources director, noting that it wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, before the Indian tech and outsourcing boom.

Mrs. Nelson and her husband have three-year contracts but have made a commitment to stay in India for four years, she says, adding that they want their daughter to finish high school abroad before returning to the United States for college.

“MacKenzie claims India as ‘home.’ It’s been a great fit for her,” she says, adding that her daughter loves her Indian friends.

In a country where many men are still not accustomed to working with women — let alone for one — Mrs. Nelson says she has felt surprisingly welcome. If anything, she says, her Indian team was perhaps too polite at first, but came around as she encouraged them to speak up and express disagreement.

“While the culture of India is still moving slower in this area, Satyam as an organization has been quite vocal about its commitment,” she says.

As for her own role, Mrs. Nelson is quite confident. “I’m your typical American; I have a big opinion and I’m going to share,” she says. “I want to change India. I’m going to have an impact.”

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