The Wonder Years - Two Decades of Aon Hewitt in India


1996 marks some important dates in India’s calendar. Leander Paes won India’s first individual Olympic medal in 44 years.

In 1996, Indian-born Sabeer Bhatia and his partner launched Hotmail. The first personal email service. It’s the year when the Internet entered our country. VSNL offered connections to all of us. It has been powering our lives in ways unimaginable back then.

The results of the 1991 liberalization policy had started to rapidly unveil themselves five years from the historic move. Multinational companies had started to set foot in to India. The technology revolution in India was still new. Infosys, Wipro were ‘startups’ back then.

The startup founders of today’s unicorns were still in school.

No one knew then that India would become the growth giant of world economics, become the ‘backoffice to the world’, the IT services center, ‘Bangalored’ will become a word, ‘India’s demographic dividend’ will become a catchphrase. In this time, Indian business spread its wings with buyout of global brands and companies. Indian business leaders took positions on global management tables and boardrooms.

Despite political upheavals India kept consistently growing and spreading its wings, becoming a global brand for its service economy, outsourcing model and component manufacturing prowess. As Indians, we found new respect as engineers, ‘English speaking talent’ and for our business smarts. In these two decades, India has gone through more changes than most countries witness over a century.

These years define a leap in the way we do business and HR.



Noble Dreams

Liberalization brought in multinationals to India. They brought in their work culture. More companies meant more job opportunities and the term ‘the war for talent’ came about in the late 90s.
Two enterprising men came together to bank on the opportunity of hiring and talent management.

Ravi Virmani, 33, from XLRI, and Sumer Datta, 32, from Symbiosis in Pune, set up Noble House in 1989. Noble House took wings in Ravi’s New Delhi garage. A typical startup story with challenges galore. Getting the first client meant umpteen meetings and calls. In 1994, Hewitt Associates approached Noble House. Hewitt was looking for someone to do HR outsourced work in India. The great synergy between Hewitt and Noble House led to their joint venture in 1996.

Noble and Hewitt formally came to operate in India as an entity. Soon after, Hewitt Associates came to be. This was the first global HR consulting firm to invest in India.

The Next Stage

20 years since have been a roller coaster ride through the highs and lows of India Inc. In the 90s, global ambitions of Indian companies and dreams of multinationals of what they could do in India started to play out. Work cultures changed, competitive salary increases started, large-scale projects took shape. More complex organization structures, scientific performance plans, sharper role definitions, newer positions became part of the corporate discussions. India was buzzing. India Inc. was redefining itself, moving beyond the Calcutta Club and the Bombay Club. In this wave of growth and development, HR shed its skin as a ‘Personnel and Admin’ manager to a strategic, business function, enabling the ambitions of India Inc. The ‘then’ and ‘now’ of HR is very stark. At Aon Hewitt, we have been fortunate to have witnessed the transformation of business and HR in India.

It gives me immense pleasure to see our fledgling research studies become benchmarks for India Inc. In early 2000, we launched the Best Employers study and the Top Companies for Leaders. It’s been a leap from “why is this study needed in India?” to “the Board wants us to aspire and become an Aon Top Company”.

Our 21-year-old Annual Salary Increase study has charted the India Inc.’s growth story and the upheavals across sectors.

It has been humbling to be an active part of historic moments in Indian business with reputed Indian groups and now with the startups and unicorns. My colleagues (both current and ex-colleagues) have been students and aides of our clients and business leaders in making consistent small and large steps in making HR a business partner, an enabler of growth, and a custodian of talent as- a-competitive-advantage.

From paper spreadsheets and calculators, we moved to excel files and then to more elaborate statistical tools while working through the science of salaries, bonuses and benefits. Leadership development became equal parts art and science with complex algorithms. Through all this, the Indian HR leader made a shift from learning from the West to creating unique Indian HR best practices. In our own way, we, at Aon Hewitt, are working with HR leaders and academia in collating the Indianness of HR with a Think Tank to research and study the ‘Made-in- India HR.’

Our journey as an organization continued to be exciting through this time. Noble and Hewitt became Hewitt Associates. It acquired India Life, a large HR outsourcing company. Hewitt got acquired by Aon in 2010. And in 2016, the India business acquired a successful assessments startup called CoCubes.

I personally would like to thank the two mavericks, Ravi and Sumer, and the many legends who worked with us and believed that together we could play our part in making HR more impactful and relevant for the business. It’s been a phenomenal journey for many of us at Aon Hewitt, who have seen this ride first-hand. Most of our partners in India have spent over a decade with the firm. Some continue to be in their first jobs with this firm.

There is lot of pride for us when we speak of our alumni. Many of our ex-colleagues are business leaders, startup founders, HR leaders and heads of our competitive firms.

A big callout to each one of them for their contribution in making Aon Hewitt what it is today. At the core, we continue to carry that excitement of the HR firm that started from a garage two decades ago. In the daily motion of work, I still sense the hunger and eagerness in my young colleagues to learn and make that little improvement to their client decks and reports for each of our clients. I sincerely hope and aspire for us to stay relevant and continue to be partners and bouncing boards for our clients.

A big thank you to our clients. Your partnership with us, your growing expectations from us, and your trust in us has helped make us what we are. You make us Aon Hewitt. You help us Empower Results. To the next twenty.


Sandeep Chaudhary
Chief Executive Officer,
Aon Hewitt Consulting India
Twitter @ChaudharySpeak

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