Finishing schools are part of a Â£60m industry that teach office workers the basics of international workplace etiquette Pria Warrick, who has lived in Britain, America and Australia, has become the guru of graces for a new generation of call centre techies, chief executives and MBAs.
They call her India's Miss Manners, and she is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar industry to make Indian companies more competitive globally by improving their workers' social skills.
Pria Warrick has become the guru of graces for a new generation of Indians who are helping drive India's rise as a world economic power but sometimes without a certain polish. "Backs straight! Napkins on lap. Great. Class, cut your burger neatly," Warrick told a class of young Indian professionals, methodically performing fork-and-knife surgery on a McAloo Tikka patty â€” a spicy potato burger from McDonald's â€” as practice for dining in Europe and the United States.
Warrick's school is part of a fast-growing trend in corporate India to remedy what analysts and recruiters call a serious impediment to India's global economic goals. Although many skilled Indian workers have degrees from top universities, analysts said they are often jaw-droppingly inept at the basics of international workplace etiquette: dressing properly, hosting a meeting, making inoffensive small talk and even using cutlery.
"Before my training, I actually lost a client because I barely talked during a presentation," said Srikantan Moorty, vice-president of Education and research at Infosys, who has helped design the company's soft-skill classes. "The report was technically correct. But I was so shy that it was hard to seem persuasive."
Recruiters say India has some of the world's best-educated engineers, business majors and technology wizards. But their lack of social polish and communication skills puts them behind competitors such as China, where finishing schools are often compulsory. "When an executive doesn't do well at an important international board meeting, it's not just a reflection on the person. It hurts the company, and that hurts India," said Gary Sarang, 36, associate vice-president of Industrial Finance Corp of India, who was sent to Warrick's class when he started working at Citibank in India several years ago.
"In India, we're dealing with clients in the Far East and Europe," said Sarang, who was working in the finance world in San Francisco before he returned to India in 2007 because there were more job opportunities in Bangalore than in the Bay Area. "I was coming from California, so I needed to learn not to wear flip-flops or sneakers to a meeting."
In New Delhi, Warrick works in a charming bungalow with stained-glass windows and a lush garden. She looks the part of an etiquette teacher: At 5-foot-9, she has perfect posture. Warrick, half Swiss and half Indian, studied clinical psychology at Cornell University and was named Miss India America in the 1990s. She has starred in her own reality TV show in Britain, on which she took four ill-mannered, binge-drinking young Britons to India to help them learn poise and respect.
Her classes cover everything from dining etiquette to avoiding questions that are acceptable in India but inappropriate