Commanding the largest share of the world's digital television market, NDS has over 70 clients: broadcasting providers, such as Israel's cable and satellite companies, in 35 countries around the world. The company, which is traded on the NASDAQ exchange, was founded 20 years ago in Israel and is a part of the worldwide News Corporation, which is controlled by Rupert Murdock. NDS has 3,500 employees around the world, of which 1,100 are in Israel.
NDS has four large development centers, one in Israel and the others in Britain, France and India. The company has branches around the world – in the US, Europe, South Africa, Australia and Asia.
We spoke with Shlomo Parry, Vice President of Human Resources at NDS Israel, about the company and its approach to employee management.
What is the unique technology the company has developed?
The company's initial and primary endeavor is developing conditional access (CA), which provides protection of contents for broadcasting providers that sell pay contents. In Israel this applies to both cable and satellite. The broadcaster's need to protect its content, in which a lot of money was invested, is critical, since it's possible to illegally hook up to both satellite and cable broadcasting.
NDS' solution promises that viewing is done only by those who are authorized to view, and NDS' uncontested achievement is that nobody penetrates the system, i.e. contents protected by NDS simply cannot be broken into. The company's technology is based on a smart card – most of the box's brains are on an NDS card, which is remote-controlled by the company's systems.
CA is the foundation on which NDS developed an operating system that allows custom tailoring and synchronization of all of the converter components. This is an information-rich program in which an enormous amount of technology was invested.
In the past NDS developed and expanded by acquiring companies, and recently it entered new and varied fields such as a digital converter that receives Max and Yes satellite broadcasts and Magic Hot cable broadcasts. This is a unique technology developed by NDS and is now very common around the world.
Nearly 80 million viewers around the world benefit from the developments and the use of technologies developed by the company.
What is the breakdown of employees at the company?
Most of the employees in Israel are R&D people; there are also customer support, business marketing and administrative personnel. The company employs a total of 2,500 workers in nine countries: the US, France, England, Denmark, Hong Kong, South Korea, China, India and Australia. Outside of Israel, as well, a substantial portion of employees are involved in development. Two-thirds of all company workers are development people.
This is an exceptional situation. Usually at high-tech companies the development center is located in Israel, while the majority of employees in other parts of the world handle sales, support and service.
NDS' approach is that development should also be close to the customer. In our field the systems are multidisciplinary and development-rich. In every country the customers, the broadcasting organizations, want systems suited to their needs, therefore it's important to be close to them in order to execute the requested adaptations.
How different can converter functions be from one another?
Let's take, for example, a viewer watching a soccer match. There are places in the world where he can watch a soccer match and, using his remote control, choose which camera angle he wants. During the course of the match he can see commercials for a certain product, say fast food that he'd like, and using the remote control place an order on the spot. This viewer doesn't even have to punch in his credit card number because his account at the cable company is billed instantly.
Using the remote control the viewer can get stats on each of the plays on the field. He can even gamble on the outcome of the match. He can also place bets before penalty kicks on whether a goal will be scored.
Recently we also began supporting High Definition Television (HDT) broadcasts. This involves technology for the production, broadcast and digital reception of television with the highest image and sound quality available today. Using HD broadcasting the quantity of data transmitted to the screen is much higher than the standard resolution television broadcasts we see today. The image on the television screen appears lifelike and you can see details that weren't previously visible, since the image is much sharper and clearer.
To what extent does NDS conduct itself like a global company? For example, is there contact between the human resources managers at the company's factories in various countries?
The entire human resources apparatus is managed independently in every world region, but there definitely is contact, as well as periodic meetings between human resources managers, held in a different country each time. Coordination is needed because in many cases the work on a certain project is done by teams of workers from different countries. The composition of the teams is determined according to the proficiency required of the people employed to execute the project.
Therefore the number of trips abroad by employees traveling to the client site is high, even in relation to other high-tech companies.
How would you characterize the company's organizational culture?
Our employees say they feel that despite the company's size, there's a family-like atmosphere. This refers primarily to concern for individuals. This concern is expressed not only by focusing attention on employment terms – such as providing the benefits typically given at high-tech companies, or paying special attention to the physical work environment, such as the employee's workstation – but also through concern for what's going on away from work in the employee's private life and with his family. If a worker has a problem or crisis, God forbid, we will stand by him and support him much more than at other companies.
Is that different from other high-tech companies?
There are a lot of companies where the apparatus for handling people places much emphasis on creating experiences, such as exotic trips and mountain-climbing excursions. We don't do those kinds of things – it doesn't fit the company's character.
One of the reasons for this is that our workers roam around the world quite a bit in the course of their work, and therefore on weekends they prefer to spend their spare time with their families close to home.
How is the organizational culture affected by the fact that a relatively large segment of employees are traditionalists [in terms of religious observance]?
There's an atmosphere of mutual respect, respect for others, mutual tolerance. It's very prominent. At every organization there are always struggles over resources and sometimes people step on one another in order to obtain resources or get promoted. You won't see that here. There may be arguments and disagreements – that's natural. But without insults and sharp criticism.
Company politics is minimal compared to many other companies similar to ours in size and areas of operations.
I presume that the company's special character has a favorable effect on the turnover rate. It must be relatively low.
That's right. While the turnover rate in the high-tech industry ranges from 8%-10%, here it ranges from about 2.5% to 5%. During the years before the high-tech bubble burst, when people roamed madly from one company to another, the turnover rate in high-tech hovered around the 15% mark and even higher. Here, during that period, the turnover rate was around 6%.
How is the recruitment process carried out at the company?
Our best source for recruitment is employee referrals. But as the company grows, there's a sense that the local employment market can't meet the increasing demand for trained workers, and we've made use of additional recruitment tools in order to locate employees from other parts of the country. We've used want ads in daily newspapers, billboards, Internet sites, etc.
It's helped, and today we have a substantial number of employees who come to work in Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Petach Tikva, Ra'anana, Modi'in, Rechovot, Beit Shemesh, etc.
How do they get to work?
There's a transportation system placed at the workers' disposal, but they can also drive the car placed at their disposal through a leasing program. Almost two-thirds of employees now have a leased car.
What is NDS' promotion policy?
We promote to the first level of management employees with outstanding technological abilities who display leadership traits that come to light during the course of work in the field. Also, managers develop and advance to more senior management posts based on the available possibilities and their abilities.
The vast majority of managers at every level of management at the company grew from within.
The company encourages internal mobility and there are dozens of such moves during the course of the year.
How do you identify leadership abilities in employees?
Through a number of ways. First of all, every new worker goes through assessment processes at a screening institute. This allows us to evaluate the presence of managerial aptitude as well. Not every employee becomes a manager, but nevertheless it's important for us to check this. Having managerial capabilities is not a requirement for getting hired, but it's important to us that this type of information is on file, in the event that one day we consider advancing him to a managerial post.
It also should be kept in mind that not every promotion is to a managerial position. Employees can also be promoted on the professional level. Someone with high professional abilities can advance to a certain professional post that's parallel to a managerial post, without being placed in charge of any worker – just in that he has professional authority.
What are the levels of management at the company?
Team leaders, program managers, department managers and division heads.
What authority does a team leader have over his workers?
He's the one who manages his workers and he takes part in setting their salaries and awarding them bonuses. He's also the one who sets target goals and assesses performance. And he's in charge of their career development and their personal development from a professional standpoint.
Does he have the authority to transfer an employee from one staff to another, or fire an employee?
He can't do that on his own, but has to go through an orderly process coordinated with his superiors and with the involvement of the Human Resources Department.
Also, once a year there's an employee assessment process in which every department worker is raised for discussion at a department managers' forum in which the Human Resources Department staff takes part as well. At the forum the employee's performance is discussed, along with matters of promotion, salary, etc. This means the team leaders and department program managers participating in the forum take part in a discussion that affects not just employees who work for them directly. At this meeting the employee's potential for advancement is also assessed.
Considering that people at the company are generally employed for projects, who manages them – the team leader or the project manager?
The workers belong to a team. The team leader is assigned tasks as part of the project and allocating manpower for every task is done by the team leader. That means the worker reports directly to the team leader; and to the project manager he was assigned to, indirectly. A team can handle a number of projects simultaneously. Classic matrix management.
Is NDS involved with the community through activities of some sort?
Yes, in several programs. One of them is called Matan. The worker contributes to a social aim and the company contributes supplementary funds. The employees have responded very positively to this program.
There are organizations that contact us to make a request for a donation and we consider the requests through a donations committee. Only requests submitted by legally registered organizations are considered.
For example, we adopted a Jerusalem soup kitchen for elderly people who are unable to meet their day-to-day needs. We donated computers and they opened the facility to children, too. NDS employees set up the computer system at the site and trained the users. We also donate food to the soup kitchen.