Software professional Sudhir Udayakanth, who heads a company managing web content, lost a foreign client when one of his Indian engineers repeatedly burped at the negotiating table.
So he set up an academy seven months ago in India's technology hub of Bangalore to train code writers and engineers on how to dress, communicate and mingle in professional settings.
Udayakanth, 29, is among a new crop of about a dozen trainers who groom Indian code writers, often travelling to the US and Europe, to get comfortable with a new culture and be knowledgeable about socializing skills.
"Indian code writers have the skill sets and a lot of talent but the finishing touch is missing," Udayakanth, sitting at a downtown apartment converted into an office, told reporters.
"Most of the time when I am with a foreign client I am on the edge of my seat as I fear my colleagues will commit a social blunder. He may bum a cigarette or pick his tooth and burp aloud. I have lost quite a few clients because of this," he said.
India has the largest pool of English-speaking IT professionals after the US. Most major foreign information technology firms such as Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Oracle and IBM have bases in the country.
An army of engineering graduates, willing to work for one-eighth of the salaries of their counterparts in the US and Europe, have fueled the software revolution in India.
More than 60,000 Indian software engineers worked in the US in 2001. In the current year about 30,000 will head there, according to India's premier IT lobby, the National Association of Software and Service Companies.
"These guys are traveling more and need to be groomed on proper dining skills. If they are not sure what to do then they stick out like a sore thumb," Udayakanth said.
"They have to be taught what to wear, how to hold their drinks at a social gathering, how to hold a conversation and toilet manners," he said.
His academy, the Edge Advanced Learning Private Limited, has trained more than 30 software professionals who cough up anywhere between 11,500 rupees and 42,500 rupees (US$250 and US$900) for the course ranging from four to 60 hours.
Rahul Kapoor, 27, who runs the workshop on "effective communication" which has already trained 1,800 code writers, said software professionals tended to dress poorly and were low on communication skills.
"In software companies the biggest problem I have noticed is grouping. Since they have groups in handling specific projects these people tend to stick together with the same groups," Kapoor said.
"All the companies call in trainers to break this trend as when these people are shifted to new projects the new bosses find it difficult to retain the same people together," he said.
Kapoor charges between 8,500 rupees and 20,000 rupees for a training program per day.
The southern city of Bangalore, touted as India's answer to Silicon Valley, ranks among the world's five top IT centers. Of the 4,600 enterprises currently operating in Bangalore, more than 1,500 have some foreign component.
Rajesh Nayak, 29, who is a trainee of Udayakanth's Edge academy, said he wanted to learn negotiating skills.
"When you are negotiating with a client the most important thing is to learn his or her body language," said Nayak, who runs a company developing software solutions for educational and healthcare industries.