Chandrayaan to the Bombay House

0 1

Introduction

The Job Description could give any headhunter chills down his/her spine.

Tata Group, once viewed as the paragon of corporate governance and old-fashioned business values saw itself grappling with the ramifications of the Mistry exit.

To draw a parallel, suddenly you found the ever- sparkling majestic brightness of the moon being scarred by the craters all around. And needed the right captain for the Chandrayaan (orbit into the moon). No wonder, Natarajan Chandrasekaran was chosen for the job.

A journey that started on June 2, 1963 in the vicinity of humble paddy fields in Mohanur Village, Tamil Nadu; a journey that took Mr. Chandra to the rarefied heights of the 100 billion+ ‘salt to software’ conglomerate.

It would be quite instructive for us to analyze the lessons we can draw from this journey has its familiar ‘filmi’ trappings of a small-town guy making it big

In this edition of cajobportal Insights, please find an article titled “Chandrayaan to Bombay House”

He is the first professional, the first non-Parsi to head Tata Sons and stand in a lineage that boasts of names like Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata (1867–1904), Sir Dorab Tata (1904–1932), Nowroji Saklatwala (1932–1938), Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata (1938–1991), Ratan Tata (1991–2012) and Cyrus Pallonji Mistry (2012–2016).

Top lessons that we could distil from his personal and professional life are

Carve your own destiny

He, one of the six children born to a typical Tam Bram (short for Tamil Brahmin), could easily have been a farmer had he succumbed to the wishes of his lawyer-turned-farmer father’s wishes in the early 1980s.

After a BSc in Applied Sciences from the Coimbatore Institute of Technology, he went home and stayed back six months to see whether he could take up agriculture as a profession. After four-five months, he realized that agriculture was not his cup of tea. Then, he thought of becoming a chartered accountant. But by then, he had missed an academic year. So by this time, the government had introduced computer education in colleges. He persuaded his father and went on to complete his master’s in computer applications (MCA) from the Regional Engineering College, Trichy, in 1986.

In the final year of his master’s programme, he took up a project with TCS, and never looked back—starting as a software programmer and rising to the helm of the company

8

TCS COO Mr N G Subramaniam, Chandra’s elder brother N Srinivasan- Group Finance Director of Murugappa and Chandrasekaran at the 80th birthday celebration of their father

Don’t let academic pedigree bother you much

Chandra was the first masters in computer applications (MCA) to be hired by TCS. MCA was considered a poor cousin to a formal engineering degree those days. In an interview he said with a chuckle, “The person who hired me said ‘you are the test case. If you do well then we will hire more MCAs”

He did not let the pedigree bother him. “Many of us felt bad that we were doing BSc, and not BE. We felt we were second class citizens but not Chandra. That didn’t seem to bother him at all. He went about as if this was exactly what he wanted to do,” says M. Udayshankar, Chandra’s classmate, who is now a businessman.

Most of Infosys’ co-founders hail from the IITs; Chandra from a NIT.

Learning lessons on the field

While stalwarts in India’s IT industry often dive into management books; Chandra on the other hand never attended management school nor does he reportedly ever read much of the classic 1990s MBA literature. He states that he got his early lessons in management by watching clients

Around 1993, he was working on a very large US federal government programme. In the first phase of the project, TCS did a spectacular job. On the day the second phase was about to go live, the client manager came up to Chandra and asked him out to lunch. Chandra was alarmed. The system was going live and he felt he had to stay in the office. But the client manager was persistent. “I was very restless in the car. There were no mobile phones those days – no one could have reached me,” he says. “The client manager then said he needed to find out who could step into my shoes. Somebody needed to handle the job when I wasn’t around.” That was a lesson in delegating, trusting people and risk taking.

Let the numbers do the talking

Chandra once said “Growth is the source of energy. It gives you the ability to create jobs. For that to happen, you must not begin with excuses”

He is described as someone who is very energetic & always hungry for growth.

When he took charge of TCS at the age of 45, he was the youngest CEO in the history of Tata Group. Under his leadership, revenues rose from Rs 30,029 crore in fiscal 2010 to Rs 1, 08, 646 crore in fiscal 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

He grew TCS substantially from what he inherited from S Ramadorai and helped it topple Infosys as the IT bellwether.

Viva la e-volution

Chandra has always believed that Darwin isn’t just about a theory. He made TCS adapt to the new demanding world of IT services, where if you don’t adapt, you vanish

In the year 2007, for the first time Chandra proposed to his colleagues that TCS look at small and medium businesses (SMBs) in India. They, happy doing consulting for U.S. clients, laughed and made some casual remarks about how TCS would lose its shirt and pants in servicing the small enterprises. Instead of confronting with words, he made a presentation 6 months later, outlining outlined how he wanted to go after the SMB market.

Manifold opportunities emerged as small businesses laid out their tale of woes to the TCS leaders. One guy in Coimbatore told ‘First I upgrade the anti-virus. Then the PCs become slow. Then I have to upgrade Windows. And after that the local Mr. Fixit says I have low RAM. I know Lord Ram. What’s this Low Ram?’

Since the target customer base was quite price sensitive, Chandra decided that the offering would have to be sold like electricity, as an on-demand service where you pay as you use. He instructed his team to learn from the billing algorithms from the telecom domain because he thought the telecom companies are very good at billing for even a fraction of a second. Thus the iON platform came to fruition.

A pertinent example here is that of Clayton Christensen, a TCS board member and the guru of disruptions, who keeps saying that in many other companies where he is a board member he keeps saying “let’s disrupt ourselves”, but to no avail. When he suggested that TCS must disrupt itself and look at serving the small and medium businesses, Chandra said ‘We’ve already done that!’” J

“With other companies where I am a board member, I do my homework so that I can contribute. With TCS, I sit in the meeting with a writing pad so that I can learn,” says Christensen.

Don’t play to the gallery

Chandra has stated in an interview that every time there is a technology shift, unfortunately the market view will be an old one. The key to move with your own conviction. When a new generational shift happens, it’s just not replacing the old, it’s opening up new possibilities

Ten years ago, you would hear of TCS writing a software program for the forest department in Kerala! Critics would ‘they must be nuts” as the returns from Indian markets were peanuts in comparison to Western markets. Today with Trump and all the talk about H1Bs, today the Indian business of TCS stands out like a jewel in the crown.

Have the guts to take contrarian calls

In September 2014, TCS decided to pit itself against four competitors in Saudi Arabia to set up a business process outsourcing (BPO) centre that would service clients such as state-run energy giant Saudi Aramco and US conglomerate General Electric. . Many within the company were initially opposed, worried over how it could affect relations with the government over there and in the community, but he put his foot down.

He suddenly popped the question – why not set up an all-women centre? This was unheard of in the deeply conservative Islamic kingdom. It created a competitive advantage and became a very unique proposition.

This project eventually gave the company a significant competitive advantage in bidding for projects across the Gulf region

Small to Big – It’s all about vision

A TCS business head recalls an incident of his encounter with Chandra. When he came to Mumbai for a meeting, Chandra offered him a drop to his guest house in Worli as it was close to Chandra’s house. As the conversation ensured, Chandra asked him about the business he was expecting from an Indian bank. He stated that we will do $20 million and grow it at 15-20%. Chandra was aghast. He felt the bank could easily give double the business. When said that it was difficult, Chandra asked ‘who has told you the business is worth $20 million?’ He said my account manager for the bank. Chandra told this person to change the account manager because he had become too comfortable. The business head wasn’t so sure.

The next morning, Chandra called up and asked if I had thought of someone! So the replacement has to be quick. The happy part of the story is that the account grew to a $51 million business in a few months. Chandra himself thinks that what he creates is “positive pressure”. “When you have the self-belief and there is an expectation from you, then that is positive. I am always very objective. I focus on the issue and I never challenge the self-respect of the person,” says Chandra.

Management Style- Unique fusion of the 20,000 feet view & the granular details

6

 

 

 

When young EAs are often found lost in the 20,000 feet view, Chandra found his respect as Ramadorai’s EA. The joke that did the rounds was that TCS stood for “Take Chandra Seriously”

“He is strategic in outlook, yet cost focused and granular in action, which is a mark of a great leader,” said Vineet Nayar, who was MD of HCL Technologies.

There are two different types of brains. Some leaders are very good with the macro picture and the vision. Some are more detail oriented. People say that Chandra has this great ability to see the big picture and at the same time, go down to minute levels of detail. Even while leading a $12 billion company, he would know about a $2 million project TCS is pitching for.

People Skills

 

5

 

When young EAs are often found lost in the 20,000 feet view, Chandra found his respect as Ramadorai’s EA. The joke that did the rounds was that TCS stood for “Take Chandra Seriously”

“He is strategic in outlook, yet cost focused and granular in action, which is a mark of a great leader,” said Vineet Nayar, who was MD of HCL Technologies.

There are two different types of brains. Some leaders are very good with the macro picture and the vision. Some are more detail oriented. People say that Chandra has this great ability to see the big picture and at the same time, go down to minute levels of detail. Even while leading a $12 billion company, he would know about a $2 million project TCS is pitching for.

People Skills

His effective but non-confrontational approach can be gauged from what Nimesh Kampani, chairman, JM Financial, has to say about him “Chandra believes one can have opponents, but not enemies”.

Chandra is not a micromanager. He gives executives enough freedom to operate. But he sets them ambitious targets and his reviews are intense

Chandra’s control over the firm does not mean he is a micro-manager. His trusting nature allows his executives enough freedom to operate. But he sets ambitious targets and his reviews are intense. “I feel I am in review every day. He knows every single thing about my unit,” says Pratik Pal, head of TCS’s retail business. “When I go to make a presentation to a customer in the US – when it’s 3 a.m. in India – I get an SMS from him, ‘How is the preparation?’ After two hours, I get another SMS, ‘How was the presentation?’ He remembers a presentation even if I had told him about it two weeks before,” says Pal.

Social Awareness

Chandra also has a phenomenal capacity for remembering people – some executives claim he knows at least 5,000 of them by their names. Corridor conversations with him can revolve around not only the executives themselves but also their families. The personal touch allows the CEO to remain connected with employees. While one would attribute this to superhuman abilities, research has stated that it’s not brain power alone that determined a person’s ability to remember names. Rather it was one’s level of interest in people and the desire to understand them that mattered.

The Soft Side

He once flew back from the US to attend to his dog Ray, a Beagle, who had cancer. Ray died earlier this year at age seven, after struggling with the disease for many months. “He was a good guy,” Chandra says. “We have been thinking of getting a new dog. We will wait till my son finishes his Class X exams.”

9

Take care of your health

3

 

When he was 44 years old, the doctor raised some concerns about his health as he had a diabetic history. Back home, over a cup of coffee, his wife advised him to buy a pair of running shoes.

The next morning at dawn, he began. Puffing and panting, he ran 2k along the sea front, repeating this the each day. After eight months, he completed my first marathon.

The impact of this was profound in my life. When I go on a business trip anywhere in the world, I go running with employees, friends and business partners. Running gives me the opportunity to reflect; it opens the windows of my mind. Issues become instantly less complex, solutions come to me in a mysterious way. Some of my best business ideas have come during a run.

In September 2007, Chandra and Venguswamy Ramaswamy, who was then heading the small and medium business initiative in TCS, were diagnosed with diabetes. They decided they must reverse the disease and Chandra proposed – “Let’s go for a run at 4.30 in the morning”. He was not bothered when Ramswamy quipped “That early? Dogs will chase!’”

Beyond the initial insanity, Chandra decided that he would run the 42 km Mumbai marathon in Jan’08.

“Every morning, I and others in the company, who also took to running, would get an SMS from him describing how he had run 5 kilometres; 7 kilometres; 12 kilometres. That made all of us very nervous. He was TRAINING!” recalls Ramaswamy. The group had no choice but to become serious about running. Then the group put pressure on Chandra and sent him SMSes describing how they had run 12 kilometres; 16 kilometres. “In December, we ran from Worli to NCPA [National Centre for the Performing Arts at Nariman Point] and back: 24 kilometres in 4.5 hours,” says Ramaswamy. Chandra ran the full Mumbai Marathon in January 2008. “Took me six hours but I had to finish it,” says Chandra.

Chandra wasn’t satisfied. He then signed up for training under Deepak Londhe, a distance running coach. Come rain or shine. He would run at least 7 kilometres daily

 

 

7

Since then Chandra has run six marathons around the world. Today he does not have to take any medication for diabetes. It has been reversed to the extent possible

No wonder, at the age of 53, he is now considered fit to run the Tata Sons marathon, possibly for the next 17 years,