The CEO of the company that bought Satyam is not a conventional ‘techie’
The man behind one of the biggest M&A deals in India’s information technology space isn’t a conventional techie. In fact, he started his software career pretty late in life — at an age most of India’s IT gurus consider suitable only for writing memoirs or mentoring.
Meet Vineet Nayyar,70, vice-chairman, managing director and CEO of Tech Mahindra, which surprised many with its winning bid for Satyam on Monday.
Holding a Master’s degree in Development Economics from Williams College, Massachusetts, Nayyar has spent the better part of his 40-year career in a world that had nothing to do — even remotely — with IT. Consider his assignments: An IAS officer (his wife is from the same service), he has worked as a district magistrate, Haryana's rural development secretary and director at the department of economic affairs before heading off to the World Bank where he worked for over 10 years in its energy and infrastructure divisions.
He was responsible for the Bank’s decision not to finance Enron's ill-fated Dabhol project in Maharashtra — and braved quite a lot of trouble for doing so because Enron was influential in Washington. But Nayyar stuck to his guns. Unfortunately, the Indian government did not share his views on the project and, as later events proved, the country is now paying the price for having got into a bad deal.
Nayyar’s corporate career started with the Gas Authority of India where he was the founding chairman & managing director. He was responsible for setting up the Hazira-Bijaipur-Jagdishpur (HBJ) gas pipeline, which carries most of India's liquid natural gas.
The transition to the new economy occurred when Nayyar’s managerial excellence prompted Shiv Nadar to offer him a job at HCL — first as managing director of HCL Corporation, then vice-chairman of HCL Technologies and also the founder & CEO of HCL Perot Systems.
It is the last company in which Nayyar acquired the first taste of an acquisition deal, albeit with a difference. Unlike the Satyam deal, he was then on the side of the acquired firm and in the midst of a bitter boardroom battle between HCL and Perot Systems over control of the company. Nayyar, who was CEO of the 50:50 joint venture between HCL and Perot, filed a case against Perot which wanted to remove him from the CEO’s post following serious differences between the two partners over the way the company was being run.
The problem was resolved later when Perot ended its seven-year-old — often rocky — relationship with HCL and bought its stake for Rs 480 crore. In 2003, it was pegged as the biggest deal in the Indian IT industry. Just six years later, Nayyar has scripted what his clearly the high point of his life: the acquisition of Satyam.
One of India’s highest-paid executives (he made headlines in January last year when he encashed Rs 23 crore of his stock options), Nayyar received Rs 2.35 crore in salary and commissions for the year-ended March 2008. No surprise, therefore, that he is an avid collector of MF Husain paintings, which is not bad going for a man who spent the better part of his life as a bureaucrat.
But Nayyar is also known to be quite generous in sharing his wealth. He has been closely connected with the Tech Mahindra Foundation, which is involved in education for poor children, and is using his own money for public purposes. He is also believed to have tied up with the Cathedral School in Mumbai to finance a new school.
Nayyar is a man of few words in public forums and no one knows why the CEO changed his mind and bid so aggressively for Satyam. For example, in an interview with a news agency in the last week of January, Nayyar said Tech Mahindra was not interested in acquiring Satyam because of the legal cases against the scam-tainted company.
Observers say he was possibly trying to talk down expectations — one reason there was so much speculation at one stage over Tech Mahindra pulling out of the deal. Now that the deal is over, Nayyar just says the company has taken a “fair assessment of the legal liabilities” and the Satyam deal is “almost a marriage made in heaven”.
Nayyar’s acquaintances describe him as witty and someone who wears all his accomplishments lightly. A die-hard Kishore Kumar fan, he is also known to have a keen sense of humour — a trait he may have picked up from the late singer. Example: when Anand Mahindra asked him to talk about the Satyam deal after his brief opening remarks, Nayyar said speaking after Anand is almost a punishment because hardly anything is left to be said.
The CEO’s five-year term at Tech Mahindra will expire next year and he is known to be quite keen to call it a day. But that seems highly unlikely, since the Mahindras are unlikely to let him go so soon after the Satyam deal.
Life, for a lucky few, can indeed begin at 70.