When a man who has headed an organisation – and it happens to be India’s largest IT services provider – for 13 years writes a book, you feel compelled to read it to gain a better understanding of leadership and management strategies. The TCS Story ... and Beyond by S Ramadorai does not disappoint in this regard. Ramadorai, who was with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for 40 years, has not only given an account of his personal journey and the strategy that TCS adopted but also provided a deep insight into the Indian IT industry, and the beginnings of the offshoring model that has made India’s software exports an over $60-billion industry, and TCS an over $8-billion company.
An “unlikely candidate for writing a book”, he did so with encouragement from his wife Mala, son Tarun and close colleagues to “make the TCS story heard since no one had ever written a book about TCS before this”. The TCS story is interspersed with personal insights into Ramadorai’s life. Mala, for instance, had a liberal arts background which complemented his background in science and engineering, and helped him formulate a more comprehensive perspective on the world at large. It was this world view that also helped him shape things at TCS when he took over from Faqir Chand Kohli (considered the architect of the Indian IT industry) in 1996, with whom he admits to have had a “radical difference in management styles”. He describes Kohli as “rather autocratic”, adding that his own idea was to build a team atmosphere at the helm with the help of a core group of trusted senior executives who would help him map the future strategy for TCS, and then execute it.
The Bangalore management meeting in 1999, Ramadorai says, marked the start of a strategic rethink for TCS that would eventually crystallise into a “bold new mission statement in 2003” and pave the way for the company to go public in a 2004 initial public offering (IPO), the biggest on record in India at the time. But it almost took 50 years before TCS would list on the Indian bourses. “… it had proven to be extremely successful as a Tata Sons division, but inside TCS we believed that in order to take the business to the next level in the global marketplace, we would eventually need to be an independent public company. For Tata Sons this was obviously a very sensitive topic and a complex issue because it required a massive restructuring exercise, which took nearly five years,” he explains.
Ramadorai also highlights how the Y2K problem created an enormous opportunity for the entire Indian IT industry to expand its client base. He explains how the company went about its vision of becoming a multi-billion dollar firm. In 2003, for instance, around 90 per cent of TCS’ revenues came from IT services. So the TCS core team drew a single bubble and added the text “IT Solutions and Services” on a PowerPoint slide. Five more bubbles followed on the PowerPoint slide: Global Consulting, Engineering and Industrial Services, Asset-based Offerings, Infrastructure Services and IT-enabled Services (or BPO). There we were with six neat bubbles on a PowerPoint slide. “We declared we would grow each of these into a $1 billion plus business,” Ramadorai writes.
Ramadorai also gives an interesting insight into the manpower angle, which is now the strength of the Indian IT industry. Today, TCS has over 200,000 employees (including subsidiaries). And in recent years, excluding the 2008-10 downturn, TCS has recruited about 30,000 people each year. “I am often asked how the induction and training of such a large number of new recruits happens. This is a skill that TCS has mastered, developing a very well-oiled system that transforms young adults into confident and competent professionals ready for a global career,” he writes.
There was also a time, points out Ramadorai, when TCS would have become a part of Tata Burroughs. In retrospect, “I believe that cutting the umbilical cord from Burroughs was the best thing that happened to us because it made TCS into a great entrepreneurial company”. The book also has some interesting anecdotes on his interaction with Naval Mody, then president of Tata Inc, who “saw my [Ramadorai’s] presence as an unnecessary expense”. Ramadorai was caught between two bosses – Kohli and Mody – during his stay in New York but finally “became good friends with [Mody] mutual respect for each other”.
Ramadorai signs off by noting he has now chosen to be in public service — he has been invited by the prime minister to be his Adviser on Skill Development. “This endeavour is hugely exciting and challenging at the same time. Even after a career spanning 40 years, I still feel the same level of excitement about what I do — contributing to the creation of a demographic dividend by skilling millions of Indian youth,” he writes.
THE TCS STORY… AND BEYOND
Penguin Books India
340 pages; Rs 699