K Ananth Krishnan, EVP & CTO, TCS, shares some memorable interactions with the legendary F C Kohli, the man who was the primary mover behind the setting up of TCS Research and Innovation.
The First Meeting
The early 1988 batch of TCS trainees in Bombay was perhaps the first one for many years to miss the customary meeting with our Director-in-Charge, Mr F C Kohli. I had to wait for a few months before I had a one-to-one meeting with him in the 3rd floor conference room in our Cathedral Road office. I remember just a few things from that meeting: he had my HR file open and asked me about IIT Delhi, what I was doing in the System Software Group, and why I had not joined the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Those five minutes, with my heart going at about 140 beats to the minute, felt very long! (And yes, I became an IEEE member soon after.)
I met him many times over the next few years. He fondly called me ‘my technology man in Chennai’!
Receiving Great Advice
I happened to be in London visiting clients and was told that Mr Kohli (now our deputy chairman) was in our Grosvenor Place office reviewing all UK projects. Since my client meeting was done, I peeped in, and was immediately called in. An hour later, he must have noticed the ‘what am I doing here’ look on my face and asked, ‘Have you seen London?’ I said no, not really. He asked me to take the open top tour bus, trace the whole route without getting down, and to come back and tell him what I saw. Was that great advice or what!
Physics and Dinner
I joined the dinner hosted for him later that evening and reported back. He was very relaxed and ‘un-DyC’ -like and was cracking jokes with all of us and Mrs. Kohli. He then asked the waiter to change his drink; it had become too warm. I wisecracked, ‘Sir, Newton’s law of cooling is against the waiter. The restaurant is pretty crowded, so the colder the drink he brings you, the faster it will warm up!’ Now that got him interested. ‘Do you know that my first two degrees were in Physics? I don’t remember any such law,’ he said. I was a cocky seven-year TCSer and shot back, ‘Sir, my first two degrees are in Physics too… I can show you the law!’ Dead silence at the table. Mrs Kohli broke it by saying, ‘The boy looks confident. Maybe he is right!’ Then he guffawed and patted me on the back with ‘Send me the book anyway!’ A career threatening moment for me, but he was very ‘teachable’ in his humility. (I did send him the book.)
Old-timers in TCS would remember the all-time great prank pulled by R Ramanan on an unsuspecting colleague. Ramanan is an excellent mimic and came into his own in this call when he ‘became’ Mr Kohli and turned his victim to quivering jelly! Many of us tried to get to these heights but did not even come close. In a ‘Hats Off’ event in the early 2000s, Ravi and I got polite handclaps and a memento for our joint act with me essaying Mr. Kohli and Ravi playing himself on the firing line.
I used to run into him many times when working out of the Air India building on Mr. Ramadorai’s staff in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He is a courteous host and would personally pour the tea for you when you visit his office. He is amazingly updated on technology and is very passionate about certain things such as Indian language computing, hardware and electronics, using technology for social good, helping the smaller academic institutions. And of course, his humor: ‘You are losing your hair very fast!’
When Ajoy and I met him in his office to take his permission to name the upcoming center for AI at IIIT-Hyderabad after him, we could see he was visibly moved. We had our cup of tea of course, and a promise: ‘I will come for the inauguration’. He did, and the photo taken at the occasion is for the ages!
The author is the EVP and CTO at TCS. Vews expressed are his own.