For Natarajan Chandrasekaran, running marathons was a way to beat a family history of diabetes. Now 53, he began running in his mid-40s, and it has become a metaphor for life.
“There are no shortcuts,” he is reported to have said once. Chandra, as he is fondly called, doesn’t take any: Every year, he runs a full marathon, and many half marathon around the world.
But perhaps even for a seasoned runner like him, the most important race would be the one he would start on February 21. On that day, he would take charge as the new chairman of Tata Sons — the holding company of the $116-billion group.
While marathon tracks would have prepared him for physical challenges, Chandra already has enough laurels to prove his mental toughness.
He joined TCS in 1987 as an intern. In 2009, he was appointed chief executive officer (CEO) and managing director. Since then, there has been no looking back for either the company or him.
On Chandra’s watch, sales of TCS has jumped three-fold from Rs 30,000 crore ($6.34 billion) in 2010 to Rs1.09 lakh crore ($16.5 billion) in FY16. Profits also jumped more than three times from Rs 7,093 crore to Rs 24,375 crore.
In fact, TCS now accounts for 56 per cent of the Tata Group’s combined market cap of $116 billion, besides contributing 73.7 per cent to Tata Sons’ revenues, which comes from dividends of its listed entities.
Not just that — Chandra has also made TCS the biggest cash generator for Tata Sons, contributing almost 90 per cent to the Tata Sons coffers in 2014-15.
But it wasn’t easy getting there. One of the first things that Chandra did was to put in place processes. And so, TCS was restructured into 23 business units, each having its own profit and loss, CEO, human resource department and business goals. Only eight senior executives reported to him directly.
Chandra realised early on micro-managing a company of TCS’s size was impossible.
But despite delegating responsibilities, Chandra ended up living out of a suitcase —almost. Typically, he travels 15 days a month, and in some months, it could be 20 days.
Back home, he is hardly away from work. He has created an extended workplace at home.
It was necessary because his one-point agenda was to make TCS the leading IT services player from India. There have been headwinds: US presidential election ending in victory for Donald Trump, Brexit and currency volatility and macro pressure, but Chandra has stayed on course.
Chandra also steered the company to take a leading position in the digital deals as technology disruptions impact businesses. And, TCS became among the first to take its digital revenue to $2.3 billion in FY16. Today, these revenues contribute about 16 per cent of the firm’s revenue.
Under Chandra’s leadership the company began an ambitious plan of training its employee base of over 371,519 in digital capabilities. The target is to train 100,000 employees in digital capabilities.
But will Chandra be able to replicate TCS’s successes for the Tata group, battling with several challenges in Europe, and its telecom and several other businesses?
Chandra knows how to keep calm in a storm. His favourite painting is that of a meditating Buddha seated near an elephant; the giant creature paying special deference to the embodiment of composure.
“I like the way the peaceful Buddha can influence that giant creature,” Chandra had said in an interview. This is the philosophy is a long-distance runner.