9 of 2009



‘Those
who cannot
remember the past are condemned
to repeat it’

-George Santayana,
The Life of Reason

As 2009 draws to a close, and we are on the verge of completing the
first decade of this century, this maxim would probably be the most
appropriate for the Indian IT industry. It is again the time to raise a
toast to the luminaries and objurgate the infamous who in their own
ways defined the year gone by. Like each year, 2009 too had its own
share of the good, the bad and the ugly; and, while no one would deny
the celebration of the good, there are lessons that need to be learned
from the bad and the ugly. Here we profile three personalities who
present both ends of
the moral barometer, but are all on the upper scale of the Richter
meter.

1. A
Raja
–‘In the Name of God, go!’

Though a recently created ministry (a decade old only, and even less if
you include the IT part) the Communications & IT have been on
the forefront in courting controversies; during its short life, most of
the ministers starting from Ram Vilas Paswan, Pramod Mahajan, Arun
Shourie to Dayanidhi Maran have been in the limelight being mired in
one or the other controversy. However, their performance report cards
have always ranged from ‘Outstanding’ to at least ‘Very Good’—even
Paswan was responsible for starting Wi-Fi in India. However, Andimuthu
Raja takes the cake in the ‘controversial’ bandwagon—from an
alleged Rs 60,000 crore scam over 2G spectrum allocation to his
wranglings with TRAI; while that had ensured Raja remaining in the
news, on the performance monitor, it’s hard to give him anything other
than a resounding ‘Not OK’.

CBI alleges (that too in an FIR), as per CVC recommendations, ‘serious
irregularities’ in the award of the spectrum licenses and a criminal
conspiracy woven between DoT officials and certain private companies.
Licenses were awarded to two private companies—Swan Telecom
and Unitech,
allegedly under CBI investigations–on a first-come-first-served basis
at the rates of 2001,  which were very low without any
competitive bidding. Swan Telecom got the license for a mere Rs 1,537
crore. It then sold its stake to a foreign operator at nearly three
times the amount within a few months. Unitech got the spectrum licence
for Rs 1,650 crore from the DoT, which too, sold its stake to a
Norwegian company for over four times this amount. While Raja ruled out
his resignation owning any responsibility, he in fact justified that
all decisions on spectrum licensing have been taken in accordance with
procedures laid down by TRAI and in consultations with the PM.

While the scam taint has been Raja’s biggest bugbear, another
justifiable complaint has been that he should hardly be called a
Minister of IT. There has been no discernible actions on the part of
Raja, either towards attracting IT investments or on completing large
e-gov projects like
CSC
or SWAN
which are consistently missing their deadlines. Even the creation of
the IT Task Force (that has now come out with its recommendations) (use
hyperlink to IT Task Force) has been more because of the efforts of
Sachin Pilot (use Young Politicians hyperlink), the Minister of State
for IT; e-gov has chugged along more due to the efforts of individual
champion bureaucrats, while the unique ID project has been initiated
under the Planning Commission. Mr Raja, you have hogged maximum
limelight; in everyone’s interest, the citizens of India should now
proclaim, paraphrasing Oliver Cromwell in Britain’s Rump Parliament,
‘in the name of God, go!’
 
2. Patni
Brothers–Up in Arms for Corporate Incest

Don’t wash your dirty linen in public and don’t let the family
skeletons tumble out of the cupboards are maxims your grandmother would
have taught you. But Indian business families do not seem to have
imbibed the lessons—be it the much publicized Ambanis or the
simmering fight among the Bajaj brothers, fracas between Indian
siblings are usually long drawn and fought in public and under media
glare. The IT industry too was having its own drama these last two
years—the Patni brothers have been at loggerheads, the feud
brewed and things culminated (or came to its logical conclusion) in
2009 with two of the brothers selling off their stakes in one of
India’s oldest software firms. Cracks have developed between the three
Patni brothers in 2007 only, the founder promoters who together owned
48.3% in the firm that’s more famous for being the launchpad
of  Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani than for being India’s
sixth largest software exporter.

Gajendra Patni and Ashok Patni decided to sell a substantial part of
their stakes along with PE firm General Atlantic who held 18% stake.
This was against the wish the other brother, Patni chairman and CEO Narendra
Patni,
who wanted to hold onto
the company. Their bids failed then because Narendra Patni, who was the
executive chairman, was not ready to give up operational control.
Thwarted in their attempts, the feud simmered on these two years and
the stake sale talks were revived only this September, since Narendra
Patni has now become non-executive chairman after appointing Jeya Kumar
as the CEO in February. Meanwhile, after a sort of revival in fiscal
fortunes in FY09 (ironically in a downturn year), the company’s
valuation has again reached the level it was two years back.
 
In November itself, the two brothers, along with their sons and
grandchildren have started off divesting their stakes in the open
market. With alleged potential buyers like L&T Infotech and NTT
negotiating lower than current market prices, their hands were somehow
forced, though the Rs 72 crore they have mopped up from selling 1.12%
of their stake is minimal compared to the 66% stake held by the combine
of the three brothers and General Atlantic together. Narendra Patni is
not budging though—rumors are rife that he is interested in
increasing his stake because his 32-year-old son Anirudh Patni is a
senior vice- president in the company and a larger stake could help his
son succeed him.

3. Shashi
Tharoor
The
Man Who Tweeted Too Much


The jury is still out on whether our dapper Minister of State for
External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has been a diplomatic success or not.
But one thing is for certain, no one has contributed more than Tharoor
in popularizing Twitter in India during the year. By now his classic
tweets on ‘cattle class’ and ‘holy cows’ and other ‘non-cattl’ic
matters, has not just created a vertical schism across the middle of
the Congress Party, his cabinet colleagues or the Indian polity, it has
given the micro-blogging site in India more than its ‘fifteen minutes
of fame’, and brought it to the mainstream of Indian consciousness.
What took Facebook years to achieve in India, what Orkut gained and
subsequently lost, Twitter gained in a matter of few weeks, thanks in
no small measures to Tharoor’s ample online sartorial skills—the
Indian mindshare. The UN diplomat-turned-politician, has been
tweeting since March 17 and used it as a communication tool during the
Lok Sabha poll campaign. His first tentative tweet was during his
campaigning from Thiruvananthapuram, which has now graduated to more
expansive posts, recounting his tryst from becoming a MP to being a
minister.

Interestingly, social networking sites are blocked from the ministry’s
computer network – a result of a cautious policy to prevent foreign
intrusions. Not surprisingly, therefore the majority of the Tharoor
posts after taking over as the minister have been sent from his
Blackberry, using a mobile client for Twitter. Though there had been
some tweets directly sent from twitter’s web interface, but most of
them were sent late at night, usually after midnight. While the initial
tweets were humorous but irreverent (first dinner by EAM for diplomatic
corps… back on a beat i thought i’d left when i quit the UN… But
better food here! spoke French after yrs, he tweeted at 12.29 a.m on
June 2). But it was his ‘cattle class’ comment during the
post-austerity drive that made ‘Tharoor tweets’ a national news item on
front pages and prime times. And also brought admonitions from his own
party.

After all, he was asking for it. Back to India after decades in the US,
he forgot that he was not President Obama, India was not the US and the
Congress party was not the Democratic party. So, when he got onto
Twitter and started tweeting regularly to an ever increasing number of
followers, the Congress High Command would not have been amused. And
when the number of his followers crossed one lakh, alarm bells would
have started ringing. Outside of the Nehru-Gandhi family and unlike
other young
politicians
,Tharoor, a
political novice, has become the first leader to connect directly to so
many Indians, and that too interactively on a daily basis. Nevertheless
both Tharoor and Twitter are going strong: on December 12, his
followers crossed the 500,000 mark; congratulatory messages led to a
‘Thank You’ reply. Result: as of today, Tharoor has 506,607
followers….and counting.

4.
Anand
Mahindra
Vishnu’s
Eleventh Avatar, the IT Messiah

Creation is only the first phase. You then have to move on to the next
phase of sustaining that creation to the realm of Vishnu the
preserver… Perhaps that is why Vishnu comes not in one, but
in ten incarnations. Thus spoke Anand Mahindra, the scion of the
Mahindra Group, during the annual Nasscom conference in Mumbai in
February. Within two months he has got his first Vishnu moment when
braving skepticism about the future of a company stripped down by its
own founder, Mahindra entered the takeover battle and emerged
victorious, thereby creating Mahindra Satyam from the wreckage of
Satyam Computer Services. With this one action, Anand Mahindra dared to
tread into territories where even established IT czars (read the
Murthys, Premjis or for that matter the Tatas) feared to step in.
Notwithstanding well-meaning solicitations, none of the IT biggies were
willing to even carry a barge pole anywhere near the beleaguered Satyam
post Raju confessions. Till Mahindra decided to take the
risk—as a means of joining the WITCH league–combined Tech
Mahindra
and Mahindra Satyam
revenues zoom the group’s IT topline into the Top 5.

The road doesn’t end for Anand Mahindra just by creating the new
entity. He has already set the goalpost and raised the crossbar much
beyond the regulation eight feet. At the Satyam Leadership Council meet
in May, he told the top 60 managers of Mahindra Satyam:
“Mahindra group companies are usually expected to be number
one or two in their line of business. Mahindra Satyam should not lose
sight of this goal.” If this single minded persuasion
succeeds, it will be a reincarnation for Satyam in all
senses—forget its renaissance post-scam, even without Raju’s
financial peccadilloes the ‘conservative South Indian’ company could
never have dreamed of reaching these heights on its own steam. Anand
Mahindra is now foraying into making planes; but he has already soared
off with his group’s IT dreams. Touch mouse, if there’s no crashlanding
the Indian IT industry might have got its future navigator.

5. Vinnet
Nayar–
In
Top League Now

Though HCL
Technologies
has been
historically considered part of the SWITCH
sextet or WITCH now (with Satyam
becoming Mahindra Satyam and falling out of the club), its CEO Vineet
Nayar has never been the darling of the Fifth Estate like a Narayan
Murthy, Azim Premji or a Nandan Nilekani. And he has not even got half
the press received by a Ramadorai
or Lakshmi
Narayan
who have not been that
media savvy. Forget others, he has not even received the same adulation
as a Shiv Nadar or an Ajai Chowdhry from his own group. 2009 however
seemed to finally Nayar’s year in the
sun, on the back of a strong
showing as his company emerged as the Indian software service provider
who signed the maximum number of infrastructure management related
deals with enterprises across the world. After joining HCL in 1985
Vineet worked his way through the ranks, holding senior positions in
sales and strategic marketing, and he has been CEO of HCLT since
October 2007.

While the acquisition of Axon last year (the largest acquisition in the
Indian IT sector) catapulted HCLT to the top league, under the able
stewardship of Nayar HCL went ahead with a host of multi-million
marquee deals this year. Starting from Reader’s Digest, Nokia, Xerox,
UTi Worldwide, MJ Logistic, MTV Networks, Jet Aviation, Oncor, Dr
Pepper Snapple Group, Energy Future Holdings, Avaya to Equitable
Life—HCLT outshone even more well known names from India on
the global services radar. Looks like HCLT is now threatening to steal
away a portion of the high value SAP installation market from Western
outsourcers. The industry worldwide too seemed to be noticing Nayar’s
contribution behind the HCLT resurgence as accolades and awards were
bestowed generously; he got the 2009 “Beacon of
Hope” award at the ‘Evening of Hope’
benefit dinner in New York, even as the company received several.

6.
N
Chandrasekaran–The Coronation of the
Prince

He was annoited to be the TCS
CEO way back in 2005, when it was decided that Ramadorai would have be
hanging up his shoes. That way,
Chandra
has been the Yuvraj
Singh of Indian IT industry—the prince forever waiting in the
wings to take over the reins one day. But while Yuvraj is still the
bridesmaid of Indian cricket, 2009 turned out to be Chandra’s year as
he finally assumed the top spot at India’s #1 IT services company. Many
industry veterans credit Chandra for transforming the very DNA of TCS
in the last few years. TCS was like a massive ship that used to grow by
its sheer momentum. The problem was it was not nimble and aggressive
like an Infosys. And many credit the one person who changed the
organization culture was Chandra. He created accountability,
aggressiveness and a ‘can do’ attitude at a time when there was no one
willing to challenge the status quo. The need of the hour was to have
some one take charge and Chandra did it especially during his term as
executive assistant to Ramadorai.

At just 45 years of age, Chandra is one of the Indian IT industry’s
youngest CEOs, alongside 39-year-old Francisco
D’Souza of Cognizant
. As COO,
Chandra was responsible for formulating and executing TCS’
global strategy. He was the architect of the new organization structure
unveiled in 2008 which created multiple agile business units focused on
domains and markets; again it was Chandra who pioneered the creation of
the Global Network Delivery Model. Like Ramadorai, Chandra too started
his career at TCS in 1987. He quickly climbed the hierarchal ladder to
become General Manager, SEEPZ, in the 1990s. In that capacity, he
handled the GE account initially. It’s likely that the parallels will
end here—considering the difference in nature between Ram and
Chandra that’s more likely to happen. Tatas either have had flamboyant,
‘in the news’ CEOs like Rusi Mody or Darbari Seths or the back room
boys like Ram. His past track record suggests Chandra is likely to
emulate the former category.

7. Kiran
Karnik
He Proved to be a Messiah
for Indian IT

“It was a Sunday (January 11) when I got a call from the
government (Department of Corporate Affairs), and by afternoon we had
got together, and on January 12 itself we had started
working,” remembers Kiran Karnik, talking about the
government-appointed board that steered Satyam out of troubled waters,
following Raju’s confessions earlier on January 7. The Satyam fiasco
not only shocked corporate India, but had threatened to permanently
tarnish the image of the Indian software exports sector. While there
were six members on the government appointed board, Karnik was the only
one with an IT industry background and more importantly as chairman of
the board, he was the captain to guide the sinking ship on turbulent
waters.

While the stellar efforts of the board has been vividly documented
elsewhere
, it would suffice to
say that Karnik and the other members motivated and managed to retain
most of the Satyam workforce during troubled times, ensured that most
customers stayed back, abided with all regulatory and investigative
bodies and mechanisms in India and US, successfully found a new
respectable owner Tech Mahindra through a fair and transparent bidding
process and created a new model for corporate governance in India.
Karnik had an illustrious tenure as Nasscom president; with his role in
bailing Satyam out, he has found immortality in the pantheons of Indian
IT history.


8. Ramalinga
Raju
He Threatened to Write the
Epitaph of Indian IT


In that now infamous letter addressed to Satyam employees on January 7,
Byrraju Ramalinga Raju confessed to “getting on to a tiger
and not knowing how to get off”; while the ‘frank’ (many
still feel not so frank) admission reflected upon the moral (or the
lack of it) turpitude of Raju and his cohorts (in senior management
positions in Satyam), the likely demise of Satyam had a debilitating
impact on the future of the Indian software exports sector and
threatened to derail the efforts of numerous foot-soldiers built
strenuously over two
decades
. The ominous signs were
there from December ’08, as following the Maytas fracas, skeletons came
tumbling out of the Raju cupboard.

While the stellar work done by the government-nominated board and the
new owner,
Tech Mahindra
has somehow
cleaned up much of the muck in the Satyam Augean stable, there is a
growing apprehension that the full magnitude of the fraud will never
become public. As the Indian courts take their own sweet time over the
prosecution (things have not moved much with Raju yo-yoing between jail
and hospital) and more and more evidences of misappropriation and
misdeamenor come out, the full effect of the Satyam saga will probably
take years to get fully settled. Raju, meanwhile
has been the complete
antitheses of Karnik—he would forever be remembered as the
one who nearly pushed one whole thriving industry overnight over the
precipice into an abyss of despair and destruction.

9. Nandan
Nilekani
From
Infosys to Unique ID, from Industry Bellwether to e-Gov Pinnacle


Not too many people quit their plum professional positions in the
private sector to take up a government posting; especially if he is one
of the poster boys of the glamorous IT industry and the government
challenge he is accepting makes him susceptible to enormous amount of
public flak even for a minor hiccup. But then Nandan Nilekani is not
exactly your common specimen—one of the co-founders of
Infosys, he has co-scripted arguably the corporate success story of the
century, and admittedly inspired the business book of the decade about
the ‘increasingly flattening world’. He abdicated all that to take
charge of the Unique
Identification Number project
—at
nearly Rs 20,000 crore it’s not just the biggest e-gov project in
India, but in terms of sheer scale and magnitude (and the population it
plans to cover) it’s the biggest ever project envisioned anywhere in
the world. At Manmohan Singh’s invitation, Nilekani agreed to
become the chairperson of the unique ID authority whereby he enjoys the
rank of a Cabinet Minister.

The move to set up the UID Authority of India (UIDAI), under the aegis
of the Planning Commission, is aimed at providing a unique identity to
the targeted population of the flagship schemes to ensure that the
benefits reach them. Also, the UID program will provide an identity
card to every citizen to establish citizenship and address security
concerns. The identity cards proposed will be smart cards which will
carry information of each and every individual, his/her finger
biometrics as well as a photograph. A unique National Identity Number
will be assigned to each individual including those below 18 years of
age. Incidentally, Karnataka (where Infosys has its HO) has been
identified for the first pilot where it will come up in 2010; if all
goes well the state that proved to be a happy hunting ground till now
could turn out to be Nilekani’s ultimate Mecca (or Waterloo, as some
detractors feel).

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