50 not out and still hitting the ball out of the park

Dr. BVR Mohan Reddy – a legend of IT industry’s glorious century and also the winner of Dataquest Lifetime Achievement Award presses a time-travel button as he chats with Editor Sunil Rajguru about his journey and IT industry’s ‘coming of age’ story from 1991 to 2024.

DQI Bureau
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Life time achievement award

Dr. BVR Mohan Reddy – a legend of IT industry’s glorious century and also the winner of Dataquest Lifetime Achievement Award presses a time-travel button as he chats with Editor Sunil Rajguru about his journey and IT industry’s ‘coming of age’ story from 1991 to 2024. Find out how the country has traversed from entrepreneurship and education back then to now; and what lies a decade ahead.


Congratulations on the award.

Thanks. I am very honoured to get this award. Dataquest has earned a tremendous reputation and respect from the IT community. Thanks for choosing me for this honour.

You have had a long journey. Take us back to the early days of Indian IT.


Right. My journey has been long—about 50+ years of my professional career have gone by as I look back. My first encounter with computers was in 1973. I went to IIT Kanpur—considered to have the largest and best computer setups. But these were early days for computers in India. The centre was in a well-architected building with a musical fountain in front of it. Very impressive. Huge IBM computers occupied the floor-space but the power they harboured was less than today’s smartphones. Then I went to the University of Michigan for a second Masters’ degree. That’s when my second encounter with computers happened. I decided – despite being a mechanical engineer—that I will make my career in computers. In 1977, I came back to India. The early days of computing were very interesting. I took up a job in Bangalore – that’s when IT was known as EDP (Electronic Data Processing). I was part of system tool areas—designing bespoke applications. I wanted to be an entrepreneur early on in my life. But before I became one in 1991, I skilled myself well. I worked in systems integration and when I saw the winds of change coming in, I took the plunge. I saw an opportunity in engineering services, and I moved on. In 1991, LPG – Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization – was the fuel of the new path for India.

Did the gears shift massively with the onset of the LPG era?

I started the company in 1991 and began business the next year. Exporting software was different from the License Raj which operated till 1991. The jobs I was in previously were quite helpful in building the skills which I needed to run a company—from operations to design to sales to managerial skills. I had also created some assets to enable me to take the risks I wanted to bet on. Many people were in bespoke software areas—application development and maintenance etc. I saw an opportunity in a specific area: Engineering-as-a-Service. With that—we created a new category in itself. We could provide design, maintenance and support to global customers from India. This needed cost arbitrage as well as on-time delivery and quality.


Was it easy?

There were many challenges; like the need for the right skills for these jobs, especially when volumes were up. There was a variation in skills and output too. That’s when we focused on the process part. That’s when CMM level 4 and 5 or ISO certifications came into extreme focus. We developed a PPT framework—People, Process and T: Tools, Technology and Training. Our ability to recruit and train the best of people with the best of processes with the right domain expertise—was built here. Also, one area’s domain knowledge was different from another one. We also went aggressively on geographic expansion and marketing (through partnership model instead of deep pocket-spends). I realized that two different cultures might not align well. Instead of going out and opening offices, in 2000, I did three acquisitions. This gave us a new foothold—a big move for us for global aspirations. Over a period of time, we have morphed into a new form and shape. This is a tireless journey. It is a journey without a destination. You have to innovate—continuously.

How did you raise money and grow?


I started at a time when the VC model was not very popular. Except for IDBI’s previous avatar and ICICI. The terms I got from initial deals were different—it was, according to some areas, not venture capital but vulture capital—as some people would joke. Later I brought in a strategic investor. We also went to a private equity after that. We raised money at the right time. We have always been disciplined. We never had a single quarter which was under stress. Innovation has become a critical area for us. Companies live forever, but humans don’t – That’s my outlook. I have carved good succession strategies. I gave up the role of being the CEO in 2014. Now I am a Director on the Board.

What about Nasscom? You were in key leadership roles there as well.

Nasscom is also slowly moving from IT industry to technology industry. It is an amazing and extremely professional institution. Their work in areas like policy advocacy has been quite impressive. Their research reports and thought leadership have been great hallmarks of future while also giving great networking opportunities. Every member gains from global marketing visibility. As emerging technologies and disruption happen, the skills needed for the future would be very different from what we have now. So in 2015-16, we began the idea of a FutureSkills platform. Overall, Nasscom and its leadership have been quite laudable for all their work. When liberalisation started, India was in a difficult Forex situation. Nasscom has been at the forefront of promoting exports and today India is on a great vantage point in Forex terms.


You have also contributed to various platforms in industry and academia. Can you share something about that side of your life?

When I stepped back from the company’s leadership, I decided to devote time to education. I have had the distinction of being the longest-serving Chairman of an IIT. I also provide leadership at IIT-Roorkee. I chaired a committee on improving technical education in India. These efforts are beyond IITs – across several thousand engineering colleges in the country. We worked on changes in curriculum, faculty quality, interventions for quality of pedagogy, student-centric pedagogy etc. We also realized that India has a larger capacity than required. It is a capacity which is not created with the right intent—and that’s why several of them got closed. We discovered that industry-academic collaboration should improve manifold. We also looked at internships, projects and professors of practice – some new concepts. We have done a fairly good amount of work. I am also keen about entrepreneurship solving the unemployment challenge in the country. It is not an option but a necessity. For example, we have built a school of innovation and entrepreneurship in IIT Hyderabad. Technical education is certainly improving. Is it the best? But the glass is half-full.

Can you also share something about skill centres, the Cyient foundation and other such endeavours of yours?


The basic philosophy of Cyient is ‘values first’ – fairness, integrity, respect, sincerity and transparency. The four pillars, then, emerge from this foundation. These pillars are investor, employee, customer and society. Much before CSR norms came in, we chose these areas to work on. We adopted about 36 schools. In these schools, where we touched the heart of ten thousand children every year, the girl child population was 15-18 per cent. Today it is about 54 per cent. We have also focused on other practical issues. The GER (Gross Enrolment Ratio) is 26 per cent. About 74 per cent drop off. We started urban micro skilling centres to help people with what is required in the local community—bakery, confectionary, tailoring etc. We make sure that once these people are skilled, 100% of them get jobs. It is a gratifying impact that I am proud to have contributed to.

Can you look through a crystal ball? Any thoughts on the India2047 mission? How can we become a Tech Superpower by then?

India, definitely, has a great story ahead of it. What we were before 1991 to today – to the way we have entered the era of self-sufficiency and built a reasonably-good infrastructure – is commendable. The middle class has grown considerably. The economy is growing at a good pace. In the course of the next three years, we can become the third-largest economy in the world. In areas of education and agriculture, a lot has been done but a lot more is required to be done. We have a strong demographic dividend. Indians are smart people—with the right education and skills, we can surely become the technology hub of the world. The NEP 2020 will also help to propel people towards creativity, analytical and design thinking, knowledge instead of rote learning and more. We need certain interventions, but I am extremely positive there is a great amount of prosperity ahead.


(Catch the complete video interview on the CyberMedia Series YouTube Channel.

Dr. BVR Mohan Reddy

Founder, Cyient

Session report by Pratima H)