Chan­dra ‘Learn­ing’ as he Pre­pares for Top Job

The Economic Times - - Front Page -

Jochelle Men­donca & TV Ma­halingam

Mumbai: N Chan­drasekaran, set to take over as chair­man of Tata Sons in less than a week, is “lis­ten­ing and tak­ing in dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives” as he pre­pares to head the $100-bil­lion con­glom­er­ate that sells ev­ery­thing from pulses to lux­ury cars.

Chan­drasekaran will for­mally hand over the reins at group cash cow Tata Con­sul­tancy Ser­vices (TCS) to Ra­jesh Gopinathan and move to his new job on Fe­bru­ary 21, mark­ing the de­noue­ment of a cor­po­rate drama that be­gan with Cyrus Mistry’s ouster as Tata Sons chair­man in Oc­to­ber last year.

The shift to the group’s hold­ing com­pany shouldn’t re­ally be viewed as a de­par­ture, Chan­drasekaran said.

“I am not leav­ing TCS. I will al­ways be a part of TCS. But I also look for­ward to be­com­ing a part of Tata Steel, Tata Mo­tors and all the other group com­pa­nies,” Chan­drasekaran told ET in his last in­ter­view as CEO of In­dia’s largest IT com­pany, which he joined in 1987. “I will con­tinue to be in­volved with strat­egy. I will pro­vide as much sup­port, cover... what­ever you call it. These guys can reach out to me any­time.”

Chan­drasekaran, an avid marathoner who was an­nounced as chair­man-des­ig­nate of Tata Sons on Jan­uary12, said he’s been keep­ing up with his run­ning de­spite a hec­tic sched­ule. Chan­dra, as he’s known to al­most ev­ery­one at TCS and those out­side it, said he’s look­ing for­ward to trav­el­ling a lot less in his new role. At TCS, he was used to spend­ing 200 days in a year on in­ter­na­tional travel, meet­ing clients across con­ti­nents.

That pun­ish­ing sched­ule will be in­her­ited by Gopinathan, who’s al­ready get­ting used to it.

“I spent two of the last four weeks trav­el­ling and meet­ing cus­tomers in the US and Europe. Chan­dra was with me for about half those meet­ings,” Gopinathan told ET. “We have a joke — I used to go to the US twice a year and he used to go 10 times a year. Now we will have to switch.”

The two first met in1999 when Chan­drasekaran was head­ing the fast-grow­ing ebusi­ness unit that tapped into the Y2K boom and the ex­plod­ing dot-com busi­ness in the US. “When we met, ev­ery­body thought the in­dus­try would roll over and die once the Y2K came to an end,” Gopinathan re­called. Chan­drasek­eran him­self took over as CEO of TCS in 2009 when the in­dus­try was strug­gling with growth af­ter the global fi­nan­cial melt­down. His suc­ces­sor will in­herit a com­pany that has a sig­nif­i­cant lead over the com­pe­ti­tion but con­cerns over pro­tec­tion­ism and growth grip the in­dus­try.


Among those is the fear that US Presi- dent Don­ald Trump will im­pose curbs on H-1B visas in or­der to gen­er­ate more jobs for Amer­i­cans, driv­ing up costs for In­dian IT com­pa­nies.

But TCS is pre­pared for this even­tu­al­ity, Chan­drasekaran said, hav­ing al­ready fac­tored in a scarcity of such visas.

“For the last 12 months, we have had all teams work­ing un­der the con­straint that there will be no H-1B visas,” he said. “So we said we will get just a sixth of the H-1B visas we got in the pre­vi­ous year. I wanted zero but the team came up say­ing we will get 15% of visas.” Gopinathan said the com­pany was still eval­u­at­ing whether to stick with the strat­egy in the next fi­nan­cial year but both are pos­i­tive about the fu­ture of the in­dus­try.

“The one thing ev­ery­one is clear about is that they are go­ing to in­vest more in tech­nol­ogy than less,” Gopinathan said. “We are in that sweet spot and this is the only in­dus­try that can claim that.”

Chan­drasekaran, an avid crick­eter dur­ing his school days, used a sport­ing anal­ogy to ex­plain his outlook for TCS and the In­dian IT in­dus­try. “You are never go­ing to play on a dead wicket. There will al­ways be a few rough spots and the oc­ca­sional ball will do its thing. So, you can ei­ther say there is tur­moil or you can say that par­tic­u­lar ball you have to play care­fully. That doesn't mean you don't play the other five balls. The best of the in­dus­try and TCS is yet to come.”

The pun­ish­ing sched­ule will be in­her­ited by new CEO Gopinathan, who’s al­ready get­ting used to it

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