Chandra ‘Learning’ as he Prepares for Top Job
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