‘The AMP I did had triple im­pact’

The Smart Manager - - Cover Story - DR GANESH NATARA­JAN IS CHAIR­MAN OF 5F WORLD, GLOBALTALENT TRACKM AND NASSCOM FOUN­DA­TION. HE IS ALSO PRES­I­DENT OF THE HBS CLUB OF IN­DIA SINCE APRIL 2015.

There are pe­ri­ods in ev­ery per­son’s life when it takes an event to change its tra­jec­tory. For me per­son­ally, the Ad­vanced Man­age­ment Pro­gram at the Har­vard Busi­ness School was clearly one of the best.

It all started at the be­gin­ning of 2007 when I had com­pleted six years as CEO of Zen­sar Tech­nolo­gies Lim­ited. It had been a tough turn­around in the early part of the decade when I took on the reins of a strug­gling small com­pany and slowly, but surely built a cred­i­ble dual shore soft­ware ser­vices busi­ness. The Zen­sar team had cho­sen a strong peo­ple fo­cus and a unique ap­proach to in­no­va­tion to dif­fer­en­ti­ate our­selves from the pack of strug­gling, as­pir­ing soft­ware com­pa­nies and man­aged to grab busi­ness from some of the best Amer­i­can and Asian ma­jors. A year ear­lier, we had di­vi­sion­alised the com­pany for the first time and cre­ated the In­no­va­tive Tech­nol­ogy So­lu­tions di­vi­sion as a separate profit cen­tre to com­ple­ment the steadily grow­ing cus­tom build ap­pli­ca­tions and pack­age ap­pli­ca­tions busi­ness, and the em­ployee count was touch­ing 3000.

My per­sonal ca­reer and aca­demic growth had been fairly steady at that point. Hav­ing been pitch­forked into a CEO role at APTECH at the age of 33 and then be­com­ing Vice-Chair­man and CEO at Zen­sar Tech­nolo­gies in 2001, I found the time to start and com­plete a PhD in Knowl­edge Man­age­ment at IIT Bom­bay (1999-2004). Fre­quent lec­tures at lead­ing In­dian and global busi­ness schools and close af­fil­i­a­tions with CII and NASSCOM meant enough op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn from peers and stu­dents, which I thor­oughly rel­ished. But then came the op­por­tu­nity that would de­fine my own in­di­vid­ual growth and the suc­cess of my or­ga­ni­za­tion for the next decade. My em­ployer, Harsh Goenka, at the RPG Group sug­gested I spend ten weeks at Har­vard Busi­ness School and do their Ad­vanced Man­age­ment Pro­gram; and in Oc­to­ber 2007, I was en­joy­ing the fall colours of Bos­ton and wait­ing to be re-ed­u­cated.

And what a re-ed­u­ca­tion it would turn out to be. From the ini­tial ex­hor­ta­tions at the Fi­nance Boot Camp to ‘never run out of cash’ to learn­ing new ways of mar­ket­ing with case stud­ies as var­ied as Real Madrid and John­son & John­son to cour­ses in strat­egy, ne­go­ti­a­tions, in­ter­na­tional pol­icy, lead­er­ship, and in­no­va­tion all taught through the trade­mark case method, the pro­gram was all that I could have asked for and more. I can proudly say that in spite of some great living group mates and a CXO fra­ter­nity from over thirty coun­tries and the op­por­tu­nity to be in high spir­its all the time, I did not miss a sin­gle class and fre­quently had my hand up to ask a ques­tion. The AMP class­room was so in­vig­o­rat­ing that after jour­ney­ing through three in­sti­tu­tions—BIT Ranchi, NITIE Mum­bai, and IIT Bom­bay, I fi­nally got the inkling of what out­stand­ing ed­u­ca­tional con­tent and ped­a­gogy was all about.

Even more ex­cit­ing than the ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion in class was the after-class par­tic­i­pa­tion. Pro­fes­sor Nitin Nohria, a friend for many years and who was des­tined to be­come the next Dean at HBS was a source of con­tin­u­ing in­spi­ra­tion, and in­ter­ac­tions with AMP fac­ulty mem­bers David Garvin and Michael Tush­man were to lead in later years to two ex­cel­lent case pro­duc­tions about Zen­sar. And the abil­ity to hob nob with global celebrity aca­demics and prac­ti­tion­ers in­clud­ing Michael Porter, Clay­ton Chris­tiansen, Ros­a­beth Moss Kan­ter, and Bill George made this one of the most re­mark­able ten weeks of my life.

Re­turn­ing en­riched with all the learn­ings at HBS, I was quick to ap­ply the Tush­man core con­cept of am­bidex­trous in­no­va­tion to the In­no­va­tive Tech­nol­ogy So­lu­tions busi­ness we had pi­o­neered at Zen­sar. We had kept this group as an in­de­pen­dent profit cen­tre to give it the chance to spread its wings globally, but the con­cept of op­er­at­ing lever­age and the op­por­tu­nity to use the com­mon mar­ket­ing force of Zen­sar to sell in­no­va­tion-em­bed­ded so­lu­tions made us change course and em­bark on a new or­ga­ni­za­tion de­sign. Tush­man later pub­lished a case on this ap­proach and re­ferred to Zen­sar and me gen­er­ously in his re­cent book on in­no­va­tion.

An­other guru-shishya re­la­tion­ship that started on cam­pus and has grown stronger over a decade is with a per­son who I would rank as one of the top thinkers and teach­ers of this gen­er­a­tion, David Garvin. Pro­fes­sor Garvin has jus­ti­fi­ably been ranked among the top­most at the School by batches of ex­ec­u­tives and stu­dents over decades, and his ap­proach to ‘gen­eral man­age­ment in ac­tion’ thor­oughly res­onated with my own bias for ‘get­ting stuff done’. Dis­cus­sions with him helped to put a struc­ture to our bot­tom-up strat­egy for­ma­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion ap­proach that we called ‘Vi­sion Com­mu­ni­ties’ at Zen­sar; the won­der­ful case he wrote a cou­ple of years later is still taught reg­u­larly to mul­ti­ple sec­ond-year classes by a gal­axy of em­i­nent pro­fes­sors and has also found its way to be­ing taught at New York’s Stern School and our very own In­dian School of Busi­ness.

The AMP I did at Har­vard Busi­ness School had triple im­pact. First, it en­cour­aged us to send many more of our lead­er­ship teams to Whar­ton, Har­vard, IMD Lau­sanne, IIM Ahmedabad, and ISB. Sec­ond, it gen­er­ated over fifty mil­lion dol­lars of busi­ness in three years just be­cause of the re­la­tion­ships built and fos­tered with class­mates who went on to lead or­gan­i­sa­tions in UK, the Europe, and Asia. And last but cer­tainly not least, the work we did there­after and the cases writ­ten about Zen­sar en­abled us to pull out all the stops and build unique strate­gies for global suc­cess. In the pe­riod 2010-2015, Zen­sar’s mar­ket value grew at an as­tound­ing 45% CAGR, one of the high­est across all com­pa­nies across all sec­tors in In­dia! No fur­ther jus­ti­fi­ca­tion needed surely to em­brace high-qual­ity man­age­ment de­vel­op­ment in all busi­ness cor­po­ra­tions. ■

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