Sapped by Success: Ranjan Das’ Sad Demise

24 10 2009


Ranjan Das, MD of SAP India died the day before yesterday due to a heart stroke at his Mumbai residence. He was 42 years old. He is survived by his wife and two kids.

I do not know him personally. I have never met him and I have not even followed his career closely to be qualified to write an obituary. Yet, his death has set me thinking and perhaps, many other professionals in the IT industry are also doing the same.

Mr. Das, hailed from Assam and had excellent educational credentials. A BS in Engineering from MIT, USA and an MBA from Harvard. He had a great career with stints in Oracle, Tech-entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, SAP America and then in 2007 taking charge as MD of SAP India. As the Dataquest obit says, he made SAP India the largest software company in India, beating Microsoft.

By most professional yardsticks, it was a fantastic career and he was a young achiever. Most professionals would envy him for his achievements.

From news reports, it appears that he was a fitness freak. He even ran the Chennai Marathon recently. An interesting video interview of his after the Chennai Marathon is published in a blog  where, he has promised to return with his SAP team next year. Yet, it will not be.

Did he have to die so young? 

I guess he was very ambitious and he drove himself too hard towards success. So much so he forgot that he was after all a human being. The drive that he had for his work, he brought to his running too. In a telling comment about his drive, he remarks “My initial goal was to complete the race and then it was completing it in 70 minutes. Later, when I saw I had set myself a good pace, I shifted the goal to 60 minutes and I achieved it too, along with another colleague.” 

Unfortunately, Mr. Das is not much of an exception. There are several professionals like him in the IT sector, who are punishing themselves or pressured by their organizations to grueling routines and obscene levels of stress. Das’ untimely death will surely raise an alarm and force them to reflect.

What is the meaning of all the success, if the price is your life?

How far and how long can you stretch your body, beyond the normal, without it breaking down?

Is the pursuit of market share, market leadership really worth giving up your life for?

When should you say enough is enough?

Inconvenient questions with no easy answers.

May Ranjan Das’ soul rest in peace.



Novel Modes of Music Merchandizing

23 10 2009

Here is a short quiz. Which is the largest selling brand of FM Radio in India? Which is the largest selling brand of music players in the country? The answers for both the question are the same.


 The cell phones of today are multipurpose devices, voice services being just one of the many features. The market leader in cell phone becomes the leader in other segments too.

In cities it is a common sight to see security guards and waiting drivers, playing music on their cell phone to battle their boredom. 

Seeing the opportunity of selling legally copyrighted music to these new customers of music T-Series has launched music in Micro SD cards and USB pen-drives with   the Bollywood movie Blue. The Micro SD card is priced at Rs 475 and the USB pen drive  2GB is priced at Rs 525.

Nokia already has set up an online music store with a huge library of over 30,00,000 songs. Several models of Nokia come with preloaded songs.

The Apple iPods and other MP3 players had already taken the market in the western countries. In India, because of their high price they did not make much of a mark. Micro SD cards played on cell phones has a great future in India. Nearly 400 Million Indians have a cell phone, so if the pricing is right, the market can become significant.

Music loaded in pen drives also has a good prospect. Besides, the desktop and laptop computers, increasingly the set-top boxes provided by DTH operators have a USB port. The only hitch here is that given the easy availability of freely downloadable music on the Internet, customers are unlikely to pay Rs 525 for pen drives many times.

The Micro SD cards and USB drives do offer other opportunities for entrepreneurs. Will the semi-literate cell phone user use his cell phone for education? How about an English speaking course on these cards ? Can audio books on self-improvement and management subjects be published on USB drives for the laptop users ? 

What the CD-ROMs could not do can the Micro SD cards and USB drives do ?

–       G. Mohan

TCS Under Ramadorai: A Case of Providential Success?

11 10 2009

S.Ramadorai (Ram) has relinquished the charge of Managing Director of TCS Ltd and has handed over charge to N.Chandrasekaran, (Chandra). Business Standard described Ram’s tenure in TCS as follows:

“ Ramadorai has bid farewell to Tata Consultancy Services after being with the organisation for 37 years. 

Ramadorai joined as a trainee engineer worked his way to the highest position in the company. Ramadorai would continue his association with the company as the non-executive vice-chairman. Ramadorai took over as CEO in 1996 and has been instrumental in building TCS to its present day stature.

When he took over, TCS earned just $100 million and had 6000 employees. Under his leadership, the company has grown to be one of the world’s largest global software and services companies. 

His favorite quote is: No dream is ever too small; no dream is ever too big.”

Being the CEO of a large company for 13 years and taking it from 100 Million $ sales to 6 Billion dollars is no mean achievement. Yet, it is extremely difficult to articulate Ram’s management style or attributing any breakthrough step taken by the company or the IT industry to him.

Ramdorai inherited the TCS mantle from FC Kohli who had already identified and clearly laid down the building blocks for TCS business in software and IT services. The key presence in leading markets like US and Europe was already in place. The business model of hiring engineers and programmers from across India and posting them on projects abroad and earning profits by wage arbitrage was well established. Servicing foreign clients from providing offshore centres in India also began in the late’80s.

In a Business India article which came after Ramadorai took over as the CEO from FC Kohli, Mr Kohli had made a terse comment that ” Ramadorai had no vision for TCS, but will acquire it over time.”

The strategy and business model of TCS from the FC Kohli era was scaled up by Ramadorai and his team to levels no one ever thought was possible. Year 2000 presented a great opportunity to scale up this model and create software factories. Even the decision to leverage Y2K was not really a conscious decision by Ram/TCS but being with the flow. The entire Indian IT industry was gearing up for it and having had a head start in this business TCS and Infosys made the most of it.

There is no clear evidence or information that some of the acquisitions made by TCS were actually driven by any grand vision of Ramadorai. It appears that the CMC acquisition which happened as a part of the disinvestment programme of the Govt of India, was a decision thrust on TCS by Bombay House. The merger of Tata Infotech with TCS also appeared to be a Bombay House decision to strengthen an ailing company. Even the decisions of not launching an IPO at the height of the dot-com boom of ’99-2000 and finally launching an IPO in 2004 was more a decision of the owners rather than the CEO’s.

It has to be said that after TCS ceased to be a division of Tata Sons and became a public limited company and was declaring results Quarter after quarter, visibility of TCS and Ramadorai improved considerably.

In spite of his frequent appearances in media as MD of TCS or as an elder spokesperson of the IT industry, Ramadorai’s statements or quotes had minimal substance and little impact. Even his favorites would not credit him of having any charisma. Ramadorai and TCS always looked pale in front of the well-oiled PR machinery of Infosys.

In the last five years after the IPO, even though Ramadorai was the CEO, it was becoming increasingly visible that the day-to-day operations and much of the strategic decisions were being made by the top team particularly the current CEO, Chandra. The recent acquisition of Citi BPO or the organizational restructuring of 2008 were seen as Chandra’s initiatives rather than Ram’s.

Ramadorai had a very minimalist style of management. Being at the helm of affairs of such a large company, yet appearing very aloof. Sometimes he went along with the decisions and initiatives taken by his bosses in Bombay House and sometimes by his team. He did not make any grand statements of vision or put his personal prestige behind any major decision. Yet, he did not do anything silly. He may appear like a bystander, but he was very much on the ball in terms of facts and figures. He had the wisdom to know he had a good thing going in TCS and did not upset the applecart. He floated on the top of TCS unruffled as if he had a Teflon coating around him.

Having been the CEO of India’s No 1 IT company, does it make him a great technologist in the Bill Gates mould? Hardly. He had an engineering qualification, but that did not make him a great technologist. He started his life as a hardware engineer. But, the hardware he used to maintain, have long become obsolete. Having grown the sales revenue over 60 times in 13 years , was he a great marketing or consummate deal maker. Perhaps not. Although he would never shy away from meeting clients across the world, he did not show any flair in salesmanship or innovative deal making. Was he a great people person, having managed a company with more than 140,000 employees? Most probably not. He appeared distinctly uncomfortable in the company of his employees, majority of whom were less than half his age. He was neither liked nor disliked, because most employees did not know what he stood for.    

Ramadorai remained an enigma. Ramadorai may not have been anywhere close to the textbook profile of a great corporate leader, yet he leaves the top job at TCS as an extremely successful manager. As Ramadorai moves up as the VC, hoping that the elephant called TCS continues to trundle along on Ram’s luck.

– G. Mohan

Why Working with Hands is Looked Down Upon in India?

7 10 2009

It is now the festival season in India. The Hindus have a festival for everything. In the North and Eastern India, Vishwakarma Puja was celebrated on September 17th. In the Southern states, the last day of Navaratri i.e. the Vijaya Dashami or Dussehra day is celebrated as Ayudha Puja.

Vishwakarma Puja and Ayudha Puja are ceremonies to worship the Gods who look after the weapons, machines, vehicles, tools and implements used in factories and homes. On this day, the machines and tools are all cleaned up, painted and then a garland is put on them. A tilak of sandalwood paste and vermillion is put on each of them. On this day, tools are not used, as they are being worshipped. The workmen after the Puja distribute sweets and enjoy the break.

Whereas, the tradition of worshipping these tools and implements continue, the respect and regard for the various crafts like carpentry, smithy, plumbing etc which use these is declining. In urban Indian homes, even minor work which requires the use of these tools is outsourced. Yuppies, including qualified engineers, not only consider it infra-dig to dirty their hands and do this work, very often they lack the basic skills needed for using them. In a city like Hyderabad, most likely the artisan you call is likely to be a Muslim. Hindus prefer to theorize and manage, perhaps.

There is something about the Hindu culture or the Indian education system, which devalues the crafts and the vocational skills required to create and repair things. Students are encouraged to study science subjects like physics and chemistry, but they would much rather concentrate on the theory, learn the concept but leave the experiments. Practical and Laboratory work is often treated as a necessary evil to get through the school final.

In the engineering colleges, even the good ones, which have good laboratories and workshops, there are very few students who spend a lot of time there creating models or prototypes, or generally spending time to hone their craft. I have seen a few of my classmates, making their own music systems by  buying components and putting them together. But they are more an exception, than the rule. 

India may have a very large pool of scientific and technical manpower, but  a miniscule number of them who potter around their homes/ garages, playing with tools and creating new things. Every Indian city now has large number of malls. But I have not seen a single mall in any city which has D.I.Y (Do it yourself) stores which I have seen in the small towns of US and UK. 

One can argue that people in US and UK have to do a lot of work on their own, from home painting to fabricating their home furniture because labor is expensive. Labor has become expensive in India too, yet, there is little or no sign that more Indians are learning crafts or working with their hands.

Indians or Hindus were not always this way. Mahatma Gandhi used to weave his own cloth and used to stitch in his Singer sewing machine which he once remarked as ” one of the few useful things ever invented.”

The post-1991 India swears by consumerism. They want to acquire plush houses, fancy cars, designer furniture, latest gadgets. All these things involve crafts of different kinds. Yet, the consuming class would not do anything with their own two hands. They would much rather earn money by means, fair and foul and acquire them. More often than not, the best of the products are not made in India. In the scores of TV programmes on gadgets, rarely you see a single Indian product being discussed. 

Among many reasons very few inventions come out of India could be the fact that the scientists are poor in the craft of inventions. Inventors of the 19th and 20th Century like Edison, Edwin Land or Elihu Thomson had not only good scientific concepts, they would work with their hands to produce models and prototypes which led to so many great inventions. Indian scientists work on concepts and publish papers, but very few innovative products. The grass root innovators have the craft but they lack theoretical grounding, making their products uncompetitive.

The Union Minster of HRD, Kapil Sibal should consider reforms that would bring about the balance in teaching of science and technology where the craft gets its due. 

– G. Mohan

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