Lessons from Paddy’s career in Tatas

3 11 2016

S.Padmanabhan ( Paddy) former Head-HR of TCS, has now become the Chief Human Resources Officer of the entire Tata Group. What does it tell us about careers in large organisations. When the politics of the place changes, your career can change overnight.

In large organisations, politics and internal power structures influence a lot. If you suddenly face a demotion, you do not need to do anything remarkable to come back. You just have to hang around. Suffer some ignominy, some humiliations, sudden loss of power and relevance. Just plod along, accept whatever roles the large organisation gives you. In the case of Paddy he moved from TCS to Tata Power ( a much smaller co) and then to an absolutely sinecure and inconsequential position as the head of Tata Quality Management Services.

When Cyrus Mistry got replaced, suddenly the whole politics of Bombay House changed. Paddy and many other veterans’ fortunes have changed overnight.Paddy who was found not good enough for even one company i.e TCS, suddenly becomes the boss of HR of the entire Tata group.

If Cyrus Mistry had continued, perhaps Paddy would have retired quietly with no one knowing where he went.

The quality to succeed in large organisations is resilience and having this understanding that internal circumstances of your organisation have a huge role in your success or failure. You just have to be around and not do anything silly.

You can go from to hero to zero and become a hero back again.



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.


How do You Know When to Quit

7 09 2008

Last month, I came across a fascinating case analysis by Achal Bhagat in Business World, The analysis provides us with a framework which with proper reflection on the contexts can be applied to understanding organization culture, career planning and even conflict management.


Here is the nub of  what Achal Bhagat says :


All of us travel our life’s journey on four dimensions in parallel :


·        Abuse to dignity

·        Helplessness to control

·        Alienation to togetherness

·        Suffering to purposefulness


We spend our lives charting course in these dimensions in various domains of life like work, relationships, leisure, communities etc. We like celebrating events that allow us to feel a movement forward, and feel sad and angry when we stagnate or move backwards. Each time we move away from dignity, control, togetherness and purpose, we panic and feel that we may lose all and forever.


All of us are caught in this “one step forward three steps backward trap”. Our movement on purposefulness by achieving the sales target makes us feel more alienated. As we feel more isolated, we need to control our environment more and more. The more we do that the more we suffer, because we are going against what we think ourselves to be. We are in a spiral trying very hard to shoot our way out of it. Obviously, the harder we try, the more difficult it becomes.


I found this simple framework very powerful as it is devoid of any simplistic hierarchy of needs. It helps us to integrate the emotional impact on four different dimensions which co-exist at deferent levels at all times. Also, working on one dimension, has impact on the other dimensions. This explains why even high-achievers often do not necessarily feel happy about themselves most of the times.


 More than the paychecks and designations, it is what each individual employee is feeling in each of the four dimensions within the confines of the organization that decide their level of emotional engagement with the job.


Using the above framework, I could reflect on my own decision to stay on with one employer for over 13 years and also why I decided to move on when the score on two dimensions moved backward. This framework helped me to understand that choosing to stay with an organization goes much beyond the conventional employee satisfaction metrics that HR departments often mindlessly administer.


The framework also explained to me why it is often said that employees join organizations but leave the boss. As you can see that in this model, the role of the boss (immediate supervisor) is crucial in determining your condition in  three of the four dimensions mentioned in this framework.  



I rate the last dimension as the most important. If one is moving forward on the purpose dimension, trade-offs in the other three dimensions are easier to accept. One can still get a sense of fulfillment. Organizations which lend an over-arching, inclusive sense of purpose to their employees, are often able to attract and retain  talents without offering much on other dimensions


Given the complex interplay of each of these dimensions, it is clear that one cannot have it all. Also, trying harder is not going to help. The challenge is to identify one’s own comfort zone on each of these dimensions at a given point of time in life and then build or find an organization and career that can help us gravitate to your point of natural equilibrium.


– G. Mohan

Mental Inertia: A Destroyer of Value

10 06 2008

The concept of ‘value’ has been intriguing me for sometime now. This is the first post of my  series on ‘value’.


Many non-value adding and value destructing activities that we end up carrying out can be attributed to mental inertia at an individual or organizational level


Either way, the effects are deleterious on all of us. The whole affects the parts and vice versa. 


In my book, ‘mental inertia’ is different from ‘plain laziness’. For example, once in a while, one may feel lazy to get up early in the morning to go for the routine morning walk. However, this would not deter the person from focusing on his/her work, or reduce their enthusiasm in life overall. On the other hand, mental inertia arises from a lack of emotional engagement or absence of any inner drive to do something worthwhile.


Since they have the financial power to sustain non-value adding activities, large and profitable organizations often become victims of this syndrome. The first signs of this degeneration become evident in the support functions. Gradually and perceptibly  it spreads to the other functions.


Let us take the example of a typical organization that makes its transition from a small entity to a behemoth.


The value added to a start up by each and every employee is clearly discernible. Often, employees may have to go beyond their areas of expertise to meet organizational needs. The Head of Finance may have to be In-charge of Recruitment too, till the organization can afford an HR Head.


The same organization when it grows big, it may carry along some people who will still make value adding contributions, while others who others may survive on the strength of networks cultivated over the years. When these people are rewarded more for ‘the people they know within the organization’ and less for their technical or business competency, they very easily slip into the syndrome of focusing less on their competencies and more on harnessing their networks.


The first sign of mental inertia sets when they start believing that there is nothing more worthwhile than keeping a chosen few happy within the organization. They see no point in trying to do or learn anything new anymore.


To make matters worse, since these so-called managers may have a lot of competent underlings who cover up  for their bosses, they end up sending a signal that ‘competence’ is not a key to success within that organization setting forth a culture of mental inertia across the organization, resulting in destroying value on a collective level


More on this later.


– Venkat Subramaniam

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