Tuesday, February 03, 2009

You will have to wear different hats – Founder, shareholder and Employee as a CEO – on different days.

Meet Your Buddy, Vol 7: Satya Prabhakar

Satya Prabhakar

The saying "When the going gets tough, the tough gets going" is apt in case of this person who quit a high-profile job to pursue his passion... We are proud to have in this edition Mr.Satya Prabhakar, Founder and CEO, Sulekha.com, one of the largest social network for Indians worldwide... After completing his graduation from REC,Trichy, he went on to pursue MBA from Univ. of Florida.After a 20 year stint in the corporate world, he took a plunge in to entrepreneurship and went on to create Suleka.com. over to Mr.Satya now.

Tell us something about the idea and history of Sulekha.
Sulekha started as a hobby in 1998 while I was working with AT&T. The idea was being discussed in a mailing list of IIM Calcutta – Dakghar – and that is where it struck me. I took a break from work when the traffic was exploding in 1999-2000.

How difficult was it to get funding for a web based company at the height of dotcom bust?
We tried raising money but were not successful even after meeting about 50 VCs. But we had user interest to portray. And we knew that no good idea ever died due to lack of funding. Finally IMG (Indigo Monsoon Group) invested in 2001.
Soon, we had acquisition offers from Rediff and Sify. But we were confident of our company and this has paid off. Today we are the #1 Indian community outside India and already #5 in India – just behind Rediff, Sify, MSN and Yahoo.

What were the other challenges you faced in initial days?
Initially it was difficult to hire and retain good people. However, we soon realized that once we hire good people for HR and Finance, it is not difficult to scale up and even retain people.

Where does Sulekha stand now and what is the future?
I am proud to say that Sulekha has now become by far the biggest and most popular member generated community and social-professional networking hub integrating social media and local commerce services for Indians worldwide. More than 95% of Sulekha's 10 Million+ pages of content are member generated. We also have 1.5 M members providing 30 M monthly page views!

At this stage of growth, we are focusing heavily on India now. India, obviously, adds more Indians than entire Indian worldwide. So, this becomes the obvious choice.

Where do you see the sudden explosion of SNS (Social Networking Sites) going?
I believe SNS for the sake of networking is not an enduring phenomenon. Every one of us is becoming cash rich and time poor. So, your social network must deliver a meaningful value. In future, transaction will become largely local. Hence our motto is to deliver meaningful content with integration of social media and networking with local commerce.
We realize that a youngster in 15-25 age group, which are the prime targets for most SNS, have no money to spend, so Sulekha uniquely focuses on older audience.

Tell us something that you learned from your entrepreneurial journey.
Entrepreneurship involves challenges at each step. But you learn to conquer all obstacles with confidence. You will have to wear different hats – Founder, shareholder and Employee as a CEO – on different days.

It is all about creating IP with passion. Whatever you earn is proportional to the IP you create. So, one needs to be ready to learn new tech and create something of value very, very quickly.
The 4 I’s of success are – Intelligence, Industry, Initiative and Integrity. So the focus of today’s youth should be to focus on learning. The objective should be to learn at every step quickly. Jobs are never meant to make life comfortable. The idea is to operate in the zone of discomfort and to push ourselves to achieve greater heights every single day.

How does it feel to be able to bring Sulekha here?
Frankly, there is no special feeling, no great sense of accomplishment as even with our size we are still very small and there is lot still left to learn. Every day you get great opportunities. But I can certainly say if I get a chance again I will be definitely be doing it again.

How does an MBA help in entrepreneurship?
A business requires you to be good at everything – product innovation, finance, HR and marketing. A general management degree gives you an exposure to all of these aspects.
MBA gives you an infrastructure to develop a better product and get it over to market. What is important is to know all the right questions to ask than to know the right answers of all questions.
However, MBA education in India, generally, is not very good primarily due to lack of right faculty with real-life corporate experience.

What do you still remember about REC Trichy?
REC Trichy (then) enjoyed a very good reputation in India with a stronger academic orientation with no history of a strike ever. So, it was my obvious choice over other options i had. At Trichy, it was a cosmopolitan culture which prepares you to face professional world with more confidence and adaptability to excel anywhere and everywhere irrespective of linguistic or geographic constraints. I learnt to read and write Tamil there. I very vividly remember hostel level interactions even though I was not one of the guys in the coterie of the happening “cool” junta.

What should NIT Trichy do to promote its brand?
One very important thing is to have a faculty that inspires interest in their subject. We should organize bigger alumni events and publicize them well. The alumni days can be converted into global alumni meets. There is also a need to build an updated searchable alumni database.

What is your feedback about Meet Your Buddy series?
It would be great if you can make a human sketch of a person like creating an executive profile of the person you are portraying. [We are happy to say that we instantly accepted this suggestion from this volume onwards. Thank you, Satya!]

[Feel free to email us if you know an illustrious REC/NIT Trichy alumnus. We would like to have your comments on the new format.]

Team MYB.
Arpit Agarwal
Anurag Saxena
Prashant Sree - prashantsree21@gmail.com

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

"It is in Indian genes to be good entrepreneurs!"

Meet Your Buddy, Vol 6: PC Narayan

Prashant (Orizin) said, “RECTians are second to none!”. We agree. After bringing you the top notch entrepreneurs and industry personnel, we present a corporate-turned-academic whose profile would dazzles even the highest achievers in industry. It was at the prime of his career that he decided to call it quits and work fulltime in an academic setting.

PC Narayan currently holds the Banking Chair at Finance and Control area of IIM Bangalore. He is a 1973 Batch alumnus of REC Trichy and went ahead to get a Business Management degree from XLRI Jamshedpur. He also completed the Advanced Management Program at IFAP Rome, Italy.

He started his career with Telco (now Tata Motors) and worked with several other organizations before joining Standard Chartered. After serving the bank’s South Asia region for several years out of Singapore, he moved into full time academics joining IIM Bangalore. He is one of the most sought after speaker at Banking fora and travels regularly on consultancy assignments.

PC Narayan (left) with Anand (MYB, Vol 4) at Reconnect 2006

Why doesn’t IIM prefer experienced people as is the trend in many business schools internationally?

There are two schools of thought: There are people who say that experienced people are able to appreciate better the business and processes that they are exposed to. While those in favor of fresh graduates contend that as people gain experience, and with the number of years they are kept out of curriculum, they lose their ‘native intelligence’ – a prime requirement to produce quality research work.

The younger a student is, the more academically inclined he/she is. It is felt that practicing managers have modeled their brains in a more congested way.

Even in a lot, engineers are preferred. They have a much practical view of business than, say, a student of purely humanities background.

Nevertheless, there is a widely held view that management is all about managing people. How does experience in production or software engineering help in managing a business?

I believe that this is the greatest misconception about business management. Yes, people management is a necessity. However, the core functions of a business – marketing, finance, productions, operation – remain the same in all companies – be it in a software company or a FMCG giant. All these functions can be visualized as rooms in a building of organization and ignoring the importance of anyone is something like giving importance to corridors rather than rooms. Corridors are a necessity but all rooms are equally important.

In fact, plain experience may not be enough. What is highly sought is a domain level expertise. Such an experience comes only after some years of working in an organization and in a cross-functional role.

As you grow in an organization, your core knowledge helps only to a limited extent. After that, your ability to co-ordinate across business functions becomes important.

How can one conclusively decide about his/her area of competence? Further still, how can one be sure about his innate liking?

I believe the intuitive inner knowledge tells you what you should do in life. Intuition may not be strong after one-two years in industry. However, as you grow up in organization and responsibility, you begin to realize what your true nature is. Intuition, in reality, has to do a lot with the level of experience a person has.

Three things together make a person successful – Intuition, Persuasion and Conviction (ICP). Intuition is the first link in the chain. Without it, nothing else can exist. However, Intuition without any real Conviction is scrap. A person who does not have the requisite amount of Conviction cannot dream of persuading anyone. However, this is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for good Persuasion. It is only when a person learns to persuade people to his line of thinking he is successful. In fact, as you would appreciate, Conviction without Persuasion brings only frustration in the mind of an individual.

How did you decide to leave a fledgling career in industry to join full time academics?

I used to enjoy delivering guest lectures and the intellectual challenge of talking to young people. In corporate life, 90% of time, you order and things get done. The challenging environment of a classroom gives you an opportunity to learn a lot. Then, there is a possibility of putting theory into practice – by consulting. One fine day, I heeded to my inner voice. I decided to do what I enjoy the most! This was a moment when everything – intuition, conviction and persuasion – fell into place.

Only in an academic setting, you can realize how practical life gives birth to sound research. For example, it is very difficult to say what came first – research or practice – in the case of outsourcing from which India is benefiting heavily.

It makes an interesting case to study the impact of outsourcing by American companies to Indian companies. I had once made a strong case of transfer of economic axis from US to India due to outsourcing.

How helpful is it, for an Indian manger, to get global experience? Should foreign MBA be preferred?

International experience is certainly helpful in this globalizing world. However, it may not need a full time degree to gain that. A bright person can learn to manage all the cross-cultural differences in one or two assignments abroad. There is no need for us to be arrogant and impertinent about ourselves. Given the same conditions, an average Indian stands a much better chance to learn things faster. There are differences in the way international business is done. An American client would appreciate you asking for some more time to finish the task rather than committing failure to meet the deadline later on. This scenario can be different in India or any other country and here experience comes into picture.

Where do you feel Indian economy is heading in the long-run?

I am bullish about the prospects of India. The best thing in India is its robust democracy. There is a freedom of criticism of everything – and all Indians know how to cope up with it in our day-to-day lives. This gives a major boost to developmental economics in India. Whenever there is a famine, the leader of opposition will be the first person to reach on ground zero, while the leader of government will ensure that his representative reaches there even before that!

On the other hand, an autocratic government has no such pressure to deliver. Therefore, it can sustains itself only till a viable alternative to it is not shown to people – this is what happened in Nepal last year and happened in Iran with the Iranian revolution. The ground reality is that the Chinese communist government is the best at practicing capitalism!

Our PM, Mr. Manmohan Singh said in an industry conference, “We are building a very transparent system. We cannot target an ambitious target of 11% GDP growth in the first year itself. That would make the growth unsustainable. We have, therefore, chosen the path of being slow but steady and sure”. He adds, “Indian entrepreneurship is strong. It is not the MNCs who are setting up industry in India, as is the case with China. We would therefore like to promote a system which facilitates a lot of learning.”

Can you throw some light on the prospects of ‘Microfinance’ in India?

Its one of the area I am deeply involved into and the prospects are really booming. I have personally visited villages near Bangalore and other parts of country and I was amazed to see the attitude and knowledge of villagers. There are instances where I felt they know a lot about concepts like ‘high interest and low interest debt’ and practically apply them. Very often, I quote the same while I am teaching in IIMB. Indian villagers and farmers are intelligent have greater self respect than their counterparts in any other country. The only threat to microfinance in India is the absence of a regulatory authority. There were cases recently when a well running organization met a deadlock because of lack of awareness about the standard procedures.

What do you think we should do to build a better brand for NITT?

I am very confident of the talent of the students of our alma mater. There are many instances when their grasping power proved it. You should get hold of alumni from senior batches. We, then, need to approach some top performing alumni and do a seminar of sorts – ask alumni to talk only about their successes – may not be directly relevant to RECAL but this will create a goodwill in society for NITT and its brand. All this should be coupled with an engagement with a good PR and Media company.

Such a ‘leadership series’ will certainly add a lot of awareness and brand-recognition. This should always be taken all over the country and to the highest end of media spectrum.

We should also recognize old and new faculty members - people whom we all can associate with. In addition, I feel that RECAL has still not grown up – we should allow leadership at RECAL to evolve.

What do you think takes for a NITTian to be successful at entrepreneurship?

It is practically in Indian genes to be good entrepreneurs. All that you require is to have high energy levels, a sense of commitment, aggression to succeed, determination and tenacity to find a solution in every problem.

Men at top do matter in everything that they do. An entrepreneur should be ready to stop being a geek and don a leadership role. Most successful entrepreneurs are good leaders. Even Narayanmurthy jokingly says that he is glad he was not the best programmer around.

These days, even though there is a high availability of funds, it is coupled with a high mortality rate too. We should actually teach about pros and cons of entrepreneurship as a part of curriculum.

[PCN would love to get in touch with you. Please email him at pcn at iimb dot ernet dot in. He is actively looking possibilities of consulting large organizations.]

[Yes, we have taken an awful lot of time to publish this one! We do intend to be more regular, if time permits. Please bear with us and keep suggestions flowing in.]

Anurag Saxena (2005 Meta), IBM India Pvt. Ltd
Arpit Agarwal (2005 ECE), Ittiam Systems Pvt. Ltd

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

“I pay for all products I take home for personal use!”

Meet your buddy, Vol 5: BV Ramanan

For most alumni BV Ramanan needs no introduction. He has been the most visible face of RECAL over the years. While we all know BV Ramanan for all he has done for alumni network – literally enabling a ‘phoenix’ – and as an active member of NIT Trichy board of governors, not many people are aware that he is an equally successful entrepreneur too. His company Livia Polymer Bottles Pvt. Ltd garnered revenue of Rs.250 million in last financial year and is projected to grow to more than a billion rupees within next 4-5 years! He has also been contributing to development of industrial ecosystem of Trichy as Chairman, Confederation of Indian Industry, Trichy region.

Even though the passion with which he is involved with the alumni activity is difficult to ignore, in the following interview we focus more on the entrepreneur named BV Ramanan. Needless to say, he is exemplary even in that facet of his persona.

Ramanan’s father was one of the first set of Engineers who started BHEL Trichy. He had mentored a large number of BHEL’s ancillary companies, most of them in and around Thuvakudi Industrial Area. Ramanan had seen entrepreneurs lining up his home right from his childhood. It was in those days that he learnt his first few lessons in entrepreneurship. He graduated from REC Trichy in 1981 with major in Chemical Technology. Thereafter he went to get a postgraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from University of Calgary, Canada. On returning, he worked with Chemfab Group to set up a large caustic soda plant in Pondicherry, called Chemfab Alkalic.

Later, Ramanan was also involved with Indian space department’s cryogenic fuel project and it was here (DRL, Hyderabad) that he got a chance to interact with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, honorable president of India. Thereafter, he went ahead with the plan of setting up Livia Polymer.

Livia Polymer had its beginning and growth despite the clutches of license raj in India in 1989. Those days, the only semblance to a venture fund was Government of India’s IDBI – Seed Capital Assistance Scheme. A 15 member panel used to interview (grill!) each aspiring entrepreneur and one was expected to know each and everything about business from finance to engineering – financial projections, robustness of business plan etc – plain technical stuff was just not enough for them!

Today, Livia Polymer is South India’s largest manufacturer of ubiquitous PET bottles. Almost 75% of packaging of UB group in south India happens in ‘LivPET’. So, the next time you are ordering the “No.1”, you may actually be giving business to Livia Polymer!

Here is a glimpse of our interaction with him over breakfast table at The Richmond Hotel in Bangalore:

Mr. Ramanan, it all looks rosy when you see the present day success. Tell us something about grueling days of the entrepreneur.

Livia Polymer’s present day success is no joke. Firstly, we had to import technology from Japan which was a major problem in those days of license raj. Then, in the initial 3 years of operation it went almost broke as the market in India was nascent and there were hardly any products to be packaged in PET bottles. In 1991, Livia Polymer cracked big business deals with Hindustan Lever Ltd. for packing Flora refined oil and Pondicherry Mineral Waters. With 1996 came the path-breaking deal with the UB. After that there has been no looking back.

But basing an industry in Trichy might have its disadvantages…

No, in fact quite the contrary. Trichy is a centrally located place with respect to Bangalore, Chennai and Cochin. And these days, distance doesn’t matter in supply chain. Initially, Government of Tamil Nadu had given us some sops for locating the industry at its present location in Pudukkottai district. That allowed us to stay afloat even during bad times.

India has certainly proved its prowess in services. What is the future of manufacturing in India?

Indian industry’s strength has always been its scalable manufacturing operations. It will continue to thrive on manufacturing. As you can see, of late, the thrust has been put on manufacturing too. It was feared that liberalization will kill Indian Manufacturing companies. On the contrary, they have grown a lot.

What steps should one follow to set up a long-lasting business?

My experience as a first generation entrepreneur has been that one should not try to take money out of the system in the beginning. If you have a credible business plan, it makes sense to test it yourself for soundness of approach. These days it is not difficult to get money once you have a good idea. What is important is to maintain a ruthless approach towards finance. One should be extremely careful and critical of the money flow.

What is the message you would like to give to other budding entrepreneurs?

First and foremost, I would like to say that with great power comes greater responsibility. Entrepreneurship gives you a lot of freedom and it is very easy to get complacent and casual after you are through the initial round of struggle. This is the prime reason why most companies do not survive more than a decade. For example, most entrepreneurs make a mess of their company’s finance by drawing increasing amount of money out of it rather than putting it back into the system.

Livia Polymer has been exemplary in announcing its audited financial results every 1st April while most companies take a quarter or two more. With Livia Polymer, we are also able to rotate the same working capital 10 times over in a single financial year. This means that a working capital of Rs.2.5 crores is used to produce the same effect of Rs.25 crores!

Secondly, entrepreneurship offers an immense opportunity to learn. While it is imperative that we learn from our mistakes, we should not let us make them too. One should learn to persist even when everything seems to be going down the drain.

Once the company reaches a steady state, it should be left to run completely by professionals. I have managed to delegate almost everything and the only role I practically play at Livia Polymer is that of a ‘logistic manager’. This is opposite to the tendency among most entrepreneurs who tend to hold it closely. Doing this also allows you to the leisure time to ‘dream’ and spend time with family. All my Sundays are reserved for family.

Even when I, along with my family, am the 100% shareholder of Livia Polymer, I always present all my bills of my outstation trips the very next day of my arrival at Trichy. And so do all my managers. I even pay for all products I take home for personal use! This kind of prudence has helped us tide through the bad days with relative ease.

Another important area in which one can make a difference is employee care. The school fees of children of all 170 employees are paid by me. The net result is that I have an enviable attrition rate of nearly zero. I believe that the role of MD/CEO is just like another employee in office. As a policy, we shun the practice of giving bribes. I am proud to say that all this has been done without giving a single rupee of bribe! Such integrity, commitment and consistency will take an entrepreneur a long way.

I have come to believe that the value system in a company should be established right from the day one. This thing is difficult to keep but each one of us is proud of being squeaky clean in our operations. Even the tax office certifies us!

What is up next for Livia Polymer?

As the technology and market changes, newer products and requirements come up. But the basics remain the same – any new technology should cut costs. Recently, we signed a deal with Perfetti – the makers of ‘Mentos’. Earlier these products were solely packaged in sachets/glass. Then, there are smaller, lighter packaging for cosmetics like Parachute hair oil which we will increasingly target.

In other industries, I was considering setting up a remote disaster management service company for IT companies in Chennai, Bangalore and Pune to secure their data at Trichy. However I am aware that while the safety net is slightly better in manufacturing – allowing you to stay afloat for a few more days – services business is a different ball game altogether and is fiercely competitive.

When you are talking to BV Ramanan, it is difficult not to ask him about his vision for NIT Trichy. Could you please elaborate on what changes are coming up in the campus?

Recently, the board of governors of NIT approved a three point plan for NIT Trichy:

1. Infrastructure: We intend to add close to 2000 rooms in the campus in next three years. We are committed to providing better quality food to the students and pilot project in this direction had been launched already. NIT Trichy is going to be the first smart campus in the country. A preliminary proposal in this regard has been in principle cleared by the Ministry of Communication and NIC will be the coordinator.

2. Virtual Education: NIT Trichy can be one of the leading institutes in providing content to the EduSat program. Earth link and necessary infrastructure is already available in Octagon.

3. Quality of education: We have committed ourselves to the goal of securing at least one IP of our own before 2010. All the departments have been asked to benchmark themselves against the best department in the world, do a gap-analysis, and present a plan for bridging this gap substantially in next 5 years.

What do you think should be done to increase alumni’s interaction with the campus?

I believe that institute has to play the central important role in making this happen – that is where our heart is. Alumni should be invited to participate in all important events of the institute. A specific role for alumni needs to be defined in the curriculum setting. Most people remain unaware of what is happening inside the campus. A periodic communication should also flow from institute to the alumni.

What are the steps being taken to bring more industries at Trichy?

Tamilnadu government is working on an ambitious airport expansion project for Trichy. An investment of Rs.75 crores has been made for new Terminal to handle 150 passengers at peak hours. This work has already been started and slated to be completed by the end of the year 2007. We at CII-Trichy, were able to bring focus to the need for a much larger airport, keeping in mind the future requirement of Trichy. The Louis Berger Group from the US (the consultants for Airport Authority of India) have already been brought to Trichy and the proposal for about Rs.550 crores will be presented to the Minister of Civil Aviation for the next phase of expansion which needs to be completed by the year 2010.

Currently Trichy airport receives about 30 aircrafts a week, which will go up to about 69 aircrafts a week by the end of the year. Trichy airport, by the year 2008, must handle atleast 150 aircrafts a week, both national and international.

We are also promoting Trichy as an alternative industry destination. An IT Park is to be located on a 50 acre campus with the Tamil Nadu Government chipping in with a Tidel Park (similar to Chennai). Many software giants like CTS, Wipro, and Infosys are increasingly showing interest in Trichy.

The energy equipment manufacturing sector in Trichy is doing extremely well, what with BHEL and its ancillary units. In fact, many ancillary units have graduated to become large scale units with turnover poised to reach Rs.200 crores each. The energy equipment manufacturing sector will deliver Rs.7000 crores worth equipments this year and is poised to touch Rs.15000 crores by the year 2010.

I am sure that in future, Trichy will be able to regain its past glory as the industry town of Tamilnadu.

[BV Ramanan lives in the outskirts of Trichy and would love to get in touch with you. He can be contacted at ]

[We are thankful to all your suggestions. Please keep your enthusiastic support flowing in. If you know a luminary alumnus whose achievements deserve publicity, do let us know.]

Anurag Saxena (Meta 2005)
IBM India Pvt Ltd.

Arpit Agarwal (ECE 2005)
Ittiam Systems Pvt Ltd.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

“The day I stop learning, I will die”

Meet your buddy, Vol 4: Anand Sudarshan

For most of us who are happy with mastering one particular stream of IT industry in our lifetimes, a person who wishes to dabble not only in all possible verticals of IT industry, but also in other compatible industries is a maverick. What is more striking about Anand Sudarshan is that he has been very successful at all of them! So much that he is considered as the turnaround specialist in the industry circles. He began his career by co-founding the Microland group and leading India’s first internet company Planetasia.com. After a long stint with Microland group, he joined NetKraft, a leading IT solutions provider focusing on the retail & healthcare sectors, as CEO. Later when NetKraft merged with Adea International, he joined Adea as President. Recently he decided that IT industry could not challenge him enough so he moved on to become the Group President of Manipal Group. A much sought after industry speaker, mrudangam specialist, table-tennis champion and an avid reader, he is a person who says that the best of him is yet to come.

Anand graduated from REC Trichy in 1982 and went on to do a management course at IIM Calcutta. When we look back at our meeting with him, we are amazed by the sheer magnitude of his accomplishments and the apparent effortlessness with which he achieved them. And all this looked so easy when he is talking to you!

Anand (right) with PC Narayan (RECT 1973, IIM Bangalore) at Reconnect 2006

Here is a glimpse of the inspiring interaction we had with him:

You have worked across the IT industry’s verticals and domains. How difficult is it to be able to keep up with the various needs and orientations of various verticals of IT industry? How difficult it has been to play a leading role in different market?

At the heart of each product, whether it is a software or hardware, there exists a purpose. The idea is to exploit the ‘contextual relevance’ of the software. You have to enter the user’s mind and when the creator is able to do that, effective software is created. Once you have mastered the process of understanding the user’s perspective, the same can be applied to every kind of software. I believe the job of a CEO is to apply his understanding of the user’s mind to all the products and services that his organization provides. If one is able to master this process, you can succeed not just in any vertical or domain, but also in any industry. For example, if one has a flair for cooking Indian food, he will be able to master Mexican food too.

You career has seen you propelling a business to its peak and then starting your quest for another peak. What do you believe one should do to succeed in the IT industry?

The success that I have had, is the learning I have been able to extract from my failures. I believe I was at the right place at the right time. I have learnt that one should be deliberate and move quickly. Decisiveness and ability to take risk is important.

The motto of my life is “The day I stop learning, I will die!” Learning is a continuous process and it should be practiced until everything becomes instincts. Sachin Tendulkar never thinks consciously as to what shot he should play on a particular ball. At the same time, he also realizes that what used to bring him success earlier is impeding him in further success now.

Similarly, the value in IT industry is created by learning and changing. “Reinventing and recreating” is the order of the day. Companies have to develop the capability of ‘Creative Destruction”. They should have a soft ability to actually recreate and perform change. One should derive pleasure of redoing all things and doing them better than they were before.

I believe there are no certainties in life. One should learn how to relate and handle abstract. Life is a mélange of so many beautiful things. So, it is an extraordinary opportunity to bring idea into application. So, we should be able to use this opportunity to the full.

Remember, as George Bernard Shaw said “Reasonable men adapt to the environment around them; unreasonable men force the environment around to adapt to them; thus all progress is because of unreasonable men”.

How do you make leaders in organization?

The strength of a leader is to keep a healthy competition among the members of his team. Companies should encourage healthy competition among their employees. Competition comes out with positive results always if taken in a healthy manner. Didn’t you compete with your classmates first for grades and then for jobs? Still you had very close relation as friends even then.

People should have a permission to make mistakes but they should learn from them. There should be a responsibility to dissent – with the understanding that this is not a democracy. We should agree to disagree. Everyone can be a good leader. The potential needs to be realized.

From the perspective of a young REC/NIT Trichy graduate/student, what does one need to do to make a successful entrepreneur?

Ability to take risks and the ability to exit. People who cannot take idea to execution cannot be successful at the entrepreneurial arena. Acquire inspire and motivate people. Focus on results. Perseverance is the key. Ability to walk away when you know you part is over is one quality of prime importance. You should know when to exit. “When to hold and when to give away”. Hope is not a viable strategy. Have some one-two years of experience and then start the process and procedure of putting the soft intangible inputs. While being a leader is important, one should know how to be a member of a team and make things work on the ground level. A good company should not depend on its founders for its day-to-day functions.

What should India do to create the same success in hardware as it has had in software?

We need people like Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji for hardware in India. We need people who can understand the environment and make forward-looking policies. Software success happened in a different era. We succeeded in spite of the government – in fact, many say we succeeded in software only because government did not interfere / participate, except enabling some key fiscal incentives like tax-free status & FDI. Though hardware has massive opportunity, we need to approach it differently and consider it from the perspective of globalization.

What kind of company entrepreneurs should target in IT industry in the present scenario? What we should do to be successful in the same?

If you think of IT Services, I feel it is tough as there are many players in market already. The market is getting stagnant too. Embedded system is the major wave. We need to jump to the next big technology and jump orbits. I do not know what it could be. Nevertheless, we do need to capture the next big thing and grow.

India is good at step-function growth. We jump technology easily. So my advice to the younger lot would be to go and work for small companies. Some of it may make root for the next generation hardware success. Smaller companies offer greater opportunities to learn and to have experience in hand to start on your own someday.

Why don’t we have an ‘IBM’ from India?

Though we have proved that we can make global organizations, IT in India is a small spec. For a company like IBM, we need a domestic market as big as US. We also need to have more confidence in ourselves. There are companies who have succeeded despite a small domestic market like Wipro, Infosys and Nokia (Finland), so there are successes to emulate. We just need to pick up more IT.

When should a person go for entrepreneurship?

Ideally better with an experience and MBA. Get a lot of experience to start with. An MBA is not a pre-requisite; it just gives exposure to the process. I too benefited a lot from IIM as you find people with same passion there. Entrepreneurship is largely a passion thing. You guys have the best chance at it. With experienced people, the millstone of experience is always weighing them down. Youth does not have any fear; it does not have any inhibitions; and no anchors to tie you down. Entrepreneurship is about uncorking ideas & allowing them to flow; and having the passion & perseverance to execute well.

What part of your success do you ascribe to REC background of yours?

REC gives you an opportunity for all round growth and lifelong relationship and pals. Remarkable atmosphere of freedom – an entrepreneurial freedom. It taught us to take care of ourselves. We also had some outstanding teachers who are an inspiration to many of us till date.

Why RECT is not a strong brand like IIT, though we are on par in most of the areas and many times leading too if you consider some IITs?

First, try to visualize REC/NIT as a brand and not REC/NIT Trichy. These two are not the same. IIT as a brand was made in the US and just over the past few years. IITians meet every year in a grand meet. That makes all the difference. Comparison of institutes itself is not something that should be encouraged. Though it is not so visible, RECT is a much-respected brand in industry and companies have high regard for it. You need to make the ‘REC’ brand stronger by collaborating with other NITs. If IITians have made their mark in the IT industry, REC guys have done it in manufacturing.

We need to promote more visuals, for example, T-shirts to promote interaction among alumni. Build the brand. Belonging will be a part of the brand, and will come along with it as the brand grows. All of us would love to interact with the present students. We should also find opportunities to host grand meetings like Reconnect 2006.

How do you manage your work-life balance with a super-busy lifestyle?

Managing time is all about priorities. I have an eight-year old son and I make sure that even when I’m traveling I speak to him everyday – that goes some way in making sure that a connection is maintained with him, and we don’t miss each other as much. I also keep weekends strictly for the family. I have truly no regrets as I have an extraordinarily supporting wife Padma. You can always find time to do what you really want to. I have realized that this stage of my life, exercise is crucial (if not for anything else, at least for keeping my gaining weight under control..!) – I can’t say I don’t have the time for it. You got all the time in this world to do things that you want to do. Prioritizing is the key – make sure you don’t miss the important things just because you are focusing on the urgent things.

What do you love to do when you are free?

I read a lot and share experiences with people across the globe I meet. I am a music buff, and that keeps me going. I don’t vacation as often as I need to – but I do take time to spend with the family out of Bangalore. Sports is something I’m passionate about – although I’m currently not physically fit enough to play any competitive sports, I certainly plan to in the future; that will go a long way in helping me de-compress and recharge. Reading and meeting so many people really helps a lot.

What would you like to do in future?

Education is on high priority in future role. I would like to involve both in advisory and institutional levels. Mentoring of new enterprises is high on the agenda. I consider Indians to be great entrepreneurs. They have been outstanding entrepreneurs for hundreds of years. There is no reason why they cannot succeed in today’s world.

[Recently, Anand has also assumed the responsibility of Vice-President of RECAL, Bangalore. He was also actively involved with the organization of Reconnect 2006. For any queries, please mail at or simply post a comment on this blog. Anand will be more than happy to reply. He also wishes good luck to all budding entrepreneurs from REC/NIT Trichy.]

Anurag Saxena (Meta 2005)
IBM India Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore

Arpit Agarwal (ECE 2005)
Ittiam Systems Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore

[We will soon be back with yet another very well known personality among REC/NIT Trichy alumni - a person who has left an indelible mark on RECAL. Keep your feedback and suggestions flowing in. Let us know if you know a great RECTian whose achievements need to be brought to fore.]

Monday, May 29, 2006

"RECTians are second to none!"

Meet Ur Buddy, Vol. 3: Prashant and Palani
“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking it.” - William B. Sprague

Being an entrepreneur is a dream, a passion and a challenge and numerous RECTians have left an indelible mark on the world by making it big. We are proud to present young Prashant Agrawal and Palaniappan C from RECT 2003 who left their safe, secure jobs in Wipro and Analog Devices respectively to pursue their dreams. Their company Orizin’ promises to capture the attention of market with its innovative products in the embedded systems domain. While Palani handle the technical aspect of Orizin, Prashant handles the business side.

Even in campus, they have differentiated themselves with their achievements. Palaniappan C. was the awarded ‘the most outstanding student of the batch’ award. Besides being a department topper, he had strong interest in web design and computers. To his credit, he has the design of the first template of TnP department’s LAN website. Prashant had a strong interest in entrepreneurship from the very beginning and was the part of the team that had re-started the EDC (Entrepreneurship Development Cell), organized the first Isha Yoga program and many other lectures of luminaries from industry.

Prashant, standing and Palani in their workshop (Left). Orizin logo (Right)

[After a long hunt, we were able to catch them in Bangalore and here is a glimpse of conversation we had that truly tells the essence of entrepreneurship]

Could you please tell readers about your business model in short?

Prashant: Orizin wants to design and market high-end technical product solutions that can bring lots of value to its customers. At present, our focus areas are RFID and Wireless Sensor Networks. We are looking forward to provide complete systems to our customers with the combination of software product as well as of hardware. Our present product offerings are:
1. Mid Range RFID Reader with USB Interface
2. Mid Range RFID Reader with USB and Ethernet Interface.
3. Gate Antenna with Integrated RFID Reader.
Presently we have made a unique infrastructure tracking system that uses RFID technology to track resources from a single location. We are developing this product for a hospital kind of environment. This product can also be used in an IT company.
[For more details about Orizin’s products, click here]

What is the value proposition that you would like to sell to the investors and potential clients?

Palani: One, we being young, we are learning fast and have the advantage of being easily approachable by everybody. Then, we see ourselves as people who have strong grip on technology. This will go a long way in making Orizin’s product offering very innovative. In long-term, we see ourselves working on very challenging technologies that are on a high growth path. We look at ourselves as a very client focused company and the present product offering is being diversified to find new markets and applications of the same technology.

Why RFID? Where did u get the inspiration from?

Prashant: This has an interesting story. While at Wipro, I attended a seminar on RFID technology. It was then that I realized the potential of RFID technology. I did not know then that I would actually start making products on this technology. However, the subject infused interest in me and I started gathering more information about RFID. I saw the kind of RFID devices people were using at Wipro.

What do you see as the prime roadblocks to people who aim to start up in future?

Palani: Many people did not start up because they felt that they needed a large number of contacts to establish themselves in the market. What we have found is that as you take a plunge, things become much clearer with a perseverance and hard work. It is important to have faith in our capabilities and chase our dream than getting subdued by anything. We have found that calculated risk taking and the ability to face adversity takes us a long way in making a successful venture. It may take effort to rotate a wheel, but once it starts rolling, it is unstoppable.
Many people have a perception that MBA is essential for running a business. We believe more than any degree, its passion that makes the difference. Often your inexperience in business can be circumvented if you have a very experienced and enthusiastic mentor. We are fortunate to have Mr. Venkat, former CEO of Deccanet Designs [A hardware company that was recently acquired by Flextronics, a $15 billion IT giant]. He has been very instrumental in guiding us on the path of creating value in our product offering.

What are the prime challenges that you faced in technology entrepreneurship? What do you think would certainly improve the environment for start-ups in India?

Prashant: Sometimes a new technology fails to pick up and takes its own time to get the critical mass. There is a risk of another technology swamping your proposition and leaving you trailing. Challenge is to keep ourselves updated, and keep looking for innovation. We need to encourage people to chase their dreams wherever they are. We need to create an eco-system start-ups can help one another and grow together. There should be more forums and seminars where people get a chance to come in touch with each other.

How did you come to know about NirmaLabs and what role did it play in your success? What is your feedback about it?

Prashant: I came to know about NirmaLabs when it had organized a Road show in Bangalore to focus on building my dream and bring up some ideas. After seven months of project incubation at NirmaLabs, Palani joined me as co-founder and we started Orizin on 15 Dec ‘2005.
NirmaLabs is an organization with a group of people who are very focused and passionate on creating entrepreneurs of young people. It follows Silicon Valley model of investing in people unlike most other incubators in India, which invest in business plans. NirmaLabs typically helps you in creating the first prototype of the product or service that you are aiming to produce. Based on this first prototype, you try to attract funding from VCs and financials institutions like SIDBI, IDBI etc. Incubators also support you in getting in touch with investors. In all, an incubator helps you in all the initial support and smoothen the transition from a job to a business.
Besides, there are forums like the TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) that are providing a platform to investors and entrepreneurs to interact with each other. We would suggest aspiring entrepreneurs, to be part of organizations such as these.

Do you believe in the perception that RECTians have been less successful at entrepreneurship as compared to IITians?

Palani: No, this perception is baseless. The fact is that we have also felt the same while in campus. We have seen a large number of RECTians starting up and being rather successful at it. There are so many successful startups that have grown to stable companies like JumpStartUP by Mr. Ganapathy Subramanian (1987), Srishti Software by Mr. Ajay Shankar Sharma (1996), Cosmic circuits by Mr. Ganapathy Subramanian (1989). Then there are people like Mr. Rajan NV (1979) who co-founded Linc Software and Mr. Anand Sudarshan (1982) who co-founded Microland group. However, it is true that much of the entrepreneur success of RECTians is not ascribed to RECT as a brand. We thus need to make successful RECTians popular in campus.

What do you think we can do to increase the alumni interaction?

Prashant: First, we need to have large number of interactive sessions with the present students where they get to discuss career options with experienced people from industry.
Besides, we need to create awareness of the success of our alumni in various industry circles. This can be achieved if RECAL can conduct such meetings at regular interaction at various hubs like Bangalore, Chennai and US. If we had come to know that so many people from REC have been so successful in industry, we might not have to struggle getting contacts in the initial phase. It is in this aspect that Meet Your Buddy is doing a good service.

Are you interested in entertaining present students for internships or recruitments?

Palani: Yes, if the objectives and targets are clear, we would be happy to have those RECTians in Orizin who are willing to do something challenging under all circumstances. We would also encourage people aspiring to become future entrepreneurs to be part of Orizin.

What is your message to the alumni of REC?

Prashant: Let us create a unique platform that can bring value for everyone by inculcating healthy interaction among us. Let us not forget our alma mater. Networking is very powerful. We already have a base; let us explore it to its best.

What is your message to the present students at NIT Trichy?

Prashant: Dream! One should not underplay and settle for anything less than the best. The instinct to compromise to accept anything lesser than the best is bad. Then, Explore REC/NIT Advantage. Our campus gives us a glorious opportunity to make good friends all around the country and get ahead with them. Orizin is an example of what RECTians are capable of achieving starting from college friendship.

After all that hard work, what do you take to sleep today?

Palani: [Prashant smiling] The satisfaction that we are learning something significant everyday is a great feeling despite so many challenges and glitches everyday. It is also the sense of creating something new. Startup is almost like your child, who grows and prospers in front of you, which cherishes you.

[Prashant and Palani are working out of their office in Mysore and frequently visit Bangalore to meet clients and friends. They can be contacted at +919342471640 (Prashant)]
IBM India Pvt Ltd.
Ittiam Systems Pvt Ltd.
[Please keep your feedback and suggestions flowing in. We would also like if you can share contact information of other luminary RECTians.]

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

“Never under estimate your own potential”

Meet Your Buddy Mr. Muthukumaran NS, Director AC Nielsen-ORG MARG

In the battleground of a market place, the fortune of various companies is re-written everyday. The companies are also expected to renovate their product offerings regularly to keep up with the ferocious pace of changing customer demands. Not just corporate, even organizations with a social mandate like the 'AIDS awareness campaign' need to assess the impact of their strategies and reformulate them if necessary. The field of market research is related with just this. It acts as a bridge between the marketers and the end consumers. As with any other field, it is nearly impossible not to find any RECT/NITT alumnus who is among the leaders of market research.

Meet your buddy Mr. NS Muthukumaran, another RECT 1979 jewel who is presently working as the Director, Head of Measurement Science and Technical Training, South Asia at AC Nielsen-ORG MARG India, the world's leading market research firm. He is also handling the online-market research department of the company.
Mr. Muthukamaran (standing on dais), in a panel discussion at XLRI, Jamshedpur

[Muthu, a Trichy local, completed his BE in Mechanical Engineering from REC Trichy and moved on to work with BHEL as a design engineer. He then moved on to complete his PGP in management from XLRI Jamshedpur. From the time of stepping out of XLRI, he has been in the field of market research – Business to business and consumer research. He has published a number of papers in market research journals and has presented many research papers in the Indian and International seminars on market research. For the past few years he has been visiting XLRI regularly and during such visits, he takes a few sessions for the Business Management students on Marketing Research. He is a person with varied interests, runs up to 5 km everyday, plays golf on weekends and will be happy to offer you delicious vegetarian dishes he can cook!]

Meet Your Buddy Team: Good Afternoon Muthu. Can you share information your background and career path with our readers?
Muthukumaran: Good Afternoon! I had a very simple beginning. I was born and brought up at Trichy where I studied at St. Joseph's School and College before joining REC. I am youngest in my family and our mother had the greatest influence on all of us siblings. My father was an employee with Indian Railways and was high on integrity, wit and physically activity. We learnt the values of integrity, hard work, patience and finding humor even in adversity from them.
After working with BHEL Trichy for 2 years and 6 months, I moved on to XLRI for a management degree. Thereafter I joined Marketing and Business Associates Pvt ltd (Now known as Gallup India) as a Research executive. I was a manager in 1990 when I left MBA to join MARG Marketing and Research Group Pvt Ltd as Branch Manager. When the company merged with ORG, I became the Vice President. During integration with ACNielsen, I was head of HR and communications for a period of two years. Later I became a Director at the company now called as AC Nielsen-ORG MARG.

MYB Team: Mr. Muthu, what do you consider as your career's greatest challenges?
Muthu: During the integration phase of the three companies – ACNielsen India, ORG and MARG, I was in charge of integrating the policies and practices of these three companies with a total work force of 1700. It was really a great challenge and wonderful experience. I had to learn so many different facets of HR, handling organizational ego etc.
During my initial years in MARG, I grew the Bangalore branch and the South zone from almost no business to a very large one with over 30% market share in a matter of four to five years. I had stabilized business in West and East zones and set up the Advertising research division in ORG-MARG. However, by far, the integration of the three companies diverse in culture and practices and aligning them with ACNielsen policies and practices has been the greatest challenge.

MYB Team: Many of us would like to know how much of a value MBA adds to a typical engineer. Why should one go for management studies? What are the important things to be kept in mind while choosing a management course?
Muthu: I believe that MBA adds a new dimension to an engineer. At the end of the day, most engineers work in commercial firms. It helps equip them with various aspects of a business. Apart from a good career option, it can also help you when you set up your own practice. In a B School, you get to meet a different but smaller (unlike in REC) set of individuals from diverse background who by their own right are bright and intelligent because of the stringent selection process. You learn a lot from interacting with these people with diverse background. Being a RECTian, your ability to adapt to new situations, surroundings, people interaction skills, ability to not be fazed by any adversity (being cool) helps in a competitive B School environment. (Essentially REC guys seem to be good at getting good marks without apparently putting in great efforts)

MYB Team: What are the most important soft skills that make one successful in the job market?
Muthu: I consider the ability to communication, people skills, ability to handle pressure and clarity of thought as the winning qualities in the job market.

MYB Team: What is the key differentiator of the market research field as a career? What opportunity does it provide for a fresh engineer from, say, NIT Trichy?
Muthu: The key differentiator is that it is very interesting as new types of problems and challenges crop up every other day. Thus, it is very high on job satisfaction as you provide the client a solution to his marketing problem and most of the times they adopt your recommendation. As you have to keep in touch with the consumer trends, it is the most dynamic field in management too.
We mostly look for people with marketing background. However there is a segment of business called B2B (Business-to-Business) research which handles problems of industrial marketing. The issues studied are demand/potential estimation for new products/ services, inputs for existing product/service improvement, customer satisfaction, communication research etc. In this section of business, we can have engineers to work on these problems. Engineers can also find a role in handling and managing databases in a market research/ business analytics firm. However, I would advise them to get a management degree before joining a market research firm.

MYB Team: How do you go about solving a problem in market research?
Muthu: The first task is to define the problem clearly and this is the toughest task. At times even the clients will not be able to articulate the problem clearly. Once the problem is well defined then we set the research objectives. Then we do the research design, which is a combination of target group definition, research methodology most suited to the problem, sample sizes etc. Then the data collection is done as per the design – secondary data, Primary data that could be qualitative or quantitative in nature using appropriate tool such as questionnaires or discussion guides. The data is then analyzed using various techniques and we provide answers to the research objectives and most importantly provide solid recommendation to the client to take a decision that will sole the problem.
For example, if the task is to make the REC/NIT Trichy brand stronger, we first need to ask ourselves who exactly our target audience is. It could be recruiters, students applying for Engineering etc or a combination of many groups. Then we need to find the status of the brand as it exists in their minds right now using appropriate research method. Having done this we also need to define where we want to be – say best known for producing students with good engineering skills or for producing students with well-rounded personality etc. This is the stated positioning in the marketing parlance. From these two steps, we can assess the gap areas between where we want to be and where we are now. The gaps could well be different in different target groups.
Once we get to know these gap areas, it is easy to design a solution to enhance the image to the level defined by us. It could well be just a matter of correcting misconceptions or it could be working on various aspects of the product/brand to improve quality actually on identified dimensions. Although it is only the perceived quality that matters, a better-than reality, perceived quality is good only for a short duration. You may get caught in the long run. We might then have to make structural changes in the ways students are taught and increase interaction with the targeted audience to live up to the perceived image.
However, in the case of the perceived quality being worse than the reality or the actual, we would need to create awareness across the audience to bring the perceptions on an equal footing with the actual. As we would see, the perceived-quality is the reality.

MYB Team: Sometimes it is observed that the market research on a topic such as 'Best B-School' fails to relate to popular perception. Why does this happen?
Muthu: We need to understand the methods used in such market research. This depends on many factors. For example, sometimes the client especially the periodicals may not be willing to spend enough time or money to carryout a robust research. In such cases, the quality of research may be compromised. For a good market research, as I said earlier, we need to understand the problem first and define it in most clear terms. Sometimes, people who stay close to the problem also are not able to see the problem clearly. Therefore, the results are obtuse or confusing. Having clearly defined the problem we should use the best methodologies and ensure the sampling is proper, the data collection method is correct and the analysis techniques are appropriate etc. to arrive at good, actionable solution.
In many of the cases, the representation of the research findings by the media is also not correct, as the reporters do not have the skill-set to interpret the data properly.

MYB Team: Sometimes, the data collection can have issues of rigging. How do you ensure the research quality?
Muthu: The quality of data in the research process is the most important parameter. We have methods that ensure that wrong sample selection, or in appropriate and wrong data collection does not take place. Extensive briefing and training is done for those who do the data collection. We have in place very stringent mechanism of back checks, spot checks etc to ensure that the data is not fudged. If we find that the data is rigged, we do cancel the whole lot altogether and re do the fieldwork.

MYB Team: What is the difference between global and Indian market and does it influence the marketing analysis methods to be used?
Muthu: In the developed countries, the markets are mature. They have many brands and different formats of retailing. However, they have a uniform set of consumers at least in terms of affluence. Our markets are very diverse, in terms of consumer evolution, affluence levels, culture, literacy etc. The researcher has to be extremely sensitive to these differences in researching these markets.

MYB Team: How different is an online consumer in India as compared to a consumer abroad?
Muthu: Though internet penetration in India is low, there is a high acceptance of online commerce among Indians (among those accessing internet). People here adapt new technologies faster than others do and hence this segment would see an explosive growth in the future. A good example in this case is the usage of mobile phones, how it has percolated to small towns and rural areas also. Our research shows that there is higher than average acceptance of e-commerce among Indian internet users as compared to users across the world.
(For more information about online trading in India and Mr. Muthukumaran’s views, do check http://www.acnielsen.co.in/news.asp?newsID=141)

MYB Team: How lucrative is the e-commerce market? Moreover, what are the challenges when one thinks of e-commerce? Why e-commerce is yet to pick up in India?
Muthu: The online market in India is worth about 500 crores now. The key challenges have been Internet penetration which is very low (less than 2% all India at present), Payment channels as people are often reluctant to use credit cards online. The delivery systems need a ramp-up also. Moreover, there are not too many merchants online yet to push e commerce at a faster pace. However, as I said, the Indian customer will catch up soon.

MYB Team: This series of articles is an effort from our side to establish a strong internal brand in campus. Can you suggest ways in which we can improve the Meet Your Buddy program?
Muthu: Deal with topics that are relevant and interesting to the audience you have. Get a mix of topics and people of different background to sustain interest. You can also try making a 'mail your friend' option on the website. Students and alumni can contact alumni in different fields for information and advice. Some articles that require inputs from many people together could be tried too. This will let you focus on one particular idea at a time.

MYB Team: What are the possible ways to increase alumni interaction with the students?
Muthu: There must be a forum (the more informal the better) for these interactions. Some of them could be:
a) Video conferencing on some serious technical topics by those alumni who are profs in some good schools in the US (We would like to bring to Readers’ notice that there are many former RECTians who are playing key roles in the best universities abroad, in some cases as Dean and Department heads. You may find some of them on Meet Your Buddy soon!)
b) By creating a body of counselors among the alumni who can help students by clearing doubts, providing information on career options to students etc. Could have some personal interaction as well occasionally (say every quarter for a day in the campus).

MYB Team: Mr. Muthu, what message would you like to give to the present students?
Muthu: Enjoy your stay in the campus; be focused on what you want to do, at the same time explore new avenues and possibilities and have an open mind. Most importantly, never under estimate your own potential.

[We are thankful for such a great response for the first article. We returned with a stronger belief that we as NITTians can change the equations of industry and set trends for others to follow. So what do u think? We are eagerly waiting for your feedbacks and responses. We are really charged now to move it by covering people from diverse fields. Will be back soon with a new face that once lived in this 800 acre campus]

Signing off,

Anurag Saxena (MT10105),
IBM India Private Limited, Bangalore

Arpit Agarwal (EC10105)
Ittiam Systems, Bangalore

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Launching 'Meet Your Buddy': Anchor interview of Rajan NV

We all wonder sometimes what it was to be a part of this sprawling 800-acre campus. What it meant to be called a ‘RECTian’ to a person who graduated some 25 years from today and started a glorious organization in the IT sector? Was he really…

…Ahead of all?
…Jack of all trades?
…The best techie?
…The best sportsman?
…The best dancer?
…The best ………………….

What all u wanted to be once, right?

We are bringing you a series of articles that boosts your confidence and proves what you can really become. And one which could answer the perpetual question “where do all NITTians (RECTians) land??

In this series, we bring you a series of interviews of our hotshot alumni who have proved their mettle in every corner of this world in each field of expertise possible. It is a small attempt to make you aware of the RECTians you should feel proud of.

First in the series of ‘Meet Ur Buddy’, we are very happy to introduce Mr. Rajan Narayanan, former Vice Chairman & COO, Linc Software and presently Senior Vice-president, MindTree Consulting. He has done most of the stuff that we can dream about and by successfully starting and running Linc Software (Bangalore). What is more important, he has proved that we are second to none!

Here is a brief profile of Mr. Rajan:

Born in Pune, he never studied in the same city for more than a year as his father got transferred from one place to another, He has studied in all parts of India – Chennai, Pune, Kashmir, Kolkata – you name it. In fact, RECT was the institution where he actually continued for the longest duration - 5 years! He started his career with AV Thomas as Hardware Maintenance Engineer and very soon the instinct of a RECTian propelled him to start his own company as Linc Software in 1988. He started it with his schoolmates with an initial fund of just Rs.2 lakhs. And with offices in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and India, LINC SOFTWARE serviced several clients worldwide. MindTree Consulting P Ltd later acquired it in May 2005 (http://www.mindtreeconsulting.com/).

On the career front, with over two decades of experience in the IT industry, Rajan has worked extensively on IBM mid-range machines both in India and overseas. He has managed several off-shore projects for prestigious clients, and was the CEO of a hundred percent export house in India for S/38 software and related services prior to co-promoting LINC SOFTWARE. (http://www.lincsoftware.com/about/team).

This perpetually enthusiastic guy has an affinity for the word ‘passion’. He said that given a chance, he would love to redo his under graduation in ‘Information Sciences’ (which his elder daughter is studying in Bangalore). His faith and love for IT industry clearly splashes when he quotes Narayan Murthy many times for saying “For the first time in 400 years is India being respected for something” (referring to software industry in India).

‘Entrepreneurship’ is his favorite topic where he would love to speak for hours. In fact, he is considering pursuing a research on this topic too. When we asked for a meeting, he readily agreed and we had four hours long session of all gyaan on all topics related to alumni interactions, entrepreneurship, his career and the future of IT industry. He also told us about various issues related to his experience in industry and REC. Here is a glimpse of what he said:

We: Why did Linc Software chose to be merged with MindTree?
You have to grow. We considered several options for growth and merging with a larger entity was certainly an option. However, we were careful in deciding who we merge with as we needed a good cultural fit to begin with to ensure a successful merge. Apart from this, there are other reasons to go for a merger like the investor’s interest and a step beneficial for both.

(In the meantime Mr. Muthukumaran, a batch mate of Rajan joined us. He then introduced us to the way his alma mater XLRI interacts with alumni. We were surprised to know that Muthu regularly teaches at XLRI for 2-3 days, participates in panel discussions about career paths and takes up to 3-4 lecture hours everyday. The favorite area of Muthu, (a Director at AC-Nielsen-ORG Marg) is Market Research. He said he was very keen in doing the same in our own campus too but is eagerly waiting for a initiative. Both of them agreed that there is a huge potential of campus’s interaction with the alumni.)

In the meanwhile, Rajan said:

  • “If someone spearheads arrangements and keeps in touch, I am sure we can find many people who will be interested in coming up to twice every year for a very good discussion and taking courses”.
  • “People can surely come and share their experiences with the world. With so many people in IT and related areas and more than 300 of the students taking upo a career in IT areas, it makes sense to have an exposure about the domains and stuff in IT areas. This is where alumni can help present students a lot.”
  • In a lighter note he said, “In the next four years, anyone who has an engineering degree and has good communication skills in English, will land into an IT sector job.”
  • “Alignment to the domains is of paramount importance. Domain expertise and business impact that it makes have more importance than technology as the technology keeps changing”
  • “Sky is the limit for the possibilities of alumni interaction”
  • “Not only IT, people have expertise in areas far and wide.”
  • “Extended Q & A sessions are very important. The campus interaction should not be one-way. A good interested and participative crowd is important for any fruitful discussion even if the numbers are lesser.”
  • “We can help each other in various ways. During the dotcom bust, every IITian was helping the other to get over it. And of course we can start activities and companies together.”
  • “We can develop a huge support system for funding campus. But everyone needs transparency in the system.”
  • “Everyone needs a trigger. If someone can start it, people will react. There is a latent desire among everyone to contribute to the campus and to society at large”

We: What are the possible options to increase interaction with the campus?
“First and foremost, the alumni experiences can be shared with the campus on a regular basis. Interested students and faculty should follow this up. We can develop a core team of some people from each batch to sustain the effort”. If proper relation is maintained, this initiative can bear many fruits like funding of scholarships to perhaps funding infrastructure projects. We also need to rejuvenate the Bangalore chapter of RECAL. We need to meet more often and bridge between Chennai and Bangalore so that people can join. These are the highest density areas, though we have people everywhere around the world”

We: How did Linc start?
“Linc software was not planned when I joined AV Thomas Software Research Co Ltd. Later as I moved to software and traveled extensively, we felt that we should start something in the software exports area. So, I Joined hands with people like Chandrakumar (who was my schoolmate and also who passed out of Guindy) to start Linc. Both of us wanted to be based in India by choice and were interested in creating something. Also software exports was an emerging area.

We: What is the difference between what we learn at college and industry?
Once you enter business, everything is different. You start getting to know the practical details of business and the grind of it. Took 9 years of experience before moving ahead to start a company.
(For more details, please check http://www.koramangala.com/)

We: What do you feel about entrepreneurship?
“Entrepreneurship is my passion. You would be happy to know that I wish to do some research on it. I don’t know where I will get the time, but will find it.” However, entrepreneurship needs passion to succeed. It needs perseverance and patience to build. First, you need an idea. An idea that is relevant. Validate it by building a prototype. Get various points of view by networking. Elaborate the idea. Depending on your level of expertise, get a mentor to guide your venture. Networking also helps in getting the funding required. Other people invest money solely to get returns on it.”

We: What are the changes you feel from the time you started company and present scenario?
Things have been very different these days with entrepreneurship. While the challenges have reduced to start, as funding became available, it has become more difficult to sustain the company. Many first-second generation entrepreneurs are now investing heavily into start-ups as venture capitalists and angel investors. These days, you people are better positioned and can do the same stuff in half the time we took for it.

We: Do you think MBA is necessary to be an entrepreneur or otherwise what can be the benefits out of it?
MBA is not critical to start a business. I did not have it. However, getting management exposure is better after a stage. Initially you better get your feet wet a few times but need not learn everything the hard way. So, join a short-term course like the one by IIM/ISB, which focuses solely on entrepreneurs without any management degree. One place is NS Raghavan centre for Entrepreneurial learning at IIMB, which incubates companies in the starting phase.

We: We would like to know you views on Entrepreneurship in India as a country and your interest in it
“If India can make more entrepreneurs, everything else will fall into place. If I get a chance to research, my preferred topic would be something like, “Factors to enhance entrepreneurship in India?” I can take it as a project to genuinely find ways to increase entrepreneurship and get at least 10 different ventures to start and run successfully. This will help me find more answers to the question. I also have a passion towards teaching and mentoring. There is a huge need and potential for entrepreneurship in India.”

We: Can you please share your academic background and career path to be more particular?
“I had been into 9 different schools till I completed my CBSE in 1973-74. The longest duration I studied at a place is at REC, Trichy. I was born in Pune and belong to a Tamil Brahmin family. Whilst at school I have been to Chennai, Assam, Mumbai and Kashmir.. We have a Yahoo group called “KV Gill Nagar” which has people like actress Revathy. I had 4/5 I20s for admission to US Universities but soon realized that I didn’t want to go to the US, wanted to stay back even as my brother wished me to go. Then from 1979 to 1982, I worked with AV Thomas Software Research, a data centre company in Chennai as a Hardware Maintenance Engineer. Later I moved on to System software. From 1983 to 1987, I worked with Advent Computer Services Ltd as its first employee and helped build that to a 80 member team. When I left to form LINC, I was the CEO at Advent. In 1988, I went on to establish Linc Software with two friends.”

We: What you would like to do if you get a chance to be student again?
“If I were to change something in my career path, I would like to write CAT after some years of experience in industry. Not that I regret not studying management, but it would have helped.”

(For further details on his journey as an entrepreneur, please do check http://www.koramangala.com/korasoft/1999/05.htm)

[We have tried our best to share whatever knowledge we gained by meeting Rajan. We expect your feedback so that we can continue the same series of interview with new and new faces that drive today’s world with what they learnt in our 800-acre campus known as RECT/NITT]

Think for a while of a RECTian (though they are many!!!)

  • Who is CEO of a company?
  • Who is among the heads of the best universities in US?
  • Who won an Oscar award?
  • Who is one of the top defense person of country?

…………………these are just a few of the roles that they have defined…now it is your turn to explore what u can be as a NITTian!

Anurag Saxena
Arpit Agarwal

(Sorry I forgot to introduce….we are the two stupids who belong to same campus… graduated in 2005…after launching Pragyan….joined our jobs in Bangalore…and become jobless in our own sense we are again playing with this new idea…please bear with us. BTW, we are posted at Bangalore and will be happy to get in touch with you. Also, if you wish to get in touch with Rajan, please contact us.)