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 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.]