A Manager Should Walk the Talk

Very few people retire from their first jobs. S. Ramadorai, CEO and MD of Tata Consultancy Services, tells Forbes India what it feels like to do so

Published: Sep 25, 2009 12:01:00 AM IST
Updated: Sep 29, 2009 03:29:40 AM IST

Name: Subramanium Ramadorai
Career: Spent 38 years at TCS
Age: 65 years
Education: Bachelors degree in Physics from Delhi University, a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electronics and Telecommunications from the Indian Institute of Science
Interests: Music, photography and traveling

You started off as a programmer and are retiring as the CEO&MD. Which is tougher: managing 100,000 lines of code or 100,000 people?
Both have their own sets of challenges. When you are coding you have to make sure it works, it can be scaled and gets to the customer in time. But there is only one customer you are worried about. When you are managing people then you have think of all the people and all the customers as well. The big picture is far more challenging when you are managing people.

Subramanium Ramadorai,CEO & MD, TCS
Image: Vikas Khot
Subramanium Ramadorai,CEO & MD, TCS
Many who work in software firms think managing is a job for the suits…
Well, to be fair to them, you’ve got to have the fundamentals right. You have to be able to roll up your sleeves and be confident that you can at least understand the problem and then offer thoughts that are action-oriented. That’s because strategy and operations are so intertwined today. You can’t say that I will do strategy while someone else does the operations. To have peer acceptance in a technology company you must be able to understand technology. Ideally, you should have written, tested and deployed code!

So are you saying that hiring people from other industries has its limitations?
No. They are extremely useful for getting in the domain knowledge. People who have worked in banking or life sciences will bring in that perspective. But as a manager you should be able to walk the talk.

We associate Wipro with Azim Premji, Infosys with N.R. Narayanamurthy, but there is no one person that to associate with the company. Was this a conscious decision?
It was a very conscious decision. What you need is a great team. A manager is only as good as his team. And then the manager should be able to lead by example. Ever since I became the CEO in 1996 we have tried to create a culture where our approach is consensus-based. I should not be holding a meeting simply because I am the CEO. So when the senior management hold a meeting, they ask me to attend because I can add value.

If there are multiple leaders, then it must have been very difficult for you to pick a successor. How did you choose N. Chandrasekaran?
It is a journey rather than an event. There are many factors you consider but one of them is how well a person has done in multiple roles. So you see how they have done in marketing, sales, HR, finance et al. Once you empower some people will pick up the ball others will wait on the side line to be told what to do. Then, you have to see if they have been able to build a team wherever they have had the leadership position. Finally, you have to be very transparent with the people, who are equally capable, but who are not going to make it. You have to then gauge whether they [people who will not get the top job] will support the new person. Based on all these parameters you decide.

In your tenure, TCS pursued several large deals. For example, the 12-year Pearl deal. Has this approach benefitted TCS?
From a business case point of view we have achieved our objective. The question is how do you scale up to take advantage of the opportunity we have got.

TCS has also been at the forefront of industrialization of software. Even your peers say that you have achieved a lot there. How did that happen.
We were very fortunate that we had many people in our R&D unit who were interested in the industrialization of software. People like Keshav Nori, professor Subbarao, Mathai Joseph and K Padmanabhan. And they wanted software development to be like an industrial activity rather than a pure artisan approach. But you can’t ignore the artisan aspect of programming so today we also have the best coder contest where almost 12000-15000 employees participate.

You have always come across as a very serious man. What is the funniest movie that you have seen?
I have seen a lot of funny movies. I especially like Mehmood in Hindi films and Nagesh in Tamil films.

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(This story appears in the 09 October, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Forbes India

    Thanks Sri. We have corrected the spelling online.

    on Sep 29, 2009
  • Sri

    Hi - Great to get an insight into the mind of one the stalwarts of IT industry !! Just for the record, Chandra's full name is spelt without an "h" - Chandrasekaran. Hope the print version carries the correct spelling.

    on Sep 28, 2009