The climb upwards

The climb upwards

The TCS Story...and Beyond
S Ramadorai
Penguin
2011, pp 410
699

The TCS Story…and Beyond by S Ramadorai charts the journey taken by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to achieve the position it enjoys today, as a leader of the information technology (IT) industry.

As CEO of TCS, Ramadorai changed the face of the company into one of the world’s largest software and service-oriented companies, employing more than 1,60,000 people across 42 countries, and providing a turnover of over US $6 billion. This book provides the reader with Ramadorai’s reflections and analysis of TCS’s progressive global leadership.

Starting his career with TCS, as an assistant systems programmer (in the days of data processing), Ramadorai rose to the level of CEO, while working closely with F C Kohli, in moulding the IT industry. The experiences recounted in the course of this book describe the rise of the Indian IT industry, and the hurdles it had to overcome on its way up. The book establishes the importance of TCS’s role in placing India on the global IT map. In doing so, Ramadorai shares with us the contributions he had attempted to make,
and throws light on some efficient managerial skills, by providing the reader with examples taken from his own life and experience.

Ramadorai had the good fortune of working closely with F C Kohli, a person widely considered as the architect of Indian software industry. Known to give youngsters plenty of opportunities to learn, Ramadorai had the challenge of overcoming Kohli’s tasks. Having started as a small outfit designed to cater to the data processing needs of Tata Group companies, Ramadorai has listed the initial struggles faced by TCS in acquiring the business from Tata Group to undertake the work of its own accord.

His chapters on constructing TCS as a company, between the years 1968 and 1996, describe the problems the business had to tackle, especially during the times of license raj, in Indira Gandhi’s term. He talks about the mammoth task of having to import computers in the late 1970s, and of overcoming the bigger hurdles created by the customs office in this regard.

 As overseas sales offices were not allowed to function in India until 1979, TCS had to start a joint venture with the mainframe manufacturer, Burroughs, a company that had been one of the biggest computer makers at that time. This move opened up a plethora of opportunities to perform a portion of the developmental work in India, as well as at various client locations overseas. An Indian outsourcing model was born, leading to Ramadorai being sent to the US by Kohli to market Indian software services.

In his two years there, he was able to generate substantial US revenues. The book also details the author’s experience in selling the same, and the challenges he had to face in his attempt to introduce Indian software talent to a foreign environment. In 1982, TCS, under Ramadorai’s leadership, brought in concepts of offshore and onshore working, thus taking advantage of the time difference between Bombay and New York!
 
In September 1996, S Ramadorai was selected to lead TCS and took over from F C Kohli. Although Kohli and Ramadorai shared a common vision for TCS, their management styles were very different. Through the course of the book, Ramadorai discusses how TCS used the Y2K challenge to its advantage and scaled its operations world wide. Under his leadership, TCS went public with India’s biggest ever IPO, which was even oversubscribed at times. This enhanced his belief that investors were not investing in TCS for its campus, software or mainframe alone, but also for its collective knowledge, skill, ideas and talent.

From early 2000, he made some strategic moves to enable the transformation of TCS into a company focused not only on the present, but also on the future. He emphasised the importance of recruiting the right persons, and the need to hold on to them. He carried forward the journey of innovation as envisioned by Jamsetji Tata and J R D Tata, and also implemented Kohli’s ideas to the same.

He developed a systematic model to integrate Research and Development (R&D) and innovation within the TCS growth strategy. He set up innovation labs across India, UK and US.  Ramadorai also discusses Tata’s legacy against the backdrop of five core values — integrity, understanding, excellence, unit and responsibility. Finally, Ramadorai rounds off the discussion by providing a futuristic vision for techology’s role in the Indian context, and the importance it holds with regard to development.

This book is a gem in that it provides clarity in its style and description of various events in the life of Ramadorai. Its selling point lies in the fact that the book not only appeals to an IT or management professional, but also invites an ordinary reader’s interest.

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