Marathoner Chandra sprints to head Tata Group

Marathoner Chandra sprints to head Tata Group
Natarajan Chandrasekaran's phenomenal three-decade journey from an intern at TCS, to the head of the company, and now as Chairman of Tata Sons, the holding company of the USD 103-billion Group, in a way represents the tenacity of pursuing his passion of distance- running.

The 54-year-old marathoner joined TCS  -- then one among several Group companies -- in 1987 straight out after completing a Master's in Computer Applications from the Trichy Regional Engineering College in Tamil Nadu and rose through the ranks to become its Managing Director and Chief Executive in 2009, and is now serving his second 5-year term now.

The intervening period of over two decades saw the country's emergence as an IT superpower, TCS dislodging rivals to become the numero uno company in the sector and also become the Tata Group's crown jewel as other businesses like steel and auto suffered.

The results seem to have paid-off for Chandra, as he is popularly known. He is the first non-shareholder and a truly non-family person to chair the group, and seems to have piped others including Ratan Tata's stepbrother Noel Tata, group company JLR' Ralph Speth, PepsiCo's Indira Nooyi, ex- Vodafone global chief Arun Sarin among others.

His big moment in the group can arguably be becoming executive assistant to then MD and CEO S Ramadorai, and being groomed to becoming the company head on the boss' retirement.

Chandra navigated the company through a lot of ups and downs and dislodging bellwether Infosys and to become the largest company by mcap with of close to Rs 5 trillion, and the largest profit centre for the group.

As the head of the Tata Group, he inherits a slew of problems across diverse sectors for which the conglomerate is in the news since October 24 last year when it removed Cyrus Mistry as the Chairman.

Experience gained in steering TCS, which delivers over 80 per cent of the Group's profits as also other positives like the potential of JLR will be of help for him.

Being a group man will also help as he is deeply rooted in the ethos of the century-old group, unlike Mistry who had come to the group from outside.

It can be noted that along with JLR's Ralph Speth, Chandra was appointed to the board of Tata Sons on October 25. Since then, he has been a regular at the group HQs Bombay House and has been often seen with Ratan Tata.

In the past three months under the septugenarian interim Chairman Ratan Tata, Chandra was the chosen one to represent the salt-to-software Group's case before global investors.

This work paid-off as most of the institutional shareholders either supported the group or abstained from voting at a slew of shareholder meets to dismiss Mistry from directorship of group companies, eventually leading Mistry to give up on the fight.

Chandra has been active in voicing the USD 150-billion software industry's wishes and also serves as a member on the board of the Reserve Bank.

Born in 1963 in Tamil Nadu, he lives in Mumbai with his wife, Lalitha, and son Pranav.
A technopreneur known for his ability to make big bets on new technology, Chandra has been driving TCS' strong positioning in the emerging digital economy with a suite of innovative digital products and platforms for enterprises, some of which have since scaled into sizeable new businesses.

Under his leadership, TCS has generated consolidated revenues of USD 16.5 billion in 2015-16 and is the largest software company in terms of revenue, and also the largest private sector employer in the country with over 3.78 lakh headcounts today. With over Rs 4.6 trillion in m-cap (today), TCS is also the most valued company in the country.

It should not come as a surprise that the appointment came within hours of TCS delivering a profit growth of 10.9 per cent for the December quarter which is faster than the industry average despite its size.

Under his leadership, TCS was rated as the world's most powerful brand in IT services in 2015 and recognised as a global top employer by the Top Employers Institute across 24 countries.

He has been playing an active role in the Indo-US and India-British CEO forums. He is also part of the country's business task-forces for Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan and Malaysia and was the chairman of the IT lobby Nasscom in 2012-13.

Chandra's other interests include photography and in what is uncharacteristic of a corporate executive, he chats with photojournalists to discuss the nuances of the art and also seeking opinion on equipment which he can buy during one of his many foreign trips.

The trips generally involve client meetings and also discussing business with TCS' operation heads. In an evangelical way, he has ensured many of his colleagues, generally prone to doing sedentary jobs, also take to running.

Many of the meetings with TCSers happen over morning runs, keeping the day reserved for the crucial client meetings.

Beyond the office, Chandra is an avid photographer, and a passionate long-distance runner who has completed several marathons around the world including Amsterdam, Boston, Chicago, Berlin, Mumbai, New York, Prague, Stockholm, Salzburg and Tokyo.

His strict physical regimen helps him keeps medicines at bay despite being a diabetic for long.

"Irrespective of the time zone I'm in, I'm out running at 5 am everyday," Chandra told a group of reporters at one of the informal do's.
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