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He studied in Tamil medium govt school
`Wasn't Academically Brilliant, But Would Put Mind And Heart Into Duty'
In the early 1970s, N Chandrasekaran, along with his two brothers, would walk 3km to his Tamil medium government school in a village called Mohanur in Namakkal, some 415km west of Chennai. When he drives into Bombay House to occupy the corner office on February 21, it will mark the arrival of a man, who believes in loyalty and hard work.
Chandra, as he is called by his friends and family, is the youngest of three brothers and has three sisters.“His standout quality is his commitment,“ says eldest brother N Srinivasan, group finance director at Murugappa Group. “He will invest commitment and time to achieve anything that he sets out to do.“ TCS was his first employer. “He joined TCS more than 30 years ago (in 1987) in Chennai and lived with me here.He used to be the first to leave home for office, often by 7am, and the last to return, sometimes way past midnight,“ says Srinivasan.
The modest lifestyle of the three brothers involved sharing an apartment in Chennai and moving around on a scooter. “While all three of us have been religious, Chandra in particular learned Vedic hymns from a scholar,“ recalls the brother.
Corporate achievement, too, runs in the family . Another brother -N Ganapathy Subramaniam, elder to Chandra and younger to Srinivasan -was elevated as the COO of TCS on Thursday , soon after Chandra was named the Tata Sons chairman. His sisters live in Erode, Bengaluru and Chennai.
Their lawyer father S Natarajan returned to Mohanur to pursue farming. On hearing the news of Chandra's elevation, his 85-year-old father said: “God has been very kind to us.“ Natarajan's wife Meenakshi, 82, was elated as they watched TV channels beam visuals of their sons, sitting in Seshasayee Boards quarters in Erode in western Tamil Nadu.
Views of teachers at school
India's corporate history would have taken a different course had a principal of the Coimbatore Institute of Technology in the 1980s let one of his students have his way. Sometime in 1983, N Chandrasekaran, now Tata Sons chairman-designate, approached principal M Gurusamy to discuss his higher studies after completing BSc in applied science. “He told me that he was seriously considering agriculture,“ recalls Gurusamy .
Chandra's family had vast stretches of agricultural land in Mohanur village, in Tamil Nadu's Namakkal dis trict, where they grew plantain. Computer application was in its nascent stages but when Gurusamy explained its strengths, it caught Chandra's imagination.
When Chandra's father, S Natarajan, endorsed the principal's choice, the student had nothing more to consider. “He took up the subject and did extremely well to qualify for MCA at Regional Engineering College (REC), Trichy ,“ says Gurusamy .
Chandra's was the first MCA batch in REC, now the National Institute of Technology -Trichy (NIT-T). Chandra also considered chartered accountancy , but finally settled for MCA.
Chandra's father remained his motivation. “We discussed and decided on MCA,“ says the 84-year-old, who returned to agriculture after practising law. “It was his sheer hard work and adherence to values that made him what he is today ,“ says his father, who lives with his daughter in a guesthouse in Erode. Natarajan learned of Chandra's appointment on the television on Thursday evening and texted him. “He called me immediately . I told him that he has got his due,“ says the proud father.
Chandrasekaran's beginnings were humble. From a tiny tiled-roof house, he would walk a couple of kilometres to the government school.
The medium of instruction was Tamil, but Chandra was quick to pick up English at college. He was hard-working right from his childhood,“ says G Ajeethan, a cousin. It was this quality that helped him move up the corporate ladder to become TCS chief executive officer and managing director in 2009.
Though he heads such a large company, he is unassuming, says his schoolmate P Narendran, now an LIC agent in Mohanur. He remembers Chandra also as a good leg-spinner. “He was two years older than me, but never dominating. We had so much fun playing cricket together. He was the captain and I the vice-captain of the team,“ he says.
K S Natarajan, who taught Chandra in Class VII, says he was good at science.“He spent a lot of time clarifying his juniors' doubts,“ he says. S Annalakshmi, who taught him in Class VI, remembers Chandra as an obedient and respectful student.
The National Institute of Technology-Trichy (NIT-T), earlier known as Regional Engineering College (REC), was a turning point in the career of N Chandrasekaran, chairman designate of Tata Sons.
History would have been different for him and the holding company of the Tata Group that he now chairs had he pursued his early interest -chartered accountancy -and not joined the first batch to take the Masters in Computer Application (MCA) course at REC in 1983.
After graduating from Coimbatore Institute of Technology that year, Chandrasekaran learnt of the launch of the MCA course at REC. He cracked the entrance test and decided to go for it. “One of the brightest students at REC, Chandrasekaran was always surrounded by friends, be it in the classroom or in the hostel,“ said N P Gopal, the MCA department's senior-most faculty member “Chandra was an excellent manager right from his college days and was able to hone his skills in management,“ he said, adding that it helped him excel in a career spanning over three decades. It wasn't an easy decision to take up a newly launched course but his advocate father motivated him to go for it, he said.
He finished three projects at Tata Consultancy Services in his last semester and joined the company in 1987. After that, there was no looking back. He went on to become the CEO of the company, which grew to be the most successful in the Tata Group. The former head of the MCA department at NIT-T, Anish Kumar Banerjee, told TOI over the phone from Kolkata, “When I met him in 2014, before retirement, he was CEO of a reputed company. I am delighted to know that he has now become chairman of Tata Sons. It always feels great when you see your students grow.“ Chandrasekaran was conferred the `Distinguished Alumni Award' by NIT-T in 2014 when he visited the institute last. In an unprecedented move in NIT-T, a whole day was dedicated for him to provide an opportunity to students to interact with one of the most successful CEOs.
Recollecting Chandra's interaction with the students, the head of training and placement department, A K Bakthavatsalam, said it was amusing to hear him express his “inability to write a good resume“ for he never had an opportunity to move out of TCS. Chandra was also awestruck by a short film made by the students after elaborate research on him. Right from introducing some of his old classmates, the film had mentioned even his teacher in the sixth grade, Kannammal. It was she who inspired him to solve problems around him and his organisation, recollected Bakthavatsalam.
“Something that sets Chandra apart is his ability to see opportunity in crisis,' says senior professor of chemical engineering N Ananthakrishnan. One such example was the Y2k phenomenon. While the rest of the world was panicking, Chandra and TCS used this as an opportunity to turn around their business fortunes,“ he said.
“Once we tried to get an appointment with former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus P Mistry through Chandra.But the plan was subsequently dropped after coming to know that he was engaged for the next two years. Now that our own alumnus is the chairman we will try to call him to his alma mater for graduation day,“ said S R Balasundaram, head of the MCA department at NIT.
In connection with TATA
It could be any hour of the day or night, but as they say , a global CEO is accessible 24x7. That description fits Natarajan Chandrasekaran (53) and that's despite the fact that “he is a CEO who collects miles,“ in the words of a peer.
Based out of the company's headquarters in Fort, the office overlooking a building where Ratan Tata grew up, Chandrasekaran is known to maintain a punishing travelling schedule, spending nearly three-fourths of his time overseas at client sites.
A long distance marathoner anointed to lead the $108bn Tata conglomerate as executive chairman, a people's person who responds to SMSes and emails even at odd hours, `Chandra' is identified as a humble man who leads from the front. As a leader, he is known to repose trust in colleagues, empowering them and building team spirit. A Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) staffer recalls how when Chandra took over at the helm in 2009, 30-odd of his direct reportees were enrolled in a boot camp to prepare for a marathon. “More than getting us in shape, this exercise helped us all to bond better,“ said the TCSer.
Chandra's new-age management style is what transformed TCS into a nimble IT powerhouse. Under his leadership, revenues rose from Rs 30,029 crore in fiscal 2010 to Rs 1,08,646 crore in fiscal 2016. Chandra took charge at 45, the youngest CEO in the history of Tata Group. It was S Ramadorai who had talentspotted him back in 1996 and tasked him with overseeing IT implementation for a key client, GE.“His strengths are building great teams, problem solving abilities,“ Ramadorai told TOI, adding that Chandra raises the bar each time.
In his own admission to TOI in an earlier interview, Chandra, who is a lifer at TCS, had said: “I have never had a dull day in office.“ Coming from a family of diabetics, Chandra took to longdistance running to stay fit.This has made him more patient, perseverant and observant, qualities that are expected to stand him in good stead as he takes on the diverse challenges at Tata Sons.
Chandra who hails from Namakkal in western Tamil Nadu, graduated in applied sciences from the Coimbatore Institute of Technology and went on to do a postgraduate degree in computer applications from the Trichy regional engineering college. Today , he lives in a sea-facing apartment at Worli in South Mumbai with wife Lalitha and son Pranav.
Given his achievements in the digital domain, experts said Chandra was well placed to steer a group, which has traditionally been a brick-and-mortar play . His effective but nonconfrontational approach can be gauged from what Nimesh Kampani, chairman, JM Financial, has to say -“Chandra believes one can have opponents, but not enemies“. Plus as the classic insider, he may well be the ideal person to negotiate the group's intricacies.
“He is strategic in outlook, yet cost focused and granular in action, which is a mark of a great leader,“ said Vineet Nayar, who was MD of HCL Technologies.
Contributions in TATA
TCS Revenue Nearly Tripled To $17Bn During His Tenure Of Eight Years
As companies grow in size, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain high levels of growth because the base on which the growth is calculated is higher. The amazing thing about N Chandrasekaran's tenure was that he made the elephant in the IT industry , TCS, run faster than most of its smaller peers. When his predecessor S Ramadorai left the firm in 2009, TCS's revenue was $6 billion. In the less than eight years that Chandra was at the helm, revenue nearly tripled to $16.5 billion.
He achieved annual growth rates of 14-16% in years when smaller rivals like Infosys and Wipro were doing barely half of that.
And he did it with industry leading margins of 26%28%. Cognizant's revenue grew faster through most of this period, but it did so at much lower margins. In 200910, when he took over as CEO, the company's operating margin increased to near historic highs of 26.7%, from 23.66% the year before. In the last two quarters of the 201617 financial year, Chandrasekaran has managed to keep the margin at 26% despite a variety of headwinds.
Wipro vice chairman TK Kurien calls Chandrasekaran a fierce competitor. He was aggressive on the deal table. The street cheered Chandrasekaran's perfor mance. TCS's stock price rocketed 270% during his tenure, nearly quadrupling from Rs 632 in October of 2009 to Rs 2,343 a piece on the BSE on Thursday . TCS has been generous with its dividend payout. In the 2015 financial year, TCS rewarded its shareholders with a dividend of Rs 15,474 crore, 2.5 times the pay out in the previous year.
TCS, which counts Citi, GE and JP Morgan as customers, remains the star performer among the Tata group companies. It contributes 70% to Tata Sons' revenue. TCS remains the most valuable company in India, with a market capitalization of over $70 billion and makes up for 60% of the Tata Group's collective market cap of $116 billion.
The company has slowed down in recent quarters. The $150-billion Indian IT industry is going through a structural change. Newer technologies like cloud, big data, artificial intelligence and automation have dramatically changed the environment for IT services, and companies are restructuring to deal with these changes. Time will tell whether Chandrasekaran leaves behind an organization with the flexibility and innovativeness necessary to manage this change.