The first poster boy of Indian IT industry

Adith Charlie
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Narendra Patni: 1943-2014
Narendra Patni: 1943-2014

Narendra Patni passed away in the US following a cardiac arrest

Narendra Patni was a pioneer who inspired a whole generation of entrepreneurs to plunge into the software services business, say captains of the IT industry.

For those who knew him, Naren was an intense man who valued the depth of his relationship with clients.

The co-founder and former CEO of the erstwhile Patni Computer Systems (PCS) passed away following a cardiac arrest in the US recently. He was 71.

“He was a doyen of the industry in the true sense… when we started Mastek in 1982, the Patni story was a beacon light for us,” said Ashank Desai, Founder and Chairman of Mastek.

Naren went to the US in 1964 on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology fellowship and he had made the country his base ever since.

“I had known Naren since 1964. He was as humble as he was bright. He was at the forefront of the software revolution, not only in India but also in the US,” said Lalit Kanodia, Chairman of Datamatics Global Services, and himself a pioneer of the IT offshoring model.

Naren and his wife took the first steps towards the offshoring business when they started operations from their US apartment in 1972.

In 1978, Naren started PCS along with brothers Ashok and Gajendra as a reseller of Data General’s mini-computers.

It then got into writing software solutions for Data General customers. Naren picked up NR Narayana Murthy to head the software division in August 1977.

Murthy, in turn, built a software team of six people who went on to become the founders of Infosys.

Trust factor

Naren was well known for his clout with customers.

“I have seen Naren interact with customers and the trust factor was extremely high. That was because of the value he attached to his word,” said Abhay Havaldar, General Atlantic’s Advisory Director.

Havaldar was on the board of PCS between 2002 and 2011 as GA had a stake in the IT company. “It was not so much about the contract, but it was more about what Naren had committed to the client,” said Havaldar.

Atul Nishar, Chairman of Hexaware Technologies, said Naren was not only a pioneer of the IT sector, but also one of the finest persons in the industry.

The Indian IT industry went through a complete change in 1999-2000 and companies such as Infosys and TCS focussed on two major opportunity cycles: the Y2K bug and the ERP implementation wave. However, Patni did not capitalise on these prospects and was compelled to play catch up.

What also slowed Patni’s growth were disagreements between the promoters. While Gajendra and Ashok wanted to cash out, Naren wanted to stay put.

Finally in 2011, the brothers reached a common ground and agreed to sell out to Nasdaq-listed iGate which went on to acquire PCS.

“Patni was a company that Naren truly loved. He told me he would have preferred to be on the buy side and not the sell side (of the Patni-iGate transaction), but circumstances did not permit him,” said Phaneesh Murthy, who was then CEO of iGate.

(This article was published on June 6, 2014)
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