As India’s tryst with economic reforms was unfolding in 1991, a 40-year-old engineer’s latent dreams started to take shape as he plunged into his entrepreneurial journey from his home in the rocky, undulating and upmarket area of Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad.
Turning the dining area into office space with a CAD/CAM workstation, BVR Mohan Reddy hired two engineers in GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and Sunil Kumar Makkana from Suri Computers, to launch Infotech Enterprises, offering digitisation services. He brought in his former colleague, Rajan Babu Kasetty, as a non-executive director. Both had started their careers in Shriram Refrigeration and Reddy always turned to Rajan on any ‘bad day’ for comfort and strength.
The dreams that so began have transformed into a billion-dollar, multinational enterprise called Cyient, three decades later. In penning his autobiography titled Engineered in India From Dreams to billion dollar Cyient, the IIT Kanpur and Michigan University alumnus, Mohan Reddy, has meticulously presented the arduous journey of building a world-class engineering company out of India and especially from Hyderabad, which is not an easy task.
The book is not a riveting read but manages to engage the reader with narratives of a continuous stream of real situations and challenges that Mohan faced and overcame in every chapter, thereby throwing up many business lessons, which makes for an instructive read for all those nurturing ideas of start-ups and entrepreneurial aspirations.
The Career Phase
Before venturing into Infotech Enterprises, Reddy, the son of a police officer, had a mixed career-cum-budding entrepreneur experience. During stints in Shriram of the DCM group, MICO Bosch and HCL, where he gained different capabilities, he was toying with the idea of a start-up in personal computer manufacturing. A business plan was made, but there were no investors forthcoming.
Around 1981, he was fortunate to get associated with Prof. Raj Reddy, a famous computer scientist from Carnegie Mellon University. OMC Computers with 30 per cent equity by Raj Reddy, 30 per cent by Tatas and 20 per cent by AP Electronics Development Corporation (APEDC) started. At 31, Mohan Reddy joined as part of the leadership team and became the president and managing director in quick succession.
OMC developed and launched Omega 58000 in 1983 and emerged among the top 10 computer manufacturers within the next five years. But, Mohan Reddy’s parting with OMC Computers after nine years was not a ‘smooth and pleasant’ one. In 1990, he exited after selling his 3 per cent equity and raising Rs 20 lakh, which would be his seed money for Infotech Enterprises, and a wealth of experience in engineering products, technology and the nitty gritty of running a business.
Infotech to Cyient and beyond
From a modest beginning of offering services to digitise paper maps and drawings, using CAD/CAM to building expertise in GIS and then transitioning into a strong entity offering engineering and research and development services to global players like Pratt & Whitney, Mohan Reddy takes the reader on a steady ride through 300 pages, underlying the successes and challenges while paraphrasing the learnings too.
The autobiography of ‘Infotech Mohan Reddy’, as he is popularly known, is a bit dense in its contents. But, it offers many lessons from the perspective of being an employee, a CEO, a start-up that did not take off to managing a huge multi-centric corporate. From Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman’s foreword, it has words of praise from Anand Mahindra, MM Murugappan, GV Prasad, NR Narayana Murthy, Paul Adams, Sangita Reddy to several captains of Indian industry.
The role of the family, especially his wife Sucharitha, in backing him during the initial phase is well presented in the book. So is the case of the support his son, Krishna Bodanapu, a Kellogg’s School of Management alumnus, lent after being inducted into the managerial roles in the company and finally succeed in 2014 without much heartburn. Along with the core management team, Cyient was able to attract big players like Pratt & Whitney, tom-tomed first as its customers and then turned into investors during its growth path.
The transition from Infotech to Cyient and building the brand is an interesting tale. Reddy tells, how he was rattled one evening in 2013 when a senior IAS officer at a party told him “As long as you are associated with Infosys, Mohan, the company will do well.” The very next day, newspaper reports said, the director of a company bearing Infotech as part of its name was arrested. It set him thinking seriously. Losing no time, advertising agency Wolff Olins, which designed the company’s brand promise: ‘Designing Tomorrow Together’, was commissioned. Very soon, the word ‘Cyient’ was coined. It is a fusion of science and client and ‘ent’ represented engineering and technology, which is its bread and butter. While Cyient thinks the brand resonates well, the question remains whether it has become popular among the general public too like a Wipro or an Infosys that is easy to recall?
Giving back and supporting enterprises
In a coincidence, the year Mohan stepped back from the top position at Cyient, the separate State of Telangana was formed. Though his views differed with KT Rama Rao, the Minister for IT and son of Chief Minister, K Chandrasekhar Rao, on separate statehood, he was pleasantly surprised to get a call and had a pleasant discussion with KTR. Soon, it blossomed into suggestions and counsel and Telangana, especially Hyderabad has been witnessing high growth in entrepreneurship, multinational presence and innovation in the sector.
Mohan too has played a key role in shaping the tech strengths of India’s IT as Chairman of NASSCOM. He was instrumental in forming the Hyderabad Angels along with Srini Raju of ILabs Venture Capital Fund, JA Chowdhary, founding director of the STPI, and D Suresh Babu, MD of Suresh Productions in 2010. Launched in 2010, it goes beyond funding start-ups to providing mentorship and handholding.
As the leading homegrown, outsourced engineering services company, the story of Cyient and the eventful life, professional competence and entrepreneurial struggles and successes of Mohan Reddy make for a good case to be given a thorough read.
(The reviewer is a senior Hyderabad-based journalist)
Check it out on Amazon.