I still recollect the commanding presence of Faqir Chand Kohli when I joined Tata Consultancy Services as a trainee in late 1970s. He told me much later that he had moved from Tata Electric Companies to TCS a year earlier , only for a temporary period as his brief was to stabilise a floundering organisation. He turned it around, and then stayed on to shape TCS to be a global organisation.
More importantly, he created the IT industry in India. If anyone deserved to be called “Father of Indian IT Industry”, it was FC Kohli.
F C Kohli was gracious, unassuming, and always willing to help: Ratan Tata
When he took over the reins in TCS, the organisation was providing computing services using technologically antiquated computers, even by the standards of that time. Foreign exchange was tightly controlled by the Government and computers were not the priority.
Nurturing talent minds
However, Kohli was not someone to be discouraged. He had implicit faith in the capabilities of Indian engineers, whom he had recruited from premier institutes in India and the US. He himself had high academic credentials, and he had graduated from MIT in the US. He convinced the Government that he would export far more if TCS was allowed to import latest generation of computers. He coaxed universities to start Computer Science departments so that TCS would get a steady flow of recruits. He focused on training these young graduates on the latest software technology trends. Kohli went about establishing marketing offices in UK, USA and a few countries in Europe and Asia Pacific. He created the ecosystem for the Indian Information Technology industry as a global provider of services. He took all these initiatives in the 70s!
FC Kohli, father of India’s IT revolution, is no more
As TCS expanded, Kohli decided to expand the network of delivery centres. He installed a large IBM computer in Chennai in 1988 setting the stage for the huge expansion of IT industry in Tamil Nadu. Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata and Delhi became big centres under his watch. He ensured that talented people from many parts of India did not have to migrate for working in this industry.
Kohli was keen from the early days that TCS should keep adding value. He created an R&D centre in Pune in early 80s, attracting many talented researchers from many parts of the world. He invested in developing software products.
While TCS may not have succeeded in creating blockbuster products, these initiatives paved the way for enhancing its technology competencies. When the Y2K time came, TCS used many of the products developed in its R&D centre and created a software factory in Chennai to execute these projects. He pushed everyone to do more.
Kohli did not focus only on the profitable work overseas. He wanted India to be transformed through the use of IT and he took many assignments which did not add to the bottom line. He was not being just patriotic. He ensured that the project management and technology skills that TCS employees developed on these Indian projects were used to great effect in challenging overseas projects.
Kohli developed people. I benefited enormously from his demanding ways. He mentored Ramadorai and Chandrasekaran. Most importantly, he created a pipeline of leaders in TCS. He did not spare himself. After he retired from TCS in 2000, he continued to interact with people and goad them to use information technology to transform India. When I met him early this year at his home in Mumbai, he talked about more things to do, in his usual impatient manner. We have lost one of the major national icons of recent times.
The writer is former CFO, TCS