D Murali

Tata-yana from Ram

D. Murali | Updated on September 25, 2011

Chennai: 16/09/2011: The Hindu: Business Line: Book Value Column: Title: The TCS Story ...and beyond. Author: S. Ramadorai

S. Ramadorai's efforts have made TCS a dream company to work for.

Ask Ram, the affable ex-boss of a mammoth IT company, what he considers to be the most critical component of his new book, The TCS Story… and Beyond, and he says it is the story-telling part. “Because it must appeal to all audiences, more importantly the youth who look forward to a great future,” he reasons, during a recent interaction with Business Line.

When I nudge Ram to read a snatch from the book, he chooses a section about ‘Maitree' – a concept in TCS to mean friendship, born in 2002. “My strong belief that TCSers should have a well-rounded educational background and opportunities for professional growth resonated with an idea suggested by my wife Mala which appealed instantly to me,” writes S. Ramadorai.

Bring people together

Mala had watched TCS grow and was a bit concerned that the young people the company was employing did nothing but work, while their wives fended for themselves with no outlets for using their time productively, says Ram. “Mala suggested that we should find a way to engage our rapidly growing workforce – we had 17,000 associates at that time – and their families, in activities that would bring them closer together.”

The idea, as Ram explains, was to bring people together through interest groups, cultural festivals and sports. He also found meaning in the suggestion of Mala that Maitree could function as a support group that a young wife (like she had been) could lean on when she found herself setting up home in a foreign country, with a husband who was too busy to help.

It was Ram's belief that a knowledge management company like TCS should be able to use its expertise to aggregate and make available to the newly-placed couples all the ‘knowledge' about strange cities, the schooling system, the places where one could find Indian spices and so on. He recalls how a website was started for this purpose and how it gradually became a lively and colourful repository of vital information and a vehicle for informal exchanges between the employees.

Another suggestion by Mala, however, took time to be adopted: it was about psychological counselling service for the members of the young workforce who were mostly far away from their families and without friends in new cities. The surprise, as Ram reminisces, was when no one availed of the service initially. The stigma attached to seeking help for psychological wants had to be overcome, he reasons. “The idea that we could easily make the service available online was shot down by the Maitree team – every computer had a unique number and could be identified! Of course within a few years there were counsellors in all the locations, and their calendars were quite full.”

The new boss

An important story in the book is about the transition of Ram, who went from being just an employee since 1972 when he started as a trainee, to becom the boss in 1996. Nobody is ever ready for the top job, despite what they may say, notes Ram. “As long as there is at least one management layer above you, you are shielded. The management takes the final decisions and carries the ultimate responsibility for those decisions. Once you are at the top, reality hits and you feel the umbilical cord being cut. Now the buck stops with you.”

Of great instructional value for any manager and new leaders is the distinction in management style that Ram draws between himself and Faqir Chand Kohli – his predecessor and the architect of India's IT industry – despite the common vision they both shared. Kohli had a direct management style and exercised very tight control; he was intellectual, authoritative and aloof – some even described him as an autocrat, the author recounts. “Most young recruits were quite afraid of him, in awe of his wisdom and wary of his sharp tongue… When it came to taking decisions, Kohli tended to keep a distance from the TCS staff. He would take in all the inputs from colleagues and then, almost out of a black box, reach a decision.”

But Ram was a study in contrast. He consciously tried to be very participative and actively sought to foster debate and discussion, and to ensure that everyone with a valid view had the opportunity to contribute to a debate and express themselves, one learns. And, if there was a problem, what would Ram do? Apply strong analytics to it in order to understand what had happened, why it happened and what could be done to try and prevent it from happening again.

“I made a point of trying to understand what the individual talents and capabilities of people were, and then encouraged them to analyse problems and consider the pros and cons of specific actions before reaching a decision. I also used to take copious notes of meetings and provided feedback to all concerned, a habit that has remained with me till this day.”

Anecdotal approach

A key takeaway in the book is the anecdotal approach to foster strong management skills and get management to buy into a process. For example, rather than simply state a principle such as that we must be more transparent with clients, Ram would try and turn the principle into a story, thus: “I met so-and-so and this is what he said and this is what happened and these are the types of things that happened. And by the way all of this means that we must be more transparent…”

In meetings, he emphasises, it is important to get people express their opinions and to get others to either agree or provide alternative points of view, and then to try and come up with a consensus. “If that was not possible, I would of course bring the discussions to a close and reach a decision myself. But even when I was giving an order I always tried to give it as a suggestion, for example, ‘You might want to try this…'”

One policy for everyone

One other best practice captured in the book is the creation of transparent internal policies that everyone understood and to which there would be no exceptions. “I felt it was better that there should be zero exceptions and that everything should be decided by the policy,” avers Ram. “If you didn't like it, you could go back to the person who created the policy, hold them accountable for setting it and argue the case. This transformed the culture at the workplace because it meant that it was pointless to ask for exceptions. It was all about coming up with a good policy – one policy for everyone.”

This is a book you would definitely be enriched by reading. Not less educative are the tales in the appendix, such as of Anita Rajan, Ram's executive assistant for about a decade. “When I asked him about a brief on my role he said he wanted me to be a ‘change agent,'” she writes. “I thought deeply about this and realised that what he was really saying was, ‘I want you to do things differently and bring a fresh perspective.' It was a very empowering thought; it conveyed an implicit sense of trust and was a big motivator to make a difference.”

He would shoot ten different things at you at the same time, all of which need attention – and will expect nothing short of excellence – informs Rajan. “It pushes you to raise the bar and figure out how to get things done in the most efficient way. What makes you take up the challenge is the fact that he leads by example – he will never ask for something that he would not have done himself…”


“We could increase the effectiveness of our meetings...”

“By reducing the duration?”

“Yes, and by also introducing a ‘Best before' field for every consensus decision taken at the meeting.”


Published on September 25, 2011

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