When in 1979 he was posted in New York as the first TCS resident manager with a mandate to build a new revenue stream, Subramanian Ramadorai must not have imagined he would one day lead his firm to becoming the giant it has. During his tenure as chief executive officer and managing director between 1996 and 2009, the firm’s revenues soared more than tenfold to $6 billion. While the numbers do tell a story, and a stupendously successful one, what Indian IT owes Ramadorai today is its foundations. And for this outstanding contribution to an industry that has put India on the world map, Ramadorai takes home the Express IT Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, 2014.
Indeed, it wasn’t easy to sell any product to the US in the 1970s but through sheer grit and determination, Ramadorai, who had no sales experience, set up the software services business that today fetches TCS the largest chunk of its revenues. It is thanks to this effort that the US became a market for software services both for TCS and the country; among the firm’s first clients were IBM, Tandem and Hewlett-Packard.
The first in his family to receive an American education, Ramadorai recalls how he was torn between staying back in the US — where he had a lucrative job offer that paid $12,000 annually — and coming back to India. In the end, he decided to return to his roots and joined TCS, a division of Tata Sons. The US experience was invaluable — Ramadorai was virtually a one-man operation and from making customer calls to typing and faxing letters and also on occasion playing the delivery boy, he handled it all.
When he took over from FC Kohli, Ramadorai’s vision was a TCS that would be led by a collective effort rather than one individual. He realised soon enough that the firm would be operating on a scale that required a different management structure altogether and set up a think tank comprising top-level executives. While chalking out strategies in the office was important, Ramadorai also knew how important it was that the top team be able to ideate in an informal environment and there were lively sessions at his home, often on the weekend.
Towards the end of the 1990s, TCS was catering to large foreign banks and stock exchanges that required sophisticated and complex integrated systems.
Even as TCS made rapid strides in providing such solutions for its customers, it simultaneously upgraded its own systems; Ramadorai put in place the first digital backbone for ‘One TCS’, which allowed access data across continents, making life simpler for the top management.
In August 2004, TCS listed on the stock exchanges and its market capitalisation at the time was around R47,225 crore. When he stepped down in 2009, it was around R1,22,560 crore.
Despite the long hours at work and frequent travel, Ramadorai has managed to find the time for his hobbies, especially photography. He is extremely fond of classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic, and his iPod is loaded with renderings by his favourite artistes, among them Hariprasad Chaura sia, Rashid Khan and Lalgudi Jayaraman.