Age, they say, is just a number. For no one perhaps is this more an absolute truth than for Ashok Soota, founder and executive chairman of Happiest Minds, and the former chief of Wipro. A sprightly 74, Soota is still going strong, his five decades of experience worn ever so lightly. Experience not merely as an IT professional but also as an entrepreneur.
Soota’s boundless energy — he’s an avid trekker — has seen him build not one but two companies. Or even three, one could argue, since he took Wipro’s revenues from just $2 million all the way to $500 million in a matter of 15 years. If not the company, he certainly built the foundation that helped Wipro become a software giant. For his remarkable contribution to IT, Soota wins the Express IT Lifetime Achievement Award for 2016.
At 57, when most people are getting ready to hang up their boots, Soota decided to strike out on his own incubating Mindtree, doing what he knew best — IT services. It was 1999, Y2K was yet to happen and there was plenty of opportunity and India had plenty of talent. It was a question of putting it all to good use. Soota decided his company would deliver software solutions to clients but without it seeming like a chore for the engineers.
The idea was to create an environment in which there was both cash and comfort, profit and pleasure. There was strong element of community service — a significant portion of the profits went towards supporting primary education in the neighbourhood.
It wasn’t roses all the way — the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 and it took all his experience to navigate the company through this difficult period. His friends and colleagues all vouch for Soota’s ability to stay calm in a crisis, probably the benefits of meditating regularly. That also probably helped him stay mentally agile because at 69, after spending close to 12 years at Mindtree and creating a $330-million enterprise, he went back to the drawing board. This time, he set up Happiest Minds and his mantra was that happy individuals make for better employees who are more committed to customers. Soota’s ability to connect effortlessly with so many young minds, helped him attract good talent.
Even today Soota — who practices tai chi — remains as focused as before and is working to make Happiest Minds a $100-million company in the next three years. That target is not too far away and he should get there. But Soota’s objectives in life have never been centred on money; they have been more to do with preserving and bettering the environment. Unassuming to the core, he has given back more than he has got; his philanthropic contributions are channelled through Ashirvadam, a trust that helps protect the environment and provides the underprivileged with vocational training, education and medical assistance.
As a young graduate at Roorkee University in the early 1960s, Soota could not have imagined his life would take the course it has. And when he does call it a day, if at all he does, he can look back with pride and satisfaction. It’s been a long journey but an enjoyable one.