K Pandia Rajan founded Ma Foi Management Consultants Limited in 1992 in Chennai with a capital of R60,000 raised from family and friends. Rajan is an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur. He did his engineering from PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore. After working in well-known companies like BOC, Deutsche Babcock IDEA, he decided to strike out on his own and set up Ma Foi. He has built up one of the largest recruitment companies in the country. He has seen it through several rounds of VC and PE funding and has supervised share transfers. He has made it global by becoming part of the Dutch company Randstad, the world’s second largest HR services provider.
Today, Ma Foi has clients worldwide. It has helped shape the careers of more than 2,80,000 individuals.
It has provided a variety of HR services to thousands of organisations that include more than 250 names in the Fortune-500 list. Rajan himself has played an extremely crucial role in the evolution of the HR industry in India and has pioneered diverse HR services including HR-BPO and HR Automation.
Rajan also won the Virudhunagar constituency with 70,104 votes in the recently concluded assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. He belongs to ‘captain’ Vijayakanth’s DMDK party.
After building up a successful business, why does Rajan want to enter the rough and tumble of Tamil Nadu politics? “I have always been interested in politics. I was active in the students’ union in my engineering college. I was also attracted to the Janata Party because of the JP movement. In 1977, I actively campaigned for the party, worked as a translator during the meetings.” The party won ten seats in Tamil Nadu. Then, Rajan went on to do his MBA. His career, setting up his business, took precedence and his life went into a different direction.
In 2000, he was awarded the Eisenhower Fellowship, given to emerging leaders aged 32-45 with a record of achievement and high potential for further advancements to broaden their horizons through the exchange of perspectives with US leaders. This, he says was a defining moment in his life. The group of 20 consisted of politicians, journalists, academics and business persons.
Rajan’s mentor was Amartya Sen. At the end of eight weeks, after asking himself some fundamental questions, he realised he wanted to enter public life, try and make a real difference. Having made up his mind, and being an admirer of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Rajan walked into Kamalalayam, BJP’s office in Chennai and enrolled himself as a member.
He had nobody to back him or support him. “I have no RSS background.” As it happened, 2000 was a major breakthrough year for Ma Foi as well. He got VC funding for the first time, set up offices all over the country and went international as well. The BJP experience, however, was not a happy one. He slowly made his presence felt in the party, helped the party win two seats in the corporation election. He was not given a seat for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. He started feeling uncomfortable as there too many negative forces working in Tamil Nadu BJP and took the decision to leave the party.
Rajan’s life took another turn when he met Vijayakanth (Captain) at a friend’s place. “I had never met him before. But there was good chemistry between us and I liked the idea of joining a young party that was going it alone.” He learnt all about issues confronting a new party, the teething troubles and the growing pains.
Captain gave him the Virudhunagar Lok Sabha seat in 2007. “In the last assembly elections, this constituency gave us around 14.3% votes. Since then, many people had joined our party and I felt our poll chances were good.” As it happened, the DMDK could not secure a single seat. This was a difficult time for Rajan professionally as well.
By this time, Vedior, an Amsterdam based international staffing company, had 76% shares in Ma Foi. “Vedior had 155 brands under it. It was a confederation of companies. Suddenly, Randstand acquired Vedior and it was a different ball game. I had to make a swap deal with them, let go of my international deals , take charge of their associations here.” All this coincided with the economic meltdown as well. Integration with Randstad was not easy. Rajan had to let people go as Randstad wanted to make major changes. All this happened right in the middle of Lok Sabha elections. Ever since, he has been working on making the transition as smooth as possible.
When Rajan got his seat to fight the assembly election from Virudhunagar, he was able to go into it with his eyes wide open. “I learnt to raise funds. I also learnt to manage wearing many hats, being the party ideologue, part of the think tank, fighting the resentment against my closeness to the Captain, and being a grass roots politician.” His HR skills came in handy when he had to deal with 11 alliance partners. The negotiations went on for three months. “It’s like handling the unions.”
Nurturing his constituency was a much simpler task. His Ma Foi foundation has been working for many years, in Virudhunagar and Sivakasi (where he comes from). The foundation and its different arms have helped empower women through self help groups and youth through education and livelihood support. Healthcare has been another focus area. Rajan, having his roots there, was able to mobilise the local people for his campaign. He went to 326 villages and covered 48,000 families.
Now that he has become the Virudhunagar MLA, he wants to work on his constituency’s potential in commodity trading, which was a major business there once. An SEZ for precision engineering products, reviving the Aeropark project, and setting up agri-processing industries in the arid and semi arid areas are his plans for his constituency. What is most important to him is to make sure all the welfare schemes reach people without a trace of corruption.