I love my Chevy, Jaguar and Merc

Written by Ruchi Kapoor | Updated: Jan 17 2008, 05:35am hrs
Arjun Malhotra has played a long and distinguished innings in the IT industry. He has not only crossed numerous milestones, but has also set benchmarks for others. Still the 59-year-old CEO and chairman of Headstrong believes that committing to his lady love Kiran at the age of 19 and marrying her at 22 was the best decision of his life.

Born on January 7, 1949 in Kolkata, he moved to Delhi at the age of 7. He studied at the Doon School, Dehradun, and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. He followed it up with an advanced management programme at the Harvard Business School.

In 1975, he along with six others founded HCL Technologies. From a Garage operation, it went on to become one of the largest information technology companies in India. He later took over its US operations, taking annual revenues to nearly $100 million.

He came back to India in 1992 to run the HCL-HP joint venture. In 1998, he decided to move on to set up Techspan with funding from Goldman Sachs and Walden International. He led the company as its CEO and chairman. Talking about HCL, he says, I still have a stake in HCL Technologies and HCL Infosystems, but I dont play any active role there. Both Shiv (Nadar) and Ajay are good friends.

Techspan merged with Headstrong in 2003. The global consultancy offers expertise across business processes, strategic consulting and technology through its global delivery and sourcing model. He put to good use his entrepreneurial streak, taking its annual turnover to $200 million (Rs 800 crore).

Explaining what differentiates his company from competition, he says, We talk to our clients, discuss their business problems and use technology to deliver solutions. I think you need to see what clients are ready to pay you and for which service. Our onsite billing rates tend to be 50% higher than those of the traditional Indian companies. Offshore rates are 25% higher. We not only provide onsite domain expertise in Tokyo, New York and London, but also some higher level of expertise in India. He adds, Two-thirds of our business comes from security and investment banking firms and other similar businesses.

For him, it all begins with human resources. He believes in hiring the very best. The company has about 40% of its 1,200-1,300 workforce from IITs and IIMs. Its the easiest way to recruit the very best people. The ratio of effort to return is much better. It helps us in productivity because I need not worry about the quality of the work we do.

Leadership qualities and a healthy work environment play a very important role in making the business successful, he believes. Whatever you do, people are the most important factor. If you cannot motivate and retain good people, then you are never going to create a good company. You have to be a good leader to be able to motivate and retain your good people. A leader is someone who has the respect and trust of his people.

Little wonder, the company is growing at a rate of 40% a year. He says, I can take it to 50% or 60%, but it becomes a little risky. We are just concentrating at what we are doing. Our India and Manila centres are going to grow much faster than our other centres. So our growth rate will be higher. We are just scratching the surface as of now.

The leader is also open to mergers and acquisitions. He says, Its great to acquire a company. If you have cash for it, you must do it. At the same time its not necessary that all the acquisitions will turn out to be successful. Real life doesnt work that way. He adds that tackling cultural challenges in your own country or in other countries in the right manner is essential for the success of mergers and acquisitions. In fact, integrating the two entities is a real challenge.

He emphasises on the need to explore opportunities in smaller cities instead of metros. Bhopal, Meerut and Agra are ideal place for business according to him. Its important because the outsourcing industry has ushered in a sociological change in the country, he says.

He says, Now people spend money and dont feel the compulsion to save it. People dont feel the need to sacrifice their comforts for the sake of their children. Earlier, having a job was the biggest factor for economic security. The IT sector has broken that glass ceiling. People dont think they need that security. The IT sector has really given confidence to the people that they are as good as anyone else in the world. He adds, The BPO will break this ceiling in the case of the lower middle class in the next 5-10 years. He is also upbeat about the KPO sector. Talented students from IITs, IIMs and other toppers get bored doing clerical work after a period of time. They are the ideal raw material for KPOs.

But to promote the IT sector in a big way, he says, the government should focus on improving the quality of education in public institutions and de-regulate the sector. Whatever the government is doing, they should focus on doing it in a better way, he says.

He can go on and on and talk passionately about the global as well as the Indian IT industry. However, his personal life is not any less exciting. His global business interests have made him a frequent traveller. He spends about 90 days in the US and the rest of the time travelling for business. He has adapted quite well, putting even his travel time to good use. He says, I find it really easy to cope up with regular air travel. I always like to sleep in the plane. Travelling does not bother me. It is more like an undisturbed sleep. I sleep before the plane takes off and wake up only when it lands.

If its not work, then its his passion for old cars that drives him. I have a 1931 model Chevy in India, a 1983 model Jaguar and a 1987 model Mercedes in the United States. I love those cars.

He adds, Besides, I love reading. My selection ranges from new technology to eastern spiritual thought. He has just finished reading Games Indians Play, which talks about the game theory and its relation to peoples behaviour.

He likes listening to his favourite Indian classical music, new Bollywood numbers and jazz. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan tops his list of favourites. He regrets that music had lost its way somewhere since the mid-80s. The new genre of music directors is good, though, he adds.

He says, Ill work as long as I enjoy doing it. You see, I dont need a salary now. He has already lined up post-retirement plans. There are a lot of hobbies that I havent been able to pursue for so long. For example, I love to collect stamps and coins and have a huge collection. I just need to sort them out.

Despite his myriad interests, the workaholic entrepreneur manages to take time out for his family. Recently, he became a grand dad and he loves to be with his grandson, Vir Aadit, son of his daughter Poorva and her husband Tipu. His son Shiven has just joined the Headstrong Office in New York. It seems a different innings is around the corner.