Vineet Nayyar: A man for all seasons

Written by Rachana Khanzode | Rupsa Ray | Mumbai | Updated: Apr 18 2009, 03:52am hrs
For Vineet Nayyar, the low-key chief of Tech Mahindra, handling tough projects and negotiations is second nature. Now in the limelight for successfully bringing Satyam Computer Services under his belt, Nayyar will find his business acumen put to the toughest test. Once a district magistrate, Nayyar has a brilliant track record in energy projects before his tryst with IT. He was the founding CMD of the state-owned Gas Authority of India, led the World Banks first energy mission to China, and conducted a comprehensive environmental study of Chinas Three Gorges project.

He was also responsible for the privatisation of infrastructure in the Philippines and reorganisation of the Central Bank of South Korea.

Many say Nayyars entry into Tech Mahindra in 2005 as vice-chairman, managing director and CEO was a turning point for the IT firm. For this former IAS officer, who joined the company from HCL Corporation where he was MD, had his task cut out. Historically, Tech Mahindra had been largely dependent on British Telecom (BT) and AT&T for a bulk of its revenues (over 60% of Tech Mahindras revenues come from BT alone), and had to gradually mitigate this risk by spreading to other clients and verticals. The concern that BT might gradually offload its 31% stake in Tech Mahindra, and wean away the business that it does with the Indian firm was a lurking threat. Nayyar had only two options left. To either sell the company and get the Mahindras out of the IT business or to make it big enough to compete with the big sharks in the IT services space. Nayyar grabbed the opportunity to make it big.

Unlike Larsen & Toubro (L&T), which was looking at Satyam as an investment opportunity before the Rs 7,000 crore fraud came to light, Tech Mahindra got into the fray after the IT firm was battered by its ex-chairmans revelations in January. A close associate of Nayyar insists this was a calculated risk. Nayyar, who has worked with the World Bank for over 10 years, takes decisions based on numbers. He brings in a combination of long-term thinking and unwavering commitment. The biggest advantage is his ability to think big, whether it is about a subsidiary or a large acquisition like Satyam, the aide said. So why did Tech Mahindra remain low key through the bidding process Probably, it was important for Nayyar to get the numbers right. He wanted everyone in the board to understand the importance of the deal and to clear their doubts. We just had the primary data to begin with and then Nayyar did the analysis with the support of various people, the associate adds.

Bidding at Rs 58 for the company, way ahead of the nearest competitive bid of Rs 45.90, was indeed a calculated risk. At stake was Rs 2,889 crore, that too in times likes these.

Whether Nayyars bid of Rs 58 was good enough is a Rs 2,889 crore question that only time can answer. It would also be interesting to watch Nayyars moves as he integrates the two companies. Sources say that Nayyar could become the CEO.

He completes his five-year contract with Tech Mahindra on January 16, 2010.