Chak de phatte! That was Vineet Nayyar’s triumphant response to reporters’ queries after Tech Mahindra snapped up Satyam Computers.
Chak de phatte! That was Vineet Nayyar’s triumphant response to reporters’ queries after Tech Mahindra snapped up Satyam Computers. It was the summer of 2009. Nayyar may have been a bureaucrat for much of his life but in that moment he was an entrepreneur. It had taken him just 10 slides to convince the Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) board to throw its hat in the ring; in the very last one he went for the kill. It said: “We simply cannot afford to not buy Satyam.”
If convincing M&M was hard, it was even harder to convince Satyam’s clients to stay on. In a somewhat frightening environment post-Lehman, trust levels had plunged, litigation loomed large and no one was taking chances. In a matter of weeks, a bunch of BFSI clients had cancelled contracts. But Nayyar, as everyone knows, is a cool customer. The company may have been losing its bread and butter but with cups and cups of coffee to keep him going, he rebuilt the team. That was not easy at a time when lateral attrition in the IT industry was high and when engineers were more likely to opt for an Infosys or a Wipro at campus recruitments.
A younger man would have been daunted by the task but even at 70 he was unfazed, confident Satyam’s awesome ability to deliver would do the trick. We don’t know what his mother fed him for breakfast but we do know what he has for lunch: an hour of cardio and light weights. “We would meet companies and ask them for another chance. Don’t throw us out,
we would say.”
Some of them did but newer ones signed on and by December, 2009, JP Morgan had put an overweight rating on the Satyam stock in anticipation of a turnaround over the next 12 months. By March of the following year, brokerages who had abandoned coverage were forced to relook the company. Five years later, by March 2015, Tech Mahindra had done revenues of close to Rs 22,500 crore, last March these were Rs 30,773 crore.
It was hard work, but Nayyar didn’t mind. “I wish I could say I have a hobby but most of the time it’s work,” he says. As an IAS officer he enjoyed overseeing the digging of bore wells and building of roads. That was 50 years ago. Nayyar and wife Reva run a couple of high schools for under-privileged children — one in Delhi and the other in Lonavla. He had hoped to be able to devote more time to the venture but the government has roped him to help out with IL&FS. There’s no putting him to pasture.