His usual reticence reflects his company's traditional understated
style but S Ramadorai, MD & CEO of Tata Consultancy Services, talks
tech, quotas and cricket with Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of The
Indian Express, on NDTV 24x7's Walk The Talk programme.
'We must scale up IITs, IIMs, take strong affirmative action or we
can't bridge employment shortfall'
S. Ramadorai, MD & CEO,Tata Consultancy Services
Posted online: Monday, August 21, 2006 at 0000 hrs IST
• Hello and welcome to Walk the Talk. My guest today, obviously the
biggest of the big boys among India's IT czars. And also the most
silent. Subramaniam Ramadorai, welcome to Walk the Talk
• I'm sure you're happy to be where you studied science many years
ago, four decades. ago, at the Indian Institute of Science in
Yes. I was here from 1962-65. It's one of the most picturesque parts
of the country, probably in the world,. but then it brings you
memories of how you grew up in the early 60s.
• It was different when you were here.
Absolutely different. The number of students was less, the number of
girl students even more so. But I think they've tried to retain the
environment. The serenity and the conduciveness for education is
• And for you the environment has remained the same in one way: from a
Tata-founded institute to a Tata-run company.
Absolutely. When I was in school, I grew up in Delhi, Tatas as a job
destination other than the IAS was what was preached by my parents. If
you join the Tatas or the IAS, you've made it.
• There was IAS and there was TAS. And you had the unique position of
spending all your adulthood with the Tatas.
Yes. From 1965-68, and then for a year I worked with the Physical
Research Laboratory, it was then part of ISRO. Then I went to the US,
came back in 1972 and I've been part of Tatas since then.
• This trait of silence: Does it come from that?
I think so. It's a very cultural way you grow up in an institution
where you silently do things as a professional and the outcomes are to
be seen by the public at large, including the satisfaction that comes
from within, rather than projecting it at all the forums. Having said
that, as we went public in 2004, we needed to be visible, that's what
people tell me and initially it was the most difficult thing but today
it's a lot more comfortable.
• I believe your company even hired senior journalists to teach people
like you how to open up to the media...
Yes, we hired some really good journalists who added value to each of
us personally as well as to the company. I think their takeaway is
tech inputs, how does a technology company function, how does an
average age profile of 23 (today it's 26) perform, the dynamism and
the intellectual challenges.
• As a journalist I'm very interested in this process whereby you
decided to come out of this silence into the public domain. Tell me
something about the debate and discussions.
I think we prepared for a year to go into the public domain as a
listed company. The preparations that went in were internal: three
years' financials, the submissions, the IPO document which was going
to be scrutinized by everyone. That was the easy part; the most
difficult part was with regard to the image during the roadshow where
you were going to be meeting the media people, what you stood for, how
you communicated, what were the challenges. Coming from a very shy
organization to one in the public eye, when you change your behaviour,
you see a lot of internal conflicts which are coming out.
• Did some people say, It's not necessary, we don't have to change like this?
I think they did but people said that you have to be a lot more
smiling, a lot more engaging, answer more beyond Yes and No.
• Did some people say, You don't have to be flamboyant like Narayana
Murthy or Nilekani?
They said you have to smile a lot more, you cannot show your worries,
you have to be behaving differently to what is inside. That's the most
difficult thing; as a human being you display your emotions almost
• Because that was the big difference. You were as closed and shy as
the Nilekanis and Narayana Murthys, even Premji, were open and
flamboyant and were talking on all kinds of issues beyond their own
businesses. A huge contrast. Are you trying to bridge the gap now?
I think one is trying to bridge the gap, one has bridged it a lot.
More importantly, the younger people whom you're trying to mould for
the future, they're the ones whom we want naturally to be extroverts,
not shy, be communicative, You don't want them to go through the same
turmoil you went through. And that's the biggest contribution.
• Why do you call it turmoil?
I think it's a behavioural change. You're a professional where your
internal satisfaction comes from your achievements, which you
recognize, which your bosses recognize, which your institution
recognizes. You want that to be recognized by the public at large,
because the number of owners of the company has increased. That's why
I call it turmoil.
• When you were going through this turmoil, you were obviously very
conscious of the fact that the view that the media, the rest of the
country, the rest of the world was getting of the Indian IT sector was
the view from one side of the fence when, as they say, the bull is on
the other. Isn't it? Because you're so much bigger than the others,
than Infosys, Wipro, and yet the anonymity. Was it self-denial?
I don't think it was self-denial of any sort. When we were an unlisted
company the attention of the media was minimal. Even if you wanted to
say something about your achievements, like a project you're won or
• But internally, among your younger employees, was there some
impatience, Why do my parents not know, my friends not know?
Absolutely. The younger people were saying, How come nobody wants to
look at us, how come nobody wants to write about us? What is the
problem with us? Even though we talk to the media, why is nobody
communicating? The only question we got asked, and I'm sure a lot of
internal people asked it, is, Why have we not gone public? That's the
only way to get visibility.
• The other question must have been why you were not sharing your
wealth with your staff, in the manner that others were in the IT
I think somehow given the Tata value systems, very few people really
asked, Why is the wealth not being shared?
• Times are changing.
Times are changing, yes. I think today a youngster will ask, What's in
it for me? How am I going to get a piece of the action? Can I spin off
a company when I have an equity in this? I think the morals have
changed, times have changed, you have to be sensitive to those. But I
think quite a few of us have lived together through the last 35 years,
20-25 years, we always used to ask, am I doing the right thing for the
profession? And if that differentiator comes out then I'm making a
difference to the profession as well as to the community.
• You were almost an ideological brotherhood, isn't it? You can't
expect the same from your young people.
No, but still quite a few of them get engaged looking at you, looking
at the way you've built yourself, that there is an opportunity for
every single professional in the organization. If at all anything, I
don't belong to the family of Tatas, I have no relatives but I've come
up the way a normal professional should.
• In that silent phase, or maybe because it's the legacy of that
silent phase, we don't know about many of the unusual and interesting
things you've been doing. I believe you've been doing things with
Ferrari. Will you tell us a bit more about this?
I'll make it simple. Ferrari is a car manufacturer that takes part,
with racing car drivers, in the Formula 1 circuit. And the important
thing is the engineering that goes into your car in terms of speed,
performance, real-time data acquisition, what is the tyre pressure,
what is the fuel utilization, what is the air density...
• So you produce software to control all this?
We produce software to optimize all this, more than anything else. One
has to measure all this, optimize it, tune it, so that the driver has
all the things under control through a visual display. Portions of
that have been done by TCS. What comes out is the engineering talent
of this country, and TCS as an organization to contribute to the
success of a high-performance engine.
• Do you interact with these drivers as well?
I've gone to the test track where we see some of the drivers, how they
run the cars, how they measure the cars. The way they get into the car
and take the high-speed track is an amazing thing to witness. I've not
met Schumacher but I've met others, including Barrichello.
• I believe some of these drivers, they're not techies but they have
an instinctive feel for how the car is functioning.
It's amazing, just like a musician tunes an instrument, they can make
out is it besura, or whatever. Similarly a car driver like a
Schumacher can make out, just from the engine noise, is it in perfect
condition or not. And the interaction between the car and driver is so
intense it's like the two are merged together.
• And these drivers you've met are happy with stuff you've done for them?
Absolutely. The drivers, the company owners and the TCS professionals
are all happy together.
• I also hear about stuff you've been doing with the Indian cricket team.
You've heard of Edward de Bono. Here was a study done by TCS with
regard to his six-hat thinking and we digitized this whole thing. So
you can have a laptop where we can load the software; you can do
thought processes with yourself, with your colleagues, any way you
want to do it. And then De Bono himself came to India where he
launched it along with us, saying that this can be taken to the
market. Then we also read up on the kind of people who have done this
kind of creative thinking and one of the things was the Australian
cricket team under the leadership of Greg Chappell, when he was the
captain. So when he came here as coach we decided to get in touch with
him and it so happened that one of the former cricketers is working
for TCS. Yajuvindra Singh, who has the world record for catches, got
in touch with him. And Chappell, having known this technique, agreed
to have a session with the players. The fundamental drivers were can
they knit as a team, can they look at issues in a common way, can it
enable them to focus on a set of options. We did one or two sessions
with the team under the captaincy of Rahul Dravid. I think the younger
people, like Dhoni, they were happy with the technique. For the first
time, they were able to express their opinions.
• Such as what? What facts came out?
The facts like, What can go wrong if we do the field positioning like
this. We have an issue where we are letting loose a number of catches
in the slips, or we are letting loose a number of boundaries. What are
the kind of placements we need to look at, what is the kind of
motivation we need to give each other. Simple problems, addressed
together as a problem, help us see negative problems
• And did people speak out more because they found security in numbers?
Yes. It's also the way you sit in a circle, 11 or 12 of them together,
there's no hierarchy.
• Did a lot of insecurities also come out in these discussions?
I think initially there is always an insecurity like in any forum, in
any organization. If for example I am sitting there and I get a bunch
of colleagues to speak, everybody's looking at you, should I speak or
• But did you also hear insecurities that the players were carrying,
mainly with the change of dispensation in the team?
Yes. What will be their position, what will be their future, are they
allowed to speak, if they speak are they going to disappear, those
kind of fears were there.
• And from John Wright to Chappell, Ganguly to Dravid, did people talk
People did talk about that, people wanted to share those things with
us. But it was a private session, just with the team and the coach.
• But you believe that has benefited this team? I know they vindicated
you by winning the last test in the West Indies!
Those are players' performances at the end of the day. These are
purely techniques that can help, these are not formulas for sure.
• Frankly, I'm not surprised by TCS or a tech company doing these
diverse things because you are in the people business. So let me
switch subjects a bit. You are in the people business, you are hiring
more than 20,000 people this year?
• You employ 60,000 people already, most of them well-educated,
technical people. Do you have concerns over where more of these people
will come from? Are you beginning to see a problem there?
I definitely have some worries on this. The reason I'm saying that is,
if you're producing six and a half lakhs of engineering graduates and
almost 10 million science graduates in the country, how many of them
are really suitable for high-tech jobs? That is the fundamental
question. The 6.5 lakhs translates into a suitability pool of about 2
lakhs and then the 10 million comes down to about 1.8 million suitable
• The rest are science graduates like me, unemployable in science or tech.
I won't say it's unemployable but the effort that's going to go into
training these people will be phenomenal. Is the country prepared for
it, are organizations and institutions prepared for it? Are
public-private partnerships possible? These are the issues we are
talking about in Nasscom as an institution, for example. We go to
almost 300 colleges in the country to recruit the 30,000 people we are
• And I believe most of the people you recruit from what is described
as "non-sexy" colleges.
Yes. We go to a number of rural colleges. If you take Tamil Nadu,
which has almost 239 colleges, we go to 31 of them and 60-63 per cent
of the intake is from rural colleges for sure.
• So the majority of your graduates come from non-English medium backgrounds?
Yes, quite a few of them come from non-English-speaking backgrounds.
• Do you teach them English?
We do teach them English, we teach our foreign employees also in
English, our Chinese employees, our Latin American employees, we do
teach English very actively.
• How closely are you watching this debate now? Reservations on the
one hand, and increasing the pool, which is one of the ideas Mr Moily
has come up with, on the other?
I think on the reservations issue, everybody wants a very, very quick
fix. To me it's a journey, it's a collaborative effort which is going
to produce the kind of results. If the numbers are going to be so
high, with the requirement obviously there, where am I going to go?
I'm going to go across the country to recruit these professionals. Am
I willing to invest? Absolutely yes. Without investment, without
giving back something to the community you're not going to get back
something in return. Very similar to the Tata philosophy: What comes
from the people must go back to the people multiple times. If you
don't believe in it and you don't act accordingly, it will remain a
slogan and this gap will grow wider.
• Do you have anxieties about reservations?
I have certain anxieties always about whether something will be
mandated. It's like saying, Thou shalt do this. It's very easy to say
Thou shalt do this but what are the outcomes, what are the
implications, it's a very very worrying concept. Are you committed to
non-discrimination and involving people and all communities...
• And active affirmative action?
And active affirmative action which you practice, where you don't
discriminate against anybody on the basis of any of these qualities.
• But you also give some preference to those who may be disadvantaged?
I think we'll certainly give preference to those where even if we had
an iota of doubt saying he's not going to make it but we see a
potential, we'll definitely hire him, we'll not look at the marks
first. That's an example. You will say let's do an all-India
examination instead of only going to these 300 colleges and say let's
conduct a test which is a lot easier. Which means we will have to do
more on the training input, which I am prepared to do. We do things
like a rural IT quiz for children since 2000, where we have covered
almost 2 lakh students predominantly from the rural community. In 2005
alone, in Karnataka, 65,000 students participated, and one of the
winners of the zonal award went to IIT-Kanpur.
• But you do also worry. This is something that many people in the
tech business tell me. They say you are fighting about another 5 per
cent, or 10 per cent, or 23 per cent in these institutions for
backward classes but do you realize that the industry is now short by
nearly 50, 70, 80 per cent and yet India can't do with seven or nine
IITs, India needs 50 IITs or India needs 25 IIMs. Do you share that
Yes, we have done a study in Nasscom where we say that there is a
potential shortage of almost half a million professionals by 2010. How
are we going to bridge this gap from currently 1.2 million people that
are employed to a potential 2.5 million employed with a half a million
shortfall? You've got to go beyond these IITs, triple-ITs. Whatever it
• And you've got to scale up?
And we have to scale up, and the challenges are infrastructure,
upgrade of the faculty, making sure that some of the distance learning
concepts in education can come into force.
• Unless we do that we're in trouble?
We definitely will be in a jam.
• You think India's tech dream can be punctured if we don't do this?
I think the customers will exercise their choices. That's the message
I want to give. We cannot assume that, because we have done well,
everything will flow here. Just like the high-tech jobs and the
potential calibre of Indian professionals have been seen, it's our
responsibility to sustain it.
• What's your message to the political class on this?
I think we've given a very simple message saying that let's upgrade
the educational institutions, let us do a public-private partnership
even in terms of experimenting with privatization of education,
student loans programmes where the students can exercise where they
take the loans, which college to go to, and ultimately a very strong
• And if we don't?
If we don't, we cannot bridge the shortfall.
• Well, Mr Ramadorai, spoken from the heart. I hope the political
class is listening. They listen, they don't always act. And before
they listen they always ask, What's in it for me? I hope when they
listen to you they figure that if they get this wrong, they'll have to
I think I'm absolutely confident that the prime minister we have and
the kind of people whom he is building around him, more often than
not, those people realize before some fatality happens.
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