The TCS Story by S Ramadorai
When you write the story of the largest IT companyin the country, of the company that at one point defined the IT industry of thecountry, the longest living IT company and a company that comes from theflagship group of the country, you expect a lot from the book. At least Iexpected to know all those interesting stories that make TCS what it is. Bookshows some glimpses of that, but most of the times it got lost between thestory of the author and story of TCS, sometimes it was the personal journey of Mr.Ramadorai and sometimes it was the story of a pioneer company. Agreed that Mr.Ramadorai has spent 40 years, all his working life with TCS from an engineer toit MD and CEO, but then even a small organization is far bigger than anyindividual and here we are talking of a giant. For me the book tends moretowards author’s biography where TCS played a pivotal role.
The beginning of the book is good when the author describes his simple childhood and his journey till he joins TCS. Most middle class Indians would identify with that, at least till my generation of growing up with basic means and a focus on education. He comes out as someone whom the schoolteachers would call a quintessential ‘good boy’, whom every mother would want as son-in-law and whom the bosses would always trust. He also comes across as a devoted and grateful husband, though his wife believes that TCS is his first wife. Through the voice of his colleagues, he also comes across as someone who cares for the people around him, but then those are chosen few whose careers and hence lives he controlled. I liked his narration of his early days in USA. He narrates how his first team that came to USA was not rightly dressed and had long sleeves of their blazers, or had folded trouser bottoms.It would have been interesting to know how he prepared himself to present correctly before his esteemed clientele as he also came from similar background.
I think he was very emotionally involved in the Burroughs projects during his early days, as he keeps on going back to those days and he speaks about those experiences with authority and no ambiguity.That passion only shows again when he talks about the TCS IPO. Throughout the book his pride and reverence for Tata Group, its founders and leaders keeps reflecting. At times I felt, does he need to talk about the Tatas and their image in India and how and why they deserve the respect. Having read quite a few books on Tata group, I think this image is being taken too seriously and tends to overshadow the brilliance of people involved in that particular venture.
Having said that author proves himself to be an out and out Tata man, refusing to see world outside Tata world. He ridicules the competition by saying they were better known than TCS before its IPO came, and states data to prove that TCS was ahead of them. I don’t think that any time anyone denied that in numbers TCS was always the No 1 IT Company in India. But, given the fact that TCS had a 20 year first mover advantage, they has all the Tata group companies as captive customers and through them they had access to whole lot of potential global customers, if at the turn of the millennium other IT companies were running neck to neck with TCS, they must be doing something very right or TCS must have been complacent. It would have been gracious of him to acknowledge this and then go ahead and tell the story of making TCS agile to take on the competition both with domestic and global players. Even when he talks about social initiatives, every initiative leads to Tatas, either for developing content for education or for Tata BP solar to run the computers in rural areas. There can be 2 ways of looking at it: One that Tata group is able to cater to all the needs of such initiatives and the second that these initiatives are done with an intention to lead business to Tata group ultimately. Either or both these can be true.
To my utter surprise, Mr. Ramadorai comes across as an operations person rather than a strategic thinker. A fair part of the middle of the book comes straight out of sales presentations of TCS, may be the author was too involved in them and hence they form an integral part of his thought process. I could almost see the slide-by-slide presentation, moving from one TCS advantage to another. For couple of chapters, there was lot of I in the content as if the organization was being run single handedly. I get a feeling that first and last chapter have been written from the heart and the rest is collection of facts, figures and anecdotes, an attempt to join data lying at multiple sources. The language in incoherent, and does not seem to come from a single person.
I have always had a feeling that Indian IT industry owes its formation to its client’s expectations. Lot of things in industry were done because clients wanted or may be appreciated so. E.g. there was an era of CMM level certifications, than came the era of technical certifications and then filing the patents, all the things that would raise our value in the eyes of the customers irrespective of weather we really needed these things or not.TCS story as narrated in this book re-enforces the same. It would make another interesting story to hear the client’s version of these stories. Another common thread that comes across is hard working simple technocrats from middle class backgrounds kind of drove this industry, and not street-smart MBA kind of people. They also kept their personal values pristine, barring of course the Satyam scam.