In a candid interview with Surabhi Agarwal & Kala Vijayraghavan, the 52- year-old said, “There is no better time to quit than now”.
He is yet to decide on his next course of action and said it could include a range of options including “roles within the Tata (Group) or outside of it”.
There has been speculation that your decision to step down as CEO is owing to differences with N Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons and TCS. Is this true?
I have known Chandra since the first day I joined TCS and have worked directly with him for years. He has been my mentor and guide throughout. And, while we may have agreed and disagreed on many things, we have a very strong history. And that relationship does not change with this decision also, because we are very much together.
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Also read | All you need to know about the incoming TCS CEO K KrithivasanAt the time of your reappointment in 2022 for a second term as CEO, were you already considering exit options?
The reappointment happened sometime in September or October of 2021. It was effective from last year, that is from 2022. And 2021 was a very different year. We were still getting out of the pandemic. And actually, I didn’t even think about the renewal. It just happened at that October board meeting.
So, when I signed the reappointment, I had not thought of leaving. That year was a good year. We ended up with 15% growth, but it came off avery low base. But this year is a very different year. I don’t want to get into Q4, but in the first nine months of the year, we have grown 14.8% on top of the earlier year’s 15% growth and the situation is much more stable.
Of course, demand volatility, demand uncertainty will keep on happening. But once the thought came into my mind, there was no good reason as to why not now. Is there anything else that needs to happen? One year, two years later, which will change, which will make it the right time (to quit)? And when you start thinking like that? There is no better time than this (to leave).
Also read | No dramatic transition; talent pool deep in TCS: incoming CEO K Krithivasan
Is the timing of this move challenging for the company given that we have a looming recession and geo-political tensions that are impacting growth?
If I compare this period to two years back, it’s a period of fantastic stability (now). Two years from now, will it be more stable than this? I have no reason to believe. There is never a good time for something like this, we are not in a crisis situation. Yes, the operating environment is volatile, and it requires careful watching and careful navigation.
We are not massively changing (anything), I’m just walking out and saying that somebody else should take over. When Krithi (CEO-designate K Krithivasan) comes in, I’m going to be there. Krithi has been there for longer than me. What changes Krithi makes will be dependent on an assessment of how volatile the environment is, where the opportunities are.
The extent of change, the extent of peaking will depend on both that visibility as well as the assessment of how stable the situation is. If it is an unstable situation, we will continue doing what we were doing. Just because it is him sitting here and not me, that won’t change because we are all on the same page on it.
Also read | Meet TCS’ new boss K Krithivasan: soft spoken and non-flashy
Why have you decided to quit?
I’m starting to think of something else. I don’t want to do that while sitting on this chair. I believe that while I do hold this role, I should be 100% focused on TCS’ future, not my future. It’s just about being transparent about it.
What next? Will you remain on the TCS’ board? Have you been bit by the entrepreneurship bug?
Honestly, no plans as of now. Definitely, I will be using the next few months to crystallise my thoughts. I will talk to a lot more people to get a sense (and) knock around a few ideas. I don’t want to do that while I’m in this job. The day I start thinking about it (external ideas), I should get out and somebody else should do this job.
What was Chandra’s (Tata Sons chairman) reaction when you told him about this?
He was very supportive. It was very amicably decided. He knows it and Krithi too knows that I will be always available at any point in time. We felt that that’s a good enough period (6 months transition), that we can do it. And it was the same question that if not today, is there a better time? To your opening question, whether I do something in the group or not in the group — that is up for discussion. But all that discussion can happen after this is done.
Will you be open to taking positions in Tata Group?
Well, that is something I wouldn’t even know today. If anything, the 40-quarters (as TCS CFO and CEO) has taught me to bat straight.
Your reappointment happened not too long ago. Was your decision a complete surprise to the board or was the succession planning being processed side by side?
Succession planning in TCS needs to be seen in the context of how TCS operates and what TCS structure is. See, we are very unique compared to most other companies, we have a very stable leadership team. And we have a very strong culture of promoting insiders.
So, the Board has very high visibility to our top leadership. In fact, they have good visibility to a fairly broad leadership team. But the top 10 people in the company have very high visibility and constant contact with the Board. So, they know the people individually, what they do, what their roles are, they’ve been seeing them, setting up their targets, dealing with them on multiple forums where they keep on interacting. The NRC (Nomination and Remuneration Committee) also has visibility. And then you have the chairman (Chandra), who knows each of these people personally and professionally.
When did you decide to quit and was Krithi selected immediately?
I decided to move on sometime in the beginning of the week. That’s the best way to think about it. I am not moving today and moving out six months later. The board did not take too long to decide on Krithi because they had just a couple of rounds of deliberation.
They had a few well-known set of candidates shortlisted, but that is as you will understand not part of the conversation here. But the pros and cons and what each person brings to the table and what the immediate requirements are in the near-to-medium term and also into the longer term (was discussed). So that is very high information transparency. Therefore, the deliberations did not take too long.
Do you think an organisation needs different leaders at different points to match its growth trajectory?
TCS is a unique organisation, it’s an absolutely iconic company. And it’s one of a kind, I’m 100% sure about that. But the great thing about TCS is that there is a very high level of cohesiveness, but very high level of diversity in the way individual personalities are.
So, if you look at who I inherited the role from, Chandra is a totally different kind of person. I would aspire to be like that. But every different person comes at it from a very different point of view. Chandra came from a different point of view; I came at it from a different point of view. And before him, Ramadorai (S Ramadorai, the second TCS CEO who took charge in 1996) was a very different kind of a personality. Kohli (FC Kohli, TCS’s first and longest serving CEO) was a very different personality. And similarly, after me, Krithi will also be a very different personality, but very strong, common values, very strong, shared history. And so that’s what binds us together. And that’s what keeps us different.
And into the future, CEOs will continue to have equal common values, common shared history, and different personalities. And when I took over also, given the suddenness with which it happened, there were many people who could have possibly stepped into my role. And each of us would have played this role differently, right? Because each of us would play it to our own strengths and, and our to our own styles. Yeah. But one thing, we were very confident that if any of us were to take the job, everybody else would have stood behind him very strongly, and would have made sure that it succeeds.
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