Although T. Muralidharan is in the business of talent acquisition and management, he took some time to realise his own talent. It was only after a rollercoaster ride through the Indian heartland that he discovered the formula for success.
Coming from a middle class background, Muralidharan was the first in his family to turn entrepreneur. In our earlier generation, everyone was a government servant. So, entrepreneurship was not a natural choice, he says.
A graduate from IIM Ahmedabad, Muralidharan was happy with his job in a private firm. I would have continued to be a corporate employee if I had not met my ex-partner and batchmate Turab Lakdawala, and decided to join hands with him, he recalls.
His first business venture was in seeds. My friend understood the business because of his agricultural background while I had no clue, says Muralidharan. But he went along because business in seeds involved minimal investment. Everyone including other IIM-A alumni in the seed industry told us we were unfit because of our MNC style of thinking. But both of us were convinced that the competition was trying to prevent us from entering, says Muralidharan. They ignored the advice.
After spending three years trying to sell seeds, Muralidharan had enough. After travelling for 20 days I could not sell even 1 kg of fodder jawar, he says recalling even the hybrids name CSH5. He came back completely demoralised and fell ill. But one good thing happened. During the illness I gave up smoking. That was the best thing that happened during my stint in the seed industry, he says.
On the way, he also learnt a few lessons. One should never under-finance a venture. Many businesses have wound up because they did not have funds for the worst-case scenario. And secondly, one should never underestimate execution. It is very romantic to make a business plan with all its embellishments. But to get it done you need people and processes and, most importantly, personal integrity, he says.
While he was looking for other career options, a friend asked him if he was interested in working jointly to create brochures for companies. Muralidharans job was to get the business. Our first brochure was conceived in 1987 and the first customer was Satyam chairman Ramalinga Raju, recalls Muralidharan. Thus was born TM Inputs & Services. Although the focus of the company was to change later, Muralidharan had finally cracked the code for success.
Today the Rs 32 crore TMI Group is one of Indias largest talent acquisition and talent management companies with operations across India and West Asia. TMI is also Indias largest recruitment advertising agency. The company employs around 350 people across seven cities, serving over 300 corporates and 3,00,000 professionals.
One thing Muralidharan has learnt in both success and failure is to maintain equanimity. I do not get over-excited about success or get unduly depressed by failure, he says. It was this equanimity that helped when TMI faced a crisis in 2000 when a subsidiary ran into financial trouble after the dotcom bust.
We were facing a loss of Rs 55 lakh with no income, remembers Muralidharan. Despite that, TMI did not retrench any employee. Instead, it cut down the managements salary and substantially re-focussed the business.
Despite being an IIM alumnus, Muralidharan thinks that experience in the field is beyond any education. At IIMs, the emphasis on managing teams, dealing with crises, leading from the front and so on is very low. I believe my experience in working with a Gujarati businessman in Mumbai taught me more than my IIM-A qualification, he says.
A believer in teamwork, Muralidharan says that managing teams becomes easier when the leader is himself a team builder. I have been fortunate to play in a team with a good leadership that takes the stress on my behalf. If you are fair and consistent, it is possible to build a leadership team that owns the organisation as much as you do.
Muralidharan says that in five years his group will have a Rs 200 crore plus turnover and 2,000 employees. We will train under-privileged rural people to become employable, he adds.
Muralidharans preferred form of relaxation is watching National Geographic and Animal Planet and reading books (anything from J. Krishnamurthi to Asterix). In this dog-eat-dog world, he must be modelling himself after that indomitable Gaul.
Based on a conversation with V. Kumara Swamy in Calcutta