How I made it

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By Subash Menon, CEO, Subex Systems BASED ON A CONVERSATION WITH PRITHVIJIT MITRA IN CALCUTTA
  • Published 5.07.05
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Subash Menon, CEO of Subex Systems, dialled the right number even when he was at school. But it took him quite some time to emerge a key player in telecom software.

“I was an average student but always persevered to achieve targets that I set for myself,” says Menon. “Upon completing Standard X, I decided to become an engineer and opted for maths in Plus Two. Some of my teachers were taken aback as I had scored poorly in maths in Standard X. But I was quite clear that engineering was my future.

“Needless to say, I persevered and joined one of the best colleges in the country. Once I became an engineering student, I set myself a target ? to pass with honours. And I did just that.

“I was never keen to be first in class or better than someone else. Absolute targets rather than relative ones were my goals. I also remember investing a lot of time and effort on extra-curricular activities such as acting in plays, National Cadet Corps, etc. I graduated in electrical engineering from Regional Engineering College, Durgapur, in 1986.

“I had promised my parents that I would come back not only with a degree but also a job. In those days, there were very few campus placements in our college. So, after the course, I started visiting companies. After two days, I landed a job of my choice ? that of a salesman in a company that manufactured low voltage switchgear.

“Even as a student at Durgapur, I knew what I wanted to be ? an entrepreneur. I wanted to create an entity and grow it into a big corporate. Starting as a salesman was not difficult. I had a natural flair. I did reasonably well in my initial assignments. Given my long-term plan to be an entrepreneur, I looked at the days of working for someone else as an opportunity to gain the relevant experience.

“Starting as a first generation entrepreneur with limited financial resources (my capital in 1992 was Rs 20,000 borrowed from my ex-employer) is never easy. I went through a very rough patch for several years.

“Even working capital support from banks was difficult. In one instance, when I requested an increase in working capital from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 35 lakh ? after three years of being in business with annual revenues of about Rs 2 crore ? the bank told me that I should reduce the level of business to be able to manage with Rs 10 lakh.

“Another issue was our customers. We had to constantly outperform our competition on support and other aspects of the business. Even our partners from overseas were not fully supportive. This, however, changed after a few years. Motivating the Subexians (I do not like calling them employees) and keeping their morale high, as a small company with multiple challenges, was another tough exercise.

“Envisioning a future in software products, transitioning the company from hardware to software and making a success of the new businesses are my biggest achievements. Way back in 1998, it was obvious to me that the hardware business would not help us to grow the company exponentially. We had to move into something else and the question was what? Lack of financial resources was continuing to be a millstone. So, we had to enter an area with a bright future and low cost of entry.

“The natural answer was software. But none of us in the company had any exposure to software. Further, I did not want to get into software services as my first love was and is telecom. So, I wanted to offer some telecom solutions using software. Our first product, Ranger, today has the largest installed base among all the telecom fraud management systems globally.

“Did I face hurdles while doing all this? Plenty of them. But from an organisational angle, I was and continue to be lucky with regard to my colleagues. Subex has always had the privilege of having talented individuals.

“My long-term goal is to make Subex a force to reckon with in the telecom software product space. This means achieving leadership in the niche we operate in. In other words, we must aim for revenue maximisation through expansion of our portfolio of products and widening the customer base. I believe that India can be successful in software products and Subex can be an example.”

Sprint, Global Crossing, BellSouth, Bharti, Hutch, BPL and Tata Teleservices ? all clients of Subex ? seem to share his opinion.