How I Made It
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- Published 13.11.07
It is difficult to spot the CMD at the Sasken Technologies office. He sits in a cubicle like other employees, wears the standard off-white company shirt and eats
in the same canteen that everyone else uses. And when he’s flying off overseas to broker power deals, he travels economy class and lives in the same hotel as any junior employee.
Rajiv C. Mody, chairman and managing director of the Bangalore-based telecom technology firm, believes in being the first among equals. “There are no power bases in Sasken and no special privileges are given to the management,” he says.
Mody contends that Sasken’s human resource (HR) model is one of the
company’s unique selling points. During the 2001-03 economic slowdown in India, Sasken was written off by doomsayers.
“But our HR policies, prudent financial management and work strategies saw us through the tough times,” says Mody.
Today, Sasken employs 3,600 people at its centres in India, Mexico and Finland and boasts a long list of tier-one companies — like Nokia, Nortel, Lucent, Texas Instruments, Sony Ericsson and Vodafone — as its clients. Last year, Sasken earned $100 million in revenue.
Business acumen runs in Mody’s genes. His father was a successful businessman in Rajkot, Gujarat. Mody, however, was not forced into stepping into his father’s shoes. “My father always encouraged me to branch out on my own,” he remembers.
After studying electrical engineering from Baroda, Mody left for the US in 1981 to study computer science. “I had never written a software programme and I struggled with studies,” remembers Mody. The only thing that kept him going was the fear of failure. “It was a one-way street. I couldn’t return home a loser,” he says.
Mody graduated from the Polytechnic Institute of New York in 1982. But that didn’t end his struggle. At that time, Silicon Valley was yet to be discovered and India was light years away from becoming an IT power. “I went to California to job hunt and couldn’t find one,” says Mody.
So he came back to school to do a PhD in software chip design and also became a teaching assistant. Mody calls this the turning point of his life.
“Teaching is a great learning experience. I learnt to handle a class of students, answer their queries and lost stage fright,” says Mody. The PhD also opened new job avenues for him.
After working with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and a Seattle-based start-up, Mody began toying with the idea of starting his own business and returning to India. “Indians in the US always felt unsettled. I didn’t want to live like that,” he says.
Mody found three like-minded people and five financial investors and started a design tool firm, Silicon Automated Systems (SAS), in 1989, in typical Silicon Valley style — in a garage in Fremont, California.
“We put all our savings into the company,” he says. In 1991, the company set up its India centre in Bangalore.
Those days, India didn’t know about software and the geek world didn’t know about India. It posed a twin challenge to SAS. “It was difficult to sell ourselves,” says Mody. Also, attracting quality manpower was a challenge.
“In the US, it was considered good to join a start-up. But in India, the social environment was such that your parents and in-laws were more comfortable if you worked for Wipro,” says Mody.
In 1993, SAS moved into the telecom technology business and by 2000 it had phased out design tools. This was when the company was rechristened Sasken. “From 2000 onwards, we became a pure communication company,” says Mody. Apart from a trough during the 2001-03 economic slowdown, the company has been riding a steady crest, what with the telecom and Internet boom in India. “We aim to become a global organisation and the No. 1 player in the field,” says Mody.
Sasken might be soaring, but Mody — who enjoys reading philosophy and watching movies — will stick to the family tradition of not insisting that his two children join the firm. “I enjoyed creating Sasken. I want my children to do what they enjoy best,” he concludes.
Based on a conversation with Varuna Verma in Bangalore