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‘In every disruptive change there is an opportunity’: Anant Gupta, CEO, HCL Technologies

Zafar Anjum | Dec. 12, 2014
“You have to cannibalize to survive in the future,” says Anant Gupta in this freewheeling interview with CIO Asia online Editor, Zafar Anjum. “If you don’t cannibalize your own business, someone else will. In every disruptive change there is an opportunity. It is a question of watching it and cannibalizing it.”

A Gupta

Anant Gupta,President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of HCL Technologies

When Anant Gupta was elevated to the position of President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of HCL Technologies (HCL Tech), India's fourth biggest IT services company with global operations, he really had some big shoes to fill. Before him, a heavy-hitter CEO, Vineet Nayar, helmed the company. Linda A. Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and coauthor of the book Collective Genius, considered Nayar one of the boldest CEOs in the world. Nayar had 'pulled the company out of a five-year slump, challenged the common belief that Indian companies provide low-cost products and services and don't innovate'.

 According to Hill, Nayar changed the organization from within: he empowered the employees with his 'Employees First, Customers Second' philosophy, pushed for more transparency by adding 360-degree reviews for all employees and 360-degree feedback of his own work. Under his leadership (from 2005 to 2013), the company's sales, market cap, and profits increased six fold. The Fortune magazine said that under Nayar, HCL Tech had "the world's most modern management". The company was named one of Businessweek's most influential companies.

In 2011 when Nayar visited Singapore, I had the opportunity to listen him speak. "HCL as a company is obsolete now," he had said with a dramatic flourish to an audience comprising HCL employees, business partners, customers, media professionals and analysts. By saying that, Nayar was not making a negative statement about the company he was then leading but was underlining a larger point about the need for transformation in an ever-changing business environment. "What worked for HCL Tech from 2001 to 2011 will not work from now to 2015," he said. When probed further, Nayar said that by declaring HCL Tech obsolete, he was actually challenging his employees to reinvent a new HCL Tech that would be relevant for the future. At that time, HCL Tech had consolidated revenues of US$3.5 billion (as on 30 June 2011).

And then one day in 2013, without much attendant noise, the news came that this bold leader had stepped down as CEO of HCL Tech, and Anant Gupta-an insider, having begun his career with HCL in 1993-had taken over the reins of this US$5 billion global information technology services company. He was the President of HCL Tech's Infrastructure Services Division before becoming the company CEO.

I had not heard of Anant Gupta at that time, even though he had been part of Nayar's management team and had a big hand in making the company successful. A billiards enthusiast, Gupta holds B.Sc. in Physics and M.Sc. Engineering from University of Liverpool. Over the years, he held a series of leadership positions within HCL Tech.

 

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