Girish Ramachandran – Managing Director and Head, TATA Consultancy Services Europe
In the EDHEC-FLI* Leadership Gallery, Professor of Entrepreneurship Valérie Petit from EDHEC Business School researches European CEO’s.
(*Between 2007 and 2011 the Future Leadership Institute (FLI) carried temporarily the name ‘The Wall Street Journal Future Leadership Institute’)
Girish Ramachandran “It’s all about trust and managing people”. Growing with and within a company he trusts.
Girish Ramachandran chose to join the Tata Group for its prestigious reputation and its status as an ‘institution’ that people trust. Tata is a highly popular and successful Indian company. But it also tells the ‘saga’ of the Tata family, who managed to turn their company into a multinational that is active in an ever-diversifying range of sectors: “The Tata Group is an extremely popular group in India: you go round India and ask anybody which is the most trusted brand in India, almost everybody will come and say the Tata Group. It signifies and symbolizes trust”, Girish Ramachandran explains.
Beyond this ‘trust factor’ is the Group’s global dimension, which appealed to a young Girish dreaming of an international career: “If you get an organization like Tata, obviously there is a lot of potential to grow because of the fact that the company itself is growing so much and recruits around 25,000 people every year”, says the TCS Europe CEO. Loyal to the Tata Group from the outset, he appreciates the trust and growing responsibilities that the Group has offered him over the last fifteen years. Girish Ramachandran is the youngest of the seven Geography Heads working for Tata Consultancy Services.
From technical expertise to managerial excellence Girish Ramachandran’s career provides a fine example of professional evolution with three identifiable sequences: technical excellence, operational management and strategic leadership. This is a CEO who was first able to demonstrate his technical expertise before quickly proving his talent as a manager working on various projects around the world. Teaching is the other profession that Girish Ramachandran would have liked to pursue if he hadn’t joined Tata Consultancy Services, and it is therefore no surprise that he regularly speaks before students and professionals on his favorite subject – Outsourcing and Strategy. No surprise either that the description he provides of his daily life reveals his strong motive for understanding, learning from others and sharing knowledge.
His Company: Tata Consultancy Services
Established in 1968, Tata Consultancy Services has grown to its current position as the largest IT services firm in Asia based on its record of outstanding service, collaborative partnerships, innovation, and corporate responsibility. TCS is proud of its heritage as part of the Tata Group, founded by Jamsetji Tata in 1848 and one of India’s most respected institutions today. Its mission reflects the Tata Group’s longstanding commitment to providing excellence: to help customers achieve their business objectives by providing innovative, best-in-class consulting, IT solutions and services, and to actively engage all stakeholders in a productive, collaborative, and mutually beneficial relationship.
Operating in the Netherlands since 1992, TCS has established its European headquarters in Amsterdam. The Netherlands was the entry point for TCS to the European region: some of the Netherlands’ leading and most respected companies are TCS customers, such as KLM, Philips, ABN AMRO, Rabobank and the ING Group. TCS is vigorously expanding its presence in the Netherlands branching out into insurance, logistics, transport and public sectors. TCS Netherlands is a clear leader in the IT services space and has enjoyed high double-digit growth in the last years.
Entrepreneurship is one of the central values of TCS and the Tata Group, as highlighted by the TCS CEO: “it’s completely the environment of the company that has helped me get here, the entrepreneurship that the company promotes in the organization (…) none of us are held back from doing anything new. We are always given the freedom to do what we want and to explore new things. And that, I think, is one of the main reasons for the growth in the company.”
Learning to lead: key situations and mentors
A new dimension: ABN AMRO contract secured in 2006. In 2006, TCS secured a major contract with the ABN AMRO Group, negotiated in Amsterdam by the TCS Europe team, which was led by Girish Ramachandran. This was TCS Europe’s first step towards success and marked the beginning of a period of sustained development (55% annual growth since 2003). For Girish, it was an important moment in the affirmation of three of his main leadership attributes: entrepreneurship, intuitive client relations, and the ability to manage multicultural teams. This experience allowed both TCS Europe and its CEO to show what they are capable of and to take on a new dimension.
It changed the dimension: “Therefore it changed the dimension (…) that particular win for TCS changed the whole dimension for TCS worldwide. Until then we had never had one large deal! We had won smaller deals but this really paved the way for TCS to be winning large deals. (…) I strongly believe that ABN AMRO clearly demonstrated leadership but at the same time, I mean, we were obviously part of the success and that clearly paved the way for the organization to start winning large deals across the world. (…) And finally, I think that it was a success not only for my company but also for the country that I come from.”
Very good customer contact: “I took over running that negotiation process, which led the whole business development cycle, and it was my boss who had the trust in me and who allowed me to lead this particular opportunity. I was chosen because I have very good customer contact with this particular customer and that is the reason why I was able to lead that particular opportunity. It helped me in my entrepreneurship: “TCS India signed its first and largest IT services deal: that happened out of Amsterdam and I was leading the team that closed the offer with the customer, ABN AMRO. (…) TCS won the deal and I believe that it helped me quite a bit in my entrepreneurship.”
I have learned to work with different cultures: “I was personally involved in working with just one customer who had requirements that I would service them not only in Europe but also in Brazil, in the US, in Asia or in India. So, it was an extremely large global project by itself and furthermore my own team was extremely global in nature. We had people from Brazil; we had people from different parts of Europe, from the US, as well as some from India. And one of the things that I did learn quite a bit as part of the project was how to work with different cultures…
with Brazilians, with Germans, French or Dutch.”
Inspiration through mentoring: two thoughtful leaders for Girish
As well as the practical experience, it is also the encounters and dialogue – real or imagined – with key figures that make a leader. When asked if he looks to certain models of leadership, Girish Ramachandran cites either Mahatma Gandhi or his own boss – the Chief Operating Officer of TCS worldwide.
Learning about trust and customer relationships with his boss: “My own boss (ed.: Mr. N. Chandrasekaran, known as “Chandra”, the Chief Operating Officer of the Company) is my biggest inspiration. He does exactly the same thing as me! He gives a lot of trust to all his people and that is how he’s brought the organization up. I take quite a lot of lessons from him. (…) He shares all his schemes with me and I share all my problems with him, and also all the good things. Actually, he’s more like a friend than a boss.”
Learning about humility and congruence with Mahatma Gandhi: “Another leader whom I admire quite a bit is Mahatma Gandhi, for his humility. (…) I believe he was extremely truthful about all, whatever he did. He essentially walked the talk, and demonstrated to the world that being “weak” is actually an advantage. So, I think that is a great leadership capability, which I definitely admire him for.”
Personal vision of leadership: “It’s all about trust and managing people”
Girish Ramachandran’s vision of leadership resonates with the values and managerial culture of his company; this is no doubt one of the explanations for his success. His conception of how leadership is to be exercised is, however, highly personal and is heavily oriented around human relations. He enjoins us to see leadership not in terms of competition based on asymmetrical power relations, but in terms of the partnership that is fed by human alchemy and relationships built on trust. Girish combines this vision with inspired practice (inspired by his mentors and personal values, but also his vision of business) and a real sense of timing that stands in contrast to the “just in time” culture that prevails in the IT industry.
The art of timing and trust
For Girish Ramachandran, people are more important than processes: “My preference is to work with people rather than processes: if you were to ask me, people would be much higher than processes.” Human relations: this is the main ingredient of leadership according to Girish Ramachandran. It explains why the CEO devotes most of his time to his teams and his clients; this is also a way of developing the trust that he sees as being so decisive: “First of all, I do spend a lot of time with my team, that is the first thing that I do. I go to their desks, sit with them and then I can understand their challenges better. The second thing is that I have a lot of informal things with my team: for example, we have a table tennis court here, and I spend a lot of time playing with my team, even during office hours! I’m not at all rigid about timing. I just want to manage people by their delivery and not only by timing. And third: I spend a lot of time with my customers. I spend approximately 60% of my time working with customers.” Even throughout a career that has been peppered with spurts of acceleration, and while producing multiple successes in a sector where reactivity and speed provide competitive advantage, Girish Ramachandran has managed to cultivate the right timing for his business and staff alike. He knows that achieving high performance is about more than aligning the two, and is flexible enough to adapt to one or the other with a view to generating sustainable growth.
Empowering people, developing business
Development of teams and of the company as a whole: this is the leadership dynamic of Girish Ramachandran. Business development is the natural core of his current mission at the head of TCS: “Today TCS as a company has an income of around 6 billion dollars. And now almost 10% of our business comes in from the continent, from continental Europe. When I came over in the year 2000, Europe was contributing roughly around 3% or 4% of TCS turnover, which means we have been able to significantly develop our business in Europe.” For Girish Ramachandran, however, business development is impossible without the development of teams, and in a sector that is innovative and recently established one must be able to nurture talented young managers or engineers and provide them with the best suitable conditions for success: “I have a team which is one of the youngest in Europe, almost in the world. The average age of my managers today in Europe is approximately 28 or 29; that is well below the company average. I’ve brought up this team myself: I’ve spent a lot of time understanding them and understanding their strengths and placing them at the right positions and all of them are doing extremely well. I would be very glad to even put you in touch for a call with any of them to let you know what we’re about (…) they helped me grow as well and I help them grow now in my position as CEO.”
Girish Ramachandran’s secret is to provide autonomy and delegate: “I give a lot of freedom (…) and that has been, I think, one of the reasons for my success as well so far. Today, all the country managers in Europe report to me, and my responsibility is to give them the right freedom
when it is required.”
Making opportunity out of difference
In a global enterprise such as TCS, with multicultural teams and multinational projects, Girish Ramachandran reveals a third dimension to his leadership style: the art of multicultural management – his “secret ingredient”. He is aware of and savours cultural difference, taking real pleasure in looking for the best possible combinations within his staff members. This makes him a global manager par excellence, once again reflecting the identity of his company and his personal project to remain open to the world. “For example, initially my perception was that it was easiest to work with the Belgians and the Dutch because it would be much easier for them to work with each other because they speak the same language. But on the contrary, what I found out was that they did not understand each other very well at all. In this case, the Indian was perhaps the “glue” for the Dutch and the Belgians: the interpersonal skills of the Indian really helped bring them together to work on this particular program. So I would think that unless one understands and appreciates these differences one cannot manage, because it is not easy managing people who come from all these different parts.”
One final characteristic of leadership according to Girish Ramachandran is strategic vision. It was thanks to such vision that he attracted the attention of the Group’s senior managers and was awarded his first major responsibilities. “I was interested in managing the worldwide business intelligence practice of TCS. At that time TCS was still a very nascent company and business intelligence was coming into the market. I actually came up with a methodology for how to execute a business intelligence program. I wrote the methodology which is even today used in TCS, that was an initiative of my own. It was one of the first branded methodologies of TCS. It could be used for any customer across the world. And it gave a lot of visibility to people and the organization on that particular tool, and of branding it.” Understanding and developing true business “intelligence” are key priorities that should characterize one’s leadership style, according to Girish Ramachandran. Vision and inspiration constitute the “added extra” that allows him to express himself at both a strategic level – which requires perspective, anticipation and a global vision – and at an operational level, where managing personnel and human relations is what counts.
The “Girish Ramachandran tips”
Here are some of the managerial tips that illustrate leadership according to Girish Ramachandran:
•Don’t sit in your office!
•Trust people and teams!
•Spend a lot of time with your customers!
•Walk your talk!
•Turn differences into opportunities!
•Inspire and be inspired by others!
Girish Ramachandran’s leadership style
“Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: great leaders work through the emotions (Goleman et al., Primal Leadership, 2002: 3)”.
To help us understand Girish Ramachandran’s leadership style, let us define it using the “resonant leadership” model proposed by Goleman. This refers to leadership where ‘both the head and the heart come into play’ and where a manager demonstrates real emotional intelligence. Goleman suggests four ‘resonant’ leadership styles, defined by the emotional competencies that are (or are not) deployed: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Girish Ramachandran demonstrates a high level of competency in each of these four areas, allowing us to conclude that relational and emotional intelligence is a cornerstone of his leadership style. More precisely, the leadership style currently adopted by this CEO can best be described as a combination of a visionary and affiliative style. The latter is distinguished by a form of leadership that is based on empathy (common to both styles), inspiration, transparency, trust and self-awareness (visionary style), combined with a strong capacity for Teamwork and taking care of others with personal high values (affiliative style).
So with what kind of missions and what kind of teams does Girish Ramachandran’s leadership style best correspond? His combined management style would be particularly useful in development phases, where one must first establish a vision and above all inspire colleagues to take the leap into the unknown: if Girish Ramachandran’s vision were not inspired by his own values and his understanding of human behavior, it would almost certainly not produce the same sense of empowerment. The key to successful development also depends on the implementation of sustainable management. This is where the CEO’s affiliative style can express itself and offer the key to success within a group whose capacity to last is inscribed in its DNA: the teams and their collaboration act as the “glue” that allows the company to advance and create lasting and productive links.
What prospects for managerial evolution does this model suggest to our CEO? As both a visionary and affiliative leader, the challenges for Girish Ramachandran will most likely be to continue to be inspired on a personal level, but also to tackle relationships or interlocutors that are more political and for which inspiration and teamwork are not the priorities. Another challenge will be to ensure he is in tune with the managerial expectations of his teams. These TCS teams are qualified and autonomous, and wish to progress: in this respect, the visionary profile is perfectly adapted, providing individuals with the freedom to act as they see fit. However, this style can reach its limits with teams or stakeholders who are less autonomous or less driven, or who are even more individualistic. In the future, the challenge for Girish Ramachandran can be to contribute to a real sense of collaboration, no longer at an operational level but at C-level at the top of the organization. If he can manage this, it will serve as a valuable lesson in governance management for all those managers and companies who struggle with the hardship and individualism of top-level business.
•If you were a color… red
•If you were a book… “My Experiments with Truth” (autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi)
•If you were an object… a red sports car – a Ferrari!
•If you were an animal… an elephant: they have a lot of strength, they’re vegetarians like me and they’re good listeners!
•If you were a manager…Mahatma Gandhi
•If you were a period in history … today in India
•What do those who know you say about you?… that I’m a jolly good fellow
•What would you like to hear the most?… that I am useful
•If you had chosen another career, what would it have been?… I would have set up an NGO. I also like teaching young people – leadership, strategy and the importance of values.
•What will you do right after this interview?… get back to my blackberry! And leave my office to go and meet people…
Author Valérie PETIT, EDHEC Business School (2008)