The nomadic storyteller

The nomadic storyteller
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First Published: Mon, Jun 14 2010. 01 15 AM IST

A mural of sunflowers by children from the Spastics Society of Karnataka brightens one of the internal corridors—and continues the organic theme that MindTree emphasizes in its organizational structur
A mural of sunflowers by children from the Spastics Society of Karnataka brightens one of the internal corridors—and continues the organic theme that MindTree emphasizes in its organizational structur
Updated: Tue, Jun 15 2010. 09 34 PM IST
Subroto Bagchi’s office is a conference room with a fabulous view of blue skies and palm trees. It is generously sized, as one might expect for the vice-chairman of a dynamic IT company such as MindTree, situated on a 16-acre campus on the outskirts of Bangalore.
However, the conference room is a shared facility—open to any company employee. Bagchi says he “gets right of first refusal” on its use, and others are free to occupy it when “he’s not around”—he travels for half the month (the company does have several other conference rooms).
Bagchi has occupied this space since he stepped down from his earlier role as chief operating officer (which he held till 2008) to become MindTree’s Gardener. As Gardener, his principal occupation is to “huddle” with the company’s 100 leaders, individually and in groups, to analyse, reflect, brainstorm—for what he terms “sense making”.
The office—dominated by a doughnut-shaped meeting table, off which Bagchi works—has little of the paraphernalia associated with a senior executive. When I met him, his collection of photographs and paintings was stacked against the wall. Though he plans to modify and personalize the room, he does not seem to be in a hurry to do so. At the moment, the room is entirely plug-and-play: a semi-transitional space, distinctly connected with the outdoors, both aspects that Bagchi says he values above all in his workplace.
Natural growth and change
A mural of sunflowers by children from the Spastics Society of Karnataka brightens one of the internal corridors—and continues the organic theme that MindTree emphasizes in its organizational structure and architecture. The MindTree logo too was chosen from among several designs sent by children from the Society. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Bagchi traces these curious preferences to his childhood, narrating the almost mythical story of his early years in Orissa’s tribal belts as the son of a government employee, shuffling between government quarters. These formative experiences, he says, led him to value “harmony with nature” and “not build attachment to any one physical space”. The nomadic existence continues: “In my whole life, I have never lived in a house for three years non-stop and never used the same office for more than 18 months,” says Bagchi.
Yet the office reveals more than a peripatetic nature. The choice of location was strategic. MindTree executive chairman Ashok Soota sits in another building on the same campus and Bagchi wanted to occupy a different wing in order to “underline the fact that we’re a fractal company; we’re about distributed leadership.”
Such phrases point to Bagchi’s layered thinking and multicoloured persona. He is not just vice-chairman of MindTree, but a popular blogger, writer and columnist. Perhaps, above all, he is a management philosopher and storyteller.
Space for a company’s culture
Subroto Bagchi (right), vice-chairman and Gardener of MindTree, holds a meeting in his office, which is also a common conference room. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Bagchi has an instinct for distilling management truths. Our conversation is peppered with his double-barrelled predictions on the future of the company.
“The post-modern organization will take advantage of a company’s non-structure.”
“Increasingly, a corporation’s relationship with its shareholders, customers and employees will be subscription-led.”
“The post-modern organization understands the power of feeling as an enabler of creation of economic value.”
These phrases reflect Bagchi’s abiding concern for the changing relationships between employers, employees and their leaders in a competitive, dynamic world. Interestingly for me, this concern extends to physical spaces.
MindTree is unique in its ability to articulate a connection between physical spaces and intellectual assets, which it believes is the key to its success as a knowledge enterprise. For Bagchi, “space is the enabler of our intellectual infrastructure and reflection of our emotional infrastructure”. To him, spaces and buildings are not just stand-alone company assets, but deeply integrated elements of a company’s basic fabric, which both affect and reflect its culture.
MindTree’s management (including Bagchi) and its preferred architects Chandavarkar and Thacker, work closely to craft a distinctly “MindTree” campus experience. Just as Bagchi’s own space highlights his desire for greenery and his itinerant, egalitarian nature, MindTree’s corridors and workspaces narrate a story about its origins and its identity.
Space as a narrative medium
Blue skies and palm trees lend context to MindTree’s ‘living logo’—an arch that frames a live tree to form the stylized ‘M’ if viewed full on. Hemant Mishra / Mint
The metaphor of nature is visible throughout the campus. New recruits are first assigned to the “Orchard”, a suite of common rooms and classrooms. Visitors to the campus are received not by art, but a “living logo”—a tree framed to form an “M”. A stylized metal tree grows next to the reception. Training programmes take place in the “Rainforest”. Employees take a coffee break in “pods”.
Walking through the facility, I imbibe the MindTree brand and come to appreciate the power of space as a narrative medium. This approach ties back into the other compelling aspect of Bagchi’s personality: his storytelling abilities. Readers of his books will testify to his superior anecdotal skills. Our conversation is laced with stories—with lessons from seafaring salmon and coconut trees—just as much as it is lined with management truths.
MindTree is a rare example of corporate design evangelism, and I wonder about the impact on business, if any. Just over a decade old, MindTree declared revenue of Rs1,296 crore in 2009-10—sizable, but far from top-tier. Yet in terms of corporate image and presence, it certainly punches above its weight.
Perhaps that’s exactly what Bagchi means when he says the goal is to create a “memorable” company. His office, and the lush MindTree campus, are not easily forgotten.
Aparna Piramal Raje, a director of BP Ergo, meets heads of organizations every month to investigate the connections between their workspaces and working styles.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Jun 14 2010. 01 15 AM IST