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The youthful veteran

The youthful veteran
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First Published: Sun, Nov 27 2011. 07 20 PM IST

Man on a mission: Nayyar in his corner office that has a fantastic view of the Sahyadri hills. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Man on a mission: Nayyar in his corner office that has a fantastic view of the Sahyadri hills. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Updated: Sun, Nov 27 2011. 07 20 PM IST
I come across something quite unexpected in my guided tour of the senior management enclave of the Tech Mahindra corporate office in Hinjewadi, outside Pune: a gym. With a treadmill, stepper and weights machine, it’s compact in footprint, yet highly efficient, quite like the IT services company’s 72-year-old vice-chairman, managing director and chief executive officer, Vineet Nayyar.
Man on a mission: Nayyar in his corner office that has a fantastic view of the Sahyadri hills. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Nayyar says he exercises daily, at 6am at home or around lunchtime in the office. “It is almost a condition of my employment. Even when I was moving to Tech Mahindra’s (Mumbai office) in 2005, the first thing I did was set up a gym next to my office.”
While many companies have a gym or the odd treadmill and weight-training equipment somewhere within their premises, this is the first time I have encountered a gym at such close proximity to top management’s personal quarters. Nayyar says it is used regularly by his immediate colleagues and him, jokingly adding that exercising is a good way to conduct meetings. “Whoever gets off the cardio machines first loses the debate,” he laughs.
Architecture of rejuvenation
Much has been written about Nayyar and his avatars as bureaucrat and chief executive, with diverse organizations such as the Haryana government, the World Bank, GAIL (India), HCL and now, Tech Mahindra and its subsidiary Mahindra Satyam.
Nayyar and his team have been credited with turning around a flailing Mahindra Satyam in under three years. I am visiting him with a more specific agenda: to understand this “architecture of rejuvenation”, to really be a part of this secret of turning around Mahindra Satyam, a company most people had written off.
Tech Mahindra bought Satyam Computer Services Ltd in April 2009, renaming it Mahindra Satyam. Nayyar, along with senior colleagues, began managing Mahindra Satyam as an independent business, taking on the additional role of chairman of Mahindra Satyam. The company made a loss in fiscal 2009, but turned the corner by fiscal 2010.
Although Mahindra Satyam’s campuses are not in the same cities as Tech Mahindra’s, Nayyar asks me to meet him in Tech Mahindra’s Hinjewadi campus. It is one he was personally involved in constructing, and he feels it best captures his work style. Mahindra Satyam campuses were all built by Satyam’s founder B. Ramalinga Raju, he tells me, adding that both companies, and their facilities, will be integrated in the future.
Room with a view
Vineet Nayyar hand-picked the site for the Tech Mahindra campus in Pune. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
cabin itself is functional, furnished with only the essentials of corporate life: a desk, a chair, a sofa, armchairs, a coffee table and an obligatory painting, none of which appear to be exceptionally expensive. The only personal item of any significance in Nayyar’s cabin is a “nicely designed” kettle which he noticed was made in India. He adds, “I must say that normally Indian products are not known for their design.”
The executive suite is a self-contained unit, located in the same building as other work areas. Apart from cabins for the six senior management members, there is a boardroom, two meeting rooms (one with video facilities), a lunch room, support staff seating, and the gym. While most corporate suites have similar facilities, this particular office layout appears to encourage physical integration between its occupants; vital in promoting collaboration. The cabins are linked together in a U-shape format and the layout of the common areas and cabins is such that people end up running into each other all the time.
Pace and teamwork
Nayyar swears by his gym and says that besides keeping him fit, it’s also a great place for team meetings. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
These physical aspects of the workspace are a subtle reflection of three aspects of Nayyar’s working style. First, the proximity to the gym and his regular habit of exercising highlights his stamina, clearly critical to maintaining pace and dynamism. Nayyar professes that his 1-hour exercise routine has been a daily practice for more than two decades as “it gives higher energy. If you don’t do it, you start drooping, especially as you get older”.
The second notable aspect is teamwork. Nayyar repeatedly emphasizes the role of Tech Mahindra’s corporate team. “My senior guys have all been with me for 15 years. We all started in a one-room shop in HCL and we grew,” he affirms—a long innings for any team in any industry. “Personal friendship and an amazing amount of equality” drives the team, he says, characterizing the group’s work style as a “panchayat”. “The great thing is we have a lot of fun. If you come to our meetings no one will take us seriously at all, we’re laughing most of the time”, Nayyar claims. C.P. Gurnani, CEO of Mahindra Satyam, and Nayyar’s colleague for the last 15 years, clarifies that “we are not about competing with each other or even with others, we like to think we are building this together, which means having fun”.
The third most obvious aspect of Nayyar’s workspace and work style is his ability to prioritize “functionality” over “ostentation”. This is a deliberate choice, as it is both a personal and corporate value. “You don’t want your clients coming here and saying, ‘my God this is what I’ve been paying money for’,” he smiles. It’s also a practical approach, since Nayyar has several offices in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi and regularly operates from them.
Form, function, focus
The made-in-India kettle is one of the few personal ietms in his office. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
These values are as visible on the rest of the 25-acre, purpose-built campus, completed in December 2009. Nayyar was involved in site selection, design brief and execution, insisting on “aesthetics, use of natural stone, use of permanent materials for easy maintenance, and ample daylight”. The resulting campus is functional, yet visually pleasing and employee-oriented, with comfortable, well-lit workspaces, landscaped breakout areas for its 8,000 staffers to mingle, and amenities such as a dedicated training floor, big food court, library and college-style amphitheatre.
Knowing what to prioritize, and how to extract the most bang for the buck, are two personality traits that Nayyar seems to have employed in the Satyam turnaround. The first year was devoted to “surviving the near-death experience”, he says, by settling liabilities, eliminating unnecessary real estate, addressing legal cases, reassuring clients and managing workforce attrition. The second year was spent on “making institutional reform, setting the finance systems right, putting in an enterprise resource planning system which worked”. The last six months have been about “going back to customers, ensuring delivery and bringing back profitability”.
Energy, teamwork and functional focus, wrapped in a sense of humour: the key elements of a turnaround, expressed in the “architecture of rejuvenation”. The script sounds easier than the execution.
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 Aparna at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Nov 27 2011. 07 20 PM IST