Active Stocks
Sat May 18 2024 12:49:03
  1. Tata Motors share price
  2. 952.95 0.76%
  1. Power Grid Corporation Of India share price
  2. 316.85 1.12%
  1. Tata Steel share price
  2. 167.90 0.39%
  1. ITC share price
  2. 436.50 -0.02%
  1. State Bank Of India share price
  2. 821.30 0.42%
Business News/ Companies / Ajai Chowdhry | My connect from HCL cannot be taken away

Ajai Chowdhry | My connect from HCL cannot be taken away

Ajai Chowdhry | My connect from HCL cannot be taken away

Domestic focus: Chowdhry says there’s a lot of design activity in India, but most companies design for the world, not for the country. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/MintPremium

Domestic focus: Chowdhry says there’s a lot of design activity in India, but most companies design for the world, not for the country. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Mumbai: Ajai Chowdhry stepped down as non-executive chairman of HCL Infosystems Ltd on 30 June, ending his working ties with the group he co-founded with five others, including Shiv Nadar, 39 years ago. He became president and chief executive officer of the hardware and services company in 1994 and moved to the chairman’s office five years later. Chowdhry, 62, now wants to spend time with his family, get involved with start-ups, and work with the government to sharpen the country’s focus on computer hardware and electronics. He is already in many government panels, including the information technology hardware task force set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the committee to draft the 11th Five-Year Plan for electronics hardware in India, and the India design council—a group established by the government to constitute the national design policy. He is also chairman of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Hyderabad. In an interview, Chowdhry talks of his life beyond HCL. Edited excerpts:

How do you feel, now that the journey at the HCL group has come to an end?

Sometime in 1975, six of us, including Shiv Nadar, Arjun Malhotra, D.S. Puri, Subhash Arora and Yogesh Vaidya, left DCM Data Products to start a small marketing company with around 1.8 lakh, even as we waited to get a licence for designing and manufacturing computers. Around that time, the Uttar Pradesh government had a licence and agreed to work with us, which is how Hindustan Computers Ltd was born in 1976.

Domestic focus: Chowdhry says there’s a lot of design activity in India, but most companies design for the world, not for the country. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

To create newer businesses, we spread ourselves in other countries and created marketing capabilities in other countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and China. Around 1989, India was growing, too, and Shiv felt I should return to India. That time, the computer business was just around 100 crore.

In 1991, at a time when the country faced a forex crisis, we set up the HCL-HP (Hewlett-Packard Co.) joint venture (JV) in which HCL had a 26% stake. In 1997, after the duty structure changed, we did not feel the need to continue with the partnership and so dissolved the JV amicably. Nevertheless, the experience became an asset for us, since HP did not want the R&D (research and development) set-up and (this) was converted to HCL Technologies that went for a listing in 2000, while I continued to run HCL Infosystems.

We, at HCL Infosystems, started looking at the telecom business very seriously. It’s here that our distribution partnership with Nokia India (Pvt. Ltd) helped. Between 2000 and 2005, our revenue went up from 50-100 crore to almost 8,000 crore. But in 2005, when Nokia decided to split its India business into two parts, we dissolved the partnership.

Around 2009, I started preparing the board for my stepping down since I want to do something for society. I had already started working with the government on many fronts even as we created a succession plan. We found Harsh Chitale by mid-2000s, who took over in October 2010 from me. I worked as a mentor and decided to first step down as executive chairman, which I did this March, and finally even resigned as non-executive chairman this June.

What now?

I want to see my new innings afresh. My connect from HCL cannot be taken away, and I never ever sold any shares in HCL Infosystems. I want to look at it as an investor-founder at a company. I want to spend time with my family, catch up with all that I missed during these years, travel a bit and, more importantly, catch up with myself.

I’m part of the Indian Angel Network (IAN) and have started investing in start-ups, some of which I mentor, support from the outside. We also have an incubation board within IAN, which I’m a director on. The whole idea is to stay connected with the world of technology in some manner by working with some young, brilliant people.

I’m deeply involved in the electronic policy area with the principal scientific adviser’s office as co-chairman of the electronic research and development committee, where we had a plan to indigenize major products. We look at some volume products in India and explore how to design and manufacture them in India, since the import bill for electronics will eventually become higher than the import bill of oil.

We have identified five-six products. As digitization sweeps the country, we identified the set-top box as the first product to be localized. A complete report has been prepared and submitted to the government.

What’s happening in the area of semiconductors? Do we still need a semiconductor manufacturing plant?

The government task force, set up in 2009, finally put together five big recommendations. In late 2011, the department of information technology came up with an expression of interest to set up semiconductor manufacturing plants, and is examining a couple of organizations that expressed interest to set up the same. The move makes sense since the government may also co-invest in semiconductor manufacturing projects. And a lot of demand of the country for semiconductors will come from the government itself—smartcards, for instance. Meanwhile, the proposals for an electronic development fund and electronic policy mission are under active consideration.

In your 40 years, you have seen many technology trends come and go...

The country must learn to add value. For instance, we need a component ecosystem to thrive in the country, and within that a semiconductor ecosystem, since a large part of it will be electronics-driven. India also needs to increase its design capability. There’s a lot of design activity in India, but most of the companies here design for the world, not for India. We need to create fabless companies in the country that design products for India. Hence, we need some action from global investors, and that’s the idea of the electronic development fund, which will act as a fund of funds to attract investors. This is how China has created a design powerhouse. We also need more design and intellectual property in India.

Tell us a bit about your role as chairman of IIT-Hyderabad.

I have been working for the last two-and-a-half years with the start-up and, along with the director of the institute, I am trying to build a new IIT. The challenge is to help IIT students, who tend to have a narrow focus on engineering, (become) multi-dimensional by introducing subjects such as communications and teaching them soft skills and better English. IIT-Hyderabad is also looking at training around entrepreneurship—helping them convert ideas into business plans. Also, we want to add more research from Year One in the institute.

Unlock a world of Benefits! From insightful newsletters to real-time stock tracking, breaking news and a personalized newsfeed - it's all here, just a click away! Login Now!

Catch all the Corporate news and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.
More Less
Published: 06 Jul 2012, 09:34 PM IST
Next Story footLogo
Recommended For You