Fall and rise...

Catching a corporate wave: Singapore-based author-journalist Zafar Anjum.  

At times, only one blunder is sufficient to pound to dust years of hard work and a rock-hard reputation.

The incredible ascent, and an equally incredible fall, of Satyam Computers — once the toast of the Indian IT growth story in the global ring — is a testimony of this truism. From being one of the Fortune 500 companies, and the first Indian name to be listed in NASDAQ in the IT services sector, it didn’t take too long in this age of fast news for Satyam to tumble into freefall with its founder and chairman Ramalinga Raju confessing to cooking the books to show blown-up profits in 2009.

For the man on the street, the Satyam story ended with this unfortunate twist. And everyday life moved on to catch up with other ‘breaking’ news that never seemed to fade away from the 24-hour channels and newspaper page ones.

From where the public left Satyam as a no-hoper begins the story of Singapore-based journalist Zafar Anjum’s book, “The Resurgence of Satyam — The Global IT Giant” (Random House India). Anjum, online editor of a clutch of technology magazines ( CIO Asia, MIS Asia, Computerworld Singapore and Computerworld Malaysia), tracks in his 250-pager the turnaround of the company as Mahindra Satyam in just three years’ time, quietly instilling confidence, all over again, in not just its thousands of employees who feared the worst once, but also in the global IT market that it has it in it to survive the scandal after all.

Points out Anjum in an email interview, “I think more than anything else and besides a capable leadership team, it was the will of the people, the indomitable spirit of the Satyamites to keep going that helped in the turnaround.”

So, unlike the arid texts one usually anticipates in a work on corporate history, the book is a compelling tale, spun around people, their tenacity in the face of impending ruin. Among those who come alive on its leaves are Krishnamurthy, a company driver who once drove Raju around; software engineer Mirza Faizan, who told off a client that ridiculed Satyam (“When one man can create Satyam as an organisation of 53,000 people, why can’t 53,000 committed people rebuild one Satyam?”); Hari Babu, employed at the HRD wing of the company’s headquarters in Hyderabad’s HITEC City, who didn’t give up even after losing sleep “for two years because of the trauma of CBI threatening me that even if I left the company, they were going to catch me”; Sahu Uday Kumar and Vikram from the administrative office who spent from their pocket to feed a litany of new Board members, SEBI officials and those from the law enforcement agencies after the banks froze the company’s assets.

“Some employees used their own cars to ferry guests from the airport to office. Employees had to file personal bonds to let hotels accommodate the board members and other guests,” the author mentions in the Prologue.

“Personally”, says Zafar. “I see the story of Satyam’s turnaround as a positive story.” He pins it down as “a unique example to come from a place where corruption has been seen to be endemic.” In the West, he points out, many companies have melted away after falling victim to financial scandals. “The example of Enron comes to mind. That Satyam survived an impossibly deadly implosion and how quickly it bounced back on its feet, is an inspiring story to come from India where negativity is the flavour of the season. That’s why I wrote the book in the first place.”

The turnaround is also good for the country’s reputation. “The Satyam scandal created suspicions about the integrity of Indian business leaders in the mind of the global business community.” Doubts were also expressed then “if the Indian justice system would punish the guilty, given the track record of corruption India had had.”

The author feels, “All this had the potential to damage India’s reputation worldwide if not for the resurgence of Satyam.”

After having researched on the company, its genesis, the author says, “Raju fascinates me as a character.”

“He did amazing things for poor villagers in Andhra Pradesh. When he was a child, he reportedly used to say that he would create a big impact on the society. He succeeded in doing that but perhaps he got carried away. When ambition gets the better of sanity and integrity, we become monsters without realising it. Perhaps that’s what happened to the Good Samaritan Raju.”

(“The Resurgence of Satyam” was launched at the Singapore Writers’ Festival 2012 this past Monday.)

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 2:21:48 AM |

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