High-flying enthusiasm

What connects information technology, banking and skydiving? K. Satyamurty speaks to Mukul Agrawal, the Mangaing Director of an IT company, on the thrills and intricacies of his business and passion.

Skydiving demands courage, concentration and perfect timing. As does heading an information technology (IT) business in a hyper-competitive environment.

Ask Mukul Agrawal and he will tell you how one leads to the other. Currently the Managing Director of Unisys, Bangalore, there was a time when he spent long periods in Australia as a project leader. That was where he was introduced to the thrills of skydiving.

"You have to first go through a lot of on-the-ground training and jumping from towers around 20 ft tall before you are considered good enough to do it from an aircraft at a higher altitude," he explains. Something similar to handling the reins of a company from being just a young MBA.

Once the fear of heights is dealt with and the exhilaration of jumping sets in, it is time for the real thing. "Usually a group of seven or eight persons go sky diving. The aircraft flies to around 2,500 ft or so and once over suitable terrain, the instructor takes over," Mr. Agrawal says.

For the initial jump and a few times afterwards, the ripcord of the diver's parachute is attached to a tight ropeline within the aircraft. As each one comes close to the open door of the aircraft, he is almost pushed out and the ripcord activated by the instructor.

Before actually jumping off the aircraft, there are safety moves to go through and the diver is carefully instructed on how to navigate through the fall, avoiding landing on concrete or into a river, and the best physical position to land in so that you don't break a bone. "You graduate from that stage to a free fall where everything is in your own control," he adds.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, Mukul worked with two international banks as they were increasing their computerisation process.

"At that time, computers were used only to aid the bank's bookkeeping and risk management functions. The idea of online banking for customers was still a dream," he says.

"Then came the stage when corporate customers with large transactions were linked to the bank's mainframe with a security password. It was only much later that the concept of an individual keeping track of his or her account through the computer became popular ... it took the Internet for this to happen," he says.

Of course, from merely accessing account details to actually transacting took some more time.

Meanwhile computers became more popular and Internet usage continued to grow, making online transactions possible and practical.

Online bank transactions are not all that risky, though some cases of fraud do occur, he says. "It is easier for your credit card number to be misused when you use the card to, say, pay a restaurant bill," he cautions.

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