The turnaround specialist
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Ashok Soota is a man who has been the flag bearer of the Indian IT industry, the one who knows how to turn things around and the one who never settles for less. Read on to find out why he doesn’t want to relax even at the age of 73.
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My father was in the army. Owing to transfers, I changed 12 schools by the time I was 12. I saw a large part of the country, and it made me more agile. I finished my school in Lucknow and did my Engineering in Roorkee. Several years later, I did MBA.
Then in the first year of my career I worked at Burmah Shell. It was a highly paid job but I realized there was no challenge in it. Then I joined Shriram Group as a senior MT and stayed with that group for 19 years. DCM Shriram’s Charat Ram used to give responsibility to young people. So I became a part of the core management. I looked after Sri Lanka for three years.
We had a joint venture there. That really helped me because in a small unit, I was given a wide responsibility. So I looked after the entire set of functions, including marketing and had much more knowledge at the end of doing it. Then I became the General Manager and Chief Executive of that factory at the age of 30.
At 34, I was the Chief Executive at Shriram, and the last place I was heading in India was Hyderabad. Charat Ram asked me to take charge of the company that was about to collapse. I turned it around. Within a year we became profitable. The challenge was taken care of, so I thought what to do next. Azim Premji met a friend of mine when he was looking for a CEO and he heard about me.
You have been into manufacturing and IT. What made you to have a diversified career?
When I switched my job from an refrigeration firm to Wipro, an IT company, people said how I would going to lead an IT firm. But if you simplify things and look at the basics, it helps. In Wipro, I wrote two waves of growth. The hardware and I got the software at the right time because it was the beginning so all that really made sense. In 1991, Premji also gave me software business which I ran till 1999.
In 1997, we overtook Infosys. Then I thought it was a logical step to start something on my own. When the dotcom boom came, it was too good an opportunity to grab. So in first eight years (1999-2011), I ran Mindtree as the Chairman and Managing Director, and we had the most successful IPO in the Indian IT industry, which was oversubscribed 102 times.
How did Happiest Minds come up?
If I was a late stage entrepreneur at 58, I was a late-late stage serial entrepreneur at 69. So here we are a digital transformation company using disruptive technology to be able to improve people’s business models, productivity, etc. When we started the company on a five-year vision, being the fastest to reach $100 million, we talk of leadership and social responsibility but one our first mission statement our first choice is to be an evangelist spreading happiness.
Who all form your clientele?
In our clientele 30 percent of them are Fortune 500 companies. Another 35 percent below the billion dollar club and another 35 percent are small companies. Startups make a large part of our business. Startups would be 15 percent. We have about 1,650 employees. About 64 percent of our business is in the US with 21 percent in UK and Europe. Close to 9-10 percent is in India, which is a high percentage for an Indian IT company.
Are you on track to achieve the revenue target of $100 million by 2017?
Scale is about giving returns to our investors. We were designed to scale in that sense. If you are talking about returns for investors, you can’t do that without scale. If we give a 10 times multiplier, I think we have given them much more than what they expect out of us. We raised a large round that is enough till we go public. If a right opportunity comes, we will look at an acquisition.
Seven years from the time we started is the time limit to take the company public. So we will complete three years in March. We are 50 percent of our way. We broke even in Q4 last FY. So this should be our first profitable year.
What is your vision for future?
We want to bring latest technology to Indian customers. Customer reach in Australia and Malaysia is expanding. At the end of three years, we have attained 50 percent to our target. Growing from 50 to 100 should happen faster than from 0 to 50.
(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (December, 2015 Issue).