In a chat that lasted precious 60 minutes of one of India’s most popular CEOs, I learnt something crucial about veteran achievers. They have withered storms with a smile and prefer to victoriously sail on with the whole crew aboard.
CP Gurnani is one of the few Chandras of the IT industry who have made it ultra big. At a conference last month, Gurnani joked fervently of a saying at NASSCOM that went on like if you want to be something, your name has to be Chandra.
The Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of one of the most celebrated Indian IT multinational companies, Gurnani, is not just another manager. In his words, he is an Entrepreneur Manager with the only focus on getting things done.
Was being a CEO one of his dreams?
“I was the small town guy who didn’t even know what being a CEO meant. At 33, I was already a CEO of a small unit. At 38, I was a CXO. It was no longer a dream, it just came to me,” Gurnani told Entrepreneur as he recalled his nearly 40-year journey as a dreamer, achiever and giver.
Humble beginnings taught Gurnani to create opportunity. “I learnt to not wait for an opportunity to present itself in front of me. My father would say the world does not owe you anything; you need to find a place for yourself, and I did.”
A believer in the Almighty, Gurnani, says most of the unexpected and the expected events that happened in his life, he cannot explain on his own.
“I do believe there is something beyond me that led to all my decisions, from Rourkela to who I married to managing 150,000 employees.”
He credits his simple middle-class background for his success. “All through my life what has helped me become what I am is having come from a middle-class family, and knowing well that my mother would say to us – you know on the 26th of the month, I will tell the fever also to come on the 1st.”
Gurnani recalls not having enough money, but enough love and a deep desire to help others, elements that formed the basis of his success. “I reflected a lot of this back in my life.”
“I always knew I would be very righteous and very successful. I always knew I would help create organizations,” says Gurnani who is popularly referred to as the People’s CEO.
From creating the Rotaract Club for Rourkela while pursuing his chemical engineering at the National Institute of Technology way back in his yesteryears to being the CEO of India’s largest IT company, Gurnani is often considered the god of IT.
IT Wasn’t Gurnani’s Destination
Few know Gurnani was managing sales for a British company called Fenner India before diving into the IT ocean.
“I was posted in Calcutta and enjoyed an incredible market share for the company compared to competitors. At 26-27, my boss said you are in the wrong industry at the wrong time. This industry will only grow X much and you will have to look at a fast-paced industry for growth.”
That’s when Gurnani started his research in 1995 and landed a job in IT.
In a career spanning 36 years, Gurnani has held several leading positions with HCL Hewlett Packard Limited, Perot Systems (India) Limited and HCL Corporation Ltd.
In 2016, Gurnani was appointed Chairman of NASSCOM for 2016-2017.
“Being loyal to my employees, being loyal to my customers and being a little bit of an offloader is the package I am today,” says Gurnani.
Entrepreneurs Vs Entrepreneur Managers
When I first joined HCL, I started working as the owner of the company. They allowed me to make mistakes, and then I decided I just wanted to be an entrepreneur manager recalls Gurnani.
Gurnani admits that being an entrepreneur is slightly riskier than being an entrepreneur manager but believes there is wafer thin line between the two.
“If I went ahead and bought Satyam and if Satyam had not worked out, CP would not have been the celebrated manager that he is.”
“When Vikram Pandit rescued Citibank, what did he rescue it for? Was he not an entrepreneur? Would you not associate an HDFC Bank with Aditya Puri? Indra Nooyi is she an owner or is she an entrepreneur manager?”
Gurnani calls all managers and entrepreneurs entrepreneur managers.
“The fact is that at 40, 50 & nearing 60, day and night, I am jumping up and down even today. I am answerable every month to my shareholders, every quarter to a board of directors. Every day my stock is up and down, I think I am being held more accountable than any startuprenuer.”
India Will Always be an Opportunity for the Right Guy
Gurnani believes if one follows the population map of the world and the drive of the world, India will always be an opportunity for right guy.
End of the day, the fact is that we are a growing population and we have more opportunities arising each day says Gurnani.
“A Jack Ma became successful 10 years after starting out. And there will always like a Kanwal Rekhis, Shailesh Mehtas and Pramod Dhak who will be successful no matter where they are.
With respect to the IT industry, Gurnani says it will remain a hot sector if individuals are able to transform themselves from just improvers to gamechangers.
“Pure technology is not good enough anymore. Technology is the backbone. Little more ambidexterity is important.”