SPARK OF THE CORPORATE
It has been just four years since Virender Aggarwal took over the CEO role at the then beleaguered Ramco Systems Ltd., and the results – although not breathtakingly successful – are there for everyone to see. The upbeat aura prevailing around the company which, despite being one of the pioneers of the technology industry, was in the red when he assumed responsibility is now back into profitability and the prospects continue to look ever brighter.
One may well argue that it has taken a tad longer than it should have for even a proven and experienced hand like Aggarwal, one has to also admit that at the time of him joining the company it was heading nowhere, inspite of the early-mover advantage it had over some of its contemporaries in the technology industry.
The board of Ramco entrusted Aggarwal with the onus of reviving the fortunes of the company which has somehow managed to get itself into a downward spiral. They were for sure aware that it was nothing less than a Herculean task as the market had steadfastly inched towards saturation and, unless some differentiation wasn’t infused into its functioning, it was heading towards obscurity and total dormancy.
But they also knew that they were relying on a proven talent of more than three decades at more than a dozen companies and in various positions of responsibility and complexity. The trust and confidence in his abilities has finally begun to yield results and, slowly but surely, Ramco it getting a hold of its levers and inching back to a position of stability.
Let’s know a little more about the man who has charted the path to recovery for the ERP specialty player.
His career began with one of the earliest technology companies of the country, Wipro Technologies, right after he completed his masters in management (MMS) from the famed Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS), Pilani (Rajasthan, India) in 1982. He joined Wipro as a Customer Support Engineer in which role he served the company for three years until 1985 when he joined A F Ferguson & Company.
It is obvious that his management education brought him to the accounting, auditing, and taxation firm, where he worked in the management consulting division of the company for about four years. This stint would give him ample opportunity to do various projects in information technology and management consulting both in India and the UAE for global MNCs and several UN agencies.
Deeper into the IT sphere
The stint with A F Ferguson & Co. helped Aggarwal gain an all new perspective altogether about business administration that was enabled by technology advancements. That is how he next moved to a financial services company called SRF Finance as its information technology manager and worked there for the next three years.
This was the first step towards a leadership roles and soon enough he was made the Chief Information Officer (CIO) SRF Finance Ltd. ( which is now called as GE Capital TFS Ltd.) and worked in that capacity for two years.
The big move to NIIT Technologies
It was the early 1990s and liberalization had just set in and with that a spate of technology-oriented companies started to mushroom all over the country, wanting to siege the opportunity of technology-aided enterprise activity. NIIT Technologies, a software, training, and placement arm of HCL, was the leader in this pack, and Aggarwal joined it in 1992 as the Vice-President.
Truly multi-faceted experience at NIIT saw him go places – literally. In the seven years that he worked at NIIT, first he was based of its New Delhi office, followed by postings at the company’s Bangalore (now Bengaluru) and eventually, Singapore units.
This was followed a decade’s association with Satyam Computers Services Limited as its VP and Director. He joined as Senior Vice President of the then Indian IT major in the December of 1999. Eventually made a Director, he headed the company’s operations across geographies spanning APAC and MEIA.
The decade-long haul at Satyam was as much eventful as it was satisfying for Aggarwal. While on the one hand he gained immense knowledge and experience of running an enterprise cloud ERP company – a job that entailed product designing, making technology choices, building channels and, at the end of the day, running a profitable business – all of which he did successfully, and without any shred of doubt whatsoever.He was responsible for management of business and delivery operations of the company across China, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Middle East and Japan, that included setting-up the development centers.
The downside and perhaps the only dark spot or blip on an otherwise fruitful stint – and in which he had little to nothing to do as he was based of Singapore handling its regional affairs, the company (headquarters) had reportedly employed faulty accounting and reporting practices and, thus, embroiled in a scandal-like state of affairs eventually leading to much turmoil for employs, clients, and investors (mostly) – before it was acquired by TechMahindra.
Singapore all the way
Next up after the tumultuous last year at Satyam Computers was his immensely successful association with HCL under the leadership of his boss, Vineet Nayyer.
It is here that he demonstrated enormous business savvy by growing the company’s emerging markets portfolio to half a billion dollars. A fantastic achievement by any yardstick.
It is owing to people like Aggarwal, Sandeep Kishore, Srikrishna, Vineet Nayyar, and of course the founder and visionary, Shiv Nadar that HCL is where it is today. All of them blessed with a special set of skills and abilities has done his or her bit for the growth of HCL technologies as a force to reckon with even on the global stage.
So, admittedly, it was his HCL experience more than anything other, which made Aggarwal’s case for the top position of Ramco in the summer of 2012.
Sweeping Changes at Ramco
Right since the day he assumed the CEO role in May of 2012, it appeared like an uphill, near-impossible task to effect a turn-around for Ramco. The mess it was in was too much, and there were problems deep-rooted.
But, Aggarwal being the visionary he had proven to be in all his earlier capacities with Indian IT majors, had himself taken on the challenging assignment, very well knowing the fact that he was perhaps playing an already lost game. However, that did not deter him as one would assume from the calm and collected demeanor he exhibited.
He very quickly seized up the scenario and, more than that, the problems impeding the company’s growth that almost threatened its very existence. It had so unwittingly let the fast-mover advantage pass by and let other less capable ones shoot past it and succeed emphatically.
The problems he identified were 3-pronged: 1) the company had paid little or no attention to the usability of its offerings (products) which scored terribly low on that count,
the company spent too little on getting word around for its products/offerings i.e. its marketing spend was near infinitesimal, so to say. One of the reasons attributed to this was when products failed, the practice at Ramco prior to Aggarwal’s entry was, to cut-down on marketing both efforts and spend as if to lay the total blame of marketing for the failure.
The products Ramco built were probably good but one of the most important pillars among the 5 Ps of marketing – Place, was not sufficiently paid attention too. The company was too distant from its likely customers, so the products inevitably waned away into oblivion.
So, he addressed the issues one by one starting with a heavy stress on usability of products. He hired over 20 usability experts and mandated that nothing should go to customers unless the usability team gives the go-ahead.
Then, he brought in a fresh mind-set to the marketing team, inculcating a collaborative marketing strategy processes, pepping up the departments work-space, giving more freedom to think of ways for proliferating the offerings, and importantly, increasing the spend – thus adding the much-needed aggression to its marketing initiatives.
And finally, he brought in a culture of partner-enabled sales based on smart segmentation of the market. But, all of this had to be built around the quality of the products. So, Aggarwal now set about focusing on improvising the product offerings.
The sweeping changes had their impact – why wouldn’t they as Aggarwal made sure he had those changes implemented with supervision from a renowned professor from Harvard and organizational behavior specialist, Boris Groysberg, who helped the company through the changes.
New customers were added with projects worth about $100 million in the pipeline, products line-streamlined, partner ecosystem established and streamlined, focus on product quality (in totality), and other aspects have brought the company into profit-making territory. So, from the brink of being down and dusted, Ramco has risen and, risen well to project a healthy future performance and the stewardship of Virender Aggarwal.
|First Indian to receive the prestigious International Management Action Award in 2004 conferred to him by SPRING Singapore.|
|Listed in LinkedIn’s Power Profile CEOs for Singapore.|
|Conversation is the new UI. .|
|We want to be an IP-driven company developing products and allow partners to implement.|
|There was a fair degree of shock at the speed at which change took place. But now, the degree of acceptance is creeping in. There has been some pain. But, when we succeed in the market that pain will go away.|
Hope viewers caught up the spark…