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Turning the tide

Zafar Anjum | Nov. 21, 2011
From facing a near-nemesis to basking in the afterglow of growth and success, Mahindra Satyam has come a long way trekking through a rough terrain. How did this Indian IT services company achieve this turnaround? Hari Thalapalli, Mahindra Satyam’s chief marketing officer (CMO) and chief people officer (CPO) shares with Zafar Anjum his side of the tale of adventure.

Hari T

Hari Thalapalli, Mahindra Satyam’s chief marketing officer (CMO) and chief people officer (CPO)

Satyam's turnaround-from a scandal-hit company with an uncertain future to a company that recently reported a 10 times increase in its year-on-year profits-has taken many watchers by surprise. One Indian commentator wondered if Mahindra Satyam is the next dark horse of the Indian IT industry. With a hefty dose of good luck, he wrote, this company could become the next Cognizant--the US-based company that beat Wipro earlier this year to become the third biggest IT services company.

High praise indeed for a global IT services provider like Satyam which, only about three years ago, was hit by a tsunami of bad press in early 2009 when its founder and chairman Ramalinga Raju had acknowledged cooking the books of the company in a letter to the Indian government. While Raju landed up in jail, Anand Mahindra of Tech Mahindra came to the rescue of the company and rechristened it Mahindra Satyam. Despite the takeover, not many felt enthusiastic about Satyam's future. There were doubts galore about the company's viability.

Within two years, however, Mr. Mahindra's team has turned the company around-the company is not only growing, it is also making handsome profits. In November, Mahindra Satyam reported growth for the fifth consecutive quarter despite an uncertain macro-economic environment. Consolidated revenue for the quarter was US$330 million, up 3.2 percent quarter on quarter. The company now has over 32,000 employees, still a lot less than the 53,000 headcount that Satyam had at its peak. The attrition rate is now down to 15.6 percent from 17 percent in the earlier quarter.

The turnaround

How did Satyam achieve this near magical turnaround? To understand this, I met Hari Thalapalli, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief People Officer (CPO) of Mahindra Satyam, in July in Singapore. Thalapalli has over two decades of experience in the IT industry. He has been with Mahindra Satyam for the past 11 years, playing vital roles in the organisation's growth and during its turbulent phase in the recent past. He was in town to collect an award for Satyam's people practices.

When I met him, my first question was how does he balance the two roles of CMO and CPO for a company with such a huge staff scattered around the world? "Frankly, the genesis of the fact that I ended up doing both these roles is something that was brought about by the circumstances," he said. "I was traditionally a HR guy and I had moved out of HR into marketing back in 2007, happy doing marketing. Then this whole stuff (the Satyam crisis) happened. When that happened, people were quite demanding. They had to deal with corporate layoff. We had to deal with issues of morale, which was severely dented at that time. So there was a request that I came to step into the HR side. That's how I walked in to deal with HR in 2009 and continued to do marketing." He has been holding that job since then.


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