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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.

Two and half years after the crisis (we met in July), Thalapalli and his colleagues at Satyam have put the crisis behind them, so much so that they don't even talk about it anymore. Meanwhile, in his role as CMO, Thalapalli's understanding of consumer behaviour has helped drive service innovation and brand enhancement programmes for the organisation.

How does he do it? "So if you look at it," he said, "today we are talking about growth and what it takes to grow to the next level. So we created a two-in-a-box in marketing. Probably you know that we have a two-in-a-box even in business, we have sales and delivery joined in the head. In marketing, the two-in-a-box is brand enablement and business enablement joined at the head. We have two key leaders to do this: one who is focused on brand building and public relations. The other is focused on analyst creation, customer intimacy, and so on. Then those two together play the jugalbandi, the harmonious dance, for the marketing role."

As the CPO of Mahindra Satyam, Thalapalli frequently raised the performance bar to help the organisation scale new heights while leveraging human capital. Mahindra Satyam has been repeatedly acknowledged for its innovative and path-breaking HR practices in many national and international forums (Hewitt and Mercer's "Best Employer" recognitions and ASTD and Training & Development's Global Ranking among them).

"The HR role is traditional," he said of his role as CPO of Mahindra Satyam. "The good news is that we have had some exceptionally robust people practices for many years in the past. So what it actually meant was that you didn't actually have to allow any erosion to happen during the challenging times. What we are now doing is moving from maintenance to growth. We measure it in simple terms: how is your attrition behaving; and if you are looking at hiring, how many you are hiring and how many you are hiring through internal referral programme. We have moved our referral numbers from 18 per cent about five months ago to something like 32 percent now. Out of 900 people that I recruit every month, 32 per cent comes from internal referral. That shows the increasing trend of comfort that people have ...that too in an environment where all sorts of IT companies are hiring today."

The three-year plan

After Satyam's takeover by Mahindra Satyam, the major challenge before the company's leadership was to stabilise the company and then put it on the path of growth. How did the plan work? "This can be divided into two parts at the very high end," said Thalapalli about the efforts to revive the company and enhance the Satyam brand during and post the crisis. "We told ourselves it is a three-year plan. We divided three years into three specific directions: first year around stabilisation, second year around investments, third year was around growth. And from that corporate messaging if you may, we derived the messages that we would need to communicate and the actions that we will need to do.


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