On the morning of August 19, 1999, we went to work - still recovering from the heady feeling from the launch of MindTree the night before. The events of that evening had signaled a perfect start for the company.
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First, we had a press meet in the morning. There was no standing room left with both print and television media in attendance. The turnout showed the extent to which the media's respect for Ashok had grown over the years. On the occasion, we showed a hastily put together film based on the first part of the "Making of the MindTree". The high point of the twenty-two minute film by TMG was the shot showing the children of the Spastic Society of Karnataka at work, painting their rendition of our logo – depicting Imagination, Action & Joy. As the camera focused on 17-year-old Chetan explaining his work with the help of another child, everyone watching the film got choked up with emotion. Because Chetan is autistic, people did not understand what he was saying. However, another boy who had a different form of cerebral palsy but could speak clearly, interpreted what Chetan was saying and explained it on camera. Chetan explained through his friend and interpreter that the blue upward stroke he had painted represented Imagination and the yellow dots around it stood for Joy.
The next day, the story of MindTree and how its logo was created sent waves across India. There wasn't a single major newspaper that did not have us on the front page. For the first time in the world, a corporate organization had trusted its visual identity to a group of differently able children who had no idea about brand and visual identity.
After the launch that day, we had an evening get together at the Taj Residency in Bangalore where friends and family were invited to hear about MindTree. The attendees included Azim Premji of Wipro and Nandan Nilekani of Infosys, among others from the IT industry. One man was deliberately left out of the invitee list: S. Janakiraman ("Jani"), who at the time was president of Wipro's Global R&D.
Jani and I had worked together in Global R&D. After I moved out as its first chief executive, Jani took over from me and by 1999 grew its manpower from 600 people to 1400. We worked like the left and the right hand of the organization and complemented each other extremely well. When I left Wipro to join Lucent, Jani was heartbroken. While contemplating the making of MindTree, the founders never thought of asking him in as he was considered to be doing too well for himself. KK, Partha, Kalyan and I had worked closely with him, as had Ashok, whom Jani was directly reporting to until the former left Wipro.
Sometime in July, as the news of Ashok's leaving Wipro got to the world, Jani was devastated. Jani thought the world of all of us and there was no way he would stay on at Wipro. After a few rounds of discussions, it was settled that he would be our tenth co-founder, a fact that could not be made public on August 18,1999 when Part 1 of the Making of MindTree was released. Wipro was still working on the modalities of retaining or letting Jani go. Given that background, Jani was not a part of the gathering of friends and family the night before.
Jani was born to a village postmaster in Tamil Nadu in 1957. His father was a man of little means, but had a burning desire to see his son get the best possible education. That ambition conflicted with his frequent rural transfers to places that did not offer good educational facilities. So, he kept his wife and children in a place where the schooling was good and chose to travel alone to wherever work took him. In order to be able to financially afford two establishments, he would not rent a house in the place of his posting. Instead, after a days work when the village post office (usually a mud hut) closed, he simply slept there. Every bit helped to save up and finally Jani graduated with a Masters from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai and joined Wipro as an R&D engineer.
When Jani came on board, his moving out of Wipro caused serious and understandable concern in the minds of Wipro's top management. As we grew, contrary to fear from some quarters, we did not turn out to become a "Wipro Shop". Our desire was to build something ground upward, something that would be a rain forest of talents from the best organizations.
We started with TGC Prasad and Amit Agrawal and Erik Mann and Joseph King. Prasad was with PricewaterhouseCoopers, providing IT consultancy and implementing SAP for clients. He is a civil engineer with a post-graduate degree in Joseph, Prasad, Amit and Erik Human Resource Management from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, where he was a gold medallist. Prasad had begun his career in HR, after which he had moved to sales and had gone on to Singapore before switching to IT consultancy. My eye had been on him for a long time and after a quick round of discussion, we settled the case for him to set up our People Function. We needed an unusual individual who could bring in both the consulting view and hands-on experience to the job, and Prasad fit the bill perfectly.
Amit Agrawal was raised in New York City by his immigrant parents and he went to school at Rutgers. Though his original ambition was to study music, he ended up majoring in Computer Science. Anjan discovered Amit at Cambridge as a "hotshot" technical architect who fitted in to what we called "MindTree Material". I met him over lunch in New Jersey and expected that I would have to do a sell job to get Amit to take the plunge. In yet another happy move, life presented Amit to us on a silver platter. No questions, no issues. Amit was subsequently chosen as "MindTree Mind of the Year" in 2001—the highest internal recognition that a person can aim to achieve at MindTree.
Then came Erik Mann. Schooled at Princeton, flying cross country gliders at US National Championships, Erik gained great experience at Health Management Systems and then at Cambridge Technology Partners. He designed eExpress, our methodology for e-Business implementation, led our delivery team in Avis and then set up our healthcare vertical in 2003.
Scott Staples brought in Joseph King as vice president of marketing. Joe and Scott had worked together in Cap Gemini and at Cambridge, and Joe got the marketing act off the ground pretty quickly, setting up our direct marketing efforts, putting in place relationships and eventually, taking on additional responsibility for our People Function in the U.S. as well.
One position that remained open for a long time was head of finance. Ashok saw dozens of candidates and it was becoming increasingly difficult to convince him on anyone. He was very clear about wanting to take a young person whom he could personally groom for the job. Additionally, the incumbent had to be able to take the white heat of Ashok's proximity day in and day out. After a long, drawn-out search, we finally found Venkat from Andersen (long before the Enron scandal, thank you...).
Shortly after, we recruited Vishweshwar Hegde from Motorola as our head of quality. Vishu, as he is better known, is credited with being part of a team that set up the world's first Six Sigma facility for Motorola and had both a manufacturing and a service view of quality. When not working, he plays a variety of instruments, acts and can even walk on his hands!
The vision of MindTree was to build a company with two areas of specialization. On the enterprise side, we wanted to provide e-business consulting and implementation. On the technology side, we wanted to provide product realization services in the networking domain. The former was to be headed by KK and the latter by Jani. Jani put together his leadership team with some outstanding people like Vinod Deshmukh, Sharmila Saha, S.N. Padmanabhan, C. Balu, Vilas Bhade Ram Chandran and Raja Shanmugam. While Balu came from Novell and Vilas came from Philips where the two were in senior positions, Vinod, Sharmila, Ramachandran, Padmanabhan and Raja had worked with Jani in Global R&D and were acknowledged as Star Performers in Wipro.
On the enterprise side, we were lucky to get some outstanding people like Siva Vajjhala, Babuji Abraham and R.K. Veeraraghavan from Cambridge Technology Partners, Verifone and Wipro respectively. We were all set.
In Somerset, New Jersey, Scott, Anjan and Kamran opened the bank account, won the first customer engagement, and settled a small office space at the same time as we did in Bangalore. We did not have a customer engagement in India yet. That was to come later.
In Bangalore, knowing that it would take us a while to create space and fix it up, we readily took up an offer from VG Siddhartha of Sivan Securities (later renamed Global Technology Ventures) to use a non-descript office space he had bought with an idea of eventually furnishing it and using it himself. The office had all of fourteen tables but it was a Godsend. The place also came with an existing phone line and we had a mailing address! Although the entire place was as just as big as Ashok's presidential corner office at Wipro, it felt good. What brought special warmth was the joining of Latha as our receptionist.
Latha was one of the ten children at the Spastic Society of Karnataka who had painted for us along with Chetan. She was born with a form of palsy that took away the use of her legs. Latha's truck- driving father had given her away to a convent. There, the nuns raised her and sent her to school at the Spastic Society of Karnataka. Latha had a great smile and we said to ourselves, "why not take her on board as our receptionist". She joined us on day one. Today, Latha runs our front office in Bangalore. She is an economically independent member of the society and stands on her own right.