June 17, 1998: Karavali Restaurant
In April 1998, after a decade with Wipro, I moved to Lucent Technologies. Lucent wanted to set up their Bell Labs Development Center at Bangalore. While at Lucent, I had the opportunity to work on a strategic study of the future of the Indian Software industry. During the course of this study, my eyes were opened to several things. It was clear to me that the 21st. century will be to the service industries what the 20th. century has been to the manufacturing industries. I also realized that every thing that we see around us would be either software enabled or software constrained. Given that, I felt that there would be insatiable demand for software services all over the world. Yet, companies who try to fill that need with just software skills will not be leaders. In fact, people who will lead in the emergent space will need to deliver not software, but what I call “knowledge enabled software”. Many of today's software services companies will not be able to be leaders in the emerging future. Because, knowledge enabled software requires six things. These are:
Extensive use of tools
I felt that given early emphasis on these, an opportunity exists to create the next generation, post millennial software solutions company. In the process, I also wanted to create a value based, socially sensitive organization that would make an up front commitment to societies in which it works. The day the idea germinated in my mind, I made a call to Krishna Kumar.
Krishna Kumar was the Chief Executive of Wipro's Electronic Commerce Division. Son of a railway doctor, KK as we call him, did his engineering at Guindy - followed by a management degree from Xavier's, Jamshedpur. KK had an illustrious career behind him. Though his first job was at ORG, his real career spanned 18 years in Wipro. He grew to become the Head of Northern Region at Wipro Infotech before becoming the Chief Marketing Officer of the organization. Then came the dramatic shift. He agreed to President Ashok Soota's idea to take over and revamp the Human Resources function. The company critically depended on it as it had aggressive growth plans as a software services exporter. When KK was Group VP for Human Resources, I was the Chief Executive of Wipro's Global R&D. As a line business head, I was KK's internal customer and we often worked issues together. There was a strong bond developing between the two of us, though we met socially only once in the ten years I spent in Wipro. Whenever I used to size up people, my highest rated person was typically one who would fill two conditions: someone I would love to work for and some one I would call first, if I ever got into my own business. KK met both criteria. So, one day in June 1998, I called KK and invited him to lunch. 17 June, we agreed to meet. It turned out to be a day that changed our lives, and many other lives.