A dim, yellow light emanates from the room of a moderate home in the non-descript, middle-class surroundings of the temple town, Kumbakonam. The eldest son of a Post Master is deeply immersed in solving complicated chemical equations. He has to study very hard and fulfill the many aspirations of his father. "Do well in life" he would often say. A secure, bank job would be ideal. A clerk in any government office wouldn't be a bad idea. Why not a chemist? Wasn't he simply outstanding in chemistry often topping class with 95% marks? "No problems on the career front," so would have thought Janakiraman (Jani). That's until he joined REC.
Culture shock awaited the young lad at Regional Engineering College (REC), Trichy. An institution for the best-of-the-breed students from various schools and here he was, an obedient boy from an orthodox family background, schooled in Tamil medium and grappling hard with English. He felt like an alien. "Would he fit in?" Jani must have wondered. But then, chemical equations are chemical equations whatever be the language. Besides, he had much to achieve. Like Archimedes, accompanied by possible chants of 'Eureka! Eureka!' Jani too discovered that's there a whole new world out there.
"My interest in electronics developed in the first two years at REC," says Jani, by which time his obsession of being a chemist was already in the boondocks. His English had improved too. "My confidence grew in the first semester when I was in the top-ten in class," he adds. The 'wanna-be' chemist, the 'should have been bank manager' pocketed his Bachelor of Engineering degree in 1978 and headed for Madras to do his Masters at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). In 1980, a campus interview landed him a job at Wipro Infotech, as an Asst. Engineer in R&D. He was the third employee.
The early 80's saw Information Technology in India still 'goo-gooing' around in soothers and nappies. The 'Big Boys' were yet to come. Wipro's only claim-to-fame were the cooking oils and soaps they manufactured. And when the IT roots spread far, wide and firm, Wipro was in the big league. Jani was already there and doing extremely well. "I was heading the highly profitable Global R&D division and I was on top of the world," explains Jani on his role in Wipro's exhilarating growth and maintains that Wipro is "still one of the most professional organizations". However, somewhere down the line thoughts of change crept into Jani's mind. "I got this feeling that I was doing more and more of the same thing and nothing really new. I started to see different roadblocks," he says. It also disturbed him when he heard that people like Ashok Soota, Subroto Bagchi and Krishna Kumar were leaving Wipro.
He once thought he'd retire from Wipro. But now, he asked himself, "Am I in the right place? Is it time to look beyond Wipro?" His next step didn't need Divine intervention. Jani called Subroto to check if there was room for him at MindTree Consulting. The answer-in-waiting came in 10 seconds, "Yes Jani, there is. When do we meet?"
Nineteen years at Wipro was a long affair indeed. His heart bled at the very thought of leaving Wipro. But then, most divorces always end up being painful. In 1999 he joined MindTree Consulting as the tenth co-founder and as was expected, the new challenge excited him. "Besides the managerial challenge there's the entrepreneurial challenge," explains Jani. "Unlike in Wipro where we had time on hand, today the world isn't going to give us that much of time. We need to achieve lots in a much shorter time frame."
He's very clear on one thing, though. "Knowledge grows by sharing. It doesn't grow in isolation. Which is why teamwork is absolutely important in this industry. At MindTree, we are always open to receiving ideas and taking decisions as a team," says Janakiraman, who heads New Technologies at MindTree.
But for the sacrifices made by his father, Jani would probably be languishing in some laboratory in a white coat, tearing his hair apart with yet another chemical equation. Or in a bank, doing the debit-credit balancing act day-in, day-out. How uninteresting. And what was his third career option? Ah yes, the clerk in a government office. Now, that would be stretching the imagination a bit too far.
Boy! Aren't we all glad he's in MindTree?