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Coming from a family of engineers it was no wonder that Kamal Mansharamani would follow in his family's footsteps. While his father was a civil engineer, his elder brother, a mechanical engineer from IIT Kharagpur, Kamal ended up doing his BTech in electrical engineering from IIT Delhi [Images].
After a more than three-decade long career that saw him working and gaining experience with industry leaders like Telco (now Tata Motors [Get Quote]) as a graduate trainee, Bharat Electronics [Get Quote], where he along with a group of talented engineers designed radars for the Indian Air Force, DCM Technologies, where he rose from being a research and design engineer to head DCM's R&D centre and Birla Soft where he worked as a chief executive officer for six years, Kamal was bit by the entrepreneurial bug at the age of 56.
In an interview with Prasanna D Zore, Kamal discusses his entrepreneurial brainchild AlmaMate (that he just set up in December 2008) as well as what it takes to become a leader and achieve success in one's career:
About AlmaMate: What inspired you to start it?
I was the CEO of Birla Soft for six years since 2001. One of the major issues that we were facing then at Birla Soft as well as in the IT industry was there was a significant gap between what engineering colleges produced and the needs of the industry. We in the industry spent some four to six months in upgrading those graduates before they actually became deployable. It was a huge cost borne my IT companies for so many years. It was a big pain area for the industry.
This huge lacuna inspired me to start AlmaMate which trains students and make them employable and deployable within three months. Also, it is something that will help the national cause. There are very few IT graduates who get jobs immediately in good companies after they graduate from college. This also hurts the industry as there is shortage of talent.
The idea of AlmaMate is to get this talent placed at the right level and to prevent the IT industry from suffering from lack of talent.
NASSCOM data says that only 25 per cent of engineering graduates are employable. AlmaMate helps reduce the time it takes for people to get deployed. So we work to make graduates employable as well as deployable.
We take students who are in their final year of engineering or who have just finished their graduation. They are charged as per their needs and demands. The revenues will be generated in part from the students and part from the industry.
I have run a programme at Birla Soft called Birla Soft Academy and that's what makes me confident about AlmaMate's success.
My first job was with Telco (now Tata Motors) in Jamshedpur (Tatanagar) where they had a graduate trainee scheme in which they would take you through all departments of the company. After working there for six to eight months I joined BEL (Bharat Electronics Ltd) in Ghaziabad. Here I was part of a team that designed radars for the Indian Air Force. I was just 22 then -- just out of college -- and it was a very wonderful experience. It was a privilege to get to design very complex systems of the radar.
On-job learning experience:
In 1974 in Telco, Jamshedpur, there were 25,000 people. The biggest learning here was to understand how disciplined processes help run a huge organisation like Telcoa smoothly.
What you do at a job is very different from your academic (background). Academics can get you a job. But it's not necessary that because you were a topper in your college you will be a topper in your job too. It doesn't work that way.
Different set of skills are needed for you to do your job well. You need to be passionate. If you are very committed and passionate about what you are doing, have a very positive attitude and get along very well with your team mates you will do better.
Passion, commitment and a positive attitude always gets noticed at the workplace.
Integrity and honesty are other important factors that make you successful. People should look at you as an honest and humble leader. Humility not only helps you achieve success but also earn respect from the people around you.
Helping people around you and making them succeed in what they do also help in achieving success. Your success lies in the success of the people around you.
I joined as an R&D engineer in DCM Technologies in 1988. India then was still a license permit raj economy. So you needed hundreds of licenses to import raw materials as well as hardware. We used to make computers and designed everything in-house. It was a wonderful experience to learn different aspects of computer technology and designing cutting-edge products.
I rose to become the head of R&D at DCM Technologies which was later spun off into a profit centre.
I joined Birla Soft in 2001. It was a very small company then with 400 people spread across the world. In the next six years I took the company strength to 4,600 people. We became NASSCOM's top 20 companies after I took over the reins at Birla Soft. It was a very satisfying career growth at both these places.
What makes a successful leader:
First and foremost a leader strives to build a cohesive culture in an organisation; a culture where people get bound to the organisation. And for that you create an emotional bond between the organisation and its employees.
THIS LINE DOES NOT MAKE SENSE When we were growing at Birla Soft we were adding more people in a year then we had at Birla Soft. With so many new people joining a company there was a possibility that employees would grow out of sync with each other. So we established a set of belief system. We told our employees what the organisation believes in and what our value systems are.
We made sure that employees adhered to this set of values. We also created a sense of an open environment where people would trust each other.
Importantly, we developed a strong second level leadership in place. All this helped develop a lot of emotional connect between the employees and the company.
You just have to be regular with your studies; be focused. You don't have to do that extra bit to achieve success. That's my personal experience. Never keep something for tomorrow which you can do today.
Advice on pink slips:
I have been talking to students in colleges across the country. What I tell them is the IT industry is growing at 30 per cent year-on-year. This year it might slow down to just 15 per cent. But if you look at this number per se it is still a very high growth rate. But yet the fact is a dip in growth from 30 per cent to 15 per cent is also sharp slowdown.
But I am sure -- and this is what I tell them -- that the medium to long-term growth story in India is very bullish. Things are likely to look up from 2010 onwards. IT industry is going to be back on its feet.
IT is the only industry that gives you an opportunity to grow at such a fast clip, going abroad, getting all kinds of exposure. So for all those who want to be a part of the IT industry or are already employed my advice is not to worry too much.
Of course, 2009 is going to be a tough year. So instead of bothering about it, spend some extra time in scaling up your skill sets; if you have been laid off go back to basics; do an MBA (even part-time; Kamal did his part-time MBA from Delhi's Faculty of Management Studies spanning three years from 1983-86), do an MTech, join some professional classes, courses and try to re-invent the wheel. Make yourself employable. This is an investment that will always help you now as well as in the longer term.
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