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August 9, 2001
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Shiv Nadar completes 25 years of success

Arvind Padmanabhan in New Delhi

Shiv NadarWhen Shiv Nadar set up Hindustan Computers Limited 25 years ago in a one-room tenement, he knew he had taken a huge gamble.

Many friends and associates were shocked, because Nadar, then 30, had quit a high-paying executive job with Delhi Cloth Mills to dabble in a concept that had few takers in the country then.

But his success with HCL, as also the numerous other companies he has founded over the past two-and-a-half decades, has earned him praise for being one of the pioneers and visionaries of the information technology sector.

The bearded high-tech entrepreneur nurtured HCL in his signature style of decentralised management, making it a billion-dollar group with 100 offices worldwide.

In the process, he created wealth for himself, his associates and investors.

In last year's Forbes List of Billionaires, he was ranked the 126th richest person in the world with an estimated personal net worth $3.7 billion.

"In these 25 years, we pioneered the growth of IT in India in virtually every sphere, including hardware, software, services, solutions, networking communications, Internet and the IT infrastructure," the soft-spoken Nadar said in a rare moment of self-praise.

"Through these years, we have not only created new technologies but have been incubators for India's leading IT professionals and entrepreneurs."

Perhaps, that is the reason why he was the only person with whom Microsoft founder Bill Gates had a private meeting during his famous India visit in 1996.

HCL, established by Nadar in August 1976, broke into the big league of the Rs 10-billion club of homegrown companies in 20 years flat.

Armed with a keen business sense, Nadar -- a member of the Nadar business community of Tamil Nadu who migrated to New Delhi in 1968 -- forged his first fruitful partnership with a multinational 15 years after founding HCL.

In 1991, US-based IT giant Hewlett-Packard picked up a 26 per cent stake in HCL. The association bore immediate results, with the company posting a record profit of Rs 202 million the following year.

In all these years Nadar never lost sight of being a visionary. The corporate restructuring he undertook over the years resulted in several companies, each with a chosen professional head.

A US-based non-resident Indian today, Nadar is involved in the day-to-day operational details of just one company in his group, HCL Technologies, though he figures on the boards of most firms.

He is an outright family man devoted to wife Kiran and daughter Roshini, say his friends and associates, who call him 'magus', Persian for wizard.

Another trend-setting company he is associated with is NIIT Ltd, which framed the rules in India for corporate education by establishing a web of computer training institutes in the country before expanding overseas.

The stories of other companies in the group - HCL Infosystems, Frontline Solutions, HCL Peripherals, HCL Comet, HCL America, HCL Technologies and HCL Far East - are similar.

Nadar also had his share of setbacks. His group parted ways with Hewlett-Packard. His foray into telecommunications services sector, for which he partnered with Singapore Telecom, came a cropper.

He even ventured into granite business and was thinking of setting up an aquaculture project - that had become fashionable in south India a decade ago.

"These were some of our mistakes. But then we were also quick to learn and exit," Nadar said.

Today, HCL is again at the crossroads. The slowdown in the US economy and recession at home has been eating into the margins of most companies in the group.

But Nadar remains an optimist, having weathered such storms in the past, albeit of lesser intensities.

"I see an end to the US slowdown sometime next year. For India, that will mean excellent opportunities. Around seven to 10 million more jobs."

As regards his original passion for computer hardware, he has his eyes set on the group's latest offering -- India PC, an inexpensive high-performance personal computer for the masses.

Indo-Asian News Service

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