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Ramalinga Raju: Conman in gentleman's clothing?

January 07, 2009 17:00 IST

Thinking out of the box has been Ramalinga Raju's strength, but using it craftily to inflate balance sheet - No.

Raju, 54, stepped down on Wednesday as chairman of Satyam Computer he founded in 1987 following financial wrong-doings to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees in the company.

It took the man from Bhimavaram over two decades to become the posterboy of India's Information Technology industry and less than two weeks to turn into the rogue who personifies all that is defective with the country's outsourcing industry.

Only in October 2008, Raju told PTI that Satyam had a cash pile of Rs 4,000 crore (Rs 40 billion) and could leverage it to muster another Rs 15,000-20,000 crore (Rs 150 to Rs 200 billion) to aggressively pursue acquisitions - his cherubic innocence hiding the mess his company was in.

The balance sheet as of September 30 carries 'inflated (non-existent) cash and bank balances of Rs 5,040 crore or Rs 50.4 billion (as against Rs 5,361 crore or Rs 53.61 billion reflected in the books)," the Harvard Business School alumnus told in a letter to employees on Wednesday.

While he is credited with designing simple, yet effective models to create value, these models did not always work for Raju, the reason why he went about designing an elaborate plan to make up for the lack of real assets with fictitious ones.

The former entrepreneur icon's plans started falling apart when he tried to acquire two companies promoted by his family for $1.6 billion.

Investors' dissent forced him to go back on the deal and then there was no way forward or sideways -- so he called quits.

"It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten," Raju said in a letter to Satyam's board of directors, wherein he listed major financial wrong-doings over the years to inflate the profits.

Coming from a man who has won numerous awards not only for 'building a best-in-class business but also taking innovative steps to positively impact society,' it robs the faith in the spirit of entrepreneurship.

"We have witnessed everything bad, but not as bad a scam like this. It has become India's own Enron till date," Ashika Stock Brokers' Research head Paras Bothra said.

Raju, who did his MBA from Ohio University, is 'a world-renowned visionary, global business leader and thinker. . . is passionate about developing leaders within his organisation...," proclaims Satyam's website.

Today, his organisation is in the clasp of chaos and panic.

Many of the company's over 53,000 employees are fearing for their jobs, as they see the company stripped off  awards for various 'best practices.'

"This is not the first corporate fraud nor it is going to be the last. But you cannot generalise it and throw the baby out with the bath water," former Securities and Exchange Board chairman M Damodaran said.

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