This part of my life picks up directly from a time when I was at that stage in life called, “in-between” jobs (read unemployed). I was looking for my second job. My very first job as Chief Financial Officer of atcom technologies limited had lasted all of eleven months, and that is a tale in itself. So let’s save that for another time, not here.
This true telling, begins with me having been out of work for several months now, and I am getting rather desperate. Family to support, mouths to feed. It was the bottom of the spiral caused by tech bubble that had gone bust, and jobs were not easy to come by. I literally sat each and every day and scoured every advertisement in various publications, and finding anything remotely suitable, I applied, crossed my fingers, my toes and pretty much everything that could be crossed, so much so that reading, and working long hours at the computer, did leave me blurry and cross-eyed at times.
Enter Radha, as he is fondly called. Radhakrishna Pingali had been a very dear friend, going way back, when he was with a tech company that had been involved in the computerization of the Bombay Stock Exchange, and I was Managing Director of Integra Funds Management Limited.
I met a friend at Otters Club, who mentioned Radha, and that’s how I get his number and I reconnect with Radha, after a gap of too many years. Called him I did, and quicker than you can say “jumping jack flash”, he was en route to meet with me.
I gave him the lay of the land, and instantly he was thinking about how he could get me a job quickly, well almost instantly. For those who know Radha, that’s how he is.
You see, Radha had really made it, and was then the Joint President of ICICI Infotech, his startup having been acquired. His startup team became what was later known as the BPG, or Banking Products Group, and at some time was called the Intellectual Capital Group.
He organized a couple of interviews, with one of his direct reports and with the Head of HR (we didn’t hit it off at first, but became friends over the years), and I received an offer. The offer in terms of money, was far less than what I was making in my earlier role as the CFO, and the role and title did not cause excitement. The role was somewhat indeterminate to begin with, and the title was Senior Manager. From Managing Director to Senior Manager! Well such is life.
When Radha told me it was a “functional” role, these are the thoughts that ran through my head. I know little about technology, didn’t really know how to write a functional specification, and I barely know how a treasury product is designed or built. I know nothing about formal IT, but I did understand the basic tenets about design and development, albeit only from the myopic point of view of having completed a course at Aptech. I guess developing a high level specifications for a bleeding edge, Decision Support System, conceptualized by me, solely for the purposes of running my own financial services business, was somewhat of a saving grace. In that respect, I was ahead of the curve, and was a thought leader.
I think this is how Radha and I became close.
Ever since I was introduced to Radha, we spent hour after hour talking financial markets, and at some point I guess, we started talking technology in financial markets. This is where the epic discussions and exchange of ideas took place, at my office, at the bar, at dinner, in the car commuting, and pretty much everywhere. I think I only learned and learned and learned about technology, and what it can be made to do, and this is the time Radha was exposed to my seemingly layman ideas of what I wanted to do in terms of business automation, and decision support and MIS. You see, back in the day I did manage money and advise some pretty senior executives and some leading businessmen. I needed information at my fingertips. I knew exactly what I wanted, I just needed a system to bring that information to me at my fingertips.
At some point he brought in vendors and spent hours explaining to them, making them understand what I wanted, and we spent quite a bit of time discussing functional specifications, technology, and finally we got to the point of getting in proposals that Radha helped me vet.
Oftentimes I do think about how we were THE first movers in conceptualizing and actually taking up development of such a system. Way before these were finally brought to India, way before they were finally adopted. Nostalgia.
Since the victim of this piece is not the “Mother of all Decision Support Systems” that we were contemplating, let’s carry on with how I came to work for Radha later in life. Well not directly for Radha, but a few levels below him. The tables had turned you see.
One of the other things that brought us close (I think), was our discussions about spirituality, my deep exposure and my very visible (back then, not now) spiritual practices. To the extent that when Radha lost his beloved wife to irreversible disease, I was asked to perform some part of the last rites, since Radha was deep in shock.
Finally life kicked in and I was out of a job, as I stated at the beginning of this blog, and I reconnected with Radha, who had grown to be a dear friend. Picking up that lost thread, was a matter of moments. There was no awkwardness about his great fortune, of my reversal, about the fact that I would be a minion as opposed to be a senior member of the team.
Radha did what he could, Radha was true to himself, he was true to a friend in need, he got me a job, and at that point in time, that was exactly what I needed.
Such is the humility of this great human being, that he said to me, I know that you have great intellect, I know that this is a bit demeaning, but just come work for me, I need you. Truth be told, he didn’t….he could have found someone like me, or even better than me to take his product forward, but he instead chose to place his trust in a friend in need, in an untried and untested resource.
In later meetings, he said he knew what he was doing in passing me the ball, but all I can see in that gesture of a friend, was that he came through. I was humbled and proud at the same time, when much later he introduced me to his now grown son, a professional in his own right, as one of the few people whom he respected as having unparalleled intellect. It isn’t not so much the compliment, it is where it was coming from. This was from Radha, a man far far ahead of his times, a man of great intellect himself. Wow, I was simply blown away, and in terms of compliments, this is the one I will always cherish.
This is how I happened to come into hard-core, main stream technology, which would serve me well in later years, and serves me well until this day. From not being able to write a functional specification that a technical resource could understand, I came to a point where I did become Head of Product Strategy for Treasury and Risk Management Products. I did end up designing from scratch an Investment Management System, and went on to design and build several such systems.
I have one man to thank for that opportunity, but I do have to thank many other people who were patient with me, who helped me learn (albeit quickly), who placed their friendships, trust and faith in my abilities to deliver, under the most daunting of circumstances. If I am every subservient to anyone, it is Radha, whome I consider my benefactor, and I can say, other than him I’m subservient to none, have not been, and don’t think I’m ever going to be.
I think Radha and his team, Babu, Bhanu and Ms. Atre (who was later my lady boss) carried me for at least two years, before I was able to carry my own weight, and deliver value to the organization that had seen it fit to employ me.
I’ve always been helpful by nature, and try to be a pillar of support to people at times when all seems bleak, but this experience really made a profound impact and the way I am with people today, comes largely out of this experience.
The ICICI journey spans five years, and the subsequent series of blogs will reveal more about that journey. This is where my professional international exposure commenced, this was the stepping stone.