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Beyond bean counting

TCS' CFO steered the behemoth as it made its largest acquisition even as growth declined, the rupee yo-yoed and customers disappeared. Pics of best CFOs

T.V. Mahalingam | Print Edition: May 2, 2010

Bar Milano opened its doors and North Italian menu to the well-heeled folks of New York in the first week of April, 2008. Located in Third Avenue of Manhattan, the restaurant was reviewed by the New York magazine as the kind of "casually elegant, darkly fashionable place... frequented by Kate Moss groupies and crowds of pencilthin gentlemen in Brioni suits." The critic trashed the pastas but strongly recommended an absinthe-laced cocktail, the Corpse Reviver No. 2.

Overall Winner and for Enhancing Competitiveness Through M&A

S. Mahalingam, CFO/ TCS

  • Background: Chartered Accountant, has worked with TCS since 1970.
  • Winning move in 2008-09: Steered TCS during tough times, helped the company make its largest ever acquisition (CGSL).
  • Challenge ahead: Mahalingam will have to ensure that TCS holds onto some of the cost efficiencies it has achieved in FY09, even as it grows in a reviving market.
  • Most likely to be heard saying: "Let's mail the appointment letters."
A vegetarian and teetotaler, Sethuraman Mahalingam is not a Brioni patron. Neither is he a Kate Moss acolyte. Those are not the reasons why the 62-year-old Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) never got to dig a fashionable fork at the ravioli. Rather, in early January 2009, Mahalingam and his daughter, Anusha, were on their way to sample the restaurant's food. "My daughter, who was living in New York at that time, wanted to take me to the restaurant. When we went there, we found that the restaurant was no longer in business," recalls Mahalingam.

"One day it was there. A few days later, it was not. If any proof was needed about the impact of Lehman on the economic scene in the US, this was it," adds Mahalingam, ensconced in his Raveline Street Office in the Fort area of South Mumbai. These days Mahalingam can draw comfort from the fact that the TCS scrip has been buzzing ever since the company forked out an advance tax of Rs 178 crore for the last quarter of the current fiscal, as compared to just Rs 53 crore a year ago. That's done its bit to help TCS edge past Bangalore rival Infosys on the market cap front (at the time of writing TCS' market cap stood at Rs 158,092.83 crore as against Infosys' Rs 153,290.27 crore).

A little under 14 months ago, it was a different story: TCS' market cap was at a 30 per cent discount to Infosys. For Mahalingam, the closed eatery in Manhattan will always be emblematic of the perfect storm that TCS had run into in mid-2008. The first sign of trouble came in March, when JP Morgan Chase bought distressed US investment bank Bear Stearns at a fire-sale price of $2 a share. Bear Stearns was a client of TCS, though not a large one. So the folks at TCS HQ didn't have any reason for sleepless nights. Not yet.

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