On August 11, the day we met Roshni Nadar Malhotra, HCL was celebrating its 40th birthday. White and blue balloons decked up the lobby. Posters at the new Noida campus gave a glimpse of the corporation's history. "At the height of the Indian emergency, a group of fearless men got together in a garage," a poster noted. "In 1978, alongside Apple, and three years before IBM, we launched one of the world's first PCs. And as India moved on to be a global IT hub, we were there." HCL's current size was highlighted at the bottom - $7 billion; 110,000 minds; 31 countries.
Shiv Nadar, who led the "group of fearless men", is now 71. The Chairman of HCL is one of India's richest business tycoons with a net worth of over $11 billion. He is passing the baton. And the past few years have been about the rise of his only child Roshni - the inheritor of everything he has created. She joined the board of HCL Corporation in September 2008 and was appointed the CEO in April 2009.
Under her leadership, HCL is changing colours. For years, it was a technology company - the biggest egg in the basket is HCL Technologies, the IT services firm, which generated revenues of $6.4 billion for the year ended June 2016. Then, there is HCL Infosystems, a distribution and IT solutions company. In 2014, however, things started changing with HCL incubating a healthcare business and followed it up with HCL TalentCare, a skills training company, in 2015. This diversification appears well thought out. "HCL Corp always wanted to diversify," says Roshni. "Our balance sheet was expanding. You could either have all the money parked in the bank, earning 10 per cent, or invest it in newer areas. With my age and that of my husband, we have the luxury of time." Husband Shikhar Malhotra is also on the board of HCL Corp and is the Vice Chairman of HCL Healthcare.
It was a rainy day in Noida and Roshni sipped hot water. She looked cheerful and spoke spiritedly about her role, her first assignments, the new direction the company is taking and her family. "We are a small family of four people. It is very easy to sit around the table and discuss." Her role, she says, will deepen in the corporation as the two new businesses take flight.
HCL Healthcare is affiliated with Johns Hopkins International and has six clinics. With Talentcare, the company is making graduates job-ready for sectors such as IT, banking, insurance and healthcare. "Both areas are underserved. What is interesting is that for the first time we are promoters of two companies that are not listed. I am learning a lot with each passing day," she says.
Tryst with Tech
The first time Roshni attended the board meeting of HCL Technologies (she joined in 2013), she had difficultly understanding what was going on. Everyone was talking in jargon. IMS (infrastructure management services), for instance. "I just kept saying, why don't you just say the full form?" She did not have a background in technology. Her undergraduate degree in communications was from Northwestern University. She went to the Kellogg Graduate School of Management for MBA with "a focus on social enterprise and management and strategy".
HCL Tech's board, meanwhile, was going through a rejig. Roshni quickly understood the business and its jargons after attending an offsite where they met business leaders. Over time, she became entrenched into the company's functioning. In 2014, she was made part of the company's remuneration committee. This was important because in the IT services industry, people equal revenues. "That was an amazing exposure for me because salaries and positions aside, it is a really good insight into how an organisation works at the people level," says Roshni.
People who watched her grow say she is well groomed. "It is not what they teach you at Harvard," says Rajeev Sawhney, the former President of HCL Technologies Europe and the global head of public services. "Shiv often discusses various issues relating to people and company, either with people close to him or his family. That helped in the grooming. The way he has spent time nurturing her, in sharing his wisdom, is a rare privilege."
It could have been tougher had Roshni been in an operational role - HCL Tech has lots of white collar workers with high intellect. And, for a newbie, it could have been difficult to earn their respect. Therefore, Shiv Nadar's succession planning may have been more about governance skills rather than the skills required to run a technology company. "It is more about how to hire a CEO, how to manage a CEO, how to manage the board, how to manage wealth. These will take a priority over operational skills that are not required in her case. She has been through a lot of on-the-job training," says Sawhney.
Her first training was in family office management. "I don't have any siblings. Over the years, the family has amassed significant wealth that requires a certain management," says Roshni. "If you have to inherit what your parents have created, you also have to learn to be accountable. That's why the treasury exposure - understanding investments, the markets, the options to invest."
Apart from being the CEO, Roshni wears a second hat. She is a Trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation, which runs the SSN Institutions, colleges of engineering, management, etc.; the Shiv Nadar University; the VidyaGyan schools for rural children in Uttar Pradesh; the Shiv Nadar School; and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. Apart from Roshni, who is the Chair of VidyaGyan, there are three other trustees: Shiv Nadar himself, his wife Kiran, and Shikhar Malhotra. "To us, the Shiv Nadar Foundation is not just about philanthropy but a strategic investment. We are building institutions, universities, schools. The governance standards and processes are the same as in HCL."
This is where she also learnt the most, says Roshni. "It gives you a very different dimension, it certainly grounds you a lot more," she says. "Putting up something in rural UP, for instance, was not very easy." Roshni runs two residential schools (standard VI to XII) in Bulandshahr and Sitapur, in Uttar Pradesh.
Going by the numbers, the schools are a huge success: When VidyaGyan started in 2009, the first batch was selected from 10,000 students through admission tests. This year, 123 students were picked from 133,000 students. In true Indian style, coaching books that guide you to crack the tests have cropped up. Check Amazon.
The Foundation, however, does not endorse the books. But those who make it to these schools, can hope to be the leaders of tomorrow - much like Roshni herself.
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