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Krishnakumar Natarajan’s astute leadership fuels Mindtree’s growth

Source | ForbesIndia : By Debojyoti Ghosh

rashant Mehra, associate vice president, social inclusion, at IT services firm Mindtree, has known his executive chairman Krishnakumar Natarajan for close to two decades now. Natarajan is someone with whom he can share his deepest concerns and his silliest ideas without any inhibitions.  
“I first met him [Natarajan] in 1997 when I joined Wipro as a software engineer in his team. A few months later, I was asked to go to New York on an assignment. I had been married for just a year and my wife was working with IBM. I didn’t want to disrupt her career [by taking her with me]. Then he [Natarajan] struck a deal: I could go for just six months. But my wife’s birthday was within that period, so he told me I could come back one week before her birthday,” recalls Mehra (43).

Although the project was on track, Mehra was not able to set up a team to hand over his responsibilities before returning. “But he [Natarajan] kept his word. I came back a week before my wife’s birthday. At some level, that was the beginning of a relationship that still continues. He is an extremely trustworthy and reliable person,” says Mehra, who joined Natarajan in 1999 when he co-founded Mindtree.

In 17 years of Mindtree’s existence, Natarajan (58), popularly known as KK, has played a crucial role in building an organisational culture based on trust and respect. Those familiar with the roots of the $715-million software services company would insist that this approach towards colleagues, clients and investors is what has brought the company this far.

“The best way to judge a company is by its performance,” says VG Siddhartha, chairman and managing director of Coffee Day Enterprises Limited (CDEL). “Since 2011, the stock price of Mindtree has gone up by more than five times, with KK at the helm during that period. It depends on the quality of the leadership and the team.” Siddhartha was the first venture capitalist (VC) to put in a $2-million seed fund in Mindtree in 1999 when the IT services company was founded. Siddhartha, along with his two entities (CDEL and Coffee Day Trading Ltd), is the single-largest shareholder in the company.

Natarajan, along with nine co-founders from Wipro, Lucent Technologies and Cambridge Technology Partners, had started Mindtree as one of India’s first VC-backed IT services companies and has helped build it from ground up; he took over as CEO and managing director in April 2008, and became executive chairman on April 1 this year.

As CEO and MD, Natarajan initiated some key strategic course corrections, and fuelled growth by venturing into newer businesses in the highly-commoditised software-services industry. The mid-cap IT company has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.7 percent in the last five years, ahead of the industry’s 12.6 percent. Mindtree has also enhanced value for its shareholders: On March 7, 2007, the day it was listed, Mindtree’s shares were trading at Rs 155; they have gone up to Rs 653 as of March 31, 2016, a growth of 321 percent.

Many would agree that Natarajan has been a cornerstone of this growth. “In 17 years, it has given more than 30 percent returns on my investments,” says Siddhartha. “After KK took over as CEO, he has done a commendable job. He knows how to motivate his team and achieve targets.”


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