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The Tech Mahindra Sacking: Merely A Symptom Of IT’s Core Retrenchment Problem

Source | LinkedIn : By Prabal Basu Roy

The firing of a techie at Tech Mahindra has drawn immense attention over the last few days due to an audio clip which went viral. The public relations engine at the Mahindra group went into overdrive in mitigating the damage to its reputation. Though Anand Mahindra displayed sagacity and leadership in issuing an apology and leaned on the errant management at Tech Mahindra to also sound apologetic, was this enough to address the core problem of which this episode was merely a symptom?

As I had written recently on the sacking of Uber’s founder Travis Kalanick, the culture of an organisation reflects the thinking of its leadership, which then gets perceived by employees over time, moulded by the day to day behaviour of the operating management in its responses to situations on the ground. It should have been obvious to Anand Mahindra years ago that a cultural mismatch could be the potential downside of hiring the team from HCL Technologies, led by Vineet Nayyar, CP Gurnani, and Sanjay Kalra. That was overlooked in favour of the ability of this team to inject dynamism and create immense value for the company that was then Mahindra BT which, by all accounts, was an also-ran IT services company that was losing the race despite being one of the earliest to enter the information technology (IT) services arena in the mid-1980s. With CP Gurnani’s accession after Sanjay Kalra’s departure in 2011-12, the ascendancy of this culture within Tech Mahindra was just a matter of time. To emphasise the contextual underpinnings of this argument, it should be noted that there are two distinct cultures in Tech Mahindra now, one of the erstwhile Satyam and one of HCL Technologies. The older Satyam employees till date revere that culture, Ramalinga Raju’s transgressions notwithstanding, and remember it with dollops of nostalgia, as the HCL Tech influence rapidly overpowers them. Gurnani’s second and third line built over the last few years is almost totally represented by the HCL Technologies old boys club.

It is worth recollecting that for all the talk of governance, culture and ethical behavior, it is in such of times of adversity that these are truly tested. The apologies from CP Gurnani and Vineet Nayyar make it seem as if this was an isolated incident by an errant, low-level human resources (HR) executive and will not be repeated. This would seem to be the usual management speak to feign ignorance and blame the weakest link in the chain.

In this case, it would seem the board also chose to ignore this aspect of their governance role and failed to provide guidance in correcting traits, which could ultimately endanger the company in many more ways than one, as we saw in the Uber case. Anand Mahindra was quick in addressing this in the media but would now need to drive the more fundamental changes. The ongoing turbulence in the IT industry presents him a unique opportunity. I have consistently maintained that some leadership changes in five of the top six IT companies seems inevitable as the companies struggle to navigate through a changing landscape.

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