A brand guru said that it takes years of hard work to build a brand but just one moment of madness to kill it. The Satyam case is a live example of this adage.
Late July 1996 I got a call on a Saturday morning from one of the largest head hunting companies in the country asking me whether I wanted a change of job. Their Hyderabad manager would not tell me the name of the client company as he was afraid I would refuse the chance on the phone itself as the company was small and relatively unknown compared to the one I was working in World Brands.
However, I did go to meet him and I was rather disappointed when he told me the company’s name though the company was Hyderabad based and I was in the same city, too. He persuaded me to at least meet the company management. The same afternoon I met Ramalinga Raju, Chairman, Satyam Computer Services. I had no clue what the company did as IT was not even in my radar being more from the engineering and automotive industry. In fact, I even had a stray thought that they assembled grey market PCs.
The meeting with Raju lasted more than an hour and was very pleasant. He came across as a gentle person and very polite. Very soon I got an offer of appointment from Satyam. My wife referred to a few people in Bangalore in the IT field before I accepted it. Of course, the financial offer was very attractive,too
I joined Satyam as head of corporate communications on August 16.The next day I got a call from Economic Times asking me for a comment on a story that they were running about a check bouncing case against Satyam. This troubled me as I had never experienced anything like that in the past. I just mumbled that there was no truth in that story.
About ten days later we had to print some invitation cards for inaugurating our spanking new technology centre. It surprised me when the printer asked me for 100% advance. He was the same printer who used to give my earlier company thirty days credit without questions. I began to worry whether I had made a major error of judgment in joining Satyam. I now remembered that some of my friends in Hyderabad expressed surprise when I told them that I was leaving a leading multi-national company to join Satyam.
Anyway, it was too late to do anything about it. And in 1996 driving a brand new Maruti Suzuki Esteem around Hyderabad was a balm on a hurt ego. I put all negative thoughts aside and decided I would carve a positive role for myself and do what was right for the company.
The Company Negatives:
1) Nobody knew who ran the company, including investors. This was surprising as Raju was in the office regularly from 9am to 9pm.
2) The public and investors still associated the name Satyam with construction and textile spinning and not IT.
3) The promoters, based on the flavor of the season had entered all kinds of businesses in the past and failed, including such diverse fields as aquaculture and shoe uppers.
4) Satyam was still perceived as a small Hyderabad based company.
5) In the Dataquest ranking of Indian IT companies, Satyam stood a lowly 13.
6) Publications were reluctant to interview Raju as he was not really forthcoming with comments or with his plans for the company. Further, his speaking style at that time was not very fluent. The face of the company at that time was the head of sales & marketing.
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