Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) in Chennai organizes many events for the local business community throughout the year. One of their regular series is “Listen to the Leader” where an imminent personality talks on their journey. Apart from the talks providing quality food for thought, you also can feed your stomach as a buffet breakfast accompanies the talk.
For today’s talk the guest speaker was CA.T.N. Manoharan, Past President of ICAI and Padma Shri Awardee. The event was held in Taj Club House, Mount Road, Chennai. In the 30 minutes, Mr.Manoharan walked the audience through his experience of handling the post Satyam fraud events and the lessons learnt.
Background of Satyam saga: In January 2009, Satyam Computers Services Founder & Chairman Mr.Ramalinga Raju admitted in an open letter for committing fraud by falsifying top-line and fixed deposits held by the company (full report here). Till then Satyam though India’s fourth largest IT Services firm, it was most respected for its talent pool and domain expertise. Within days after the scandal broke out, Government of India in a timely fashion dissolved the existing board of the company and appointed a 6 member (initially 3) board including Mr.T.N.Manoharan. In the next few months, the new board under guidance of Government of India, stabilizes the firm through various measures including giving confidence to deserting clients, winning employees trust back, arranging short term debts for cash flow and finally identifying a buyer (which was Tech Mahindra) to take over the company. After few years, Satyam got merged with Tech Mahindra and rest is history.
In the lively and entertaining talk, Mr.Manoharan traced on various steps the government appointed board took and how the 4-6 months was very challenging. He rightfully attributed the turn around of Satyam to two things, first the commitment of Satyam employees and second was the timely intervention by Government of India (a rarity nowadays). Mr.Manoharan assessment for Mr.Raju’s action to be greed and eagerness to please the stock market under any account; what would have been started as an one-off massaging of figures to tide over a difficult quarter turning quickly into an addiction for the firm and as Mr.Raju himself has said in his open letter “it was like riding a tiger and not knowing how to get down without being eaten“.
Mr.Manoharan says he quickly realized the magnitude of the problem, when he landed in Hyderabad Airport soon after his appointment to Satyam board by Government, he was warmly received by a company arranged private chauffeur; few minutes away from Airport, the Driver requests Mr.Manoharan’s help for settling his employers dues first over others!. Few days back, Taxi rental firms from around the world would have queued in front of Satyam for getting his “big” orders. Then the immediate issue was cash flow, the company turned out to have little of vitamin-M and the month end salary expenses for Satyam was few hundred crores. Thankfully only the Fixed Deposits and Top Line was falsified, but Satyam had huge land blocks and other assets with which banks came forward for a line of credit. Crossing this bridge, the attention turned into getting employees trust and clients confidence. The board nominated Mr.Manoharan to be full time in Hyderabad to handle the day-to-day affairs which turned out to be a blessing in hindsight for speed of decision making.
Throughout the talk, Mr.Manoharan shared numerous anecdotes, quotes, observations & jokes from his vast experience. Below are few I could recollect:
In India, Balance Sheet have Assets on Right-Hand side and Liabilities on Left-Hand Side. In cases like Satyam, there was nothing LEFT (remaining) in RIGHT (hand side) and nothing RIGHT (Correct) in LEFT (hand side)
(Image courtesy: Tally Solutions)
In the enquiry by Railway safety board to the engine driver after a train running into a paddy field killing many hundreds. The board asks the driver what happened. For which the driver says a man came running into the track; board member interrupts to say don’t you have the training to teach you to value over hundred of lives on-board over the one person. The driver responds saying Yes, I know that but the man who returned running back from track to the paddy didn’t know and I have to chase him down with the train
In business we need to listen to your head in complying with law and to your heart in dealing with people. Adapt with technology/knowledge changes but stay static on fundamentals. Ability may take you to the top but it takes Character to stay there. To live beyond your age ‐ Love people and use wealth. Unfortunately in Satyam’s case the promoters loved wealth and used people
For a question on how he decided to accept this risky assignment (because immediately after Satyam fraud broke out, the company turned out to be a pariah), Mr.Manoharan replied saying he and the other board members took this assignment as a service to nation and with all humility & nobility. In the end it turned out well for all stakeholders connected to the firm (Employees, Clients, Vendors and the country). Mr.Manoharan got his work recognized through a Padma Shri award (one of India’s coveted civilian award) from President of India in March 2010.