October 2005

Staying the course

Audrey Mody, who has been with Tata Consultancy Services in New York since the company's inception, takes a walk down memory lane

I am not only the oldest person in Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in terms of age but I have spent more time here than others. As for the Tata group itself, I have been with it for 40 years.
 
I came to join the Tatas thanks to my husband, Naval Mody, with whom I moved from India to England. He joined the group in 1964 as president and vice chairman of Tata Inc and vice chairman of Tata Ltd, London. A year after we shifted to New York I started a small business under the Tata banner to import Indian jewelery and brass work. I remember traveling one day in a car with [late Tata Chairman] JRD Tata and he said, "I hope they are paying you well for this." He found that I was not getting paid at all! Then, once we reached the office, he drew up a memorandum for my payment.
 
Our venture, 'Maharani', packed up because the better items in India started drying up; it was then that I joined Tata Inc. I came into the company as an employee in 1965 and there were some 60 people in the company at the time. I started out doing various things and ended up becoming executive vice president.
 
Meanwhile, TCS had started in 1968 in a small way. It comprised a handful of people in places such as Sunnyvale, Florida and Boston. My husband got involved with it and was in charge of many of its activities, including negotiations with customers. Even though he was not an IT person, he kept things going for many years till they sent someone here.
 
TCS had to work very hard initially. At that time, around 20 years ago, there were clients who refused to go to India for negotiations — because they thought it was too far away. Those days were difficult also because everything was governed by the Reserve Bank of India; growth, in many ways, was slow. Even then, over a period of a few years, we managed to open a few offices.
 
FC Kohli (TCS's former deputy chairman and the man widely regarded as the father of India's software industry) used to come here very often. One day, he was sitting in my husband's room and he said he would open one office in another city and one more before the end of the year. I remember my husband looking up and asking, "Where will the paisa (money) come from?" Mr Kohli replied, "Don't worry Naval, the paisa will come; God will prevail." Strangely enough, God did prevail by the end of the year.
 
I was involved in organizing the offices, looking after expenses and generally keeping an eye on things. Even during the eight years when my husband was in bed before he died, I was here from 9.30am till 2pm every day and even took work home. After he died, about 10 years ago, Mr Kohli insisted that I continue working with TCS.
 
My strongest recollection of TCS's current chief executive officer, S Ramadorai, is of his first visit here. During the day he would visit clients and at 5pm, when all the staff had left, he would be back in the office, sitting at his desk with the typewriter and typing with one finger. I still tease him about that.
 
TCS has grown rapidly in the recent past. We have built a good name for ourselves; we have had very few dissatisfied customers. And now we are pushing a lot harder in the US. Our president, Arup Gupta, is growing the business aggressively and that is a necessity, given that we are up against a whole lot of competition where earlier there wasn't any.
 
My job has also undergone a transformation. Earlier, we used to draw up standard legal documents of six-seven pages, but today every contract is different. Negotiations are far more complex now. While I have moved out of this work, I still oversee things, especially when Mr Gupta is away. My daughter, who teaches at Princeton University, would like me to retire but I have been a businesswoman for too long to give this up in a hurry. TCS is my life; I am very proud of it.