Natarajan Chandrasekaran of Tata Consultancy Services: Making a Habit of Accountability

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in a small village in Southern India. My family had a farm, about 15 acres, and we grew bananas, rice and some sugar cane. I had some leadership roles in school — I was leader of the class and captain of the badminton team.

Tell me about your parents. How have they influenced you?

My father was a lawyer by training, but when my grandfather died, he had to give that up to manage the family farm. We were a family of six kids, and his one big goal was to give us a very solid education, and his values were purpose, honesty and determination.

My mother is probably one of the hardestworking people I’ve ever met. Her routine used to start at 4 in the morning, and end at 10 in the evening. She raised us, and supported us in everything we did. That kindled

Were there certain expressions your parents would repeat often to you?

My father would say that you need to know the value of everything you get — value of money, and value of time. So he made us account for things. It wasn’t that there was a right or wrong way, but he wanted us to be accountable for what we did. Over time, it became a habit. One of my key strengths is that I’m very reflective. You learn so much better by taking that time.

When you went to college, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do for a career?

My father wanted one of us to come back and work with him on the farm and eventually take over. My older brothers went on to professional jobs, and he suggested that I come back to the farm after college. I did a science degree and then went back.

After five months, I started feeling miserable, he started feeling bad and then we had a chat. We agreed that I would go back to school for a master’s degree in computers. My first job was at TCS, when the company had about 500 employees. I’ve been here since 1987. We now have 315,000 employees.

What are some of your leadership approaches?

Every company likes to say it’s a learning organization. But it’s never easy to achieve, and it’s not just classroom learning. In our executive team meetings, we share experiences and case studies about failures and successes. Learning cannot be achieved by mandate. It has to be achieved by culture. Another thing I say is that everyone should try to help one colleague in a way that helps them achieve a little bit more. It need not be work. It can be in any aspect of life. And part of it is that you have to be open to it. If somebody says, “Hey, I see you’re doing that, and I can give you a tip,” the person has to be open to hearing it and to want to hear it. I’ve been pushing that message for five years, every day. Everybody has to take some accountability for other people, and look for ways to make small contributions to help others. Looking after people has to become everybody’s responsibility. Innovation and caring for people are cultures? they are not departments. It takes time to build that culture. With such a large company, it can be easy for silo thinking to creep in. How else do you guard against that? When I took over as C.E.O., we split the company into 23 units, because I wanted to create a very flat but empowered structure. But we also made it clear to the leaders of those units that we expected them to work together. We said the power of our company will be driven by how well they work together. In some of our bigger monthly meetings, we will start with people presenting examples of their collaborations.

How do you hire?

I want to know how the person articulates their strengths, weaknesses and what they’re looking for. The whole idea is to see if there’s a fit. To me, the fit will require the person to have passion first. Then I want to see if they’re a team player.

What is your best interview question?

What do you want? If you were to spend the next 10 years working here, what do you want? I’m looking for clarity in their answer, in one or two sentences.

What career and life advice do you give to graduating college students?

The first thing I tell them is that when they are in college, they often look for the bestpaying job. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in the first few years, you very quickly need to know what you want to achieve in your career, directionally. Otherwise, you can end up hopping around and making some money, but after that you’ll feel dissatisfied. Part of that is defining what success means for you. It’s a very theoretical question when you’re in college, but it’s very important for you to define success after a few years. The third thing I say, as much as it sounds like a cliché, is that learning is the most important thing in your career. Without it, you’ll go nowhere. Early in life, people tend to think that learning is the responsibility of their parents and teachers. But then you have to want to learn for yourself. The fourth thing I say that it’s sometimes very hard to imagine, early in your career, how much impact you can have. If you’re in a job and in an organization, the impact you can make is huge, because it’s all about being part of a group that’s driving impact. So look for those opportunities. Each week, Adam Bryant talks with top executives about the challenges of leading and managing.

Disclaimer: This info has been published and collected from various public & secondary resources.