K Krishnan, chief executive officer, Bharti Telenet, is a professional who never takes decisions on gut feel and always goes on hard facts and figures. A person who has risen on his own merits
K Krishnan, chief executive officer, Bharti Telenet, a chartered accountant by qualification, is a true blue double entry book keeper and he humorously narrates how he actually went through double wedding ceremonies with his wife Sumathi.
It all happened, he says, when Sumathi's (his fiancé at the time) father was seriously ill with cancer and desired to see his daughter married off before he died. So Krishnan with his family and friends flew to Kolkata where he married Sumathi in the presence of a marriage registrar in the hospital room her father was admitted in. A few days later the two of them went through another marriage ceremony this time in Chennai (then Madras) in the formal South Indian Brahmin style. The couple now celebrate two wedding anniversaries.
For Sumathi, Krishnan has turned out to be a caring husband, his other ideal attributes being his impressive height - he stands 6 feet plus - good looks and a keen sense of humour.
Krishnan's close friend B Ramakrishnan, a Crossword bookstore franchisee in Mumbai vouches for his friend's humane approach in life. And the people who have worked with him say that Krishnan has never compromised the careers of his colleagues for his own or for the progress of the company.
The early days
Krishnan says he was born into a lower middle class family and was the second and youngest child. His father A R Kumarasamy initially worked in Higgin Bothams bookstore in Bangalore but finally retired from Seshasayee Paper Boards, Erode.
Krishnan says, "My grandfather belonged to the landed gentry. But somewhere along the way all our properties were sold off."
Completing his schooling (in Tamil medium) from Erode, Krishnan came to Chennai to join the famed Vivekananda College staying at his maternal aunt's home.
He says, "I was entirely at home. Further my cousins
helped me a lot to acclimatise to the city life." The only problem he faced while completing his pre-university course (PUC) was the medium of instruction. After studying in Tamil medium at school he says he initially found it difficult to adjust to concepts and terms in English. However, he soon adjusted to the new environment and requirements.
Whilst staying with his relatives, Krishnan came to the realization that his own family was not as well off as his relatives who were all well placed in life. This strengthened his resolve to study hard to get a professional (chartered accountant-CA) degree and move up in life.
'Motivated by his resolve' Krishnan's grades began improving in his undergraduate course in commerce at Vivekananda College. On completing his graduation in commerce, his uncle C S Krishnaswamy, then secretary, Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry, helped him join the popular accounting firm Fraser & Ross to complete his articleship in chartered accountancy.
After clearing the tough chartered accountancy course with an all India rank (intermediate 21st and final 24th) Krishnan took up a job.
He remembers, "The CA practice initially involved standing before some income tax official to get his signature and that didn't jell with my attitude and ambition of being known as a professional manager."
He joined Ashok Leyland Ltd. only to resign within three months as he felt the job did not have the scope for the kind of career growth he wanted.
"CA gave me good grounding in finance and commercial laws. In order to know other aspects of business I joined the audit and consulting firm A F Ferguson," he says.
With guidance from B Nataraj, now executive director, Sanmar group, Krishnan gained experience in different projects-corporate as well as government sectors.
He recalls, "The best project was helping the Chennai Corporation shift to accrual based accounting from cash based system. Even the birth/death certificate format was designed by us."
Keeping sight of his ultimate goal of heading a company- he moved to Coromandel Fertilisers, Hyderabad, and bided his time to move away from the finance function to assume other responsibilities. Soon these came his way and he was asked to take care of sales and marketing functions at Coromandel Fertilizers.
For someone adept at financial ratios, marketing fertilisers was an especially tough assignment and he now admits frankly that many a time he was not able to provide solutions for problems. But given his ambitious nature he was unable to risk failure and used to discuss the issues with all his colleagues before coming to decisions.
Grasping the nitty-gritty of the job he soon got another challenging assignment, which was managing the company's cement plant that was mired in technological and labour problems. At this plant both the workers and administrative staff were militant and getting the work done was difficult. Here Krishnan proved that he was a man ready to dirty his hands while charming everyone with his sincere handling of human relations.
Krishnan then moved to the RPG group where he spent a decade. His first job was at Fujitsu ICIM, a hardware company, as general manager finance. He was very soon elevated to the position of vice president, finance also in charge of manufacturing.
In 1995 Krishnan was sent to Chennai as the chief of RPG Cellular. Except for a harrowing six months when the company was wrongly accused of faulty invoicing of cell phones to avoid customs duty, his tenure was peaceful.
From there he moved to head the group's basic telephony services venture that ultimately didn't ring. Following this he was asked to head RPG groups' music venture Saregama India.
Initially reluctant Krishnan accepted the Kolkata assignment on the prodding of P K Mohapatra, who was in charge of the group's retail ventures.
As his son's education was at a critical juncture Krishnan moved to Kolkata without his family. During his tenure Saregama India became an exciting place to be in. The audio cassettes market picked up and the company released several successful albums. In 2000, Krishnan received an offer from the Bharti group to steer the course of their basic telephony services in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Pondicherry.
Though it was a big job it had its ups and downs. While the group had invested around Rs 150 crore in setting up the network, Bharti Telenet didn't get the right of way/permission to dig the roads from the state government for a couple of months.
His erstwhile colleague Muthukumar Thanu, in charge of human resources at Bharti Telenet at the time and vice president, human resources, Tube Investments now says, "We all knew he was under tremendous pressure. But he never tried to pass on the pressure or vent that out on others."
However once permission was obtained work began at lightning speed and the service was started in July 2001.
Now the telecom sector is intensely competitive with some six players fighting to get the highest number of subscribers. Further, the government has introduced the unified licence regime.
He is confident that, "The unified licence regime will not have any impact on our operations. However, we are looking at our additional investment plans," he adds.
Bharti Telenet had earlier announced plans of investing Rs 100 crore in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
According to him, voice connection no longer drives data and Internet traffic for basic telecom players. "Today, it is the other way round," he says.
The company has over 1.5 lakh subscribers and Krishnan is confident of closing this year with a turnover of Rs 500 crore.
Speaking about Krishnan's management style, Thanu describes his former boss as the super human resource manager. "Krishnan is unlike an accountant. He ruthlessly delegates authority and responsibility." However, like an accountant, his decisions are based on hard data/figures and not on gut feel.
Thanu says that the two circles headed by Krishnan had the lowest attrition rates and highest growth and profitability. He adds that, "He has the knack of building a robust team and empowers the members based on their strengths. His speed of execution is great."
Krishnan reads P G Wodehouse and Henry Cecil while relaxing at home and plays with his three dogs-Tabu (Pomeranian and Golden Retriever Cross), Rayyan (Doberman) and Poppy (Labrador).
For entertainment he says, "We go to Carnatic concerts but are not interested in watching television or the movies." To keep fit, Krishnan goes for a 45 minutes long morning walk with his dogs and occasionally plays tennis.
Looking back Krishnan feels he has realised the ambition of proving himself as a competent professional. And where does he go from here? "I haven't finalized anything yet, though I could be heading for a commercial or a social venture," he says and refuses to add anything more.