A life precisely carved
realize now that I am an architect not a constructor of my network," says
L Sundarrajan, Sr. Vice President-IT, Aditya Birla Management Corporation
Ltd., to Deepali Gupta as he talks of his responsibilities, professional
In a large organization that deals with business worth $6 billion, 40 companies
and 72,000 employees, L Sundarrajan, Sr. Vice President-IT, Aditya Birla Management
Corporation Ltd. has to act quickly and in an organized fashion. It is not too
difficult for him because, being organized was already an integral part of his
He took pains to carve out the direction he would take in his life. At the age
of 22 he had a clear cut roadmap for both his career and family life, "And
I have achieved all the goals I had set two to three years before time,"
he states with pride.
Roles on a roll
Sundarrajan has a three-fold role at Aditya Birla Management Corporation Ltd.
The first is to ensure the alignment of IT with business. For that he needs
to keep a close watch on the course of every business and where it is headed
in terms of customers and geography. So if it is needed to increase the manufacturing
base of the organization, it's best to move close to the market.
"China and Austrailia have markets that need to be tapped. So, are my current
systems going to support that kind of growth?" A perennial question on
Next on his plate is the job to establish a synergy through the IT approach
of the entire Aditya Birla group. That means taking an innovative implementation
in one part of the company, and rolling it across all others areas the solution
is suitable for.
His third role is that of IT governance. He therefore has to isolate the architecture
required to meet the standards the company strives for, and then check if the
policies in place to hold the architecture are being adhered to.
From his myriad of responsibilities emerges a secondary rolethat of an
advisor. If any section of the business requires help with an implementation,
an ERP for example, Sundarrajan is the one who is called for guidance. He provides
the implementation team with a broad picture of the suitable hardware, software,
and legal aspects. He draws the blueprint for them so they can take over from
The precious skills
Sundarrajan notes that it is his managerial skills, and not his technical ones
that come to his rescue at work.
"In a large organization you have to really move fast. There are so many
business areas, and you can't afford to focus on one at a time," he says,
"And even within one department there are so many sections that need to
be considered. In finance, for example, there is unit finance, business finance,
and corporate finance," he elucidates his widespread responsibilities.
Matrix management, Sundarrajan finds, is therefore key to
maintain the direction of all parts of the business. Nevertheless, he acknowledges
that managing everything at such dizzy speeds was possible because in his mind
somewhere all the framework of IT is locked away.
Where it all began
Sundarrajan's IT journey had an unusual beginning. An MIT alumnus addressed
his class in college. The MIT graduate made a very clear-cut impression on Sundarrajan,
and gave two messages, which were useful for Sunderrajan.
First, technology would change the meaning of logistics, so people would be
able to study, shop, work, and effectively do everything from home. Second,
because of technology, people will have a lot of spare time, and will therefore
look out to travel and move towards religion and spirituality. Given that those
are both India's fortes, the future for India looked bright.
So, Sundarrajan did his post-graduate in computer science, followed it with
an MBA, and unlike his friends he stayed in India and joined an Indian organization.
Leveraging the best
He moved from software development to R&D in Technology companies in the
first five years of his career. In the research and development role, he got
to understand the intricacies of technology and its impact. Having developed
a deep understanding of Technology, he soon realized that the foundation was
good enough, and he was ready to move to a managerial job and thus shifted to
Hindustan Lever Ltd. (HLL).
Sundarrajan spent close 8 years at HLL. He handled office product software as
well as supply chain management. Operations infrastructure building, identifying
the right servers databases, vendors, managing SLAs, manufacturing implementation
of ERP systems were all part of Sundarrajan's work profile at HLL.
Strategizing for the future
From HLL, he switched to a Dutch company, where his main role consisted of designing
"I had no problem with the shift in responsibilities because I had experience
of what corporate businesses and other section did," says Sundarrajan.
That was just before he joined Aditya Birla.
With such expansive duties come change and uncertainty. That
uncertainty is what Sundarrajan finds most challenging and enjoyable.
"Thinking way ahead and putting a framework that is
good enough to stand the test of time even if there is a problem, is a phenomenal
mental search for me," Sundarrajan reflects. He attributes his success
and ability to cope with planning at such a large scale to his logical and intuitive
capabilities. Ones he hones as he carves his Ganapati every year.
In politics I don't look for a party, I look for delivery.
Our country is doing phenomenally well now. The delay happened because,
contrary to Nehru's stand, we should have privatized. As a culture we
need to focus on education.
The salient features of a politician should be: Pride
in our country, and saying and delivering different things as per the
promise. Their capability to manage is critical and that has to be judged
purely based on the past record. I ignore the ideology of the party. The
future is going to be based on credentials.
Carved all the way
sounds like an unusual activity for such a busy IT person? Nevertheless,
this is one extra-curricular Sundarrajan has now sustained for 30 years. Through
the year he observes and visualizes the new elements he would incorporate in
the next Ganesha he carves. And when the pooja time comes, he implements the
He carves the entire idol in one sitting, even if it means being up all night.
"It is like meditation or relaxing. I must do it, it's a commitment I make
to myself," Sundarrajan says passionately.
There are times, he claims, he has come back from work at 10 p.m. got to work
on the carving, finished by 8 a.m. and then gone back to work. He feels so much
for this tradition of making his own Ganapati idols that he has passed on the
art to his eight-year-old daughter, who has also been carving for the past five
Sundarrajan's roaring career has come at a cost.
"I am avid trekker, hiker, river rafter, and rock climber," he says,
but he has not been able to pursue most of them because of the demanding nature
of his work. "I like to do my job really well, and strike a balance between
family, professional and social life," he furthers.
But the quality of work is of utmost importance, doing an excellent job
is equivalent to attaining bliss, he says.
Family man at heart
As far as contributing to society is concerned, for now Sundarrajan is content
with being involved in the missions the Birlas take up. According to him, the
company is constantly involved in cleaning and development of society; human
development that is never talked about, according to him, for the sake of maintaining
the humility in the organization.
Given a chance, Sundarrajan feels that later in life he would like to do something
for the education of girl children, so they can have equal opportunities to
be self-reliant. He has two daughters with whom he believes it is his duty to
spend quality time.
"At heart I am a family man, and I take my daughters trekking every once
in a while," he states.
Keeping the fresh edge
Managing such a large infrastructure means keeping pace with all the new technology.
For that Sundarrajan reads voraciously, and surfs the Internet. To refresh his
ideas, he sometimes chats online with university students.
How does he do it?
He seems to have a lot of time on his hands in order to be involved in so many
activities. Sundarrajan's explanation to that is his organized schedule.
At the beginning of the week he ascertains what percentage of his time he will
spend on a given activity. For instance, 30 percent of his time must be spent
on reading. Thereafter, he achieves that target even if it means a compromise
That is probably the spirit that has helped him rise this far at Aditya Birla.
And now, he finds the corporate culture and the value system at Aditya Birla
too good to let go of so he has no intentions of moving.