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Issue of December 2004 
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A life precisely carved

L Sundarrajan

"I 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 and familial.

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 nature.

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 Sundarrajan's mind.

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 role—that 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 there.

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.

Connected

In a recent conversation with an MIT student, over the Internet, Sundarrajan discussed the possible design of a wireless dress to guide a blind person. The two discussed architecture and positioning of the chips, for example how would a cooling fan be put in place, or what could be done to dispense of the fan altogether, or how the electronic unit could be made washing machine safe.

They also discussed backup mechanisms for emergency situations like power failure midway through crossing the road.

The student saw reason in some of Sundarrajan's suggestions and some of the student's ideas were ideal solutions to problems Sundarrajan and his team had been facing.

Plus it motivated Sundarrajan to think harder and more out of the box: "If someone can think of a dress to guide blind guy, the same way why can't I think of innovations in the organization," he says.

 

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 and strategizing.

"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.

Surely unsure

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.

Practical Politics

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

Carving…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 changes.

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 years.

The dropouts

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 on sleep.

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.

 
     
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