Portrait of the CIO as a Karma Yogi
Pendse, CIO of the Kuoni Travel Group, India is a dynamic seeker of challenges
and a believer in Karma Yoga, who puts his heart and soul into every project
without worrying about the fruits of his labour. Deepali Gupta profiles
the CIO of one of the world's leading organisations.
Compensate for each other's weaknesses, play to your strengths,
and one plus one will work out to more than two.
This is what Satish Pendse, CIO, Kuoni Travel Group India
(KTGI), has realised from his personal experiences and practices in his professional
life. "We complement each other, [my wife] does what I can't do, and I do what
she can't," says Pendse. Similarly at work, Pendse does not try to fight weakness;
instead he pools strengths to make up for them. "My conceptualisation team can
ideate forever...it will not implement. At some point the implementation team
has to cover for it," he points out. "That's the job of the leader-to identify
the strengths of people and align them to the company's objectives."
"My role here is more strategic than operational," says Pendse.
KTGI is subdivided into four functions: outbound travel, inbound travel, visa
processing (outsourced to KTGI by the American, British and Canadian consulates),
and the Kuoni Academy of Travel. According to Pendse, these four departments
work like independent companies, so each has its IT functions and corresponding
CIO. Pendse acts as a coach to these CIOs, and provides the managerial leadership
and strategy to align IT, business and the global goals of the Kuoni Travel
Group. "I learnt to manage by exception. It would be easy for me to give a solution,
but I only do that when something is going drastically wrong. Otherwise I allow
the CIOs below me to exercise their independence," he says, explaining his style
Made for each other
Even though Pendse has been with KTGI for only a little over
two years, he believes that the company and he were made for each other. KTGI
was looking for someone who could adapt to its dynamic culture, had a successful
track record in IT, and would be credible. At the same time, the prospective
CIO had to be willing to distance himself from operations and assume a strategic
role. Pendse had earlier tasted success with the innovative deployment of MiNet
and Midas at Marico Industries. His work at Jet Airways also worked out to his
advantage, giving him prior experience in the travel industry. At the airline,
a seven-aircraft concern at the time, the goal was to eventually fly 50 aircraft,
and the IT deployments were made keeping that in mind. As KTGI has a policy
to grow by acquisition, its culture undergoes changes after every acquisition
until it is transformed into a unified homogeneous mass. The challenge of precipitating
that integration, from a strategic standpoint, attracted Pendse. Moreover, the
independent functioning of departments at KTGI meant that he would govern through
best governance policies, which was a welcome change from his role as the central
controller of IT at Marico.
Given that his work profile at KTGI requires him to be hands-off
on all projects, Pendse admits that his pet project was the deployment of the
ERP and MiNet at Marico. "We were the first to connect distributors to our system,
covering 35 percent of our business," he recalls. MiNet won many accolades,
and provided a good conclusion to Pendse's four-year stay at the company.
At KTGI he was faced with a different kind of assignment.
This was an IT-based travel acquisition, a first for the organisation, of Resnet
from Traveljini. Resnet is a B2B online booking portal for business travellers.
It required due diligence from Pendse. It was a make-versus-buy decision, and
it was Pendse's job to evaluate the cost, feasibility, potential and risk involved.
The legal aspects too were a cause for concern. "Software
IPR is still a grey area, so it was important to go beyond the rumours and find
out the facts," says Pendse.
A business team including the CFO supported him and ratified
his findings. Together the group debated and consulted industry experts and
lawyers before deciding to acquire Resnet. "It was an experience that went beyond
IT, and I enjoyed it," Pendse affirms.
Opportunity and threat
His entry into IT was accidental. As a product engineer in
the late eighties, IT seemed to be too small a field to have much of a future.
Despite this, the speed of innovation in IT captured Pendse's imagination. He
realised during his internship at Mahindra & Mahindra that he was sure he would
be saturated with product engineering-and equally sure that he would never get
bored of IT. He decided to work for a year and planned to follow that with an
MBA. In that one year he got so hooked to the field that he never went back
to full-time studies. Later, he completed an MBA part-time. "Being an IT professional
was a privilege. Entering the computer lab was like entering a temple. We wore
aprons and took off our shoes. When everyone sweated in the heat, we wore sweaters
to work. Being looked upon as the intellectuals of the organisation was exciting
at that young age," Pendse recalls nostalgically. In the nineties came a time
when IT became more than a matter of CEOs' prestige, more so abroad than in
India. It was the period that would later be referred to as the brain-drain
phase in India. Pendse had the opportunity to leave the country, but he decided
to stay. "In a foreign country we are second, sometimes third-class citizens.
I believed that we were low-cost labourers abroad. Here there were high-quality
jobs available, and the promise of job satisfaction," Pendse explains. Indeed,
over the years he has seen a sea change in the functions of IT people in Indian
industry. Today, Pendse perceives that the role of the CIO is once again undergoing
a gradual but vast change. He considers this change as either the opportunity
of a lifetime or a threat of marginalisation. He believes that the IT person
has to go from being an introvert to being an extrovert. "The CIO has to be
the internal marketing person," he theorises. "He has to educate the business
staff in IT, and generate related and unrelated business."
Healthy body, healthy mind
Pendse points out that the average life-span of Indians is
increasing, and if a man has to have a good quality of life in his old age,
he must invest time and effort now. To this end, he walks every morning on a
secluded road close to his place at Thane near Mumbai. The 45 minutes of his
morning walk are when he lets his thoughts float and creative ideas bud as he
inhales the fresh air. Sometimes, he finds answers to puzzling questions during
his walk. For the sake of a healthy mind, Pendse also practices yoga and meditation.
"We are what we think we are. The subconscious is an obedient servant...you
feed it with good thoughts and good things happen to you," he opines. Although
not too idealistic in his approach to life, Pendse does believe in Karma Yog,
and that helps him keep a light heart. He is reassured that if he performs his
duties, the fruits will come to him in some form or the other.