All's well that ends well
K Magapu never had time for exploring IT till he broke a leg and was stuck
at home with a notebook. Today he heads the IT operations of one of India's
largest corporate houses, Larsen & Toubro. Deepali Gupta chronicles
the life of a man who believes that hard work and integrity will always make
a markcome what may.
If you thought that a CIO is a person who is obsessed with IT, somebody
who got involved with IT deployments as a systems engineer or analyst in the
1980s, and, as he or she progressed, adopted a leadership role that incorporated
business analysis, we have the exception who proves the rule.
You are about to encounter a CIO who is the antithesis of the stereotype. V
K Magapu graduated as an appliance engineer from IIT Madras in 1966, and has
been an all-out operations man at L&T till date even though he today handles
the portfolio of Senior Vice President IT and Technology Services and Member
of Board L&T as well as Chief Executive L&T Infoctech.
Free to learn
Four years after he joined L&T he went to the University of Belleville,
Canada, to do a masters in mechanics. His reason for going? Everyone wants
to go abroad for studies. And why Belleville? I went where they
gave me the biggest scholarship, Magapu quips. He would definitely have
had the opportunity to settle abroad, particularly because he had completed
his education there. However, his reason for returning was twofold. He was bound
by a lien to L&T, and in his four years he had gained a notable position
of authority. None of the offers he got in Canada offered a matching portfolio.
In 1972 Magapu returned to India, but ten years later he went back to Canada
to study the thermo-dynamics of a gas tanker on fire and analyse the conditions
that cause a tanker to explode and the patterns that create the explosion; he
used computer-generated simulations in this endeavour.
Magapu could have tried to do an MBA, but he did not care much for that degree.
Unlike engineering, which he believes liberated his thought enough to perceive
anything as possible and endowed him with the ability to learn, In those
days I didnt think an MBA was necessary for survival.
From less than scratch
When he returned from his second trip to Canada in 1985, Magapu was assigned
the task of setting up L&T Haziras factory in Surat. He was there
for seven years, building the factory from less than scratch because
the first step was to drain the marshland. We had to set up a factory,
man it, get it certified and train our people to run its operations, Magapu
The first staff members recruited were mostly youngsters fresh from school.
You may be establishing a factory, but whats important is that you
are launching every employee on a highly rewarding career, he explains.
Among other things, he oversaw the IT infrastructure of the factory. Nevertheless,
during his tenure there, he never really used a computer. I had a desktop
that sat in the corner of my table, and it was the cleaners job to prevent
it from collecting dust, says Magapu. Not that he was intimidated by it,
or was ignorant of its functions, but using a PC was simply not a priority.
Surat also became a base for Magapus family. 1985 was the time his children
started school, and that is where the family remained till both kids passed
out of school in 1998. Due to the academic environment in Surat, Magapus
children did not require tuitions. This allowed the family to spend quality
finished my fiction reading by the time I was 15. Now I only read if someone
recommends a book and also gives me a copy. I can't remember the last
novel I read."
"Capitalism has to prevail, because at the end
of the day life has to be about survival of the fittest. A non-capitalist
society can only exist to set some imbalance right."
"Once every two or three years I go on a spree
to lose weight then I put on again. If you don't gain then how can you
"Exercise, I have been able to avoid till date.
I do yoga in fits and starts, and if you don't do it regularly, the results
when you do it are spectacular."
"My hobby is to listen to music, but otherwise
I like to explore neuroscience to learn about which I spend time on neuronets."
V K Magapu
In 1993, shortly after L&T established a policy that all senior staff would
be provided with laptops, Magapu broke his leg in an accident. For a while he
had to work from home, and not only did this mean he had to use his laptop,
it also meant that for the first time he had time on his hands to discover the
machine. When someone says I dont understand computers, I sympathise,
because you have to break a leg to understand it, says Magapu.
He started using Word and Excel, but the killer application
was e-mail. After that more specialised applications such as ERP followed. Till
date, Magapu believes that few have optimised the use of IT systems.
Aerial View of L&T Hazira Works, Surat
Climbing Mount CIO
Towards the end of the millennium, L&T began to explore e-business as a
means to further its business. At that time several of L&Ts sections,
including the engineering and construction group, required someone to oversee
IT deployments. Thus, Magapu became a de facto CIO. He was responsible for the
e-business initiative and its underlying IT architecture. Apart from this, he
was also handling the power business cluster of L&T that the organisation
runs for external clients. In 2000 there was a need for someone to head L&T
Infotech, and since he was already looking after IT for more than one group,
he was assigned that position temporarily. He has held that position ever since.
At present his role at L&T can be divided into three parts. The first is
to aid the maturing of L&T Infotechs five million dollar business.
The second is to assist, push and develop the e-engineering group. Finally,
Magapu has the responsibility to take embedded services such as toolroom skills,
process planting skills and welding skills beyond the L&T group to external
As a CIO Magapu has been overseeing the vast IT infrastructure of the L&T
group. Diverse ERP systems have been deployed by the group across its different
businesses. ERP is like laying a good foundation for a building. It is
the invisible part of the IT set-up, comments Magapu. He suggests that
most companies are so tired and have spent so much money just deploying ERP
that they think about cutting their losses and spend very little on actually
using the system. Unfortunately, unless it is used to access and generate the
kind of reports it was designed for, ERP is pointless. Only some big American
corporates have spent (probably because of their considerable resources) sufficiently
on optimal usage to maximise returns on their ERP investments, he believes.
In the past L&T also suffered from budget constraints when it came to IT.
At board meetings wed ask the CIO how little he could spend. It
was great if he didnt spend anything at all, Magapu points out the
irony. In the recent past the group has been making amends. Not only are they
spending more money to optimise the use of the existing infrastructure, but
the company has legalised the use of Excel in some cases. We understand
that [some] users need a personalised experience, says Magapu. L&T
Infotech is working on a method that will enable the acceptance of work done
in Excel and integration of it into the core ERP system.
Who works wins
Throughout his life Magapu followed a conventional road insofar as his career
was concerned. He believes that what distinguished his efforts were a combination
of hard work, integrity, motivation, teamwork and the sheer amount of time he
spent on the job. As he does not believe in fate, he will continue to play it
by the ear in the futureas he has all along.