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Issue of September 2005 
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The versatile CIO

CIO, strategic planner, company secretary, professor, philosopher, adventurer, mathematician. Meet Vikas Gadre, the CIO of Rallis India who is all these and more. by Kumar Dawada.

Any unsuspecting person entering Vikas Gadre’s office is guaranteed to be intimidated by a large notice board covered with cryptic markings. He calls it a ‘people mapper’ and uses it to analyse and predict people’s behaviour and performance. There is yet another notice board that is filled with reminders from Gadre to himself about what he has to do more often and what he shouldn’t.

These are clues which reveal his mind and in-depth knowledge, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more hidden in the sparkling eyes of Gadre.

IIT, IIM...

Right from his childhood Vikas Gadre excelled at mathematics and got many prizes at school. At one stage he wanted to become an actuary but fate had different plans for him.

After graduating in chemical engineering from IIT Bombay, he studied business management at IIM Bangalore. Later, when he felt he needed to know more about law, he became a company secretary. While working for Eureka Forbes he realised that he also needed to know more about quality control, so he then obtained the necessary qualifications for becoming a corporate quality head, including a certified quality analyst.

Gadre likes to learn but loves to impart his learning even more. He teaches students of the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies and other management colleges where he is part of the visiting faculty.

INVOLVEMENT WITH IT

Gadre began work as a maintenance engineer in 1973, and even now is confident of opening and servicing a valve and a pump with his own hands. After completing his studies at IIM he joined Tata Economic Consultancy Services in 1977.

This was followed by a stint of more than 10 years with Garware Polyester, which led to his first encounter with IT. Garware had introduced PCs, and as he liked to do things systematically he took the opportunity to get involved.

INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

Working with companies such as Garware, Ceat Tyres, Eureka and Rallis gave Gadre exposure to all functions including manufacturing, procurement and finance. It also helped him understand the intricacies of setting up companies in Mauritius, starting a new business in Vietnam, or raising funds in Hong Kong.

LEARNING AT EUREKA FORBES

A practice at Eureka totally changed his business approach. Eureka encouraged senior officers to accompany sales or service executives to the field so that policy makers could understand first-hand how the customer behaves and what he wants. “Only when you face difficulties at the grass-root level do you know how to tackle it. Otherwise you just sit in an ivory tower and talk about policies,” declares Gadre.

Factfile
Birthday: 11-Dec
Family: Wife and a son. Married for 27 years. Son an IIM-A graduate
Hobbies: Loves reading, especially books on philosophy, yoga and management
Idea of a vacation: Take long walks in the Himalayas. Gadre has already visited major hill stations in the region
Favourite authors: C K Prahalad, Michael Porter, Jack Welch (especially his Four Ps of Management)
Likes: Openness, frankness, classical music
Dislikes: Sluggishness, missing deadlines
Activities: Takes risk, loves the excitement of facing the unknown. Travels with wife to places such as Jaisalmer armed with only a credit card and then faces situations as they arise
Retirement plans: Philanthropy, wants to contribute to society

ACTIONABLE INFORMATION

While working as Vice-president for Strategic Planning at Rallis, Gadre was made a CIO to implement ERP and take Rallis from a legacy system to SAP 4.7. Even before the ERP project was completed, Rallis delivered actionable information within 90 days.

Gadre feels that since he looked after strategic planning in addition to playing the role of a CIO, he is in a good position to ensure that IT policies are aligned with corporate strategies. “We at Rallis have the determination to make all available information actionable, and then make it available 24x7, anywhere, anyhow,” says Gadre.

Even though Rallis is a diversified company with five factories, eight regional offices, 1,500 dealers, and more than 2,000 vendors, it has implemented six modules of SAP. Currently, even the vendor and dealer portals get actionable information from the SAP implementation. “We have also made the actionable information available on mobile phones,” reveals Gadre. Rallis uses a combination of Microsoft Excel and SQL Server for data mining.

FUTURE PROJECTS

Since Rallis has already analysed their action plan from the strategic angle to stay competitive, Gadre feels that their future focus will be on extracting additional value from the supply chain and on dealer-vendor relationships. “Rallis services around 50 lakh farmers through our dealers and 25,000 retailers. Our relationship with our dealers and retailers is therefore critical, as is the need to get strategic information from the agricultural market. All our future IT actions will be focussed on this area,” states Gadre.

He elaborates that Rallis has invested in assets and programmes for supply chain management, distribution management, advanced production planning and data mining. It enforces a strong IT policy and operating process, and will also initiate a disaster recovery system in case another disaster such as the recent Mumbai rains occurs. “In that case we know exactly what to do and when to do it without any need for a leader to drive things. It should function in auto pilot mode,” quips Gadre.

YESTERDAY, TODAY

A firm believer that a CIO has to change his career profile every ten years in today’s environment, Gadre comments, “If someone thought that he could become a bank manager and retire as a bank manager it was probably true for the previous generation. With the current level of technology in the corporate world, even expecting to remain at the same position for long is difficult.” He feels that a CIO must not only have functional knowledge but also be an expert at management because it is a critical aspect and runs across all industries. As a CIO he spends even more time in relationship-building because no IT project can be implemented without support and approvals from the CEO, board of directors and colleagues.

Gadre considers himself fortunate because he looks after strategic planning along with being a CIO. That way he has a fairly good knowledge of where the company is heading in terms of business and where IT can help the company, so selling an IT project to colleagues becomes simpler. “Because business strategy is arrived at by consensus and IT projects support this strategy, my job of convincing people becomes that much easier,” Gadre points out. According to him, a good CIO must have a clear understanding of the realities on the ground. A CIO can’t stay on the banks of the river and advise someone else on how to swim. He must go with the flow.

The CIO must be familiar with the sales, production and maintenance functions at the bottom of the ladder. Only then he will realise what the IT system or the company’s product is doing to transform the life of the people it affects the most. “At the end of the day, the company makes profits and prospers, but a CIO is successful only if the people around him feel that he has helped raise their level of skills and knowledge,” reflects Gadre.

THE PUZZLE APPROACH

As a CIO, Gadre uses the puzzle approach to handle difficult situations and difficult people. Once you start solving a puzzle, every bit of the solution changes the problem. The same approach can be applied to business. In a complex situation, every step forward or attempt at communication gives some new piece of information or clue. The perspective and the equation changes with every attempt. The new piece of information and previous experience can be coupled to solve a problem. All you have to do is to try continuously and persistently. In a clash of egos, situations or personalities, it is best to win over a person if it is for the good of the company and if it ensures the desired result.

WISDOM BREEDS HUMILITY

A mathematician at heart, Gadre likes to analyse people and predict their behaviour and improve their performance. He makes a chart and categorises people to understand and deal with them better. He also tells people to take risks, stretch out and achieve something more.

When asked to rate himself as a CIO on a 10-point scale, Gadre gives himself between 3 and 4. He believes that there is still much for him to learn, and that a vast part of the ocean of knowledge before him is still uncharted territory.

kumard@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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