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Issue of December 2005 

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To grow big, start small

Ishwar Jha is all of 34, but the Vice-president of Essel is wise beyond his years. Kumar Dawada profiles the man who believes that success starts with small initiatives

The name, designation and tone of the telephonic conversation makes you wonder if you will be meeting a silver-haired person in his 50s looking good in a suit. Seeing a simple, informally dressed, 34-year-old greeting you makes you wonder whether you are in the right office. However, as Ishwar Jha starts to speak, the level and depth of his knowledge says volumes about why the young hotshot is the Vice-president of the Essel Group.

MCA By Default

As Jha recalls, he had many career choices before him. While his father wanted him to be a teacher, his uncle urged him to be a bank clerk and he himself aspired to be a journalist. Hence, Jha prepared for entrance exams for all the three and appeared for all of them.

After getting selected for an MCA (Master of Computer Applications) and joining the course, Jha came to know that he had qualified for journalism as well. However, when he went to cancel the MCA admission, the college refused to refund his money so he ended up doing the course.

Jha has no regrets about doing the MCA. He believes that when you take up a professional course like CA, MBA or MCA, you end up loving the stream thanks to the method of teaching, grooming process, campus and environment. “Besides, once you enter the job market and start getting rewards and career growth, then even your heart says this is right for you,” he says.

Starting From Scratch

Jha started his career in 1992 as a regional computer executive with Patel Roadways. The company wanted to computerise its operations nationwide. It had nine regional computer centres across the country to capture field data including booking, transport and customer details. Moreover, it was a pioneer in the use of e-mail to transfer data as a text file from branch offices to the head office.

According to Jha, during the early days he even helped load and unload trucks. He also spent time working at various counters—booking, delivery and cash to learn the processes. In 1994 he joined a small chemical company in Baroda as the IT manager doubling as an office manager. It was during this stint that Jha learnt to manage and develop projects from scratch.

Despite offers from big names, Jha preferred to join companies where he could learn from actual implementation. This he felt had more value than working in a company where the processes were well-defined and streamlined.

Little Initiatives

To grow big in a company, start small. Take little initiatives and consistently give results. “If I walk into a company and start talking about big projects and results at the start, the management may not have faith in me and my proposals may not be accepted. Consistent success in small initiatives will give the bosses greater confidence in me,” observes Jha.

Later, Jha joined Sony, where he developed and implemented a logistics management system. The project cost Rs 3 lakh but saved the company Rs 2 crore in terms of inventory. In his six year stint at Sony, Jha says that he never had to take the boss’ approval for anything. He never had to give a break-up of what he was buying for the company, or at what rate. He had built up trust and it helped his growth in the organisation.

Jha has completed more than 10 courses to upgrade his management skills and develop his personality. He has continuously improved his skills and knowledge on technology by doing in-depth courses.

Case in point: Jha attended a five-day course of Microsoft .NET when it was in beta. He believes in becoming familiar with new technology when it arrives, preparing for implementation, and delivering value to the organisation.

CIO=Career Is Over

Before working with Sony, Jha was in a typical CIO or IT head’s role—buying technology, developing software solutions, implementing them and maintaining them so that the organisation benefited. Jha is known for his statement ‘CIO means the Career Is Over.’ It got a lot of media attention and was debated in many forums.

He explains, “Whenever a CIO takes up a job or changes his job, he wants to do new things. Most companies have a mature and stable IT set-up. All that is needed are upgrades, maintenance and someone who can expand the company’s business and IT strategy. However, the typical new CIO has fresh ideas which will cost crores of rupees. He goes to the CEO or the Board of Directors with his proposal and is eager to start implementation within six months. If his proposals are not accepted, he gets discouraged and ends up switching jobs and companies.”

At Essel, Jha does not have a specific or a set job. As he informs, only one thing is very clear at the board level: “I have to develop a technology for the business which will either earn substantial revenue or help the company reduce costs.” Once the technology is implemented he hands over its maintenance to someone else and moves on to a new project.

His first project was to turn around Cyquator, the technology division of the Essel group. It had only seven people and lacked proper direction. Jha took the core team, worked out a strategy, and helped develop it into a 30-member team.

The next project was the 7575 mobile software platform. Jha’s job was to integrate the technology with Essel’s business. Today it has become India’s second-largest software platform in terms of content, services and performance.

Another challenge was developing a website called, an online gaming site. Due to the efforts of Jha’s technical team, it is currently doing a monthly business of Rs 1.5 crore. Next year’s upgradation will make it the second-highest grossing e-commerce Web site in India, next only to that of Indian Railways.

A project very close to Jha’s heart is ZAMS, or Zee Asset Management Solution. He explains that Zee has become the first company in the Asia Pacific to implement an end-to-end asset management solution. Once raw footage is added to the system, the production, editing and broadcasting happens on the digital platform.

ZAMS will help Zee manage enterprise content and deliver it to emerging media such as IPTV, HDTV, video-on-mobile and video-on-demand. It will position Zee to take full advantage of the digital video wave, provide digital services, and take on future challenges.

“This project was so huge that it required 10 months to get the right vendors and people, and identify the right approach. Our investment will be recovered in four years and then there will be substantial profits,” says Jha.

Pet Project

Jha is very excited about his pet project, the soon-to-be-aired game show Kum Ya Jaada. The show enables people to play from their home and offers rewards for speed and accuracy. The viewer has to use a telephone or a mobile to play the game.

“If I had made a business plan and gone to the management saying that I have this game show in mind, they would have thought, ‘What does a tech guy know about a TV game show?’” says Jha. So he decided to adopt a different approach. “I proposed that since there is a telecom boom in India, why not do something unique to reward telecom-users just for their intellectual capacity.” Since then, things have evolved to the point where the programme is ready for launch.

Professional Secrets

Jha firmly believes that hard work and thorough preparation lead to success. “I do simple things. I deliver the return on investment. Even though I am a CIO and a technology guy, I take care of the revenue and cost/benefit.”

He keeps track of the latest technology and how it will impact the business domain of his enterprise. Then it is just a matter of putting a business plan into action. “I can see the potential or business opportunity, but I cannot for sure say that it will be profit-making or not. The management has to bring in a business wizard to ensure that,” states Jha.

He feels that a CIO must know how to tackle difficult situations. The best way is to keep the other stakeholders informed. If it is a business venture he has to keep his boss, peers and colleagues informed, and make them a part of the process. Proper communication makes them feel that whatever has been decided is a joint decision.

Jha’s approach for dealing with difficult people is using silence. “Sometimes, you can’t justify your point or prove the other person is wrong. You have to wait for the right time to prove it. Vanquish your enemy with your good work,” he advises. He believes that to be a successful CIO, the first thing is to believe in yourself. Do your homework, deliver small results successfully and consistently, and then go for big challenges.

Birthdate: February 5

Family: Wife and two children. Parents in Bihar. Father is a priest and an astrologer.

Hobbies: Yoga, spirituality, Ayurveda (treats bronchitis and asthma in kids), cooking, taking cooking classes (teaching housewives how their food helps make their children successful in life).

Idea of a vacation: Short trip to Lonavala, visiting parents in Bihar.

Likes: Wisdom and humility in people.

Dislikes: Poverty.

Future plans: Wants all upscale Biharis to go back to Bihar and help it develop, grow and prosper.

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