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“One should be open to absorb the best things”

A strong believer in honesty and integrity, he has helped craft IT strategies to empower auto giant Mahindra’s success. Here is the story of what constitutes Arvind G Tawde, the VP & CIO of Mahindra & Mahindra. A profile by Anil Patrick R

Introvert by self-admission and outstanding strategist by reputation. These are the traits that mark Arvind Tawde, the man who plays a significant role in deciding how Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) will chart its way ahead.

Tawde was instrumental in setting up the corporate IT function at M&M’s corporate centre, which he currently heads as Vice-president & Chief Information Officer. Under his leadership, IT at M&M has become a benchmark in the industry in many areas.

Roots

Hailing from Maharashtra’s Konkan region, Tawde has spent his entire life in Mumbai, from education to a career marked by professional accolades. The true-blue Mumbaikar did his SSC (when it was the 11th standard, unlike the present-day 10th) from Chhabildas Boys High School, Dadar, Mumbai.

Later he joined Ruia College and moved on to VJTI for his engineering degree. “My interests always lay in science, so engineering was a natural progression,” says the man.

Start Of The Trail

The year 1971 witnessed Tawde graduating in mechanical engineering from VJTI. He immediately took up a job with Precision Partners, where he worked for four years before moving on.

Tawde’s stint with M&M started in 1979 after a brief association with two other companies. During this interim period, he completed his post-graduation in industrial management and masters in administrative management from Bombay University.

Businessman First

According to his own admission, he is basically a businessman rather than a techie. This has helped him understand how to use IT most optimally to meet business objectives.

His initial exposure to business included working on production planning and material planning. When he joined M&M, he was into production planning. He moved on to a function called management audit during the mid-1980s. Tawde recalls that till he started doing management audit, it was hands-on work on the shop floor and planning.

Audits gave Tawde good exposure in terms of how the whole group operates. That was the best lesson he ever had into how each team operates. “I had to review operations for all teams and assess and suggest what could be done in the best way. This involved understanding business processes and how to benchmark operations,” Tawde recollects.

Meeting His Mentor

The exposure to management audits became helpful when Tawde moved to Mahindra’s corporate affairs department in the late eighties. This helped him get exposure to the financial side of Mahindra’s operations.

It was also the point in time when Tawde met the person who guided him on his career path. “I was reporting to our CFO, Bharat Doshi as his Executive Assistant. He is my mentor,” he says.

Apart from Doshi, Tawde considers several friends and colleagues to be positive influences. “A lot of people, right from fresh graduates come to my department and I get to learn a lot of from them. You should be open to absorb the best things from them,” explains Tawde.

Advice For CIOs

I believe that the CIO needs to be more of a business leader than a technologist. He needs to go beyond managing technology, and focus on people management. A CIO's success depends on how effectively he deals with people.

First on the list are his internal customers from whom he needs to get ‘buy-in’ for his solution—be it new technology or infrastructure investment to enable business strategy. Next is his team, which needs to be motivated for delivering high performance.

It is crucial for a CIO to convince his peers in business. These entities need to have confidence in the CIO for implementing successful initiatives. The CIO also needs to ensure co-operation, collaboration and desired performance from his outsourcing partners, service providers and suppliers.

The success of IT in business finally depends on how the CIO creates the differentiating capability through his team and partners and puts it to use for realising the intended business value.

Architect Of Change

As the Senior General Manager heading Corporate Affairs at M&M’s Corporate Centre, Tawde was involved in various strategic initiatives such as mergers, acquisitions, business revivals and restructuring.

With the nineties came liberalisation, and the entry of more MNCs into India. It was then that M&M decided to go in for BPR across the organisation so as to be the best in the industry.

Tawde was also leading the Programme Office function for monitoring the BPR project. Since it was driven by the top management, it helped Tawde gain insights into operations management. “There was a cross-functional team from across the organisation which was implementing the BPR. That gave me good exposure in organisation management,” says Tawde.

As head of the Corporate Affairs department, Tawde was coordinating the management board and business unit reviews (war room reviews) which increased his organisational and process knowledge.

Factfile
Birthday: 1st June
Family: Elder daughter Tejshree is an MBA in HR, younger daughter Mugdha is doing a course in animation after post-graduation in marketing management. Wife, Anagha, is a home-maker
Hobbies: Reading, listening to music, especially old songs
Regrets: Rate of buying books is more than rate of reading, so there is a lot of backlog
Likes: Honesty and integrity
Dislikes: Dishonesty
Last vacation: Been to Darjeeling with wife
Currently reading: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
Wants: To balance the work-personal life equation better and spend more quality time with family
To do: Catch up with reading

Entering IT

Once BPR was executed, M&M went in for SAP to automate its operations. With the completion of SAP in the late nineties, M&M’s erstwhile EDP and functional team that worked on SAP was spun off as a separate entity—Mahindra ASYST (now Bristlecone, Inc) to cater to internal and external customers. This brought about a situation where a team was required to carry out core IT functions for the business.

M&M’s corporate IT team was set up as a result of this need. Tawde was chosen to spearhead the initiative due to his cross-functional and BPR expertise. Thus, he entered the world of corporate IT.

“In the corporate IT team, most of my team members were from the business side and not hardcore technologists. It was over a period of time that they gained competence in evaluating, selecting and implementing the best IT solutions to achieve business objectives,” explains Tawde.

M&M’s corporate IT function has come a long way from its three-member team in 1999. Today, it is still comparatively lean and consists of four groups—business solutions, infrastructure & information security, IT management and operations & program management, supporting M&M and many of the group companies, as part of the corporate centre.

Case For Secure Knowledge

As head of corporate IT, Tawde leads M&M’s organisation-wide initiative on information security for achieving BS 7799 information security certification. He is also the key person behind M&M’s knowledge management and server consolidation initiatives.

The company’s corporate centre office, data centres, plants & sales offices of farm equipment sector, and the defence services division have already received BS 7799 certification. Plant locations and offices of automotive equipment are in the final phase of certification.

Four years back, Tawde decided to initiate knowledge management at M&M. This was due to the realisation that there were good opportunities for synergies, sharing of knowledge, and best practices across the Mahindra group. Since corporate IT interacts with all the business functions, business units and being a part of the corporate centre, it was in the best position to make this happen.

Future@M&M

Initially, the knowledge management initiative was confined to M&M. The present focus is to include group companies as well in the initiative.

“Within three to four months, group connectivity and a group intranet portal as the platform to share information, best practices and achievements will be in place,” says Tawde.

No Retirement, Please

Tawde has no plans for retirement. However, after corporate life he has plans to take up social causes.

“I have an example to emulate in my department itself in the form of Sridhar Rane who does a lot of social work. He has done quite a lot of work in his native place. It is quite commendable that he finds time to do it all after finishing his work,” says Tawde.

anilpatrick@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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