An executive without bonds
Despite having spent 17 years abroad, he still loves Indian
curry. Rishiraj Verma talks to Unni Krishnan T M, CTO of Shoppers
Stop, to find out what drives the man.
Unni Krishnan T M
At 35, he could easily be one of the youngest Chief Technology
Officers in the country. But lets not equate that with inexperience, as
he reveals his years of education and professional experience, adding flavour
to the conversation with descriptions of his favourite sports, places, books,
Where I studied and worked
Here, we look at Krishnan's academic background and his first job which was
to be a turning point in his life.
Krishnan studied in various schools across the globeIndia, Middle East,
Australia and USA. He graduated from QUT, Australia, with an MBA in Finance
(mathematical modelling of options and futures). He subsequently worked on his
second masters, this time in Industrial Engineering (MIS & operations research)
at Rensselaer in New York, one of the most prestigious scientific and technical
universities in the world. This university is where the @ sign for
e-mail was formalised, and where they are now planning to build the next generation
supercomputer (70 trillion operations per second) with IBM.
At 14 he had already taken up his first job at a printed circuit board manufacturing
plant where he learned to manage problems in a constrained environment in the
licence era. The first code I wrote was on a 32K machine when I was in
grade eight, he exclaims.
With his studies completed, he started working with the US
government at one of their industrial research centres, and helped in managing
funds for technology development. Then he joined Nortel as part of their global
business process re-engineering team; here he successfully turned around a failed
IT project. This acted as a springboard to management consulting. As a consultant
he worked for a few boutique firms, and consulted for small and large clients
across the world, including some on the famous Fortune 500 list. After this
Krishnan went on to the software products world where he joined pioneering teams
working on wireless synchronisation technology and B2B exchanges. To add to
this, he began his own start-up in the same incubator where eBay was born
with the aim of simplifying man-machine problems.
|Birthday: Not revealed,
|Idea of a vacation: Skiing
in Lake Tahoe or Whistler, Vancouver, and sailing on a yacht in the
|Favourite book and author:
Wings of Fire, by Dr A P J Abdul Kalam
|Likes: The pursuit of excellence
When I achieved
When you are at the top of the ladder, theres always one step which is
your favourite. Krishnan tells us about the moments which gave him a sense of
achievement, professional and personal.
Krishnan is exuberant when he talks about his ability to
turn around IT projects. He has worked in 14 industry verticals. In spite of
an education and early career stints in finance, he has been able to take on
the technology world.
While at Shoppers Stop during the past two years, he,
with his team, has been the first to use many new technologies which include
wireless point of sale (PoS) machines and the high-performance IBM I550 server
in the Indian retail industry.
The team is also the one to use the most advanced replenishment software in
India and the largest deployment of 360-degree scanners for HyperCITY in one
store. Krishnan with his team uses salesforce.com. Shoppers' Stop under Krishnan
has also seen the largest deployment of symbol-based inventory-counting devices
in the Indian retail industry.
As far as personal achievements are concerned, Krishnan thinks
that being the coach of the Florida Under-16 soccer league is his biggest one
Me, the working professional
To achieve something and then take a back seat smacks of complacency. Krishnan
is anything but complacent as he tells of his current projects and what he plans
to do in future.
Krishnan says that he is in the midst of implementing completely revamped technology
solutions for Crossword (a bookstore) at Shoppers Stop. To add to it,
all business units are to get new CRM and data warehousing solutions. There
are other projects too, but they are confidential at this stage, he says.
Ask him about his favourite IT project in the past and he remembers the creation
of the first wireless synchronisation product and B2B solutions that he was
involved in pioneering. He rates himself a dizzying high 9.5 on 10 as IT head
and says, Technology is constantly changing, so youve got to be
on top of things all the time.
Talking of time, he believes that the biggest turnaround
in his life was his stint with the PCB manufacturing plant as it showed him
how to manage challenges and push for performance. He is very happy with his
current team's performance because of the turnaround they have effected at Shoppers
Stop in the last two years.
fired away a set of questions about Unni Krishnan's professional and personal
life, and the responses came no slower
- You've travelled around the world
your favourite food?
- Retirement plans?
Haven't thought about it. I don't have the time to think about retirement.
There's too much work.
- On being single
Being single has its benefits; it has helped me remain focussed on professional
pursuits and not be restricted by national borders. Plus I can take
the risk of executing and completing projects in remote parts of the
world amidst diverse cultures, nations and industries. For a large part
of my career all I knew was airports and hotels. In a lighter vein,
I could say my address was 14B United 104.
- Parent talk
They had always raised us to strive for excellence in our professional
and personal lives. Though we had everything while growing up, they
ensured that we understood and related to the lives of people who do
not have a basic standard of living. They provided us a well-grounded
education in all facets of life and faiths. We were expected to participate
in community development, improvement and charitable activities despite
a busy school schedule. This helped us relate to people from all walks
- Strengths vs. weaknesses
Pragmatism, real-world approach, versatility, flexibility, strong learning
ability and the big picture view versus my sometimes-extremely-demanding-on-team
and no-time-for-myself nature.
- Love and hate most
Parents giving me exposure to the world at an early age, making me a
global citizen. I'd like to skip the hate part of the question. (Chuckles)
- Will you put your kids in the same profession?
Absolutely not! I'm going to let them go out and choose what they want
to do, and then they can give 110 percent to it.
- Miss the most in life
Playing with my nieces and nephew.
- Wish the most in life
A vacation (Chuckles out loud).
- Favourite colours
Red and blue.
- And finally, the one thing you'd like to
say to fellow IT heads
"Let us showcase Indian (domestic-pioneered) IT projects to
the west rather than look to the west for examples.
I believe in
is constantly changing.
So you've got to be on top of things all the time"
Even when youre the number one in what you do, it is
never a bad idea to look up to people who have been there and done that. Krishnan
talks about the people and ideas he believes in.
Krishnan too, has his own set of people he constantly learns
from. He says his list of mentors includes people like Larry Bossidy (former
CEO of Allied Signal) and Jack Welch (CEO of GE). The only beliefs he has lie
in performance, technology and its user-friendliness. Ask him about his superstitions
and his answer comes lightning quick, None at all. I believe in going
out there and fixing it! With no superstitions bothering him, Krishnan
seems to go the science way.
When Im not at work
While a usual working day may have Krishnan thinking a lot about IT and business,
he makes sure that when he is on a vacation he doesnt neglect his interests
Sky-diving, para-sailing, para-gliding, indoor rock climbing and skiing are
some of the things he likes to do when he is not at work. He is
also into racquetball and jet-skiing. He has travelled to 27 countries, and
spent over 17 years outside India for studies and business.
With the number of hobbies he lists here, one is forced to think of the alternative
pursuits he might be able to take up if he ever decides to give up technology.
That however, seems only a remote possibility!