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Issue of November 2006 
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Extraordinarily ordinary

Zoeb Adenwala, Chief of IT at Pidilite, talks to Rishiraj Verma about his life and the things he has learned. He is at his animated best while describing life at a hostel during his college days.

An office where an IT plan has been freshly written on the soft-board, files and books related to the upcoming work are neatly kept, a tiny laptop’s keypad is constantly being typed on, and a music system is kept ready for some free time is where Zoeb Adenwala works.

He is an ordinary man who has his beliefs and ambitions set right. He is a man you’ll be pleased to meet because of his simplicity—and it’s not just that!

The beginning

1970 was when he finished his secondary schooling from Father Agnel’s Technical School, Bandra, Mumbai. After this he took up the two-year science course (junior college) at Parla College and passed out in 1972. From there, Adenwala went on to study electronics and telecom engineering in Pune, and finished the course in 1976.

Studying was not yet over for him. He was so interested in studying engineering further that he pursued his MTech in computer science and ngineering from the acclaimed IIT-Kharagpur and graduated in 1978.

Stepping stones

Adenwala began his career with software major Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). His first job was that of a trainee, which happened through a campus placement. “The salary was Rs 1,000. Sounds funny now, but back then it was my first job,” says Adenwala as he takes the proverbial walk down memory lane.

People say that dedication, like mastery, comes only after years of working. With Adenwala, the dedication part seems to be an exception. At his first company he worked for almost a decade. “In my nine and half years at TCS I moved at least seven grades up the ladder,” says the man as he explains that the trainee who joined in 1978 left the company when he had become the Resident Consultant.

He explains that after the stint with the software world he wanted to move to industry. “When you’re with a software firm it’s a different world…you write and design software, but come to industry and you get the satisfaction of seeing your work in action.” SKF Bearings, an engineering firm, was his next stop. “The first project there was implementing an internal ERP system, and it was successful,” says a satisfied Adenwala.

After 13 years at SKF he decided that he wanted to look again at the software world and the state of the BPO industry, so he joined Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in 2001 and was happy with the rate at which the outsourcing market was growing.

Two and half years later he came back to industry and has been working with Pidilite since then. “I have learned a lot from EDS and am happy about the fact that I have been able to use the outsourcing knowledge gained there at Pidilite.”

Fact-File
Birth date : January 5
Age : 54
Place of birth : Surat, Gujarat
Family : His parents have passed away. His wife works with the Reserve Bank of India, and their son is in the final year of Engineering IT at Drexel University, USA. Adenwala's daughter is studying in the first year of Engineering at Thadomal Shahani Engineering College, Mumbai.
Specific interests : He is interested in all kinds of sports, even if his participation is limited to just watching them.

Achievements

With the kind of experience that he has, a man ought to have his list of achievements jotted down. On the contrary, Adenwala presents a humble self and takes time to think.

“A convergence job that I completed at TCS would probably be my biggest professional achievement.” He says that this implementation gave the company more business in the US, and, according to him, more business abroad was a big thing back then.

Talk about his personal achievements and he connects them to work as well. He says that all the awards he has received in his profession are personal achievements for him. He remembers the first complete outsourcing project at Pidilite and says, “It was a win-win situation for the company and its employees. Such a thing doesn’t happen too often.”

The man next door

Moving out of the work place, Adenwala doesn’t seem the kind of person who boasts about his awards at home. “I’m a regular, discipline-loving person when I’m not at work.” That doesn’t mean he is boring. It just means that he follows golden rules like ‘early to bed and early to rise.’ “Of course, once in a while, there are late nights,” he adds quickly.

One thing that he believes in strongly is the need to exercise daily. He says that he likes to practice a bit of yoga every morning. “In the evenings, I make sure it’s either a walk or a swim.” He says that he does these things to make sure that his body doesn’t go stiff because of constantly sitting in his office chair.

He remembers his school days fondly and says that he loved sports. “I was on the school team for cricket and football.” He adds that he also played for the TCS cricket team. He doesn’t seem to find the time to play nowadays, but watches all sorts of sports. “My children are also into sports. My daughter plays football,” he smiles.

RapidFire
  • Retirement plans: I’m not looking to retire at least for five to seven years. And even after that I’d like to start something small that I can work from home on.
  • Favourite music: I’m a sucker for ghazals and old Hindi songs. Pankaj Udhas and Jagjit Singh are my favourite singers.
  • Favourite film: My all-time-favourite is Sholay. It used to play near the hostel, so I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it. Currently I’ve become a major fan of both the Munnabhai films. I like the concept of ‘Gandhigiri.’
  • Favourite book and author: In college I used to read a lot of Arthur Hailey. Recently I’ve read The World is Flat and The Monk who sold his Ferrari.
  • Favourite colour: Blue
  • Wish the most in life: I wish for some more money!
  • Miss the most in life: Nothing. I think I’m content with what God has given me. And I think everyone should be.
  • Love about self: My discipline and my constant hunger for perfection.
  • Hate about self: I can get very rigid sometimes because of the perfection that I crave for. I expect others to be as ambitious as me.
  • Idea of a vacation: I think the pre-requisites for a good vacation are the cellphone, PDA and laptop being switched off. Then I’d like to go to a nice hill-station with a few good books and read them while I’m surrounded by greenery. I’d also like to carry some good music.
  • Favourite spot in India: Ooty and other hill-stations. I like Shimla, Belgaum and Mahabaleshwar.
  • Self-rating as CIO: I think I would rate myself at eight. This is because I think I’ve learned a good deal about my work, but not enough to rate myself above that.
  • Message to fellow IT heads: The biggest mistake many IT heads make is to think of themselves as technologists alone. They’ve got to understand that they play an equally important part in the business—they should not forget that.

Precious moments

There are always those moments in life that make us change the way we think about life as a whole or some parts of it. Adenwala remembers such moments in his life.

“It has to be my years in the hostel. They gave me a lot of confidence and independence.” He says that his entire hostel life was a lesson in taking care of himself and not depending on others. According to him, before his hostel years, he would simply expect his parents to do things for him, but then he had to learn to do them himself at the hostel.

“There are a few friends from my hostel years with whom I am still in touch,” he says as he talks about how he misses those years of “miserly living.” He smiles as he says that the little things that he achieved there were of utmost importance. “I won the Mess Secretary election twice. It may sound trivial, but it was a post of great power.”

According to him, his most fun-times were the beginning of new academic years when new students were ‘introduced’ to seniors. Says he, “There was a point when I’d go home for a vacation and feel hostel-sick.”

And then he drops this gem: “Throughout my hostel life I survived with two pairs of jeans.”

Changing times

Adenwala thinks that many things have changed since his student days. In those days, his major way of communicating with his family was through letters because the only telephone he had access to was quite far away. “Now my son is studying in the US and just can’t do without a cellphone. It’s amazing how technology has changed things.”

He can’t imagine what will happen to him if he has no cellphone today. “Lifestyles have changed, and I think we owe a lot to technology.”

True Mentor

An emotional Adenwala recalls, “I lost my father at a very young age, and after that there weren’t many people whom I have looked up to.” He adds however that his brother-in-law was a great supporting pillar throughout his student life by helping him out, not just financially but also emotionally. “He said to me that if I wanted to do the M Tech I could, and that he would take care of the necessities.”

School of thought

“I believe in being good to everyone,” he says as he explains that you never know when you will need help from another person. He also believes in spending time on social work as it is a satisfying thing to do. “Nothing is impossible if you have the money and the resources,” is his parting shot.

 
     
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