Much has changed in the world in the two years since the passing of FC Kohli, father of Indian IT and the first CEO of TCS.
The Covid-19 pandemic almost brought the world to halt but technology helped improve the quality of life, sustain businesses and even grow them. India rose to become the fifth-largest economy in the world. TCS crossed $25 billion in revenues and ranked 2nd among the IT services brands in the Brand Finance 2022 rankings.
I can’t help but think how proud Kohli would have been today, to see his belief in the power of technology realised yet again; and to see the success of India and TCS.
Kohli’s vision and pioneering spirit led India to become the information technology leader that it is today. He whole-heartedly supported and nurtured industry bodies like Nasscom and the Computer Society of India (CSI). He was certain that India’s talent pool would prove to be a game changer, paving the way for success in the information technology arena.
During the CSI convention at Ahmedabad in 1975, he said, “Many years ago, there was an industrial revolution. We missed it for reasons beyond our control. Today, there is a new revolution in information technology, which requires neither mechanical bias nor mechanical temperament. Primarily, it requires the capability to think clearly. This we have in abundance.”
I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to meet and spend time with the legend during my stint in Taiwan, China, and later, in Hyderabad.
I met Kohli for the very first time in the early 1990s, at Tata Research Development and Design Centre (TRDDC), the R&D arm of TCS. I have a clear recollection of his visionary presentation on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Knowledge-Based Systems. Kohli was, perhaps, already convinced that AI would become a dominant technology for Enterprise Growth and Transformation. AI was only an elective then in the undergraduate curriculum of many universities and Kohli had emphasised the need to work with academic partners to make AI a mandatory subject.
Respect for China, Taiwan
Kohli had enormous fascination and respect for China and Taiwan, for their phenomenal success in hardware and manufacturing. He was a frequent visitor to these countries and would say, “I am coming here to learn”. For a country head like me, just accompanying the TCS “C” leadership meant learning valuable management lessons. Kohli would ask many questions ranging from those about the country’s GDP and per capita income to their share in manufacturing.
Humility has been a defining characteristic of all great personalities in history, and Kohli was no exception. During his trip to Taiwan, I took him to meet KT Lee, the father of the hardware industry in the greater China region, and FC Lin, the then head of Institute for Information Industry, Taiwan. While Lee and Kohli had tremendous respect for each other, Kohli touched Lee’s feet and sought blessings.
A few years later, I met Kohli and his wife during Nasscom’s delegation to China. He shared emphatically during the trip that India should emulate the best practices of hardware and manufacturing from China. He asserted that India wouldn’t be able to sustain growth without attaining self-sufficiency in hardware engineering and manufacturing.
Kohli was very proud of his team and always referred to them as his family when he introduced them. The things I most remember about him — his exuberance, energy and warmth, and fondness for meeting and interacting with young generation TCSers — come from the small moments and little things he did. He would carry many books to read during his travels and wrote often. He always carried a few nice pens in a pouch in his signature briefcase. He had fantastic handwriting!
Kohli continues to inspire us today with his vision, beliefs and his unwavering trust in India’s talent. We TCSers hope to continue his legacy, live up to his principles and continue to follow his guidance.
The writer is Senior Vice President & Global Head – Communications, Media, and Technology Business, Tata Consultancy Services