Harish Mehta’s book shows why NASSCOM is a catalyst in India’s start-up world. It’s a delight

Ja partial biography of a sensitive Indian businessman and successful industry, Harish Mehta’s The Maverick Effect is a treat on many levels. Mehta writes candidly and, at times, poignantly about her personal life, her family, her moments of joy, and her encounters with intimate tragedies. He also takes us on an anecdotal journey through the Indian IT industry, largely based on his own experiences. The synchronicity of experiences is something that others can relate to.

Mehta’s book is also, more or less, a comprehensive biography of the Indian Software Industry Chamber of Commerce – the National Association of Software and Services Companies. NASSCOM has many relatives, but no one doubts Mehta’s primacy in the gallery. It was her baby in more ways than one. To this day, he remains the main adult NASSCOM mentor.

Mehta’s life reflects many things in contemporary India. An engineer from the famous University of Pune leaves for the United States in search of a master’s degree. Drop out of electrical engineering and switch to computer science. Is hired at a level well below his abilities or qualifications. Quickly gets his bosses to recognize his talents. They raise it and pay it more. Nevertheless, he feels there is a glass ceiling above him. Moreover, now married to the daughter of a family friend who is a mathematician, the two do not feel very comfortable with the social environment in the United States. They decide to return to India. He has, at best, a vague plan in mind. His Indian friends in the United States predicted that his return to India would be a disaster and that he would return soon.

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Mehta’s entrepreneurial ideas

Mehta comes to India, forgets he’s an engineer, and tries to get into the family film distribution business. It does not work. The alluring lure of computers and computational science sets him back. He embarked on a quasi-corporate, quasi-partnership enterprise. Realizes that Indian businessmen spend most of their time on regulatory approvals, not customers, products or services. It was then that the seed of the need for a NASSCOM was planted in his mind. He is abruptly removed from his role as a corporate partner – a phenomenon we now know to be both inexplicable and common. He must embark on his own entrepreneurial adventure. He juggles his time and progresses steadily.

So far, the story is reasonably predictable. But what is fascinating about Mehta’s nature is that while it is difficult for him to devote time and energy to an industry association given the needs of his own fledgling business, Mehta “does” somehow time and energy. He patiently continues to address the need for a common institution to nurture an ecosystem that would support and encourage the Indian software industry. It encounters resistance from chambers and entrenched mentalities. And then he comes up with the brilliant idea – “software services” are intangible and therefore require an entirely different focus than hardware manufacturing.

His story of a customs officer insisting on “seeing” what is being exported and stapling the diskette that Mehta finally gives him speaks volumes. The “services” story and its overflowing optimism about the potential for high-margin exports in a foreign currency-starved country are finally starting to have an impact. Other entrepreneurs rush to support him. After the usual phlegmatic and skeptical pushback, even some well-meaning bureaucrats finally understand Mehta’s point of view. The giant Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and its legendary founder FC Kohli need convincing. It happens too. NASSCOM is launched.

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Building NASSCOM from scratch

Mehta sheds light on this. But by design or accident, most of the ongoing tasks involved in establishing and maintaining the new organization end up falling on its plate. The story of the recruitment of the charismatic Dewang Mehta as executive chairman is fascinating. And then Mehta provides a lot of interesting details about NASSCOM-Harish-Dewang jugalbandi. Harish Mehta rightly laments that in India we tend to forget heroes like Dewang who need to be remembered, celebrated and emulated.

A unique characteristic of NASSCOM is its founders’ consistent refusal to press for petty, short-term, parochial gains. The focus was on openness, competition, and trying to create an ecosystem where everyone had a chance to thrive, not just a select few. Mehta explains how this approach has resulted over the years in bureaucrats and even politicians losing their traditional distrust of businessmen and admitting that NASSCOM people were patriots with a positive and constructive agenda. The stories of how NASSCOM had to beg for telecommunications connectivity, which today is taken for granted, and the story of how software technology parks appeared “anywhere” in the country , are an intriguing read.

Mehta repeatedly points out that our whole national mindset was about the physical. Large industrial areas in outlying suburbs have been highlighted. But the “production” of intangibles is actually better in small theaters in densely populated neighborhoods. This was, of course, before the IT industry reached its current “giant” status, making large campuses quite common. The Indian IT industry under the leadership of NASSCOM has always supported foreign investment even one hundred percent. This position surprised the other chambers of commerce, which preferred the protected territory. But let’s just look at the facts: just as IBM and Accenture have become giant employers in India, Indian IT majors have also become global giants. There’s nothing like the pure air of competition to bring out world-class entities.

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Giving wings to the Indian IT industry

NASSCOM’s position on intellectual property has also been consistent. The story of Dewang Mehta having an elephant “crushing” pirated floppy disks in public has, of course, entered the history books as a legendary act. Harish Mehta realized early on that while India should be considered a reliable software service provider, it could not be considered an intellectual property thief. The other founders of NASSCOM were all for it. Today, no major company in the world, when giving business to Indian companies, is even remotely worried about theft.

Mehta ably points out that the huge success of the Indian IT industry, or to put it another way, NASSCOM members, has had multiple positive impacts.

The first, of course, is high value-added exports, which the country desperately needed. Second, there is the enormous number of “good” jobs created directly and indirectly by the industry. Third, the IT industry has conclusively proven that while existing businesses could, if they wished, move into the industry, there was also an opportunity for ordinary professionals who had no money to succeed. . This has resulted in widespread comfort with entrepreneurship throughout Indian society.

The computer industry has been a major asset for the country’s public relations. India is no longer just made up of wandering cows and marvelous fakirs. It is definitely the land of software programmers and data architects.

For my money the best part of The Maverick Effect is Mehta’s description of how, instead of letting current success go to his head, NASSCOM and its members worked overtime to ensure they remained relevant now and more importantly to the to come up. For optimist Harish Mehta and his friends at NASSCOM, it seems the best is yet to come.

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Mehta’s eventful life, his achievements

I also draw the reader’s attention to the generosity with which Mehta gives credit to many people. It is this collegial approach that has been the source of Harish Mehta’s enormous influence and success. Our countrymen and compatriots should note that “sharing” credit is both morally good and, therefore, desirable.

Intertwined with the NASSCOM story is a poignant personal love story – the romance of Shaila and Harish, and the former’s tragic death. Mehta’s stoic atheism is reconfirmed. However, he remains faithful to his rooted Jain idea of ​​”anekantavada” – the certain possibility that several points of view coexist.

Today, Mehta can look back on his eventful life and be proud of his accomplishments as an entrepreneur, as the extraordinary founder and builder of NASSCOM, a unique and important chamber in the world, and as an incredible catalyst in the world. contemporary start-ups. India.

The bittersweet part is that Shaila isn’t by her side. But Harish baysome of us believe she’s up there somewhere saying shabhasch to the love of his life. With that, I wish you more achievements and of course more books.

Jaithirth Rao was the chairman of NASSCOM and is a personal friend of Harish Mehta. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

Lucas E. Kelly