We aim to be among the top ten
Express Computers
Winner of this year's Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Jerry (Jaithirth) Rao, Chairman, MphasiS BFL, tells Sudipta Dev how he left the comforts of a corporate life to start his own company which has a truly global spirit

Suddenly no one knew who we were, without a name like Citibank backing us. Nobody had heard of MphasiS. It was even difficult to get appointments...

For a man who left the cushy, high profile corporate job to jump into the uncertainties of business , Jaithirth (known to all as Jerry) Rao, proved that it was a decision wisely taken when he was honoured this year with the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. No small achievement indeed considering the fact that he had decided to set up the company as recent as 1998 and was named the chairman last year. The man himself however modestly acknowledges that the prestigious award is not his personal achievement but the recognition of efforts put in by his whole team.

Modest he might be about his feats, but when it comes to his company Jerry Rao very proudly points out the truly global spirit of the organisation. While the president of the company Jeroen Tas, is a Dutch based in America, Arthur Flew the president of the IT-enabled services division is an American, and the 1250 staff members of various nationalities are posted across half a dozen countries. Jerry Rao himself has had a global career in the last two decades. A graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad he worked with the Citibank for 5 years before leaving the job to pursue his Phd at the University of Chicago. "I got fed up after two years and did not complete my Phd. After working for a consulting company for some time I rejoined Citibank, New York," says he, adding that he worked on major IT projects for global MIS projects. His postings ranged from Venezuela to India to London. He was then appointed as head of the Development Division of Citicorp and chairman and CEO of Transaction Technologies Inc in California. Rao's portfolio includes prestigious assignments as country manager and divisional manager for consumer banking of Citibank in India, the Middle East, Europe and UK. He has also been on the boards of Citicorp's Indian Development Centre and MECA (a software company owned by many large banks). This apart he was also the chairman of the Online Banking Association's Government Affairs Committee and member of UCLA's Information Systems Associates Program.

When Rao left Citibank and started MphasiS in 1998, many of his colleagues joined him. Tas was one of the founders. "From the beginning we were determined to use India for development purposes and started development in Mumbai and Pune. In the year 1999 it grew at a fantastic rate," says Rao, adding that following the merger with BFL, the MphasiS team took over the management in February 2000.

At the time of merger both the companies were losing money but their profit-centric focus made the year March 2001 end at a solid profitable note. "We did 82% growth in revenue, took the company to SEI-CMMi level 5, added nine strategic clients and also started IT enabled services subsidiary called MphasiS BPO."

Rao's dream is to see take his company from the 20th position on NASSCOM's list to the top ten. And this, he believes, is not a distant possibility. The strength of the company is derived from many factors - firstly, its global management team and investors, although 80 percent of the staff members are Indians. "Secondly, we are domain focussed i.e financial, logistics, transportation and retail and technology. Thirdly, we are moving towards working beyond onsite and offsite models, that is the virtual domain. This is a big advantage, for example a project manager in the US can see the day to day development of a project in India and never lose control of it," says Rao, adding that cost optimisation and migration of the system to modern technology are the other focus areas. This year, he points out, they have chosen to focus on profitability and are not "growing" deliberately.

Following the prevalent situation in the market the immediate concerns for the company, according to Jerry Rao, are conserve cash, ensure quality (in fact Jerry himself monitors 60 projects), not give up sales and of course constantly keep assuring existing customers. The aim in short is to take all necessary action to make it among the top ranking.

Rao points out that theirs is a great working team. The three head honchos - Rao himself, Jeroen Tas and Arthur Flew, have different personalities and complement each other. All have different outside interests and this he feels is very necessary for a successful career. Significantly, non have any regrets about leaving comfortable corporate careers and starting out on their own.

It was of course not a very easy transition. "Suddenly no one knew who we were, without a name like Citibank backing us. Nobody had heard of MphasiS. It was even difficult to get appointments and I had to sometimes beg the secretaries," says Rao with a smile. But, he does believe that professionals with comfortable corporate careers should take the plunge no matter the initial problems. The success story of his endeavours is certainly proof enough.