Ra(y)diance of a Different Light

Date:   Tuesday , August 01, 2006

14th December 1971: Pakistan attacks Srinagar air base.

Kolkata, the City of Joy: A seven-year old boy is worried about his father who was then serving the Indian Air Force posted in Srinagar. With no telephone or television, the family relied on the radio for information on the war. “While you go through such situations in life, you realize that you have got to believe in yourself,” says Amitabh Ray.

July 25, 2006: The situation is not very different for Ray. He heads IBM Global Business Services’ Global Delivery initiative from India. Ray leads over 20000 members spread across six Global Delivery Centers in India. Dealing with hundreds of clients and thousands of people explains the challenges involved.

Even the best delivery organizations on earth will have delivery problems. Getting paranoid or nervous only meant you loose the battle. “The key to handle such situations is to first acknowledge that there will be stressful moments.” Overcoming stress is important. Believing in oneself and having a positive frame of mind is essential in order to survive in a stressful environment. “Keep thinking that going forward, things will be fine. The learning you imbibe during these situations will help you in your career,” says Ray who is known for his excellent management skills.

The fine art of Juggling
According to Ray, managing complexities sitting at the top is like juggling. As you go up the ladder the juggling only increases. In his 18 years of experience, Ray seems to have mastered the art of juggling effectively. “One needs to understand that as a master of orchestra, you need not juggle everything.”

He gives appropriate tasks to the right people to juggle. If someone is slipping, he stands by his side and helps him learn to juggle. If it fails, he re-assigns the tasks to someone with more suitable skills. “You cannot win all games. You need to lose some. That makes winning more interesting,” says Ray. The trick is to have the right players at the right place – to delegate – which is a challenging art in itself”

Ray probably picked up his lesson on delegation on the dining table. Rallying out his illustration he adds, “Let’s say you are in a restaurant and have ordered a number of dishes.

Unless there is some empty space in your plate you cannot be served the next course. If you keep everything in your plate you will miss the next interesting dish,” he says. To move up the career ladder, delegation is important but with delegation you still remain accountable. In essence, you delegate responsibility along with authority but not accountability.

Soccer & the fine art of molding a Team
Like any proud resident of Kolkata, Ray loves football. He believes football is a perfect example of teaming. In soccer it is more important how you move when you are without the ball than when you are with the ball. When you are with the ball, everyone is focusing on you.

You will have to be at the right place at the right time to receive the ball and score that crucial goal or pass it onto the next person.
“Everywhere in life, teaming is very important. As individuals, we can only do so much. When you have to deliver something, especially in the services business where People are your most critical asset - Teaming is crucial. How much I can do depends on how I team with HR, Finance, Delivery etc. When a sales team is on ground selling a proposition, in the background you must ensure that you are preparing your team to deliver,” says Ray.

During his childhood days, Ray loved clay modeling. He had perfected the art of taking a lump of clay and giving it a fine aesthetic shape. At work, he is busy people-molding.

“There is no formula. It is your gut feeling. Quite a lot of time you run your business based on your gut feeling. If you wait to be certain about an outcome or event, the majority of the time you will find you are too late to take the decision. Obviously, your gutsy decisions should be backed by solid data. To be a successful leader I believe you need to have the intuition. Because there will be lot of uncertainty. How do you deal with uncertainty? You have to always choose between two outcomes and you have to bet on one.

Engineered to be different
Stricken with Hepatitis, Ray had to miss the engineering college enrollment process. He opted for the less-fashionable Arts program. However his passion always had the better of him and he enrolled for a two-year diploma in computer applications. He followed it up with a business administration course from Behrampur University in Orissa.

The programming bug didn’t stop there…In the evenings, while his classmates went for a cup of tea, Ray rented a bicycle and went to a small computer shop where he did some data processing work for a chemical manufacturing company. At times when the PC broke, he used to load all the raw data onto a floppy, come to his teacher’s house and work through the night to process reports. As and when reports were ready, he used to catch the next train to Ganjam and meet the client.

After graduating in management, Ray took up his first job at SQL Star. He was involved in developing a costing and budgeting application on Informix platform. Three years into his career, Ray wanted a change and wanted more challenges. Luckily for the young Ray an opportunity was in the waiting. Pricewaterhouse was also working on a project with the same client as Ray did….they watched the young Ray carefully and in 1991 Ray got a call from PriceWaterhouse.

He joined PriceWaterhouse as a junior programmer, went through all the designations from ground up, to become a partner in 1998. Ray doesn’t believe in career planning. He rather believes in the organization that he is working for and he believes in himself.

“I always find people are focusing on what they are going to do next year or so. The moment you are in the ‘what next’ mode of thinking, you will start worrying how to get there forgetting what you are supposed to execute now.” notes Ray.

When the going gets tough, the tough triumph
Ray’s first opportunity to go to the U.S. on an on-site project came within a year of joining PriceWaterhouse. He was unfortunate to work under a difficult manager.

“My manager was indifferent to some of my needs. I was in the U.S. for the first time and it was a stark cultural change. Little help came from my senior as I struggled to understand the work culture, the American ethic and their accent. It was a tough time and I felt isolated in a strange country” narrates Ray. He waited for an opportunity to go back home but that came only a year later. Before leaving the U.S., the manager presented Ray with a negative performance report.

Ray considers this experience to be a blessing in disguise – it proved to be his first lesson in People Management. When Ray became a manager, he made sure he was sensitive to people’s needs. “None of my direct reports have left since the beginning of my career as manager. Today I have exceptional relationships with people upward and downwards – my first thought is to put myself in the other person’s shoes – however tight they may be!

Ray - The Architect - Building with his own hands
A few years passed. ERP was getting popular across the world. Ray and couple of other PwC executives flew to the U.S to master ERP. Their goal was to come back and pioneer the ERP practice in India.

Ray headed to San Francisco and had the opportunity of working with some of PwC’s best clients—hi-tech companies in Silicon Valley including Intel, HP, IBM and Motorola. It is here that he honed his program management skills and successfully led teams that have created and delivered solutions for clients.

He got to work with some of the best clients across the world. Ray always wondered, if ERP projects can be executed from different locations then why not India? “It was believed that ERP always should be done only in the client place. I believed it could be done from an offshore location.”

In 1998, despite pressures to stay back, Ray decided to head back home and set up an ERP practice in PwC in Kolkata. “We started everything from scratch - built many relationships, created a lot of methods. It was challenging and satisfying.”

Ray then went on to head Technology Practice at PwC. As the leader of PwC’s Technology Practice and the Project director for a host of Indian and offshore assignments, he was actively involved in setting up the firm’s largest offshore facility a 110,000-sq. ft. technology center in India.

In the Pink of his career at Big Blue
When IBM acquired PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), IBM’s footprint in IT services was much larger than that of PwC.
There was uncertainty and yet great excitement in Ray’s career. “I had to deal with the situation. With a positive frame of mind I took the plunge and as they say – fortune favors the brave! ” says Ray.

With this acquisition, he was going to be the head of an organization that was 10 times bigger than the size of his team at PwC and Ray prepared himself to take on the challenge. Ray is indeed a leader of a different league. With a rare combination of excellent technical competency and mature understanding of global business and economic issues garnered from a rich hands-on experience in corporate strategy, systems, management consulting, business development, program and engagement management, change management and integration.

All through his career, Ray has not been just ambitious. As he puts it, “Being ambitious only cannot ensure you are successful.” What makes him keep his head high is that he believes in what he wants to do.