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May - 2006 - issue > Leadership
Sundi's Adaption Theory
Harish Revanna
Monday, May 1, 2006
At Adaptec, a twenty-five year old storage company (NASD: ADPT, market cap $ 648.86 million), there is burning desire to bring itself back to glory—it reached $5 billion market cap in 2000 just to plummet after the bust. And CEO Sundaresh Subramanian, dubbed Sundi, is currently holding the baton to drive the company towards success. Interestingly, the last time he held a different baton at Adaptec, as a general manager of marketing, he took the company from $90 million to $500 million. Only to quit later for the market-gluttonous attitude his company put up in its hey days, leading to defocus its core competency.

On his first day at work, Act II, Sundi-as-a-CEO hammered out a three-pronged strategy. “I want to focus, grow and deliver value,” he emphasized. In his inaugural speech, he appalled his employees asking everyone to have a trip for Adaptec’s success. He said: “We want people who are on a trip.” Before the pun hit the ceiling, the Wharton graduate expanded the acronym as trust, respect, integrity and passion. One distinct thing about Sundi is his Sundi-isms. He coins, spells, acronomises and uses his words differently (see as you read).

Often his talks are bustling with business jargons like internal focus, accountability, execution, managing supply chain, and engaging product development to name a few. Sundi’s focus is primarily to manage a right mix of OEM and channel partners for his business to get an optimum portfolio.

It’s hardly a year since he took up the mantle; Sundi has already divested the IBM INT, systems and manufacturing businesses of Adaptec calling them non-core. And is hell-bent on building his core business of RAID Controllers. Right now, he’s blowing winds of change to bring Adaptec back to profitability. He tells, “Profitability brings shareholders-value. Value comes from growth. And growth at present means strengthening our core areas with large investments.”

Sundi grew up in a middleclass family in Kolkata, India. As he slogged through India’s premier technology institute, IIT, he learnt that growing is a two way process of honing your innate talents while you are acquiring newer interests and skills. Incidentally, that’s exactly how he’s running Adaptec today: honing RAID Control technology with the strong built-up network of OEMs and channel partners, while conceiving value around storage and data protection. “We can hone by providing excellent support in quality, reliability, compatibility and interoperability of our products to our partners and OEMs,” he says, “while early-to-market products are often a brainwave of right partner ecosystem coupled with newer technologies surrounding chip and OS vendors.”

Talking about bleeding edge technologies, Sundi has an interesting anecdote—now clichéd with employees and friends, he says. As a young kid in Kolkata Sundi played field hockey, and later flew to the U.S for work, and started watched ice hockey. Unlike in field hockey, Sundi realized, that ice hockey needs greater anticipation among players as to where the puck could get after each stroke. So, players skate on ice to the anticipated points even before the puck could actually come to a point just to be ahead in the game.

Today, after 28-years in the U.S, Sundi wants Adaptec to be ahead of the market; he wants his employees to skate and identify markets before anybody else. “The win-game in technology is formulated on inputs as to where the market, customers and technology is headed; while we are already there waiting at the intersection of all these inputs,” he explains. And killer product ideas strike only to people with an antenna on their head is Sundi’s comical put potent belief.

Sundi’s antenna works best when smartest people surround him, it seems. He says, “I believe there can never be a monopolian idea in any technology or business—an idea that is unique to any single individual, which can turn around companies overnight.” Ideas, according to Sundi, are often sensed when the antenna receives waves from partners, OEMs, end-users, and importantly, the team members. And that team of skaters is what he means by right people. Here again, scate is what Sundi spells for skate. Reason? It has a full-form: sense of urgency, commitment, accountability, teamwork and execution.

Amazingly, the support that comes through an array of people in any decision-making process has made Sundi a winner at the top. “I’m a consulting leader and not a consensus leader,” he says. “Consulting leaders always have the cushioning of facts and data to fall upon. And in this world of instinct based leadership, data is clearly Sundi’s strong foundation and decision is just a outcome of timeframe.” However, it is that outcome of decision-making, which is the real test for leaders.

Decision, a crucial decision, is what Sundi calls his move back to Adaptec. It is his inborn interests to puzzle-out complex business situations, rally the right team and solve problems as a team that has had success on his sleeves. Business success entices him more to technological success. He classifies that most Indian CEOs are technically driven entrepreneurs than businessmen. “Some are passionate about technology inventions; their fun is in building technology companies and exiting from it when it reaches the business stage,” he says. Accordingly, a blend of right technical insights and business acumen often creates good companies. Today, having fun is all that matters to Sundi. “People go where they can find their fun,” he says. By the way, Sundi’s fun lies in hiring people who are on a TRIP and are ready to SCATE to the puck.
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