Saturday, November 13, 2010

E. Sudhir Reddy - Business Magnate and Indulgent Friend

Yesterday I had an opportunity to meet Sudhir Reddy, the Group Chairman and Managing Director of the IVRCL group of companies, which has a turnover in excess of Rs. 8000 crores. One of the fastest growing infrastructure companies, it is now the largest in its area in South India, overshadowing names such as GVK, GMR, NCC etc. I had watched IVRCL since my days in the bank and always found it a good bet to back for the way it was growing. I shared a formal relationship with their CFO Balarami Reddy who was a committed and serious man, one of the rare few professionals I met in those days, and admired the company that much more. But now I went for a completely different reason.
Sudhir and I at his office

It was much to my surprise that I found a few years ago, post quitting the bank that the CMD of IVRCL was Sudhir Reddy, an old team mate of mine from my first year for Marredpally Cricket Club, a club for which I played for more than 25 years. It dates back to 1983 when MCC, then led by the legendary M.L.Jaisimha, supported by his band of merry men Aravind Rao, Santosh Reddy, Govind Raj, a few young cricketers of the college level who included Anant Reddy, Sudhir Reddy, Raghuram Reddy, Hari Mohan (wicket keeper), and a couple of us from the Under 15 South Zone camp, Fazal Abbas and me. Sometimes our kit boy Gani stepped in to make an eleven, sometimes we never had an eleven. But those were really the best years of cricket we played - for the sheer fun of it.

It was a different experience for me to see cricket played that way. ML Jaisimha and gang would come over in his sleek Fiat car on time, some country music playing on the stereo, and we'd all troop in and play some of the best teams from Hyderabad. The A1 league then, was pretty tough, and we had to win a few to save ourselves from demotion. Lunches were full of beer (for the older cricketers) and biryanis. All good shots were celebrated with a huge honking of horns from the cars and there was as much tomfoolery as serious cricket. As 16 year olds, we were too much in awe of all that we saw, the test star, the big built robust collegians, their loud laughter and hoped we would grew up to be something like that someday.

My new ball partner was Sudhir. He was lanky, sharp and was quick. He swung the ball and cut it too, and hassled all the batsmen with his extra pace. I remember one spell of 6 for 17 he took when he was almost unplayable. It was a short season but I have very strong memories of it. The older cricketers always indulged us and Sudhir was one of them - always had a kind word, never brushed us off as kids. I distinctly remember Anant getting lots of runs that season (and dropping Vijay Mohan Raj off my bowling in the slips) before he went away to the USA, Raghu keeping wickets in that ballooning shirt of his and doing a good job of it as well as getting lots of runs over thirdman (and keeping us all in good humour), Sudhir bowling at rapid speeds from his upright, whip-like action, hostile spells that I tried to support from my end, Hari doing his bit as a keeper whenever he was in. We really enjoyed the Sunday games that year, lots of laughter, managed a couple of wins, fought and saved some tough games and we all faded off into our lives. I keep bumping into Raghu and Hari once in a while and completely lost touch with Anant and Sudhir. Until one day recently, Vicky told me that Sudhir was the CMD of this company called IVRCL and I said what? And then I saw Sudhir on CNBC and recognised him instantly, after almost thirty years, he was exactly the same unbelievably. Not an ounce of fat.  Just shed some hair.

I called him the other day to seek time for an interview we needed to do. The interview would get some views of his on how cricket helped him in his life. Of course he was busy and it took me a while to actually get through to him but when I did, he instantly placed me, and agreed to the interview. I am constantly surprised at this quality. The warmth, the time he gave - all when he need not have.And that too for someone who is so busy. He gave me some time and I asked Prasad to coordinate and we finally landed up there - camera, lights and stuff.

Thankfully I got to speak with him for a few moments before the interview and I asked him a few questions I always wanted to. I asked him how he grew his company so fast and he laughed and said that it was a lot of hardwork and things falling in the right place. He said that he really could not attribute it to any great vision - just that they went about doing the business right.
E. Sudhir Reddy, Group Chairman, IVRCL Group

'We ran it professionally from day one. We cared for our employees. The attrition rate is zero today - for the past five years. We gave esops to our employees and shared our wealth. And our culture here is of work, of taking care of the team and of growing. Those who did not deliver, we retrenched them several years ago. We took over Hindstan Dorr Olivier and now another company in the UK. Now our top management has some great professionals from reputed companies, strong backgrounds. They will go all the way up - take up MD posts. We are forcing them to grow out of their functions now. That is why we grow, because we have a professional outfit and we are not a family run business where everyone is jostling for table space. One of the best compliments we received was when a consulting company (I fail to recollect which) suggested to the Tata's to adopt the IVRCL model of having a Central Committee for taking decisions.'

His personal secret? To me it looked like this - 'I never do anything that I don't know,' he said. 'I keep it simple, do what you know.' I think its a great philosophy and entirely subscribe to it.

All the halls are named after rivers I noticed. 'Yes,' he smiled indulgently, the same warm smile that he gave us when we were kids. 'Water is everywhere. We are surrounded by water. IVRCL is the biggest name in water. We have the largest desalination plant in India, in Chennai. Life cannot sustain itself without water - so all our halls are named after rivers. And this building is named Mihir, or the Sun, the power of which is supreme. And when you stand before it, your shadow only falls backward.' I really liked the thought behind the names. Must be typical of Sudhir, a purpose to all that he does, a meaning to all he creates.

I asked him how he took the leap when he grew - the big leap between wanting to do everything and delegating. He laughed again. 'One learns by experience.'

We dwelt on cricket for a while. 'I was in the Moin ud dowla squad that year,' he reminisced. 'And no one told me about that. A cousin of mine saw my name at Gymkhana and asked me why I was not playing. I had a great season, wickets and a couple of hundreds. When I confronted them, they pacified me saying that they would consider me for other tournaments. It was badly managed even then.'

I gave him a copy of 'The Men Within' and asked him if he would read it. He said that is one habit that he retained. He likes reading. And after getting a hang of what the book was about he told me to read the 'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell. 'Do something with the thought in that book, about the Canadian hockey team selection, and maybe we could do something for cricket in Hyderabad. Arshad would listen to us,' he said. IVRCL sponsors the Arshad Ayub coaching centre at Vijaynagar Colony. 'Our small bit for Corporate Social Responsibility'.

But IVRCL is in a bigger way in CSR. 'We sponsor mid day meals for about 50,000 children through Akshaya patra,' said Sudhir quietly. 'These kids may have intelligence and talent, but what will they do if they have nothing to eat. They are our future.'

There is something very earthy and grounded about Sudhir. Nothing has changed in him from those days, in the way he speaks, the way he stands, even the way he looks. He has remained very fit, which I am guessing, shows the kind of discipline he has. His words ring honest and true, sharp and  clear, displaying a clarity borne out of experiencing the world. But throughout that hour and a half, never once did he appear hurried, hassled or impatient. He was there all the time, mentally, despite the many commitments I am sure he must have had.

I did not have to search hard for that one quality I always look for in people who have become successful - the quality that makes them treat everyone feel equal and not lesser than them - a quality that I think is the hallmark of true greatness. And Sudhir displayed that amply in the way he spoke to everyone, held his patience in the warm room and our taking up more of his time. Soumya apologized to him for taking up so much time an he smiled at her and said - 'Hey, it is nothing. I'd do it for Hari'. And that makes you feel really good.

I am so glad for you Sudhir and all that you achieved and I wish you, your family and your company greater success, peace, joy and good health, in the years to come. And thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, your experiences, your time and of course, your indulgence.


Prasanna Kumar said...

Congrats on meeting u r old cricket mate. I just one of mine., we played for 3 years here in LA and my buddy moved back to India for good. Good old times I guess. :)


Harimohan said...

I am meeting so many of them now after almost 20 years, for entirely different reasons. It is really nice to catch them now and bask in the genuine warmth of memories of those days of dreams and innocence. Good times surely Prasanna.

Sushmita said...

I truly believe "Friendship is always a responsibility and never ever an opportunity". The most appropriate quote for this friend (Sudhir Reddy) of mine is “He who angers you conquers you”…really proud of him.

Anonymous said...

JAMES BELL said...

“Indulgent friend.” Those words ring so true when you talk of my close friend and colleague, Sudhir Reddy, who I’ve known for 32 years. In these years, I have seen Sudhir as a person who’s very down-to-earth, pragmatic and unpretentious. He possesses a sharp business acumen; yet, he’s childlike, fun-loving and witty. One will instantly admire him for his witty ‘laugh-a-minute’ one-liners. He’s very comfortable being himself and talks with the same ease to a man asking him directions on the road as to a President or a Prime Minister. He reminds me of lines from Rudyard Kiplings poem ‘If’ : ‘If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch…’.

Sudhir is a magnificent entrepreneur and an adorable friend to me indeed. I can vouch for him anytime, anyday.

Harimohan said...

I agree totally Sushmita. Anon, very well put.

Anonymous said...

I am really Glad i discovered this blog.Added to my bookmark!

S. Yugandhar Reddy said...

Congratulations to both of you for re-uniting yourselves after so many years. Its a naked truth that IVRCL stands tall, just 1 step below LnT, in the infrastructure field.We Teugus really proud of Mr.Sudhir Reddy, the legend in the industry, who grew the company from scratch to present level due to his great vision. Its becoming quite popular on international arena too. I wish him all success in his future endeavours.

Usha Hariharan said...

Just happened to see this blog and realized it’s about an amazing human Mr Sudhir Reddy . Read the blog in all its entirety and wish to add that Yes he is a genuine sincere honest committed person, passionate about his work but in spite of all his work commitments if a friend had to drop in, he will give his all to make the friend as welcome ... I have known him for 24 years and the first time I met him I noticed how he offered a wayside kid who was begging to come over to his office and offered him some work in the garden. He is kind, helpful, down to earth humble and simple. Always wish him the very best in life��