The second edition of the Samman, announced during the 21st annual conference on 26th February 2021, honored 15 veteran Indian CIOs
The CIO&Leader Samman was launched in 2019 to mark the 20th anniversary of the annual CIO&Leader Conference, to acknowledge the contribution of senior IT leaders in Indian enterprises.
CIO&Leader has never been involved in giving any awards to CIOs, even though its sister publication, ITNEXT, confers the prestigious NEXT100 awards. That is because while that serves a community objective of finding future CIOs of India, giving awards to CIOs, in our humble opinion, is not exactly something we think we are qualified to do.
During the first CIO&Leader Samman, our then publisher, late Kanak Ghosh, explained the philosophy thus.
“The CIO&Leader Samman, as the name denotes, is an honor for the veteran CIOs for their contribution and achievements. It is not an award. We, as a community cause facilitating platform, can only honor them with humility, not bestow awards on them.”
So, CIO&Leader Samman is not an award at all. It is a way of paying respect to the veteran CIOs.
To choose a few from among a set of deserving people is anything but easy. We decided to turn to the CIOs themselves to do the selection. To avoid conflict of interest, we turned to erstwhile CIOs, as only serving Indian CIOs are eligible for the Samman.
For the purpose of selection of the recipients of the awards, CIO&Leader invited five erstwhile CIOs to be members of a jury panel. They were:
- Kaushal K Choudhary, former Executive Director - IT, Lanco
- Prashun Dutta, former CIO, Tata Power & Reliance Energy
- Pratap Gharge, former CIO, Bajaj Electricals
- S Ramasamy, former Executive Director - IS, Indian Oil
- TG Dhandapani, former CIO, TVS Motors and Sundaram Clayton Group
Except for TG Dhandapani, who was a member of the 1st CIO&Leader Samman jury panel, all the four were new jury members.
For getting the names initially, we decided to follow the peer nomination route and asked the CIOs to nominate a maximum of three CIOs each for the honor.
But before that the criteria were finalized, in consultation with the jury, CIO&Leader spelt out the minimum criteria.
To be considered for the Samman, the CIOs needed to meet the following basic criteria:
- He/she needed to have had a minimum of 30 years of professional experience. Those in their 30th year were also to be considered.
- Out of those years, at least five should have been as a CIO
- He/she needed to be serving as a CIO in India now. Those who have retired or are serving in a non-CIO role or are based outside India were not to be considered
For all these considerations, 28th February 2021, was taken as the reference date.
These criteria were publicized for the people who would nominate. Many CIOs came back with their nominations.
While each of the valid nomination—those meeting the criteria—were considered by the jury for the honor, the number of nominations had no bearing on the final selection. That choice was completely the jury’s.
The jury took into account the CIOs’ professional achievements, use of IT to maximize strategic values for businesses that they have been associated with, their leadership, and their contribution to and participation in the community cause.
In the 2nd CIO&Leader Samman, the jury decided to give more importance to the leadership and contribution to the community. The logic was that the jury considered almost all the CIOs who had made it to the shortlist as almost equal when it came to their professional achievements. They agreed that unless they have those credentials, they could not have come thus far.
After three meetings and exhaustive research put forward by jury members, they came out with 15 recommended names.
There were 41 nominees in the final list. After intense discussions and deliberations, the esteemed jury panel came out with a list of 15 recipients.
The 15 recipients of the Samman, in alphabetical order, are:
- Aravamuthan Balaji, Global CIO, UPL
- Atanu Roy, CIO, Biocon
- Bishwanath Ghosh, former CIO - Enterprise, Manufacturing & Corporate, Mahindra & Mahindra
- Deepak Agarwal, Executive Director (IS), IOCL
- Dhiren Savla, Group CIO, Kuoni Group, VFS Global Services
- Girish Rao, former Group Head - Digital Transformation & CTO, Future Retail
- Gyan Pandey, Global & Group CIO, Aurobindo Pharma
- Jagdish Lomte, VP - IT & CIO - BTG, Thermax
- Rajat Sharma, former President - IT, Atul Ltd
- Sachin Gupta, President & CIO, Usha International
- Sanjiv Kumar Jain, Group CIO, Krishna Maruti Group
- S Raghunatha Reddy, CIO, UTI Mutual Fund
- V Ranganathan Iyer, Group CIO & EVP - IT, JBM Group
- Venkatesh Natarajan, SVP - IT & CIO, Ashok Leyland
- Vinay Avadhut Khargonkar, Vice President & Head - Corporate IT, Larsen & Toubro
We present you the exclusive set of honorees – the recipients of the 2nd CIO&Leader Samman – with their brief snapshots…
1. Aravamuthan Balaji, Global CIO, UPL
He may sound less like an IT or business leader and more like a spiritiual leader when he proclaims, "We must be thankful for where we have reached, does not mean that we are the most talented”. If that shows his humility, his thinking also reflects high sense of empathy.
Yet, Aravamuthan Balaji, a CIO since last one and half decade, does not lose sight of his role as a business enabler. Purpose-driven IT is what he swears by. And advises the younger lot to focus more on understanding and living that purpose than to get obsessed by a particular technology in this age of ‘shrinking technology lifecycles’.
No wonder, he connects very well with people which helps him tremendously in carrying out his responsibility, especially when it comes to leading change, where a lot of human issues are involved. Take, for example, integrating of UPL with acquired company, Arysta LifeScience Corporation, in a record span of 13 months. Similarly, at Piramal Enterprises, he successfully led the IT separation process in the complex demerger/merger of the Glass group in the US, in a record time.
Dedicated to the community cause, Balaji has been serving as a jury member for NEXT100 since 2017. Apart from UPL and Piramal Enterprises, Balaji had had stints at Reliance Industries, TI Cycles and Dinamalar.
Quote: “After a point of time, it's not money or recognition that matters. It's how many people's life you are changing that makes you happy to enrich your life”
2. Atanu Roy, Group CIO, Biocon Group
A CIO who combines experience in consulting and offshoring services segments before moving to enterprise IT, Roy gives equal importance to strategy, execution and creating strong teams. Strategy for him involves looking at all dimensions of the business – looking beyond the business dynamics and keeping pace with the trends sweeping through the industry.
A continuous learner, Roy recounts two valuable lessons in his professional life. One he learnt while handling supply chain at HP Services: handling complexity by breaking it into smaller tasks and the other is when a highly successful technology project failed to show results because the people involved did not identify with it. That taught him the value of involving people as owners.
His advice to the next-generation IT managers is four-fold – know the big picture of evolving technology landscape; learn the dynamics of industry that you work with thoroughly; build leadership skills early on, especially the communication/persuasion skills as that is now an essential need for an IT leader and finally, focus on team building.
Roy has worked in PricewaterhouseCoopers, HP Services, Dr Reddy’s, and Sun Pharma before taking up his current assignment at Biocon. Always sensitized to the community causes, he has served as a member of NEXT100 jury for three years in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Quote: "As a CIO, you must always keep your ears to the ground - to know what changes are happening to your business and how is the emerging technology landscape changing"
3. Bishwanath Ghosh, former CIO- Enterprise, Manufacturing Systems & Corporate Functions, Mahindra & Mahindra
What separates a great CIO from a good one is whether he can perceive business needs, rather than being ‘told’ about them. By that account alone, Bishwanath Ghosh would feature among the most successful CIOs in India, as he has continuously worked with business by observing them and helping them define the needs—and of course, executing the solutions successfully.
Two decades back in Maruti, he conceptualized the need for a centralized dealer management system, which was perceived to be an impractical idea that time, because of availability of networks. But the visionary in Ghosh realized that it was a matter of time before that challenge would be met. With his conviction and ‘support from right quarters’, he built that effectively. Whether it is giving end-user devices to dealers to demonstrate experiences or creating an all-encompassing internal mobile app in Mahindra & Mahindra, Ghosh has helped define the needs, again and again.
Ghosh attaches equal importance to business alignment and harnessing teams. Not surprisingly, Mahindra & Mahindra has seen one of the highest successful candidates in NEXT100. He himself has been involved as a jury member for two years.
A thoroughly focused man, Ghosh has spent almost his entire career in the automotive industry, most of it in two of the largest companies in the sector, Maruti and M&M.
Quote: “Just being leader to my team is good; but not enough. What can I contribute back to the society?”
4. Deepak Agarwal, Executive Director (IS), IOCL
The guiding principles which has led to success in the past may not be as relevant today. Hence, a leader must stay on top of the changes that are happening today and analyze how he can do better and influence the team with a shared vision and goals. That is the philosophy that guides Deepak Agarwal.
He believes that any IT professional should continuously upskill, but more importantly, should have passion and compassion to succeed in his role. In fact, he is one of the few CIOs who thinks lateral movements between IT and other functions would make the organizations absorb and compete on technology much better.
Agarwal has always pushed himself to adapt to the changes, whether it's business or technology-related, to give exceptional results and eliminate the barriers of delivering quality at speed.
Agarwal is a winner of the first batch of NEXT100 awards in 2010 and encourages his team to take part in major IT strategy competitions, sometimes leading them from the front.
In his career at Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL), Agarwal has handled various vital portfolios, including systems development, operations, IT infrastructure, projects execution, software contracts management, change management, and strategic IT planning.
Managing IT in India’s largest company is, undoubtedly, complex. Combining conventional wisdom and an acute sense of changing business needs makes that enjoyable for Agarwal.
Quote: “Lead with passion, compassion and purpose. That has been my guiding philosophy”
5. Dhiren Savla, Group CIO, VFS Global Services
With over two and a half decades of experience in solving some of the most complex enterprise IT issues, Dhiren Savla has cemented his position as a business-focused CIO. Hailed as one of India's finest CIOs, he believes that one can accomplish anything in life with hard work, dedication, and perseverance.
Exemplifying the spirit of continuous improvement, Savla advises his juniors to make learning a habit and incorporate it in every task that they do. "You need to learn all the time. And you can learn from anyone! It could be your junior or your team member, your partner, other functions, or anyone else".
Widely regarded as an outstanding strategist and mentor by fellow CIOs and younger IT professionals, his contribution to the community cause is noteworthy. Savla is one of the longest-serving jury members for NEXT 100 and has been associated with the initiative since 2010.
Savla has spent major part of his CIO career with Switzerland-based global travel and destination management firm, Kuoni Group, and its subsidiary, VFS Global Services. At VFS, he has led several IT transformation projects revolving around Visa processing, identity management, and citizen services.
Besides Kuoni, he has also held technology leadership roles at CRISIL, Merrill, IL&FS, PL India, and Sharekhan.
Quote: “I am a firm believer in inclusive leadership. You can always lead a successful team if you include them in your journey and allow them to own success or failure.”
6. Girish Rao, former Group CIO, Future Group India
One doubts if the guiding philosophy of an effective CIO could have been captured more succinctly than how Girish Rao puts it – adapt and adopt. As the environment is changing fast, one has to adapt to survive and thrive and for a technologists that can only be done by adopting the new, the emerging.
What, however, sets Rao apart is his progressive thinking about role of a CIO. Understanding business needs and leveraging technology to fulfil those needs is of course the minimum common denominator. But he sees the CIO’s role a bit wider – in making people comfortable in using technology – by removing whatever barriers that may be there - user experience, fear about security, loss of control…and that is also his most important advice to next generation of IT professionals—make digital business a smooth experience for all stakeholders.
His dedication for community causes is revealed by his long association with NEXT100 as a jury member – eight times, one of the most by any jury member – from the very early days of 2011 to last year.
Starting his professional journey in Marico as a Systems Manager, he came back to the company after a stint in consulting at Mahindra Consulting/Bristlecone before taking up the assignment at Future Group India. He has now moved on to a new assignment.
Quote: “Adopting and adapting to the changing business environment (both within and outside the organization), using the right technology, is extremely important”
7. Gyan Pandey, Global & Group CIO, Aurobindo Pharma
For someone who accidentally landed up in IT, by his own admission, it has been an extremely ‘fruitful’ journey for Gyan Pandey as an IT leader. Even today, not too many IT leaders in India come from a non-technology background. Three decades back, it was even more rare.
But for Pandey, that evolution is not unnatural. Be it professions, places, or even political ideologies, Pandey has lived through multiple experiences and has consistently enriched himself from those.
Being honest to yourself, knowing your strength and weaknesses, doing everything with passion but accepting the failure and moving on have been some of the guiding principles in his professional life—and ‘personal life’ as well.
But the single biggest value that defines Pandey as a person—and everyone who has closely interacted with him will vouch for it—is the deep sense of empathy that he possesses. Like many other CIOs in this Samman list, he also believes in lifelong learning.
Gyan Pandey has been very active in community activity, serving as member of the jury committee of NEXT100 awards, continuously for four years, since 2016.
Starting with PricewaterhouseCoopers in early 90s, Pandey has worked in Accounts for multiple companies including Panasonic India, before moving as an ERP manager in Spectranet. He has worked in Genpact, Oracle, Qatar Petrochemicals and Enrich LLC, before taking up his current assignment in Aurobindo Pharma.
Quote: “Don’t be afraid of failures. Accept it as part of your journey towards a successful life”
8. Jagdish Lomte, VP - IT & CIO - BTG, Thermax
Here is a CIO who talks more about values and principles than technology. Taking decisions based on core principles, trusting the employees, and care and respect for each member of the team are the guiding principles of Jagdish Lomte as a leader.
One of the most accessible and enthusiastic personalities in the community, Lomte’s achievements as a CIO speaks volume of his professional competence, even though he stresses more on values and principles—probably implicitly implying that it is those principles that guide his success as a CIO.
So much is his belief in these values that when asked what would he advise the next generation IT leaders, he stresses on those values like respect for fellow workers, developing team and trust—of course, adding continuous skill enhancement to it.
An active community member, Lomte has served as a jury member for NEXT100 in two consecutive years from 2017 to 2018.
Lomte has worked mostly in manufacturing/heavy engineering segment with stints in well-known companies like Bajaj Auto, Mahindra & Mahindra, KEC International, Walchandnagar Industries, before taking up his current assignment at Thermax.
Quote: “I would like to give back to society and spend more time on guiding and sharing knowledge with the SMEs”
9. Rajat Sharma, former President - IT, Atul Ltd
A leader who swears by delegation of ‘authority’, not just work is a rarity by itself. And if such a leader combines that philosophy with a specific diktat to his juniors to challenge the status quo, you must be talking of a creative head in a big global agency. But here, we are talking of Rajat Sharma, veteran CIO and Samman recipient.
Interestingly, the most dominant theme in Sharma’s discussion around his leadership is a kind of unassuming character. He begins by crediting all his mentors and seniors for whatever leadership position he has achieved and ends by crediting his team members and juniors for all the success that he has attained. As such, conversations with him steers significantly towards his team from himself, no matter whatever is the topic.
A thorough family man and an avid biker, Sharma, advises the new generation for stretching the limit, bring about the change and keep upgrading themselves.
Such an IT leader, who credits others for everything, cannot but be an active community contributor. Sharma is, for sure. He has served as the jury member in NEXT100 awards twice – in 2012 and 2016.
In his long career, he has worked in reputed organizations like Atul Ltd, Shree Cements, Dainik Jagran and Bajaj Hindustan.
Quote: “Embrace change. Challenge the status quo. Obsolescence is the only constant in technology.”
10. Sachin Gupta, President & Chief Information & Innovation Officer, Usha International
If a multitude of diverse experience is increasingly being considered an essential requirement for a CIO, no one comes close to Sachin Gupta. A hotelier by education, Gupta did his MBA post hotel management degree, only to be an IT manager. One of the few Indian CIOs with considerable experience in the industry side managing revenue—and with none less than Microsoft, his experience in the user side too is diverse – in non-profits, health, financial services, media, and consumer durables—across US and India.
For a man who swears by making a difference to business, that is no mean achievement. Understanding business and creating business value in different industries requires a thorough appreciation of the underlying dynamics. For Gupta, it comes from two basic principles that he adheres to and advises the younger professionals to follow– ‘there could be someone out there who may do it better than me’ and ‘don’t fear failure but be decisive and fail fast’.
Sachin Gupta has been a NEXT100 jury member continuously for three years since 2017.
He has worked in companies like Deloitte, Cardinal Health and Toyota Financial Services in the US before moving to India as Senior Director for Microsoft Consulting, where he later took up India CIO role. Among his recent stints are as CIOs of Bennett, Coleman & Co and Havells before joining his current assignment.
Quote: “Delegate. Trust your people. Get them to drive things for you. This will help you to do multiple things and make a difference to your organization and your job.”
11. Sanjiv Kumar Jain, Group CIO, Krishna Maruti Group
Belonging to the Y2K era that brought the Indian techie to global limelight, Sanjiv Kumar Jain started in application development like many techies at that time. His deep involvement and focus on execution made the organizations he worked in entrust him with more and more—from infrastructure to ERP to communication. Soon, Jain was synonymous with creating solutions and carrying out the execution of new challenging projects flawlessly—be it VSAT-based networks when the technology debuted, CCTV-based monitoring of coal transportation or setting up of state-of-the-art data centers in manufacturing industry.
Jain, who has proven himself through meeting numerous challenging business problems, remains, at heart, a techie. Always on learning mode, he advises his juniors too for continuous learning—both inside and outside work. Calculated risk taking remain his essential approach for business technology rollout—create PoCs, demonstrate value, and scale up. But what sets him apart is the way he involves the team, not just in execution but also in the decision-making phase, which makes him a popular leader.
Popular among fellow CIOs, his contribution to community cause is remarkable. He has served as NEXT100 jury in 2015 and 2016.
In his long career, he has worked in major companies like ABB, Shriram Pistons, Subros, Jindal TIF, Minda Group before joining his present organization, Spark Minda Group.
Quote: “Role of CIO is full of surprises on a daily basis. There is no option other than to be on a continuous learning mode”
12. S Raghunatha Reddy, CIO, UTI Mutual Fund
A CIO who believes thoroughly in leading by example, S Raghunatha Reddy, is a people’s leader. A leader, he says must know when to delegate a task, make people accountable for results, and must take the pilot's seat to motivate teams. Yet, delegation does not mean shying away from being hands-on.
With this guiding philosophy, he has been inspiring his teams successfully, pushing them, and delivering outstanding results throughout his three-decades-long career. Like some other CIOs in this Samman list, he gives utmost importance to developing empathy as a leader. "I am always empathic to the colleagues. I enjoy delegating the task but also guide them and working hands-on with teams when needed," he says.
He recommends his juniors to develop critical thinking and acquire expertise in multiple business domains early in their career as he thinks technical aptitude alone can no longer be enough to succeed in today's fast-evolving business dynamics.
Reddy has been very active in community activity and served as a member of the jury committee of NEXT100 awards continuously for four years, between 2015 to 2018.
Reddy has been with his present company, UTI Mutual Fund, for three decades, rising from an AVP to become EVP and CIO.
Quote: “You need to solve real-world business problems. Developing the ability to think critically early in life can significantly help to accomplish exceptional results in this journey”
13. V Ranganathan Iyer, Group CIO & EVP - IT, JBM Group
Enterprise IT, which has been a process efficiency enhancer in traditional industries, it is rare to find a CIO who is not just willing to ‘tolerate’ failure but actively encourages it. While on the face of it, it sounds surprising, it does not remain so, when V Ranganathan Iyer, spells out his two guiding principles. One: Do not reinvent the wheel; learn from others and your own experience. Two: Try fast and fail fast. Once you go through the fast filter—not reinventing the wheel—a failure essentially means you are trying something new.
A leader known for both his sense of clarity in his plans and his excellent relationship with people—be his team members, peers, partners or other community members—Iyer stands out for two other attributes – his stress on team spirit and integrity. In a business, it is all about a shared goal and if you do not get that you are missing something. And of course, ‘you have to be faithful to yourself.’ Sticking to these principles makes him content.
Known for his active community participation, Iyer has been a NEXT100 jury for three years between 2014 to 2016. He has worked in organizations like Jindal Exports, Shahi Exports, House of Pearl Fashions before taking up his current assignment.
Quote: “You have to fail to get success. If you have not, possibility is that you have not tried anything new”
14. Venkatesh Natarajan, SVP - IT & CIO, Ashok Leyland
In a career spanning over two decades, veteran CIO, Venkatesh Natarajan, is widely known as a people’s person who has built several high-performance teams through his unique mentoring approach.
He firmly believes that a leader must be a 'role model' for his people who accept him for his knowledge and skills, respect his vision, and cherish every interaction with him.
For someone who has built great respect and credibility over the years due to his affiliative leadership style, Venkatesh credits Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita, for his achievements. "do your best and leave the rest to the cosmic forces."
He attaches equal importance to emotional intelligence, empathy, and mindfulness and advises young technology professionals to choose an area they are passionate about, gain deep knowledge in a specific domain, and remain enthusiastic about learning new things.
Venkatesh has spent his entire career primarily in the Chennai-based Indian multinational automotive manufacturing company, Ashok Leyland, where he has been managing a 10,000+ user population and 200+ IT support professionals.
His passion for mentorship and community cause is evident as he has served as a jury for NEXT100 for four years – 2011, 2014, 2017, and 2018.
Quote: “Strive for excellence in whatever you do, and success will automatically follow”
15. Vinay Avadhut Khargonkar, VP & Head - Corporate IT, Larsen & Toubro
Most CIOs today emphasize the need to understand and appreciate business needs, rather than just getting obsessed with technology. Vinay Avadhut Khargonkar, goes a step further. He says CIO’s job is not just to provide solution to the business problem through technology but also help the organizations in adapting to the changing environment and in bringing cultural change.
A leader whose mantra is under-promising and over-delivering, Khargonkar insists that it can lead to huge respect from others in organizations. A CIO who loves to be grounded, he stresses the need for all CIOs to hugely focus on talent—spending considerable talent in nurturing, motivating, inspiring team members and giving them their due.
His advice to the newcomers is to learn, unlearn and relearn. And he is not unequivocal about it: if you cannot do that, this is not the field for you, he says.
This focus on talent makes him contribute back to the community. He has been a NEXT100 Jury member since 2019.
Khargonkar has spent majority of his professional career at Larsen & Toubro. He started off his journey as Head of Information Systems, rising up the ranks to where he is today.
Quote: “You can fly high, but unless you are grounded and connected, you cannot get the respect.”