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Mr. Sudarshan – Former General Manager of HR at Viveks

17 December 2009 11 Comments

Dear CWS Readers,

It gives me immense pleasure to invite Mr. Sudarshan, former General Manager of HR at Viveks (Retail chain in South India) and a visiting faculty at Symbiosis Management Institute. Mr. Sudarshan holds an MA in Personnel Management after completing B Sc in Physics and MA in Indian Philosophy. He also had a long corporate career with rich experiences in various facets of HR Management. Without further ado, it is Coffee With Sudarshan.

Me: Sir, Welcome to this show on CWS-2! Can you talk a bit about your background, your schooling etc.

Sudarshan: I was born in Delhi. I did my schooling in Bhopal. Actually my father was working in BHEL. He was one of the 5 people who set up the first BHEL plant. He was transferred from Delhi to Bhopal. I studied till 11th STD in St. Josephs in Bhopal. Then we got transferred to Chennai, where I started pursuing my B. Sc. in physics. After that I decided to do an MA in Indian Philosophy. I also completed a MA in personal management.

Me: You seemed to have shifted from Physics to Indian Philosophy. How did you make such a choice? It is not an obvious career move.

Sudarshan: I was interested in Indian Philosophy. My father’s elder brother had a collection of books written by J Krishnamurthy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiddu_Krishnamurti) I have also listened to his speeches during my B Sc physics days. So, after this I wanted to pursue humanities. During our days, we didn’t have internet, career counseling etc. Someone suggested that I can pursue MA in Indian Philosophy course and I joined for the same. T M B Mahadevan, Head of Indian Philosophy, Centre of Advanced Studies, Madras was managing the course. He was also the advisor of Indira Gandhi.

In the meantime, I was attending an evening course on “Datamatics”, where I was finding applications of philosophy in Management. I started becoming interested in people aspect of management. Once again through word of mouth, I was told to apply for Tata Institute of Science for a course – “MA in Personnel Management”. It was a 2 years program. This is the equivalent of “Human Resource Management” in those days. After I completed the course, I started my corporate career.

Me: Sir, Can you talk about your corporate career, the various roles & responsibilities you held etc. You could also talk about some interesting anecdotes etc.

I started my career with Bank of Baroda. I joined in Chennai and was soon transferred to Hyderabad. I was appointed as a “Personnel Officer” and I was an assistant to the regional manager. I was primarily a specialized HR person handling recruitment & people issues. Functions like Recruitment, training etc were separated. In Hyderabad, only day to day activities were going on. Most of the important activities were happening in main office in Baroda. So, I opted to move to Baroda voluntarily.

In Baroda, I was involved in starting performance appraisal system. Performance appraisal as a concept was very new to the organization. We had 8000 officers at that time. We had no data to assess the performance. Nearly 1 year was spent in collecting data. Also those were the days when there were no PCs. There was a company by name Alumbic which had mainframe computers. We encoded the data – that took another 6 months. We used to generate reports using the facilities at Alumbic. It took us nearly 2 years to put the performance appraisal system in place. After that I left Bank of Baroda and joined TVS & Sons.

Me: From Bank to an automobile company. Why did you move? How did you make that choice?

Sudarshan: Bank was a very big system. There was no specific accountability. Also, I went for 2 or 3 programs in HR at IIMA. I came to know that TVS was looking for consultants. So, I pursed that opportunity and headed the HR in TVS & Sons, Sales & Service. This was the parent company. I moved back to Madurai.

Me: What role did you play in TVS?

Sudarshan: At TVS, I started the appraisal systems like before. In addition, I was also in charge of training and manpower planning. When I joined, TVS was around 3000 people strong, but we could have been more efficient. We only needed 1600 for the work we were doing at that stage. We wanted to right size the organization, but at the same time, we didn’t want to fire people. So, first we froze the recruitments for nearly 5 years. TVS was setting up different branches. We gave relocation offers to move to Kerala. If the employee doesn’t want to take up that offer because of relocation issues, we had a policy to offer the same job to his/her children. It also helped the company because the father would have been earning somewhere around 5000 – 6000 a month. Son gets only 2000 – 3000 because he starts at a lower position. Kerala was prone to many labor problems and TVS didn’t want to risk that. So we preferred to send our own employees there. In addition to this, some really good people were also retained as trainers for youngsters. On the whole, we followed a ‘right sizing without tears’ policy. I was there with TVS for nearly 8 years and the size of the organization was around 1800 when I left. During my tenure, I was in charge of manpower planning, performance appraisals, starting new branches in Kerala and starting professional recruitment after correcting the manpower.

Me: Why did you leave TVS when you were doing such interesting & challenging roles?

Sudarshan: Actually, my wife had limited opportunities in Madurai. Most of the big companies in Madurai like TVS & Madura Coats etc had no women policy. Even academic roles in Thiagaraja College of Engineering were very limited. So, we decided to move to Chennai. Even from children’s education point of view, it was a sensible move. I also decided to work as a consultant for 3 or 4 years with TVS even while I was at Chennai. Actually TVS had a JV with a company called DuPont which produced connectors for computers. They were planning to put up a factory. The officials of DuPont never came down to Madurai as we never had 5 star hotels in Madurai. They used to come to Chennai and my presence in Chennai actually made the job easier. I helped them in recruiting executives, setting up etc.

Me: After this did you join Viveks?

Sudarshan: Before joining Viveks, I spent some time in Hyderabad consulting on a Merger. It was an interesting experience. SOL Pharma was merging with Standard Organics. There were a number of HR challenges. Std Organics was an old company which was in the market for 10 – 15 years. It was into bulk drugs manufacturing company with a lot of chemistry activities as the back bone of the company. On the other hand, we had SOL Pharma, which was mainly into advertising & packaging of drugs. Chairman of Std Organics, Mr. Reddy had managed the company well. The stock price of the company had increased from Rs 10 to Rs 60 and was considering the merger for accelerated growth.

There were a number of interesting issues. SOL Pharma was full of young people with modern offices and new culture. Std Organics was just a factory, with lots of old people earning lower salary, but were more skilled workers with traditional work culture. It was a proper factory set up, while the former always into some PR activity or the other. You will have Models visiting offices etc. 🙂

If this wasn’t diverse enough, both organizations had a parallel organization structure. The old company was run by Son in Law of Mr. Reddy and the new one was run by a professional manager. Mr. Reddy wanted his Son in Law (SIL) to have more powers in the merged structure, but the professional manager didn’t want to report to SIL.

We decided that let us take one change at a time. First we will start with both the companies operating under the single banner, but internally, they were two different divisions operating independently. We moved the common functions like finance, HR, purchase, supply chain, MIS etc to a centralized division. This common function department can report directly to the chairman. And SIL & Professional Manager can be made as executive heads of their respective departments and report to the chairman.

I remember explaining all this on OHP sheets to the Chairman. We never had PPTs those days. In just 1 hour, Chairman asked a few questions and finally said it was a wonderful idea and approved for the plan. Then, the implementation phase started. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.

First of all, offices of both the firms were in different places in Hyderabad. So, a decision had to be made regarding where to place this “centralized common department”. There was a new R&D department which was started. It was an entirely separate organization, which the chairman wanted to start. It was full of researchers who had their own style of working. We didn’t know what to do with it. As I already mentioned, we had 2 parallel organizations. We had 2 finance heads. We asked one of them to report to another based on qualification, work experience, performance evaluation etc. Some of them executives even left the organization at this stage, which made merging easier. This was in terms of executives. We had redundant staff; we offered VRS schemes to them. We had lot of ladies staff, who weren’t willing to travel to new place. They chose to voluntarily leave the organization for suitable compensation.

Just when we thought we managed to pull off the merger, the real problem began. An unexpected event took place. USSR collapsed. Bulk drugs were mainly exported to USSR. Nearly 50 crores were lost. There was turmoil. Chairman spent nearly 1.5 months in Russia scouting for payment. But he couldn’t recover anything because the rules of the land had changed and the old contracts were not binding. In the mean time, stock price of the company fell from Rs 60 to Rs 8. Suddenly, bankers stopped lending us money. Suppliers etc started asking for payables. The company got entangled in financial mess.

Chairman retired. He washed his hands off. SIL was given the responsibility to take care of the firm. Professional manager wasn’t willing to report to the SIL. Nobody was talking eye to eye. Even I didn’t have anybody to report to. I was initially working with the old chairman, who is no longer with the company. I had no role there after he left and I started to pursue other opportunities. That’s when I joined Viveks.

Readers, hope you enjoyed the Part 1 of the interview. More interesting anecdotes coming your way in Part 2.

I would also like specially thank Swetha S, IIM Bangalore student, for co-ordinating this interview with Mr. Sudarshan. Mr. Sudarshan is Swetha’s father.

Part 2 is coming soon! So stay tuned 🙂




  • Shiva said:

    Very diverse and rich experience and as usual very well captured!!

  • Coffee With Sundar » Coffee With Mr. Sudarshan – Part 2 said:

    […] the interview with Mr. Sundarshan (Part 1), please find the part 2 of the interview below. Me: You joined Viveks after the brief stint at […]

  • sudarshan.j.v. said:

    have a good job.you have success.

  • SMSUNDARAM said:

    I would like to know your contact no
    best wishes

  • SMSUNDARAM said:

    pl let me know your contact no

  • sudarshan sundaram said:

    this for SM Sundaram contact no. 9945644604

  • sudarshan sundaram said:

    SM sundaram,

    my contact no is 9945644604 bangalore.

  • SMSUNDARAM said:

    my contact

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