Point of View

Relentless execution and team building sailed Coforge in turbulent waters

August 17, 2021

“Our performance over the last one year is a classic case study on how the organization pivoted fast and pivoted right, right from the early days of the pandemic.”
– Sudhir Singh, Coforge CEO

Phil Fersht, CEO of HFS Research, welcomed Sudhir Singh, CEO of Coforge, to the HFS OneOffice™ Digital Symposium in a Digi-side Chat to discuss the key management mantras that have helped him rise through the ranks, uncover advice to those taking on the greater leadership roles, bust myths associated with the role of the CEO, delve into learnings along the way, and share what he enjoys most about his role.

Sudhir started his career in 1995 with Unilever (Hindustan Lever). At the beginning of his career, Sudhir aspired to be a CEO, but in the back of his mind, he aspired to own a profit and loss that could showcase a tangible, perceptible, and distinct impact on a business. He feels capability and commitment alone do not get you to be CEO—there must also be a considerable amount of luck. He believes you should be looking out for lucky breaks and roles where you can create an impact.

He relayed his top three suggestions to those moving up in designations and roles:

  1. It is always execution over strategy: The executive should know the business intensely and intimately, as they will have to operate in the trenches. There is an entire quasi-industry around providing high-level views of industries and trends, but according to Sudhir, execution is always more important than strategy. Executives need to know the “how-to,” whatever the piece of work they touch.
  2. Walk the talk when thinking about the customer: In the long run, it is always numbers and data around performance that count. Therefore, it is all about selling externally to the customers and not necessarily within the organization. External performance matters more than the internal personal brand that one builds.
  3. It is not the style that counts, but the delivery: Early in his career, Sudhir was guided by Candy Anand, who later led Coca Cola in South America. He learned that no single style creates a successful and, more importantly, effective leader, executive, or team player. There are multiple styles, and all that counts is how one gets a style and orients it toward delivering results and impacting the organization. A leader needs to deliver impact at multiple points throughout a career graph.
Exhibit 1: Phil chats with Sudhir

Source: HFS Digital Symposium, June 8-9, 2021

According to Sudhir, “The idea that one may become a CEO and have absolute control is an absolute myth.”Rather, one always has to work at the pleasure of the board, work for investors, stay accountable to clients, and continue to be accountable to team members and employees.

Sudhir realized that because a CEO designation gets tagged to a person’s name, people tend to take whatever they say more seriously. The intensity with which everything a CEO says and does is observed keenly, and hence, as one moves up the ladder, they need to be a little more circumspect with off-the-cuff remarks.

When Phil explored culture and people, Sudhir shared that he feels people management, people hiring, and culture creation comprise the most important role of the CEO. Irrespective of a higher focus on strategy or execution, at the end of the day, it is the team that you manage to build and the team that those leaders build in turn that finally make a big impact. Sudhir’s role gives him the creative freedom to shape the culture and provide the teams more latitude and degrees of freedom. The capacity to create culture and onboard, recognize, and reward talent along the way and impacts people’s lives is amplified in his role, which he enjoys.

Coforge was rebranded from NIIT Technologies in August 2020. This rebranding initiative during the pandemic tested Sudhir’s ideas. The pandemic forced Coforge to quickly enter other verticals such as manufacturing, high-tech, and healthcare. Sudhir felt the pandemic was a good opportunity for the company to start a rebranding initiative to create something new that would get noticed and stand for working together to create lasting values. “Coforge” was thus created from NIIT Technologies, and the company executed the entire rebranding and marketing exercise internally, including digital marketing, brand creation, logo creation, etc. Coforge went to market with a digital-only push, and that resonated for the organization.

“Coforge expects to grow at least at 17% as an organization in 2021. However, in the beginning of 2020, a third of Coforge’s revenue was coming from the travel industry, and within that, a significant chunk from the airlines and airports. Yet, at the end of 2020, other than travel, the remaining six businesses grew at 18.4% through the pandemic. The whole firm, including the travel business, grew 6% through the year.”

The Bottom Line: Execution and team building triumphed!

Coforge adopted many of the OneOffice principles promoted by HFS during the pandemic. Sudhir’s leadership focuses on people, process, technology, leading an evolution toward better digital experiences for employees and customers. In good times and bad, access to better data and systems creates better alignment of people with execution. Building this into the DNA of an organization like Coforge focuses the organization’s passion and brings sustainable value.

Watch the Phil Fersht/Sudhir Singh Digi-side Chat

You can read other POVs and a comprehensive ebook about the Symposium, plus watch video highlights of the two-day event, here.

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