Secret Diary of an Entrepreneur / CEO-2018

"Curiosity is the most important personality trait that drives humans to succeed"

Secret Diary of NV ‘Tiger’ Tyagarajan

I owe my success to My insatiable curiosity, my parents, my wife Viji and most importantly, “the team”

My strongest belief A life of constantly asking questions is so much better than giving answers

Strengths Passionate, optimistic, curious

Weakness A desperate desire to know more about everything

Success means Positively impacting the lives of people you deal with

Most inspiring phrase “Do what you love and love what you do” - Steve Jobs

Role models Many; including smarter youngsters in our company

Best friends Many; including those with opposite views

Best advice I ever got Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes

Most relaxed when On my daily run or with a book

Most peaceful moment I prefer chaos!

Sleepless nights Never experienced one

Greatest gratification Whenever someone grows and evolves to be better than you

My advice to kids Follow your passion and it can change


I grew up in Bandra, and studied at the same school, St Theresa’s, for 11 years. That’s where I got my name ‘Tiger’. I was in second grade. We had just finished learning William Blake’s poem ‘The Tyger’ and then my classmates turned around and said, “We are calling you Tiger from now on. Anyway, we can’t pronounce your name!” The name has stuck with me ever since.

I was the eldest of three children. I have a brother who is two years younger and a sister who is ten years younger. Those days, I was totally into academics. I used to follow cricket, football, hockey and tennis closely but didn’t play any of them. We were a classic TamBram family where academics was very important. The value of who we are was determined by what marks we got in exams and our rank in the class. This bias notwithstanding, I used to actually love mathematics and science; I still do! Soon, between the various sciences, it  was clear that I didn’t like anything that had to do with blood, so the choice was clear — engineering. I knew I was headed to IIT. The choice was clear in my head.

While none of my teachers at school left a lasting impression on me, my parents shaped a lot of my values. We were not an overtly religious, temple-going family who followed rituals. We celebrated festivals but never really went overboard. My dad was focused on his work with single-minded dedication. He worked in one company, Parke-Davis, his entire life! Can you believe that? He went to work and came back home everyday around the same time, almost like clockwork. He might have travelled out of Bombay once in five years. Later, when I was working, he was shocked at the frequency of my travels. “I can’t understand why your company spends so much on your travel!” was his favorite line. But I learnt how to do everything on time from him. My parents always said never do anything to hurt anyone and they were very generous with friends and family. If there was anything that they had and someone wanted it, they would give it away without thinking twice. I don’t remember a single incident where they thought about themselves first. My wife and my son are more like that than me.

Mom was the disciplinarian at home. I started prepping for IIT from the eighth standard and she would always ensure I finished what I had to do. I loved problem solving. I was constantly picking up books to read and problems to solve — Resnick and Halliday’s books and Feynman’s physics problems. Have you ever spent five hours trying to solve one problem? I had a lot of fun doing that too. I loved to read…voraciously!

Television was just making its way into people’s homes and it gave me exposure to new areas, which in turn sparked off a lot of curiosity about all kinds of things. When I saw Jacques Cousteau and the series on his ocean explorations, I went to the library and searched for books to read more about them. Apart from fiction, I devoured the entire series of ‘How things work’, read a lot of National Geographic, Scientific American and The Mechanic. Very early in life, I wanted to know the answer to everything. I believe it has been the single biggest driver of my life. There are those who are desperate to know the answers to a lot of questions and hence keep asking a lot of questions, and those who don’t because they assume they know all the answers. This makes a huge difference in how people go about solving problems.


I finally landed in IIT Bombay. The biggest difference between school and IIT was that at IIT, I made a bunch of close friends. Despite spending 11 years in one school, I never had any close friends in school. The kids at school were more into sports — hockey and cricket — and I was more into academics, so there wasn’t a real connection or competition. All that changed in IIT. I was living away from home for the first time and staying together for five years definitely creates a bond. I didn’t come home every weekend even though it meant missing some great food. I went, at best, on alternate weekends. On the weekends I stayed back on campus at the hostel, my friends and I would get nicely drunk on Friday evenings, and then go for hikes around Powai Lake during the weekend and chill out listening to music. I got into music at that time and discovered Deep Purple, The Moody Blues, Dire Straits, Black Sabbath and the likes.

In IIT, while engineering was a regimented course, I ended up taking a bunch of courses outside of engineering as well such as economics and business policy. I realised that I liked the combination of engineering and commerce. I was the only one among my group of 15 friends who chose not to pursue a Masters degree in the US. I had secured admission to a bunch of universities in the US but I wanted to go to IIM. The peer pressure was so intense that I still didn’t know whether I was doing the right thing. Before the fifth year came to an end, my friends and I went to Goa for a week. The IIM results were yet to come in. I came back from the trip brainwashed about going to the US. Two days later, the results were out. I had got into IIM-A. I changed my mind right back. I was going to IIM-A!

My classmates in IIM-A were totally different from that of IIT. Most them were from a non-engineering background — from Delhi; from St Stephen’s, Indraprastha, Delhi College of Engineering and Hindu College. So they were an interesting bunch to hang out with! I always knew I was going to join a big corporate. I had no desire to start something on my own, nor did I want to go to the US. I knew going to the US was a one-way ticket because no one ever came back from the US in those days. I am a big believer that life is about creating options and taking the MS-PhD route to the US meant it was a one-way street. To assume one would come back was impractical and that’s why I decided not to go down that road. Flexibility for me has always been very important. That’s why I hate owning real estate because it creates so much inflexibility in life. Owning anything doesn’t make sense. Much before the days of Uber, I believed it was better to rent everything than to own, so that we can pack our bags and go wherever we want. Some of that in today’s Genpact business world translates into believing in ecosystem partnerships versus trying to build everything within the company.

Those days, Citibank and Bank of America would hire a lot from the IIMs but I was clear that I would stay far away from banking because we would have to do clerical jobs. So for the summer, after a rigorous selection process, I interned with Pond’s. I fell in love with the company’s culture. Sales ran the company and all the people I worked with were smart and result-oriented. In Pond’s, if they liked your work during the internship, they would almost always make a final offer in the next couple of months post summer. I got my offer in September while still on campus during the early part of my second year, and I happily accepted it. While everyone else on campus was going through the interview grind during the recruitment process, I was having fun! Wearing shorts, T shirt and rubber chappals when everyone else around you is in suits and ties is a truly joyful experience!


I joined Pond’s in 1985 and was part of the Western region. As a management trainee, you are always given the state of Madhya Pradesh to begin with because it was the biggest out of the four states in the region and considered to be the ideal place to learn. You had to travel a lot because of the size of the state. I was to handle a team of nearly nine people including sales leaders and sales guys on the ground. I was 24-years-old and some of the sales leaders I had to manage had been with the company for about 10-25 years. Imagine, now I was their boss! There was one senior sales leader who was 55-years-old, Kapil Sawhney. He was like the godfather — well-respected and knew the business inside out.

On the first day of work, I went up to him and told him that I was like his son: “I want to learn, so teach me everything you know.” By the end of the day, he put his arms around me, agreed to teach me and said, “I am going to make you successful.” Initially, I would go up to him and ask a lot of questions about things I didn’t know. This is not a bad approach to have in life irrespective of whether you are a leader or a customer or a supplier — if you are walking into a new situation and you are surrounded by people who know more, you just tell them upfront that you don’t know a lot and very quickly ask them to teach you. When you do that, it works to your advantage every single time. I spent the next seven years at Pond’s and learnt more than anywhere else. I learnt how to motivate both the retailer and the sales guy to sell more products. We had about 100 sales distributors and, by the end of the first year, I had visited them all. I would spend the day with them, get to know their business, have dinner with them in the evening and leave the next day. Their business was their lives and so they really felt good that someone from headquarters had come and spent time with them to understand more about them.

I learnt how you drive a performance culture and how metrics and competition play an important role in improving performance. All the sales guys had to snail mail a daily call report (remember this was late 1980s; so no emails) with details on how many customers they had met and the products they had sold to each of the retailers, etc. So, I started to randomly open one of these mails everyday and read it and dump the others. I would then highlight the best part of that one person’s performance. Most of the times it was great stuff, but at times I would point out what was going wrong as well. More importantly, people started to think: “he reads that stuff I fill in and send!” All of them started sending in their reports daily because they too wanted to get recognised for their work and didn’t want to be in the bad books of the boss.

It was not just the sales team and the distributors that I built an equation with. I made a strong connect with the people in the factories as well. That was important. You see, if a product was in great demand and short in supply, the guys at the factories would ration what you get. If you placed an order for 1,000 bottles of shampoo, you would only get 600 bottles. This would impact sales, and I understood that very early. So, I got to know the factory people better and built a good rapport with them so that when I ordered 1,000 bottles, I would be given 800 and some other region would get 200 bottles less! Similarly, I was a favorite with the accounting department at the headquarters. They would basically close books at the end of the month. So, they would start with one region and move to the next one. They would always take western region — my region — as the last region to close so that it would give us some extra time to get in more collections. I discovered that getting to know people in other departments, understanding what they do and their problems help a great deal in delivering your own performance. Building a relationship with them makes a difference to your performance because the other person understands your problems, gets empathetic and helps you get to your goals. Even today, I try and find ways to get others to help achieve my goals.

After my sixth year at Pond’s, I was starting to feel restless, I wanted to move to Hindustan Lever since it was the bigger mother company. The people at Pond’s didn’t think it was a great move. They kept telling me that I will be a small fish in a big pond. I told them I would rather be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond! I had been handling the southern region for two years then. I went up to my all-India sales head and said that I was leaving and my reason for doing so. I told him I don’t know where I was heading and I needed help from him to figure that out. So, for nine months, we spent time together creating a succession plan and figuring out where I should land next. I believe that when you have complete transparency with your boss, suppliers, customers or even the board, and you put everything on the table, you get your answers faster.


Though banking meant clerical jobs, the sector was growing by leaps and bounds. A lot of the sales and marketing people from FMCG companies were moving to banks. I made a list of five banks — one of them was going to be my next employer — Citibank, Grindlays, Standard Chartered, HSBC and Bank of America. I got interview calls from all of them. My boss K Anand’s wife was working with Grindlays at that time and he told me that Grindlays or Standard Chartered would be better fits for me since their culture is collegial and people help each others, whereas Citibank was more ‘cut-throat’. I went for interviews with HSBC and Stan Chart and found them to be too laid back. I was close to getting calls from Citi, Bank Am and Grindlays. I was leaning towards Citi and Anand (he was called Kandy) kept telling me I was going to get stabbed in the back! I assured him that I would be the only person who will end up getting the benefit of not getting stabbed. We agreed to disagree and in December 1991, I joined Citibank. It was the day John Reid had signed a MOU with the US Fed regarding Citi’s mortgage business. About 4,500 people were fired and their mortgage subsidiary was shut down. Every quarter, the bank had to show the Feds how things were improving; until then, there would be no increase in compensation or promotions. All of us in India got this mail at 5 p.m. It was my first day at work and what a way to begin my stint there!

In Citibank, Mahesh Mani, who interviewed me, gave me two options — I could either build the mortgage business in the south from the ground up starting with Bangalore and Madras, or head the existing auto business in the west. I chose the mortgage business. Six months later, things were going well. I got a call from Mahesh. He told me that he had just got off a management committee meeting. The auto finance business was in a mess he said and they are firing the entire team because they discovered fraudulent transactions. He told me the committee wanted me to relocate and build a team from scratch and clean up the mess. They thought I was the best guy for the job. He said that knowing that mortgage was a better option, if I didn’t want to take it, he’d totally understand. I told him I would take it because I believed whenever one is offered a change, it has to answer three questions: Are you getting into a situation where you can immediately contribute? Is there a specific reason why someone is asking you to do something? Are you going to work with people you really like and will you be learning something new? The new position ticked all the boxes. Also, my wife and I loved Bombay. We grew up there so I knew she would gladly agree to move back there. I still believe Bombay has the best people as a population — simple, down to earth, respect women, value speed and time, and power connections are less important, and caste/creed background are unimportant.

Six months in, as things were settling down in the auto business, I had built a reputation of being the clean-up guy in Citi. This time around, I was asked to move to collections as delinquencies had risen dramatically and they wanted someone to step in and clear the mess. I said yes again but on one condition — that I wanted to pick and choose my people. I assured them I would pick absolute rockstars but they would have to move them to my team despite collections having a history of not being given great talent. I wanted to change that. They agreed and, on that condition, I took the job.

It was the best team that had ever been built in collections. We made sure we had reviews with Jerry Rao, who was at that time the CEO of Citibank in India, and got as much visibility within the organisation as the sales guys. We got into cleaning up the portfolio very quickly and within nine months, our losses came down and delinquency levels were negligible. Meanwhile, the all-India auto business leadership job became available. I was asked to take over. It was based in Delhi. I took it, worked in Delhi but would come home to Bombay on weekends. I had to travel extensively across the country. I was on the job for nine months and then I quit. I realised that the bank was never going to be serious about growing the consumer lending portfolio other than credit cards. Globally, too, credit cards and branch banking was the king. Citi wasn’t a big player in auto loans globally and they refused to move me to cards. Thus, I told them I was moving.


By then, I wasn’t just looking for my next job. I was looking for a place where I could build my career. I had read all about GE and was fascinated with the kind of organisation that Jack Welch had built. I heard that GE Capital was coming to India. I could see myself at GE for the next 30 years doing different things. Mahesh, my ex-boss at Citi, was one of the first few senior hires there. So I called him and told him I wanted to move to GE. He asked me if I really wanted to move out of Citi, and I said yes. He said, “Great, you are hired as the sales and marketing head!” Before I got on board, I, however, had to meet Pramod and Deepak Satwalekar since it was a joint venture with HDFC at that time. I met with Pramod first and halfway through the interview, he asked me what if he offered me a job as the head of risk of the consumer businesses instead of a role in sales and marketing. I told him I would take it. He got a little pissed off and asked how I could agree to take up a role in risk when I had come to interview for a sales and marketing position. I told him that I was looking for a career, not a job. So the entry point didn’t really matter. I also told him that I actually understd why he was offering me a position in risk — because there weren’t too many people who understood risk with a sales and marketing empathy and mindset. Pramod later told me that was what clinched the job for me.

By 1998, I was CEO of the GE Capital Consumer businesses in India, I was evaluating a move to one of the global offices in GE — Hong Kong or Chicago — and all positions in risk. Pramod called me out for lunch. He said, “I have an idea, why don’t you run GECIS?” It was run by Raman Roy at that time. He told me to build a team and scale up the business. It would grow from the 200 people back then to 3,000 people over the next five years and I would be dealing with the CEO, CFO, CIO and COO of all of GE’s businesses and that could be my global experience. I took the offer, how can one not, but refused to move personally to Delhi. Pramod said that’s my problem and for me to figure out, and I could live wherever I wanted to. Within three years, we were 7,000 people and in five years time, we moved up to 12,000. I remember having 10-12 interviews a day! When I hire people, I look for incredible passion, restlessness, curiosity and a deep desire to learn. I don’t look for skills because in my view, skills becomes redundant very quickly and more often than not, you are required to do something you are not skilled at. So the important thing is: are you capable of learning fast and are you hungry enough to learn?

I always looked up to Pramod. I still do. He was always open to debate; never got personal. If you are doing a 10-page business review with him, he has this ability to pick that one point that is the most critical, ask questions and dig into it. Sometimes you would have missed focusing on that point and you would feel like, wow, how did I miss that?! So he has the unique ability to have a fantastic high-level vision as well as the ability to get into extreme specific granularity and that’s what made him a great leader.

It was from him that I learnt how to create passion in the team and keep them energised. It is good to have a fan following within the organisation. Great communicators have a natural flair and Pramod was one of them, but it didn’t stop him from practising and presenting. He used the podium to tell a great story and got a lot of the team members to buy into his vision. While a lot of my presenting and communication skills were honed at IIM-A, it only got better being with Pramod. The better we got at it, the more we sold to the large global groups within GE and that was the new muscle we built in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

In 2000, Patrick Dupuis, the CFO of GE Healthcare was supposed to spend a couple of hours with us to understand what we do in GECIS and he ended up spending four. GECIS’ initial charter was to provide business process services to GE Capital’s business globally. GE Healthcare was our first industrial business outside of GE Capital businesses. Patrick told me that I was not ready for the speed at which he was going to send business our way. I told him I was ready. He said, “Be prepared; when I move, I move very fast. I will tire you out.” I told him I was up for the challenge. About 45 days into the transition, things were not going well and I got a call from him. He said, “I went out on a limb for you and my business leaders are now questioning my decision. I might get fired. If I do I will make sure you get fired too.” He was very serious. I got the call at 7 in the evening. That night, Anju Talwar, who was heading the healthcare business at that time, and I flew out to Milwaukee to understand the problem. It was complicated stuff and we were all learning. We came back, over-resourced the project and fixed the problems very quickly. It went on to become one of the fastest growing businesses for us. Patrick was one of the big voices in the system and an aggressive leader. Once he started championing for us, everyone had to follow suit. So, one of the things I learnt early on is that it is very important to know which of your clients will make a significant difference to your company’s performance, and within those companies who the critical decision-makers are, and how to get an early buy-in from them. If you do that, scaling that account becomes a lot easier.


We spun off as a separate company in January 2005 and changed the name from GECIS to Genpact. Now that we could go get clients outside of GE, we set out targeting the top five giants across industries. In our business, it can take almost 10 years to win a client. We had been pursuing one of the global industrial giants similar to GE for almost 10 years and finally two-and-a-half years ago, we won the deal. Similarly, we started working with a global consumer products company that we pursued for 10 years only a year back. You have to be persistent and keep finding a different angle. You will get a breakthrough. Leaders will change, businesses will change and even your value proposition might change, but you have to be relentless in your pursuit and all the changes will make the client say okay, we will engage with you guys and see how it goes. These wins are not easy, so you focus on building a highly motivated team and make that team work together and climb a hill. Every time they do that, you motivate them to climb a bigger hill. You have to try new things without the fear of failure because you have to be confident that you will be able to recover from failure and learn from them, and you should have processes in place to avoid catastrophic failures. You have to remember that you are not the actual expert building the rocket. You just need to have the right people to build it. You just have to create an environment where people want to work so that you can attract people who are smarter than you.

When we spun off as an independent company, we were clocking $400 million in revenue. If we didn’t win customers fast enough, it could become an existential crisis and that was scary. I spent those early days in 2005 meeting potential targets, trying to win contracts. In the first few months itself, we managed to snap up two great clients — a global automotive major and a top pharma company. Both of them were interesting wins since they were not in the same industry as GE. But these clients said that they loved our DNA, our focus on lean processes and Six Sigma. They were enamoured by our process thinking and respected GE a lot. Plus, given there were about 14,000 people servicing GE, it made the decision to work with us a lot easier. It told us how valuable it was to have been a part of GE and serve them, and that’s where we learnt a whole bunch of things we still leverage today. Soon enough, the deals started to flow.

There was a period in 2007 that I distinctly remember when I walked into Pramod’s room and told him we won another deal. He said, “Oh no! We won another deal!” We were winning deals left, right and centre and we were scared of the rate at which we were growing. We were at the edge in catering to demand; we had to hire and train more than we could handle; leadership, real estate and telecom bandwidth were stretched. We grew to $800 million in revenue in three years since we turned independent and one year after the IPO. All this was possible because we hired the right people and gave them the independence to run their businesses. We convinced Shantanu Ghosh, who was the CFO of GE India, to join us and head the finance practice in 2005. So, it was basically a few of our very senior leaders including me on the street winning deals. Thanks to GE, our functional side was strong, our finance, HR and training functions — the central engines — had a lot of strength and that helped us scale quickly and we gave all of them a voice at the table.

After the financial crisis, 2009 was our worst year, when we grew by 16%. We had been growing at 50%-75%, so, this felt terrible! In our line of business, you rise and fall with your clients. For instance, we signed up Delphi in 2007 and we started ramping up to serve 100 countries. By the time we finished ramping up at the end of 2008, the financial crisis was on us and the automotive industry — and thus Delphi — was deeply impacted. So, we started to shrink with Delphi because we didn’t need so many people to service their needs and that continued till 2015. Now, for the past couple of years, Delphi is back on the growth path and we started ramping up again to serve their multiple spinoffs. Our single-minded focus on our clients’ success — we call it “maniacal client focus” — always makes us do the right thing for our clients; it is core to our DNA.

In 2007, we had started seeing some signs of a looming problem — there were higher credit card delinquencies, some of our clients were being irrational in their lending and there was lesser movement of raw materials within the US which meant they were producing less and would sell less. I told the leadership team in India that there was going to be an economic and credit problem and it was going to be a big one. We hadn’t really seen cycles in our business yet so it was difficult to understand the enormity. We decided to ramp up Europe and got into a cost-cut mode so the margins went up. Since then, every quarter until now, I have been telling investors to expect uncertainty and volatility. It has become the new normal. It also showed how being close to markets and clients is incredibly important to pick up signals.


I love cricket and I am a hardcore India supporter. I try and watch all the matches that India plays. I remember we had just closed a very big acquisition. It was 3:30 a.m. and both the teams went to our office in New York, connected a laptop to a projector and watched the World Cup final that India won in Mumbai. What better way to spend day 1 of an acquisition? When it comes to cricketers, I always liked Kohli and Dhoni more than Tendulkar. Both Dhoni and Kohli thrive under pressure while it was always the opposite with Tendulkar. What I liked about Dhoni is that he managed to put together a cast of characters and gave them each a role to play to their strengths. So the team flourished. Kohli has that one extra thing that Dhoni doesn’t — killer instinct. Not that he would cross the boundaries of fairness but he is not afraid to give more than just one more punch to knock you down when you are weak. I love to watch team sports. There are so many dynamics at play which makes it an interesting watch. So, that’s why I don’t like or play golf. I would much rather watch cricket, hockey and football — I am clear that teams win, individuals don’t.

Growing up with GE in the late ’90s shaped my thinking significantly. GE had multiple businesses that were not connected at one level but that didn’t stop the leaders from sharing best practices and collaborating with each other. In today’s world, given the transformation that digital and analytics is driving, it is critical for teams and businesses to intensely collaborate with each other to build new solutions that drive value for customers and themselves. I learnt the importance of leadership and talent development — the role that HR plays — and that every leader has to be an HR leader. There was no better place than GE to have learnt that. Watching Jack Welch and the way he led the company at that time, you learn how to keep pushing people to their limit and potential. When I was at GE, Jack Welch launched Six Sigma in the company. We had the opportunity to start our original Genpact business with Six Sigma as the foundation, I am a big believer of lean processes and using Six Sigma to drive continuous value. I also learnt the value of extreme transparency, the importance of metrics and competition and the results it can produce. In the early days of Six Sigma, we wanted a number of leaders to become certified black belts so they can become an example for others to follow. Some of them didn’t have the time to study and prepare for the exams and were falling behind. I took a leaf out of GE’s books and started to visibly publish results on where each of them was on that journey. So, just outside my room I put a 3X3 ft white board with the names of the 25 leaders who were supposed to take the certification. Against their names, there were red, yellow and green dots. Green meant you were on track. Yellow meant you were falling behind and red meant you were in trouble. So our top 25 leaders were certified publicly for all the 5,000 employees who were walking around in our office to see. Within 60 days, everyone had a green dot against their name. So that’s how powerful visibility of metrics can be.

We are now applying the same playbook to digital literacy, we all have to learn, starting with me. We all have to get certified on robotics and artificial intelligence and machine learning. Such exciting times! You have to embrace the new — integrate new thinking, new approach and new leaders. Those who do that with speed and effectiveness will win. So, as always, culture will continue to eat strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner! If there is one constant in my belief system, it’s that curiosity is the most important personality trait that drives humans to succeed and solve problems and make progress. Always ask questions and always search for answers and the truth.

My wife is a chartered accountant who built her career in banking. We met through family friends in Bombay and both of us worked hard at our careers those days. In the initial years of our careers, we spent 60-70 hours a week at work. We would see each other often only on weekends since I would travel a lot. We have one son and very early in his life, he became independent since that’s the way he grew up. Our quality time is when we go on vacations as a family. My son, who is a product of the US liberal arts system, loves history, politics and government and I now learn a lot from him on these topics. We prefer taking more short 10-day vacations rather than one long break, and we tend to go to places where we can explore and learn history, culture, food, etc.

The future is so incredibly exciting. I love how new technologies are completely changing the way value gets driven and new solutions solve old problems. I can’t wait to learn more as we undertake this journey with our clients. It feels like 1998 or 2005 for us, for me — so much new stuff, so much to learn; that’s what keeps us all going!