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Steel beneath softness

Krishnakumar Natarajan managed to turbocharge growth just when the markets had turned negative on his company.

Amiable, convivial and genial are some of the adjectives used to describe Krishnakumar Natarajan, or KK, the easygoing CEO of Mindtree. In January 2011, though, nothing was going easy for the Bangalore-based IT and outsourcing company, which was co-founded by KK, Ashok Soota, one of Indian IT's grand old man, among others, in 1999. Soota, who was then the Executive Chairman, decided to part ways with Mindtree (KK was the CEO), and there were questions on whether the company would survive, let alone thrive.

Fast forward to 2014, and the company has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 27 per cent in revenues and 65 per cent in profit after tax over the last three years, handsomely beating the industry average and its peers. And if you were savvy enough to bet on the company, when it was hammered in February 2011, it would have given you a 364 per cent return compared to a 55 per cent return for the Bombay Stock Exchange's benchmark Sensex or a 63 per cent return for the more comparable BSE technology index.

So, how did KK, 57, manage to turbocharge growth just when the markets had turned negative on his company? For this it is important to understand KK's background. Beneath the ever smiling face is a steely resolve which is deployed when it matters. He realised this when he was in Class X (matriculation), a rite of passage for students in India, which helps them determine their future. An average student in his own words, KK suddenly decided to focus on his studies one day without any goading of his railway doctor father and homemaker mother. When the results came out, he had not only topped his school but also came 12th in Tamil Nadu. "That is when I realised that if I set my mind to something I could achieve it. There was no trigger or push factor. I just felt I wanted to do it and I did it," he says.