And the Titan Passeth Away
Faqir Chand Kohli, the founder and first CEO of Tata Consultancy Services - who's often called the father of the Indian IT industry -passed away on November 26.
I first met Faqir Chand Kohli (FCK as he was fondly known in close circles) as the 30-something editor of Dataquest. I was prepped by the TCS folks before the meeting about his strict demeanor, his matter-of-fact talks and his no-nonsense attitude. He was already a legend in the Indian IT industry.
The Kohli I met was all of that, and much more. He was deeply humane and had a very wicked sense of humor. My 30-minute slot stretched to over two hours and we covered a wide variety of subjects ranging from software exports, hardware manufacturing in India, Linux (which was then just about coming up as a programming standard).
Just when I was leaving, I asked him whether he had read any of the 100 odd books that were in his bookshelf. “Every single one of them” was his Kohliisque reply before he signally dismissed me.
In the next five years, I would have met Kohli around 20-30 times and over time I even started cracking jokes with him, including asking him if drives to the office from home since he lived across the street from his 11th floor office in the Air India building. He laughed and asked, “What do you think?” I don’t know as yet.
Another incident that comes to my mind. During one of the Nasscom events I spotted another industry worthy (who shall remain unnamed) sporting a T Shirt with a slogan “India’s first Linux programmer”. When I met Kohli half an hour later, I told him that while he keeps talking about Linux, I had just met India’s first Linux programmer and revealed his identity.
Kohli stopped midway his lunch and summoned one of the many hangers on “summon that fellow”. Remember the other worthy was equally well known and had a certain reputation in the industry but Kohli would have none of it. It was not ‘pl call Mr XXX’ or even ‘can you ask xxx if he is free to meet’, It was simply a “summon that fellow”. When the ‘fellow’ came, Kohli proceeded to practically chew him off and spat out the rest. Kohli warned him “I don’t want to see you wearing that T Shirt again”. And the fellow didn’t!
I once asked him that considering he became General Manager of TCS in 1969, was he the father of the Indian IT industry or the Grandfather? With a twinkle in his eye, he countered “what do you think?” and laughed.
And that was quintessential Kohli – enormously informed, having a clear view of what he wanted to do – within TCS, for India and for the Indian IT industry. To say that he commanded the awe of just about everyone in the industry was an understatement. As late Dewang Mehta once told me not jokingly “in all Nasscom meetings all of us discuss all issues and then Kohli speaks”.
What is well known is that Kohli envisioned and built TCS and laid the building blocks for what it is today. What is probably not well known is that he had an equal passion for hardware manufacture in India and for the components industry in India. A vociferous reader and a keen watcher, one could see him in many exhibitions simply going from booth to booth, just to understand if there was something that was unique.
When I started my first startup and had gone to inform him he told me “remember there are only three Ps you have to worry about in a business not 4Ps – Passion, People and Profits. Everything will work out”.
His passing away is probably the end of an era – one that laid the foundation for the Indian IT industry. But then Kohli himself was not just an individual, he grandfathered the era.
Some interesting facts about FC Kohli
– F C Kohli, fondly remembered as the ‘Father of Indian software industry’ is no more. Faqir Chand Kohli was born February 28, 1924, in Peshawar, India (now in Pakistan). After obtaining bachelor’s degrees in English and applied mathematics and physics from Punjab University, Lahore.
– He received a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, in 1948. He then earned a master’s in electrical engineering in 1951 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
– In 1951, Kohli returned to India and started working for Tata Electric Companies (now Tata Power), where he introduced computers to manage the company’s electric network. He was appointed general manager of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), an information technology organization, in 1969.
– Tata Consultancy Services was launched as a division of Tata Sons on April 1, 1968, as a management and technology consultancy that would create demand for downstream computer services. FC Kohli, was brought in from the Tata Electric Companies as a General Manager to run this start up.
– FC Kohli’s set up the Tata Research and Design Development Centre (TRDDC) in Pune, India, marking the start of TCS’ focus on computer-aided software engineering i.e. a structured, tool-driven approach to software development using process automation.
– In his book, ‘The TCS Story… and Beyond’, S Ramadorai–who took charge from Mr Kohli in 1996, describes the founder CEO as a “benevolent dictator”.
– After his retirement as deputy chairman of TCS in 1999, Kohli remained at TCS in a consulting capacity, and he worked at using computers and communications to accelerate the spread of adult literacy in India.
– For his pioneering work, Kohli received numerous national and international awards, among them the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest honors, in 2002.