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FC Kohli: A Legend Bids Adieu

F.C. Kohli lived his life on his terms, built pathways for the countless to travel and thrive. We will all agree that he set the tone and context, not just for TCS but for the entire Indian IT industry. The emergence of India as a technology hub can be attributed to the pioneering efforts of early movers like F.C. Kohli.

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F.C. Kohli was a true visionary, an entrepreneur par excellence, a master strategist, a gentle giant, a mentor and often called as the 'Bhishma Pitamaha’ of the Indian software industry. His demise has created a void that would be hard to fill. F.C. Kohli’s story is one that can be retold many times. He can well be termed as one of the pioneers of globalization, blurring timelines and geographies, a true legend.

We will all agree that he set the tone and context, not just for TCS but for the entire Indian IT industry. The emergence of India as a technology hub can be attributed to the pioneering efforts of early movers like F.C. Kohli.  

DOWN MEMORY LANE

My association with F.C. Kohli spans across the last 4 decades. When I started my career in the early 1980s at TCS, he was already a revered personality. His persona was more of a tough and stiff person, but later on, I realized it to be just a façade. He indeed was a strict disciplinarian and perfectionist. One needed to gain trust by facing his penetrating gaze and many tests that he would orchestrate to put you through. 

I agree, often his approach was tough. But I call it ‘to the point’. The way he dealt with his managers is a lesson in management. He looked at every report that he would receive from Project Managers and Group Managers with a hawk eye and feedback came promptly within 24 hours, with messages such as ‘Please Speak’ or Please Discuss’ or ‘Please See me’ written in his ‘trademarked’ turquoise green. Seasoned TCSers who had worked with him knew the different meanings of these one-liners. His handwriting vividly displayed his personality. It was always elegant, clear, and confident.

It is this inimitable realistic and grounded leadership style that made him a legend. During my early years at TCS, I once remember giving him a budgetary proposal with one page filed accidentally upside down. As he flipped through the pages, he looked up and tersely remarked, ‘I would have never given a proposal in this form to my boss.’ His intolerance to mediocrity was well known. On the other hand, his systemic approach to cultivate perfection was indeed amazing.

In hindsight, I realize that F.C. Kohli brought out the best in individuals. Once I gained his trust through a series of assignments like my stints in the Middle East, UK, and setting up products and marketing groups, he trusted me with larger roles with authority and accountability. 

One of the finest moments was when I was heading the marketing function at TCS, I curated the entire launch of the ‘EX Accounting’ software. For the first time, an IT product was launched in a choreographed theatrical performance. After the event, F.C. Kohli came to the stage with a spotlight on him and launched the product by saying just one line - ‘Let there be light and let there be EX.’ I had scripted the play and that line said it all. 

Next day, a leading publication came with a headline, “God Kohli pronounces. Let there be light. Let there be E.X.”

That day, at the end of the launch, I saw a super-exhilarated F. C. Kohli. He hugged me publicly, impressed by the event and the media response. I experienced his true nature at that moment. 

He was indeed a man of few words but he walked the talk. If I look back at my association and relationship with F.C. Kohli, what started as a strictly professional relationship, later in the years blossomed into a personal one with immense learnings for me. Today, my company Nihilent Limited has completed 20 years but without his mentorship, it would have never been possible.

PARTING SHOT

I was fortunate to have worked with a leader like him at TCS. Under his leadership at TCS, we were able to experiment with multiple business models and even developed successful products that built huge consumer connect. Examples like Masterkey in the 1980s stand in testimony and larger learnings for the industry. 

I ended up spending 17 long years in TCS, the best part of my younger life was spent there. As I reflect at those years, I wonder why a person like me with an adventurous mind, chose to stay in one company for so long. The answer probably lies in the spirit of entrepreneurship fostered by F.C. Kohli at TCS and that gave me ample headroom to grow the company across services, geographies, and technologies and wear multiple hats. For all of us, in those days, it was never about money but a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.

I met him and his family along with my daughter and grandchildren in April 2019 and spent a couple of days. I realized, how much we have travelled, and how our paths have crossed and how close we have become over the years. Once I left TCS, per se we might be competitors, but when I invited him to inaugurate our ‘User Experience Lab’ in Pune, he readily agreed. This reflects his character and grace. He lived his life on his terms, built pathways for the countless to travel and thrive.  

I believe some of us were fortunate enough to have been touched by the hand of God.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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LC Singh

LC Singh is a distinguished alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology and an alumnus of the Harvard Business School. A pioneer in the field of information technology, he performed key roles at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). At the time of leaving the company, he was the Senior Vice President, in charge of operations for UK, South Africa, and the Middle East. In addition, he also looked after marketing, public relations and brand building. He briefly worked with Zensar Technologies as President and CEO. He founded Nihilent in 2000.

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