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Ashok Soota: With Happiest Minds' stellar debut, one of Indian IT's original poster boys makes a rousing comeback


Ashok Soota, one of the original doyens of India’s highly successful IT story, is the toast of the street once again.

Happiest Minds Technologies, the IT services firm headed by him, made a rousing debut on the share market today with the stock getting listed at an impressive 111 per cent premium over the issue price.

This is no mean feat — with this, Happiest Minds even beat the likes IRCTC and DMart, both of which had delivered just over 100 per cent return on their debuts.

The Rs 700-crore initial public offer of the company, which ended on September 9, had been oversubscribed by more than 150 times. This was in keeping with Soota’s astounding track record that also boasts of the 2007 IPO of Mindtree, his former company, the issue of which had been oversubscribed by 103 times.

The storied exploits of Soota, now 77, make for a tale that began well before the Indian ITeS story even started in the real sense. He began his career with the Shriram Group of Companies after completing his engineering degree from IIT-Roorkee. In 1985, he was hired by Azim Premji to build Wipro’s IT business.

Over the next half a decade or so, Soota virtually became Wipro’s poster boy, and eventually went on to be the company’s vice-chairman.

Soota’s career took a fresh turn in 1999 when he founded Mindtree along with 10 senior executives from a number of companies including Wipro. The next decade or so saw Mindtree go from strength to strength till it became one of the most successful stories in India’s mid-tier IT space.

The Mindtree episode, however, came to an unexpected end. Differences of opinion soon began to emerge between the founders for reasons that are unclear to this day.

According to a ToI report, it was Soota’s plan to enter the mobile handset business that put him at odds with his co-founders. There are some reports that say these differences came to a head when the handset business ended up losing too much money. Some other reports talk of a tiff among them over the sharing of specific responsibilities.

Be that as it may, Soota’s time in Mindtree ended abruptly when he quit after selling all his shares in the company. The reason for Soota’s departure is still firmly in the realm of speculation, which none of the parties involved willing to disclose the real issue.

Then in 2011, at the ripe age of 68, Soota began his tryst will another entrepreneurial journey. At a time when most industry insiders thought that India had no space for another ITeS player, he brought Happiest Minds into being.

Soota started his new company in the same manner as Mindtree, with 10 co-founders. And it didn’t take him and his team too long to carve out a niche in the uber-competitive Indian IT space. The rest, as they say, is history.

According to Ashok Soota, the biggest strength of Happiest Minds is its outsize focus on digital. While no other IT bigwig allocates more than 50% of its focus on digital, in Happiest Minds’ case it is 100%, he explains. He sees only three other companies in the world in the same league — Epam Systems, Endava and Globant.

Most of his former colleagues seem to have nothing but fond memories of the man who has almost become a legend now. A Mindtree co-founder puts things into perspective by pointing out how special Soota is as a human being, as a thinker and as a businessman. “I haven’t seen what Happiest Minds is like, but what you learn from being with him is a great platform. You just have to look at his track record at Wipro and Mindtree,” Anjan Lahiri, Mindtree co-founder, told ET Prime.

Happiest Minds is now a closed chapter for most of the co-founders that Soota had started the company with. For him and the company though, a whole new chapter seems to have only just begun.





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