He may well be one of scores of people walking down Brigade Road, munching popcorn, smiling at everyone and everything he passes by. Or he could be at the company cafeteria, chatting with a new recruit, as he smilingly explains what George Bernard Shaw meant by progress being impossible without change and how important it is therefore, for people to change their minds if they wish to change anything.
"How bright a face when joy to one
Is joy to tens of millions"?
Famous English poet William Wordsworth may well have been describing Som Mittal, CEO, Digital GlobalSoft Limited. A man with tremendous appetite for work, excellent leadership qualities and that never depleting ammo in his arsenal - his signature smile. The more you see of it, the more contagious it gets. His spacious office overlooking the Bangalore Race Course is well illuminated but there's a distinctive sort of radiance and you know where it emanates from.
Spearheading a company that recorded a growth rate of 80% and come to be known, as the fastest growing software company would have one say, "Life Ho To Aisi". Not exactly. "We started very small. We were about 280 people or so and as a company we've gone through many transformations," says Som Mittal. How were they going to run this company, they had wondered? "The one word that came to mind was 'Trust'. They had to earn the trust of the employees, society, customers and shareholders." And the word 'Trust' needn't have to remain a cliché kind of word as a poster graphic adorning the walls. "We needed to practice it. So we created an open environment where people could walk in," he pauses as he points at the door, "See this glass around? We don't do anything behind closed doors." So we noticed.
For Som Mittal, there was plenty to be serious himself at the helm of the fastest growing software company. He believed that in the quest for innovation fundamental issues had to be considered. Unlike most other companies that have a high level of influence coming in from the owners, at Digital the organization ownership is with people. "We involve people in everything we do," he says. For example, when it came to the matter of designing the campus at Digital Park, the architects were told to get inputs from others as well, "How would you like this place built" kind of approach. The idea was to get as much feedback, however small, which ultimately made the difference in creating a workplace that's both functional and inspiring.
The Compaq-HP merger came at a time when the industry was on a roller coaster and quite frustratingly, slow ride. Concerns amongst employees weren't so much on the slowdown front as the 'Iffy' vis-à-vis the merger. Som's leadership was inspirational and largely responsible in diffusing those issues. The growing concerns were obvious and rather than say 'Beware the Ides of March' he pointed at the positives and said, "Hey, this has happened. So, lets make the most of it." Overwhelmingly, the results showed. "I tell you, people will only do that if they believed in you and I'll again go back to the word, trust," he says, and he has this nice feeling at the way things eventually turned out.
"Every day something or the other is changing," explains Som Mittal, as he elaborates on the question 'was Digital affected' during the slowdown. "In terms of our thought process we are flexible in our mind, because we always have to give up something as we take on something new. One is, we can't have too many holy cows. The only holy cow should be what we stand for, which are our values. When we started, we were very small. So, to say that every macro event in this world is going to affect this micro level company is not right."
"This company works on passion," he says. As CEO he leads from the front. When the new campus at Digital Park was being built, Som Mittal would actually drive down whenever he was in town and watch the construction progress. "We realized that you get only what you ask. You can't tell an architect 'build me a good building'," as he emphasizes on their involvement from the beginning. "Today, between Prasad, Bhatnagar and I, we know every inch of why it's there. It's not by default, it's by design. We have been very, very deeply involved in this building" Ten years ago this may have sounded crazy to hear of CEOs spending enormous amounts of time watching brick and mortar being put together. But then, you can't put down dedication and commitment.
Now, to take the discussion to another level, away from the passion for his company, love for Nature and all that sort of thing. His concerns on general issues are best exemplified by his voluntary effort to bring method into the madness at the Bangalore International Airport. "I used to go there twice a week at midnight and check on what happens to passengers who arrive and depart there. We formed a group of the airport manager, the airlines, oil companies, police, customs, bank - all the people who make the airport tick," recounts Som Mittal. At meetings they found that if a common framework was given to people, so many changes could be made for the better. Things like baggage getting mixed and landing up in luggage holds of different airlines. It was found that the loading area had insufficient lighting and no fans, causing hardship to the loaders who had to lift heavy baggage in dimly lit and hot, sweaty conditions. "We did nothing. The airport manager heard all this and the next time I went there I found the place was painted with proper signs, extra lights and extra fans." The problem was solved much to everyone's delight.
How many CEOs you know, who do this sort of thing? Burn midnight oil and on a matter that's nothing official about it? Moral of the story, "Don't crib. If you can do something, then just do it." Hey, you guys at Nike - here's your next "Just Do It' endorsement.
Som Mittal will move into his new office at Digital Park, come September. It's a longish drive from his Indiranagar home to Electronics City and sure to eat into more of his time. But then, as he himself says, "There's always time when you need it."
A man he seems of cheerful yesteryears
And confident tomorrows
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