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The human face behind computers!

– An interview with Rajendra B.Vattikuti, Founder/CEO – Covansys, Synova

Anupama Gopalakrishnan writes about the man (a native from Chennai) who started his career as a computer professional and ended up being a messiah for countless computer professionals in Asia and United States.

Q: What was your ambition when you were a child?
Mr. Vattikuti: I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. That motivation continued throughout my life.

Q: How did you realize your ambition?
Mr. Vattikuti: There was a great need for Information Technology. The need of doing things in the right way was emphasized upon. There was a huge opportunity for provider services. And one should never let go of any opportunity that knocks on the door.

Q: What is your educational background?
Mr. Vattikuti: I hold a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the College of Engineering, Guindy, Chennai (India) and a M.S. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Wayne State University. I also have an honorary doctorate in Business Administration from Bryant College. 

Q: How did you start your career in the United States?
Mr. Vattikuti: From 1977 to 1983, I was an MIS Project Leader for Chrysler Corporation. I started in Chrysler – Systems area (Manufacturing side) –moved up pretty quickly. All along, I had this burning desire to start a company.

Q: How was CBSI born?
Mr. Vattikuti: In 1985 I started my own business of merging projects. No capital was required. Customers liked my approach. There was no cash flow shortage and no short-term line of credit. My experience working in such positions gave me an insight into the way businesses were gradually becoming more dependent on information technology. Taking a chance in IT would be my opportunity to become an industry leader. That’s how I saw the need for provider services from a software technology point of view and thought it was a big opportunity. I always believed in my inner sense and proceeded to accomplish everything I had in mind. I started my company with 5 employees – sharing place with another friend who had packaging business. Thus in 1985, Complete Business Solutions Inc. (CBSI) was born.

Rajendra Vattikuti founded Complete Business Solutions Inc, (CBSI) in 1985 and took the company public in 1997. He served as President and CEO from its formation in February 1985 until June 1, 2000. He is currently co-chairman of the Board of Directors and has been a director of the Company since its formation. Headquartered in Farmington Hills with offices in North America, Asia and Europe, the company is ranked 61st in Fortune’s Fastest Growing Companies List. The firm began with 20 employees and the headcount exceeded 5000 worldwide by the end of 2000. CBSI became Covansys in 2001. Vattikuti has always had a strong commitment to the community and in particular to education in the IT industry. In April, 1998, Mr. Vattikuti started Synova Intl. Close to $100 million revenue, the staffing services has approximately 1000 employees in a span of four years.

Q: What was “the” biggest focus after the formation of your company?
Mr. Vattikuti: Commitment to customer service, building credibility and establishing goodwill. Additional to that, finding attractive employees to convince customers was in my priority list. The timing was good for us as the Tata’s were the only competition other than local businesses. Tapping exceptional talent was very significant. Our customers include General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other Public agencies.

Q: What do you think constitutes a good entrepreneur?
Mr. Vattikuti: The spirit of positive attitude and time management are the key elements for any successful entrepreneur. Employees can make or break a company. The management should focus their time and energy on the employees, their career path and create more challenges for them with sincere commitment.

Q: Has your vision been fulfilled?
Mr. Vattikuti: To a large extent, my vision has been fulfilled. But nevertheless, as you grow, you tend to see that opportunities are always present in a competitive world. 


Q: What is your future plan with regard to strengthening India-US economic ties?
Mr. Vattikuti: There is so much talent in all fields, including creativity. I would like to leverage these with my experience in India – Delivery.

Q: Most of the time a businessman does not really do justice to his family. What is your opinion about the same?
Mr. Vattikuti: I always feel one needs to balance home and family. I never felt it as a pressure. I always involved my family in every decision I made. One should be totally sensitive and aware of family demands. It becomes tough when children are involved but I always made sure that I balanced the family act with work and also that my children always got dad’s time.

Q: Tell us more about Focus HOPE?
Mr. Vattikuti: Focus Hope recognizes the dignity and beauty of every person. We pledge to overcome racism, poverty and injustice. I was very impressed with the work of late Father William T. Cunningham and so I partnered with the organization to develop an IT training curriculum for Detroit area students. 

Q: Who is your motivation and inspiration?
Mr. Vattikuti: Michael Dell (Dell Computers) and Ted Turner (CNN and TNT) have inspired me with their business techniques. Apart from them, my wife Padma has been my biggest day-to-day motivating factor. All said and done, the passion to succeed and the burning desire to create my own company motivated me to take small and sometimes mighty steps in the software industry.

Q: You have made an inspiring contribution for medical care and research in Michigan. Please comment.

As one of the most inspiring philanthropist in Michigan, the Vattikuti Foundation headed by Raj and Padma Vattikuti, set precedence in the medical industry with a commitment of $40 million towards cancer research. The gift is one of the single largest philanthropic contributions for medical care and research ever granted in the state of Michigan. Two of Michigan’s leading organizations, Beaumont Hospital and Henry Ford Hospital, were designated as the recipients of this generous donation A $20 million donation to Henry Ford will support prostate cancer research, education and treatment advances. A $20 million donation to Beaumont will support research directed at breast cancer prevention, detection and treatment.. The donation to Henry Ford will create the Vattikuti Urology Institute and the donation to Beaumont will create the Vattikuti Cancer Institute.


Mr. Vattikuti: The Beaumont Hospital and the Henry Ford Hospital will utilize this donation to work in their breast cancer projects and urological research, respectively. There are lots of opportunities in Michigan. After my company went public, I felt the need to give back to the community what it really deserves. Padma and I feel that a philanthropic partnership with these two impressive institutions will enable them to have unprecedented success with clinical research and innovative treatments of prostate and breast cancers. We are challenging these two institutions to achieve new clinical knowledge through research, new treatment methods and expanded awareness and education, with the hope of preventing prostate and breast cancers. The $40 million will be donated over a period of 10 years.

Q: What do you wish to see through this gesture? 
Mr. Vattikuti: Covansys has been successful because we have brought value to the companies we serve. Padma and I feel our gift will be successful if through this philanthropic partnership we improve the treatment and prevention of prostate and breast cancers. Not only will this benefit our neighbors in southeast Michigan, but also, by sharing the results of new knowledge, this will benefit people throughout the world. I want to do a lot in education and health care.

Q: What motivated you to give back what you earned to the community?
Mr. Vattikuti: Very interestingly, it was the story of DHL Worldwide Express founder Larry Hillblom. Larry was a bachelor and had a lot of fascination for Asia. He disappeared in a plane over the Pacific leaving behind a fortune of $500 million. Most of his fortune went to University of California, San Francisco. The university system was headed for the windfall a few years ago and Hillblom put almost all of his estate in a trust fund for medical research at UC. What I realized was that he never lived to see his dream. Thus began my contribution to the society as you can see where your money is going and how it’s involved in progress.

Q: What do you think was the biggest hurdle faced by the Michigan Indian community over the past few years?


Mr. Vattikuti: In 1960’s and 1970’s there was a boom of automotive engineers getting into the country, then there was this huge medical community which brought in a plane load of doctors and 1970’s and 1980’s saw the explosion of software technology. The natives saw the talent coming through which created a host of immigration issues. Corruption, false degrees, false employment etc became hard-core issues that rocked the White House. This literally killed immigrants working on an H1B visa. This was an embarrassing factor for the entire Indian community as Indian employees were portrayed in a bad light and were completely scrutinized. To counter this, I was politically involved in 1995 with the then Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham as I believed that Indian companies need to take a lead on it. This effort by the Indian community on the whole changed the whole perspective. The community was accepted as respectable and elite and all notions of cheap labor were eliminated. There was a lot more recognition of Indian talent. 

A doting father and husband, Vattikuti has two young children, a son and a daughter. In his free time, he likes to play golf and listens to music. He is also a spiritual person. As part of his daily routine, he spends 40 minutes exercising and 20 minutes in meditation. 

As rightfully quoted by Dr. Mani Menon, chief of urology at Henry Ford Hospital, “the philanthropic contribution exemplifies an ideal expressed in the Hindu scriptures, namely The Bhagavad Gita: “Oneness with God is reached through action.” 

- Interviewed and written by Anupama Gopalakrishnan, exclusively for
Copyright 2004

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