Monday, November 24, 2014: Being regarded as the pioneer in the Indian telecom equipment industry, Sanjay Nayak needs no introduction. He left a comfortable job in a multinational company in the US in 2000, and came back to India to shape his own destiny. It was his sheer determination that made Tejas Networks a leading telecom equipment and infrastructure company in India. Meet the jovial, committed and persevering Sanjay Nayak, CEO, Tejas Networks as he takes Shweta Sengar of Electronics Bazaar down the memory lane.
An impressionable childhood
I grew up in Madhya Pradesh in a family that was not oriented towards business. My father, an engineer, worked with the government and hence had to relocate a lot. To keep me away from this nomadic life, I was sent to a boarding school called Rajkumar College, Raipur, MP when I was in Class V. Though this was a decision taken out of necessity, it worked as a blessing in disguise. My formative years in a boarding school made me independent and helped me in building relationships. I studied there till Class XII. Living with students from various social and cultural backgrounds was an altogether different experience. It broadened my perspective as an individual and became a strong foundation for nurturing my own talents.
I believe hard work can be substituted with smart work. One has to find the most efficient way to study in order to succeed academically—one needs to be smart along with working hard. Also, I strongly believe that one should never be too focused on only a single aspect of life. One should strike a balance and work should not be the only passion in one’s life. I have applied the same mantra in my life too. As a student in the US, I did crazy things with my friends. I remember that we once rented a car and drove coast to coast for 15 days. You should do what you want to do, without giving it another thought.
Moving to the US and my early career moves
After graduation, I moved to the US to do my masters. I joined North Carolina State University. After completing my masters in 1987, I had two choices. One was to stay in the US and the other to come back to India. The most obvious choice was to stay in the US. Indian industry was not too evolved at that point of time. Also, it was not very remunerative to come back to India. Staying in the US was a lucrative choice since it was easy to make a lot of money there.
So I joined Cadence in the US, which was a start-up company. It was also in the process of setting up a branch in India. In early 1988, I moved back to India, to Noida. I was among the first employees of Cadence in India. That gave me two benefits. One, being in a start-up company, I got to know about the start-up culture and how it worked. Second, since 1988, the Indian high-tech industry, including semiconductors and other products, had started taking root in India. I had the opportunity to nurture this industry from the very beginning. I also had the privilege of working with a team of very bright people.
In 1996, I headed back to the US for a couple of years as due to the situation in India, I felt I was stagnating. I got an interesting entrepreneurial opportunity in the Bay area (California), which I worked on for a couple of years, after which I returned to Bengaluru. I established Synopsys in 1997 and ran it till 2000. This gave me immense exposure to building teams and companies, and it also became a kind of launch pad for turning my dream into a reality, leading to the setting up of Tejas.
Being a well-rounded person is very crucial and that is helping me now. There are some things that I find intriguing, such as how once you build a company, you believe that everyone will come and buy your product. However, the reality is different. There are hundreds of other players in the market as well, fighting to create their own space. So, you may have a good idea, but you are competing with hundreds of other good ideas, of which only a few will become successful.
Tejas has been a very interesting journey for me because, in the last 14 years, we have actually done something that had not been done with any success before. We have built complex telecom products in India—for the domestic market and for the world. Tejas has made a name for itself in the optical networking area and continues to be the best. However, I feel our best is yet to come. In the years ahead, it will be fibre optic networks that will carry a lot of bandwidth. At the rate at which data growth is happening in India, fibre networks will act as the bridge.
Tejas—the turning point in my life
Building Tejas was a turning point in my life. Leaving a job in the US was considered a very ‘unfashionable’ thing to do, but I do not regret my decision. I had some exposure to entrepreneurship, even while being in large MNC companies, since I had been involved in setting up Cadence’s Indian operations from scratch. When I started Tejas, my only ambition was to build a world class product company from India. Since India had made a mark in IT services, there was no reason why the country could not have its own ICT product companies. The excitement that comes with being a pioneer in any field is a huge motivator.
I had to face a lot of challenges while setting up Tejas, and even later. The electronics manufacturing services (EMS) ecosystem was not well established in the initial days. I found that people with the ‘product mindset’ were missing in the country. Also, building the ‘Made in India’ brand worldwide was my other objective. When I started Tejas in 2000, there were three things that were new to me and proved to be my biggest challenges. I was new to the telecom sector, I was new to entrepreneurship, and systems design as a domain was unknown. Telecom was like a sunrise sector and the decision to venture into it turned out to be fortunate.
I think, somehow, we got lucky in picking the right field. I consider myself privileged as I have worked with extremely talented people in my life, at every stage. My expertise has always been in building product companies. When we started Tejas, we anticipated that India would be a large market for telecom equipment and could be our home base, after which we would have a huge global potential since every country would need telecom equipment. Also, the entire telecom equipment industry was changing from being voice-driven to being data- driven. This gave new innovative equipment companies like Tejas an opportunity to enter the market.
It was not that the path to success was smooth. We were caught in some rough weather when the telecom sector mess up happened in India, which was followed by the 2G scam. But we faced the challenges and came out in a very good mode. Tejas is now a success and to be a contributor to the country’s progress is very heartening.
Going global is gratifying
So far, I am satisfied with whatever I have done in life and the journey remains pleasing. I would say that the journey so far has been satisfying in different ways. I could have been a career guy working with a large MNC, getting bigger designations every other year. That could have been a good thing to do but I had something else in mind. Being an entrepreneur means you take up something, start from zero and create something that has not been done before.
If I were to look at the two phases of my career —the first phase was about being a part of an MNC setup, rising from an engineer to a managing director, and the other was about rising from scratch. I would say that the second phase of my life has been more satisfying. In the first phase, I was just a cog in the wheel and not the prime mover. In the second phase, however, I became the prime mover. If things do not go well, you have to take the responsibility, and if you succeed you know that you have contributed the most towards that success. To sum up, I would say that being an entrepreneur has been very satisfying. Creating a product company in India and then going global has been very gratifying.
A ‘never give up’ attitude
I am a person who never gives up easily. A lot of people say that I am extremely optimistic. Nothing can ever put me down, and I think it is a good trait to have because I do not see any other way of life. I believe that every problem has a solution and I always work in that direction. My approach is to say, “So what if things did not happen; if today was a bad day, let’s focus on the next plan of action.” I believe that tomorrow is a new day and you can begin afresh. Though there are a lot of qualities that I like in people, I think it is always good to talk to those who are logical and intellectually bright. I like people who are open, humble, down to earth and good at what they do. The one thing I feel I need to change in myself is to become more patient. I generally get restless. It may be a good thing but it could be a bad thing too. Not everything happens when you want it to, and not everybody is on the same frequency as you are.
My idea of success
I believe that success must be evident and make an impact. I can claim that Tejas is a success in India. Talking about success, I would say Infosys and TCS are successful since they have changed the economic landscape of the country. They have improved the quality of life of people. At the end of the day, the impact or value addition is what counts in personal success. In every sales conference that we organise, my advice has been, “When we are trying to make a sale, there are 99 reasons why a customer need not buy our offering but we should focus on that one reason why the customer should buy it.” To me, that is the mantra of success.
For today’s generation, I have just one suggestion to make—don’t just dream; rather, make your dream a reality. The conversion into reality may take some time but patience is the word here. Always remember, a start-up is not a 100 metre dash but a marathon. Generation Next needs to have a strong execution plan that is in line with their dreams. Budding entrepreneurs need to build a team that can execute well.
I have a small family. My wife, Anju, is a home maker and both my sons are studying engineering. Their natural inclination has been towards engineering, which comes from my father who was an engineer, and my dream, too, was to be an engineer like him. The boys, Shravan and Anmol, are growing up and we all share similar interests. My sons have grown up with the same values as I did. My wife and I have tried our best to inculcate the same family values that we shared with our parents. Yes, the tuning has changed though; today we are more like friends rather than sharing a father-and-son relationship. We enjoy great times together on vacations. There are a lot of common things to talk about since we are almost in the same field. It would be really good to see how these boys shape up and how they do in life. It is a nice and exciting phase for all of us in the family. During weekends, I spend time at home doing the usual things. I watch movies and do stuff that people normally do. I love to play tennis and no matter how busy I am, I take out time to play it in the morning. This is something I cannot afford to miss.
There are many people who have inspired me throughout my professional and personal journey. I have had the privilege of working with very talented, bright, sincere and dedicated people. On the professional level, it is Gururaj Deshpande, who is also the chairman of Tejas Networks, who has inspired me. He has been a fantastic motivator, guru and a person to learn from.
My father, too, has had a great influence on me. He was quite successful in his career and what I learnt from him related to the other aspects of life. He taught me how to live life to the fullest. Another thing that my father always said was, “Whatever you do, do it extremely well and excel in it.”
I am always satisfied
I am satisfied professionally as well as personally. I am very content with what I have accomplished so far, and I feel very privileged for the set of parents I have and the people I have worked with. When I look back, I feel that I have been at the right place at the right time. I have no complaints but yes, I do feel I could have done better. The job is not yet finished. There is still a long way to go, and there are always new goals and new opportunities. As a company, we want to be 10 times bigger than what we are, and that may take another 5-10 years. There is a lot of unfinished business but I am very satisfied personally, professionally and financially.
What I would like to change…
One thing I would like to change in the world:
It would be really nice if the world becomes a non-zero sum game.
One thing I would like to change in the country
I feel proud to be an Indian. This country deserves a lot better. The bureaucracy in our country must take decisions. We have immense talent in this country. We should actually be penalised for not doing anything rather than being penalised for doing something.
THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS…
Achievements and Contributions in 2013-14
What was your contribution to the industry in 2013-14?
I continued to be an evangelist, promoting an R&D driven ESDM industry in India!’
How did you or your firm contribute towards R&D/import substitution?
Tejas is one of the few Indian companies that has its own R&D setup and manufactures world class optical transmission equipment in India, which has significantly reduced the country’s imports.
For the first time this year, Tejas earned a larger portion of its revenue from exports rather than from domestic sales.
How were you instrumental in broad basing the market in terms of:
(a) New product introduction:
We introduced new packet transport (PTN) products that seamlessly migrates voice driven networks to data driven networks.
(b) Going global—exploring markets abroad:
We won several new customers in South East Asia, Africa and other emerging markets. Earnings from exports were higher than domestic revenues.
Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine