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Anand Mahindra was eyeing Satyam much before the scam broke out

Anand Mahindra was eyeing Satyam much before the scam broke out

Anand Mahindra was eyeing Satyam much before the scam broke out
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By Latha Venkatesh  Jan 24, 2023 8:51:11 PM IST (Published)

Anand Mahindra had been eyeing Satyam Computers Ltd long before March of 2009 when a government nominated board called for bids to sell the beleaguered company, he revealed at the release of a book on the turnaround of the company, Tech Phoenix: Satyam’s 100-Day Turnaround.

Anand Mahindra had been eyeing Satyam Computers Ltd long before March of 2009 when a government nominated board called for bids to sell the beleaguered company. Anand Mahindra revealed this last week at a function to launch an interesting book on the turnaround of Satyam. The book titled “Tech Phoenix: Satyam’s 100-Day Turnaround” is authored by TN Manoharan, a former chairman of ICAI, who was one of the 6 members in the committee appointed to rescue Satyam after its promoter Ramalinga Raju announced that he had cooked the books.

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“I used to worry that although Mahindra British Telecom was one of the first technology companies started in 1986, others like Infosys had raced past us,” the Mahindra group chairman said speaking at the book launch. “So I discussed with Vineet Nayar (MD of Tech Mahindra) and we both agreed that Satyam would be a great fit for us because there are no overlapping businesses.”
Anand Mahindra said he wrote to Ramalinga Raju sometime in the early 2000s and even went over to meet him to ask if he was interested in a possible merger. “Raju merely answered ‘yes’ to all my questions, but he never got back on my proposal,” Mahindra said, adding that he realised only after the confession that Raju couldn’t reply because he couldn’t show Satyam’s books to anyone.
Satyam Computers, the once iconic infotech company that rivalled the likes of Infosys and Wipro, was on the verge of implosion when on January 7, 2009, its promoter and managing director Ramalinga Raju confessed in a letter to the exchanges that the financial accounts were vastly overstated.
The government quickly moved in, fearing an international loss of confidence in India’s widely respected infotech sector. It appointed Deepak Parekh, former Nasscom Chairman Kiran Karnik, former SEBI ED C Achuthan, management guru Tarun Das, Manoharan and LIC executive Balakrishna Mainik to assess the company and rescue it, if possible, by finding a new owner.
The book authored by Manoharan along with fellow CA and academic Pattabhi Ram, racily recounts the 100 days from January 7, 2009 when Raju confessed to April 16, 2009, when the sale of Satyam to Tech Mahindra, the highest bidder was finally signed off.
It has interesting details like the decision of all the nominated members to work for free, their fear that they too could be implicated for decisions taken and their latent worry about what they would do if no company came forward to buy Satyam.
The CII held an event on January 20 to launch the book along with a panel discussion on the book by Anand Mahindra, Shikha Sharma, journalist Tamal Bandopadhyay and the two authors. Yours truly moderated the discussion.
The high point of the discussion was the precious trivia that Anand Mahindra narrated, as his group prepared to bid for Satyam, an idea they were pursuing even before the scam came to light. “We were very keen to win the bid,” he said “but we didn’t want to sound too eager.” So, on the day of putting in the bids, Vineet Nayar checked into Hotel President, where the bids would be opened, but didn’t come down or allow himself to be seen, lest rival companies realise how keen they were to get Satyam, Mahindra said.
Among other interesting points made by the panelists was the role of auditors and independent directors. Author Pattabhi Ram defended the auditing profession saying that auditors cannot approach a company with the assumption that every number is a big lie. Mahindra agreed but pointed out that the profession needs to draw out some lessons by way of red flags that can give auditors some hint when all is not right about the numbers.
Mahindra and Shikha Sharma also said that independent directors should probably be in touch with the ecosystem of the companies whose boards they sit on, and develop a smell for any fishy goings-on.
The book itself is almost un-put-downable, once you start, especially for those of us who covered the Satyam saga day after day, headline after headline. It’s a must read for journos, auditors, finance aficionados and indeed anyone curious to learn how a private-public partnership can be forged to save what would certainly have been a disaster for India’s tech sector, the country’s forex reserves and for the thousands of young employees of Satyam, but for the prompt good sense of the government of the day and the integrity and intelligence of the individuals who were hand-picked to save Satyam.
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