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From HCL To Headstrong - A Successful Entrepreneurial Journey

Ranjani Saigal

Arjun Malhotra , CEO of Headstrong, gave a talk at the Woburn Crown Plaza hotel on Oct 12, 2004 as a part of IITSINE seminar series. It was attended by over 120 people including Desh Deshpande, President of Sycamore, Partho Ghosh, Chariman of the Boston Pledge, Triveni Upadhyaya, President of Mayflower Communications and others. The event was coordinated by Mr. Puran Dang, President of Minuteman Technical Services.

Malhotra founded and built HCL Technologies from six-person “garage operation” in 1975 to one of India’s largest Information Technology corporations. He took over the US Operations of the group in 1989 and grew it to nearly $100 million annual revenues. In 1992, he ran the HCL-HP joint venture in India. In 1996, he set up and ran the joint venture with Deluxe Corporation. He also consolidated and grew the HCL Australasia operations in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. In late 1998, Malhotra founded TechSpan with funding from Goldman Sachs and Walden International. TechSpan merged with Headstrong and he is the CEO of this company.

“HCL was started in my grandma’s attic. We felt very to have the attic because of its prestigious golf links address which gave credibility to our operation. People thought I was crazy to quit my well paying job to start a company. But we felt confident that we had a good product. We felt  that we could make computers in India and compete with foreign companies like IBM” said Arjun Malhotra. Why did he quit HCL to start TechSpan? “Well HCL grew into a large organization. I started to miss the fun and excitement of a startup. TechSpan was a startup opportunity and I was very excited to work on it”.

TechSpan was built on the Distributed Consulting methodology. “The move from the traditional to the digital delivery model required consulting companies to have the ability to attract and retain 'domain' expertise at every point of the solution chain, be it the US, Europe, or India, be able to bring in varied expertise 'on call' through a strong local infrastructure and presence, offer transparency in project management, and provide 'on the fly' flexibility between offshore and onsite. TechSpan's Distributed Consulting combined a variety of engagement modes or combinations of modes - onsite, offsite, and offshore - depending on our client's individual requirement to help derive the maximum benefit from the relationship” said Malhotra. TechSpan merged with a US company Headstrong Malhotra became CEO of Headstrong.

What makes him a successful entrepreneur? “My core competency is my ability to work with people. Very early on I learned to never underestimate the knowledge and intelligence of the people I deal with.”

He discussed opportunities for businesses in India. “There are many industries that are growing. The film industry is really big and entrepreneurs should identify opportunities around that. Indian films are made more for the export market than India. I think in the future food processing will also be big.” Malhotra cautioned people against starting companies in India without gaining a full understanding of the Indian business climate. “I would recommend that people returning to India work for some time in India before starting any business. One of the big opportunities for jobs is in education. There are so many private colleges looking for faculty and people with a degree from the US are very valued. One can teach while looking around for entrepreneurial opportunities”.

Would he ever choose to do something besides entrepreneurship? “I have thought about that a lot and the answer is no. There was a time when I thought I should go and do something with NGOs to help society. But after a lot of introspection I realized that the best thing I can do for my country is to create jobs. As long as I am able to do that and I am having fun with work I think I will continue to be an entrepreneur”

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