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Sanjay Nayak, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Tejas Networks

October 27, 2017

Sanjay Nayak, Managing Director and Chie...

Over 17 years, Sanjay Nayak of Tejas Networks has shown how a start-up can compete with global technology giants…

Some advice sticks. For a lifetime. A guiding principle in the life of Sanjay Nayak, founder, chief executive officer (CEO) and managing director (MD) of Tejas Networks, has been to do one’s best and excel in whatever one does. And this stems from the advice his father gave him when he was young.

His father was an engineer with the Madhya Pradesh government, who was transferred every few years. To spare his son this nomadic life, Nayak was sent to Rajkumar College, a boarding school in Raipur. These formative years away from home made him independent and self-confident with all-round abilities.

After studying engineering from BIT, Ranchi, he went to the US for a master’s in science at North Carolina State University. His years in the US university system exposed him to a different culture and gave him a rich global experience, which he cherishes till date.

When he started working, his goal was to excel as an engineer and technologist. He worked in the US, first for Cadence Design Systems and later for Synopsys India, a wholly owned subsidiary of Synopsys, a global leader in electronic design automation. A few years later, he became MD of Synopsys India.

Believing he had what it takes to be an entrepreneur, Nayak then went on to found Tejas. “I am proud that we have created a pioneering technology product company from scratch,” he says.

Apart from his father’s early influence, another man has played an important role in his life. Over the past 17 years, since the inception of Tejas, Gururaj Deshpande, an investor in the company from day one, has been a mentor and guide to Nayak, helping him achieve ever new heights.

Building Tejas is easily his most satisfying achievement. As a first-generation entrepreneur, building a world-class company such as this was not a foregone conclusion. When he started the company in 2000, India had already made a global mark in IT services but didn’t really have any world-class technology product companies.

Over the years, Nayak crossed many hurdles, from the lack of a manufacturing ecosystem in the country to adverse government policies. He also had to compete against established global technology giants. The fact that the company not only managed to survive but also thrive in a hyper-competitive sector, despite all the odds stacked against it, has been truly gratifying for him.

Recently, Tejas Networks completed its initial public offering (IPO) and raised Rs 4.5 billion from the primary issuance of shares. Nayak is proud of the fact that this is one of the first IPOs by a pure-play, deep-technology product company in India, and sets a new trend.

“Our goal is to be a global leader in optical and data networking, and to build a fast growing and profitable business. With the increasing demand for data traffic, we see healthy growth prospects for many years. While many of our global peers are facing profitability challenges due to their high-cost structure and increasing price pressure, we believe that our India base and unique business model gives us sustainable competitive advantage,” says Nayak.

The company will continue to make investments in research and development (R&D), which will not only enable it to stay competitive with its current products, but also help it to expand its product portfolio into new technology areas such as 5G, next-generation PON and secure switches. On the sales side, Tejas expects to continue increasing its market share in India and also make investments in international markets to increase export revenues.

“We are already making a significant contribution to the telecom sector in India, as a pioneering company focusing on high domestic value addition with design-and-make-in-India. We are contributing to a reduction in imports, since all major telecom operators and government entities are buying Tejas equipment for their optical transmission requirements,” he says.

India is witnessing a rapid increase in data growth due to the adoption of high speed mobile and broadband services driven by the growing popularity of e-commerce, video streaming, social networking and messaging applications.

According to Nayak, both private and public sector operators are investing heavily in optical and 4G networks to keep up with this exponential rise in data traffic. As per the latest Ovum report, India is now the fastest growing market for optical networking equipment in the world and this trend is likely to continue for many years, since operators in India have historically under invested in optical networking and relied more on low capacity microwave radios for backhaul.

Nayak says that government entities too are undertaking massive pan-Indian broadband projects such as BharatNet and the Smart Cities Mission, which have a large requirement of optical networking equipment.

As CEO and MD of a publicly listed company, he is responsible for creating shareholder value and effectively representing the company to shareholders, analysts and other stakeholders. He is also responsible for setting the overall vision, mission and strategy for the company and for delivering sustainable growth and profitability.

Besides Tejas, Nayak is actively involved in championing the cause of Indian industry. He is co-chairman of the Telecom Export Promotion Council, a member of the CII National ICT Committee and a member of the FICCI Innovation Council.

R&D and innovation are Tejas’ key strengths, he says. The company has built its products on a unique, software-defined hardware architecture. It has world-class competencies in core technology areas such as optical and wireless. Over 50 per cent of its employees are in R&D and the company has filed over 333 patent applications worldwide, including in the US, Europe and India.

On the sales and marketing front, Tejas is incumbent in networks of all large telecom operators and government entities in the country, and enjoys long-standing relationships with them. In fact, the company’s success in India is serving as a strong reference in other “India-like” markets in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, and is helping it grow its customer base and business in international geographies as well.

Weaknesses? Well, in many international markets, Tejas is yet to enjoy the global brand recognition of its MNC competitors. For this, Nayak says that not only does the company need to work on creating a strong brand but also, at a broader level, the country needs to market and strengthen its position as a “product nation”.

While recognising what remains to be achieved in the future, Nayak is not deterred in any way. He says that one of his biggest strengths is his optimism and confidence. “I often tell my team that success is all about belief in your capabilities, perseverance and seizing every half-chance that comes your way. I believe that every problem has a solution and one should not feel dejected when faced with adversities. While there may be 99 reasons why something will not work in our favour, we have to focus on that one reason why it will. The one thing I need to change in myself is to become more patient. I tend to be restless when things do not happen at the pace that I expect,” he says.

With his teams, he tries to keep a leash on his impatience lest it discourages them. He believes in having an effective mix of delegation and a hands-on approach so as to balance high-level vision with attention to day-to-day operational details. In the early days, of course, he had to perforce have a hands-on approach, especially for critical and challenging issues. But, in the later phases of growth, as they scaled up their business globally as a publicly listed company, such an approach no longer worked; delegating and empowering the management team became more important.

Another thing his father taught him was to live life to the fullest by making time for family. In fact, his working hours are reasonable. He manages to reach home by 7.30 p.m. on most days. When his family needs him, he is there. For their part, his wife and their children appreciate the importance of what he and his team are trying to accomplish in Tejas, and back him all the way.

During weekdays, his day starts early, with a few sets of tennis before he leaves for work. He tries to finish his emails at home. On the way to the office, Nayak typically tries to do a phone call with one of the sales leaders, to get a sense of what is happening in his region. “Once in the office, I prefer spending time in reviews with people and also in many informal meetings. We often have customer/partner visits to our office, which I attend. I also travel frequently, both within the country and internationally to meet customers. Now that we are a publicly listed company, some of my time is also spent in meeting with investors and analysts.”

During weekends, he spends time with family and friends – watching movies, plays and sport, and eating out. “I strongly believe that one should have a balance between work and other aspects of life, and we should enjoy the journey and not just focus on the destination.”

 
 

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