Tata Consultancy Services president, North America, UK and Europe Surya Kant not only plays a key role in expanding the company’s range of technology and service offerings in its biggest markets, but he’s also dedicated to supporting U.S. STEM education and career initiatives.
Kant has been with TCS for over 30 years and has made significant contributions to the growth of the company and the software industry. Through 2006, he served as head of customer delivery in New Delhi, a role in which he managed many of TCS’ key customer relationships and grew the regional delivery center substantially. Prior to that, he served as head of TCS’ operations in Japan and the United Kingdom, respectively. Sury started the company’s operations in Tokyo, Japan in 1987, and in the early nineties ran the TCS operations in the UK.
Kant Spoke with Chief Executive about how his past experience informs him as CEO, the importance of re-skilling and educating the workforce and how his personal leadership style has evolved. Below are excerpts from the conversation:
Describe the importance of your re-skilling initiatives and grassroots STEM programs in the U.S.
It all started about 10 years ago as we established TCS’ Seven Hills Park campus in greater Cincinnati— our largest North American facility and national training center. When we started hiring for the center, we found there were not enough skilled people to recruit from local campuses. As we investigated further, we found that the number of college students pursuing IT or STEM related courses in the U.S. was declining nationwide. For example, a recent U.S. Bureau of National Labor Statistics report stated that by 2020, there will be one million more computer science-related jobs than graduating students qualified to fill them.
Back in 2009, this begged the question: “Why don’t we start working to attract more youth to these universities to grow the local workforce?” As a result, we began working with Cincinnati middle schools to create the TCS goIT program.
goIT is an experiential, immersive education initiative where middle and high school students tackle real world problems using technology with the aid of TCS experts and mentors. Students work to identify problems affecting their community, simulating the processes and models of the world’s leading design thinkers, eventually crafting an innovative solution. The initial program in Cincinnati had such a good response that we expanded it to Columbus, then Michigan and beyond. To date, the program has reached 67 cities and impacted almost 20,000 students in the U.S. and Canada.
We’ve had great results so far— on average, 70 percent of the youth who participate say they would like to take STEM courses in higher education. We also recognized that in order to make a lasting impact, after-school and out–of-school experiences also need to build upon the STEM material that students were learning.
In order to really move the needle, we partnered with Discovery Education in September 2017 to co-develop ‘Ignite My Future in School,’ a five-year program to embed computational thinking and problem solving into core subjects – such as math, science and social studies – in school districts across the United States. This first-of-its-kind initiative provides free teaching tools and curriculum resources as a catalyst to empower teachers and transform the way K-12 students learn.
At its core, computational thinking means you understand algorithms and data, training students to look for ways to apply those insights into any task-at-hand – something essential for the future workplace, no matter the industry. Our vision is to engage 20,000 teachers and one million students over a five-year period. In the first school year alone, TCS reached 5,150 teachers and nearly 300,000 students.
Beyond goIT and Ignite My Future in School, we are also committed to higher education. TCS has invested $50 million in Cornell Tech to establish the New York City-based Tata Innovation Center that pioneers research in human-computer interactions. We also gave $35 million to Carnegie Mellon University to establish a Tata Hall and a research program in artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. Both commitments aim to spur joint industry and academic digital research and ongoing campus expansion.
Our philosophy here is very simple. One of the reasons business and enterprises succeed because of the community where they’re located, and it is our responsibility to give back to all the communities in which we operate.
How have your past experiences with TCS prepared you for your current role?
I joined TCS as a trainee a long time ago, moving through the ranks and working in various parts of the world. I have supported and led operations for TCS in India, New Zealand, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. This global experience helped me gain a broader perspective of our business and a better understanding of the issues our clients face. Initially I was a technology engineer, working side by side with our customers to help them address their business challenges. As technology became more ubiquitous within all enterprises and our solutions became increasingly transformational, it was interesting to see just how much technology could accelerate business operations and overall customer experiences.
And, of course, working around the world broadens your horizons. It helps you to become much more of a global citizen. You learn about different cultures and the best ways of working in those countries and building connections with people. For example, I moved to Japan in 1987 to support TCS’ expansion there, at a time when it was largely dominated by major American IT firms. It was essential for me to understand the market, learn what worked there and how we could help large enterprises to more nimbly and efficiently run their businesses. We learned quickly how to effectively communicate why our offerings would fit with the demands of the Japanese market – a big task, but one that I’m proud of and it taught me a new skill set I could apply to other markets around the world.
How has your leadership style has evolved over the years?
I started my career as a techie and individual contributor, rising to become a project leader and manager, and then running various geographies on the way to my current position.
Certainly, my leadership approach has evolved over time as I’ve transitioned from working as an individual on specific projects to being a team leader. I consider myself a people person, which is why I created the TCS employee satisfaction survey that we consider a benchmark within the Tata companies.
I think leaders must view themselves as role models – not just in their day-to-day activities, but in terms of ideas, energy and behaviors you expect from others. When you demonstrate excellence yourself, it begets excellence around you. If you focus on that, you’ll attract the best talent, because they will go to the companies that match their skills and experience. You also must take care of people. Employees give you all they have, so you need to make sure they are happy at work, constantly learning and have growth opportunities in their careers.
Related: How CEOs Are Bridging The Talent Gap