‘Raju warned me never to discuss business in front of family’

As the flashback begins in the Satyam story,scenes of family drama,suspicions and personality clashes are starting to play...

Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Hyderabad | Published:January 20, 2009 9:37 am

As the flashback begins in the Satyam story,scenes of family drama,suspicions and personality clashes are starting to play.

In September 1999,when Satyam Computer Services was on a growth curve that promised never to flag,Srini Raju,brother-in-law of B Ramalinga Raju,abruptly quit the company.

Srini was a partner in Satyam,and had been its Chief Operating Officer since 1992. His career was flying,and there seemed to be no logical reason for him to want out.

Yet Srini left.

He was followed by top honchos of several other Satyam companies. Kalyan Rao,Chief Technical Officer of Satyam and CEO of Satyam Spark Solutions,G V Prabhat,CEO of Satyam Renaissance,Rajasekhar Ramaraj,CEO and MD of Sify,and technical expert Russi Bridge,all left one after the other.

After the dust had settled on the flurry of resignations,it became clear Satyam had lost the entire original team that had made it one of the powerhouse performers of India’s booming IT sector.

Eight years before Srini and the other CEOs,another brother-in-law of Ramalinga Raju’s,D V S Raju,a co-founder of Satyam,had left the company following differences of opinion over investing in Satyam’s sister concerns.

Srini,who exited with some 80 lakh shares,went on to set up iLabs Capital to help start new ventures,and fund the 24-hour Telugu news channel TV9. D V S Raju now heads Gangavaram Port Ltd at Vizag.

Today,with investigators digging into the past of Satyam for clues to the making of corporate India’s biggest fraud ever,Srini Raju is unwilling reveal exactly what had prompted him to leave so many years ago. All he says is that he felt uneasy at Satyam. And that “I am glad I quit long ago.”

“What happened at that time was that several companies owned by Satyam were merged and Ramalinga’s brother Rama Raju also wanted to be taken into Satyam,” Srini says. “There were too many CEOs and senior people around. I felt I was becoming expendable… sort of as if I was on the bench. So I quit in September 1999 but attended office during the transition as Ramalinga Raju took over,” Srini says.

Ramalinga,Srini says,would behave oddly at times,refusing to discuss the business. “One day after coming out of a meeting we were with our wives and I just happened to mention something that we had just discussed at the meeting. He nearly warned me that we don’t discuss business in front of family members. He never gave an inkling to anyone,even close family members,about what was on his mind.”

The family,Srini feels,is in fact unlikely to have had an inkling of what Ramalinga was up to. “The first call I received after Raju’s resignation and admitting to fraud was from his son Teja Raju. He had seen the news on TV and was shocked and heartbroken. I am quite sure that none of the family members really knew about all this,” he says.

“Ramalinga Raju wanted to be in the big league and took the wrong path to glory. To show that his company was among the IT majors he recruited thousands of extra employees. At a certain point there were about 10,000 extra employees who had no work. And 20 to 30 per cent of profits in software companies go into salaries,” says Srini.

He feels that with the family stressing that Raju took a Rs-3,600 crore loan to feed the company,it doesn’t make sense for him to have siphoned off Rs 7,000 crore from the same company. “There is no logic in borrowing money and putting it in the company and then diverting it,” Srini says. “Besides,by pledging his stake in Satyam and the entire family’s stake in Maytas Infra,the family has lost both companies now.

“I know there is the question of land being bought by Rajus but I don’t agree that it was worth Rs 5,000 or Rs 6,000 crores. I would peg it at around Rs 500 crores only because all the land is not prime real estate,” Srini says.

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