Ashank Desai interviewed me at Mastek and I was very fortunate to work under his leadership as head of Corporate Communications and CSR . ‘Humble’ is the first thing that strikes you about Ashank , he is extremely down to earth.
One of the images of Ashank that is etched in my memory is his travelling with Mastekeers in a second class train coach during annual events and singing Antakshari, it made him one of us. There is absolutely no airs that he is a Co Founder of a global IT company Mastek and one of the founding fathers of Indian IT and NASSCOM.
Few know of Ashank’s difficult childhood ,he had shared this with me when we travelled together, he was born in a village near Goa , he lost his father at the age of two his mother who was in a Government job took care of him , they had no support, his early life was in poverty. He loved listening to songs on the radio but did not have one at home so he would stand next to a grocery shop next door to listen to songs on the radio . His early education was with tribals many of who were adults . Many times he would study under street lights . From his mother he picked up the quality of hard work and honesty and this would take him from a small village near Goa to IIT Mumbai , IIM Ahmedabad to building a globally respected IT company and contribute to India’s dominance as global IT leader by co founding NASSCOM !
I would travel with Ashank in one of the journeys we traced back the roots of Mastek, Ketan’s one bedroom apartment in Ghatkopar where the journey of Mastek began to Nariman Point office which could only seat four people to Prabhadevi office which had the famous mazanine floor. At every place he greeted people with genuine warmth and respect. This is Ashank’s enduring quality that makes him a leader who is respected , he treats everyone with respect and this was one of the values of Mastek “Respect for individuals” . The people friendly culture at Mastek has roots in this quality of Ashank , people are respected whatever be their designation or role and not treated as Human ‘Resource’s’ but ‘Human Assets’ at Mastek.
We had done a third party research with investors on Mastek and the results threw up that Mastek was the most admired IT company for its values , honesty and integrity of leadership , this made Ashank happy. Mastek was the very first IT company in India to issue a profit warning, and this was being done well before the quarterly results. As head of Corporate Communications it was a tough time and the stock price would take a beating, but I remember Ashank telling me “This needs to be done” . In a world driven by quarterly result pressures it was the rare breed of leadership that valued transparency above all.
Even today when I call Ashank he responds with fondness and genuine love , this then is Ashank for me a people’s leader a person who leads from the heart. Generations of Mastekeers are fortunate to have experienced what true leadership is , genuine respect for people , values of honesty, integrity and simplicity. His journey from a small village to becoming a admired global leader is an inspiration to those who dream to fly high despite of difficult circumstances.