Bangalore May 9 2012
From Anand Parthasarathy
An iconic Indian information technology company -- one of the earliest to enter the arena over three decades ago and a pioneer in the outsourcing business-- fades into the history books this week. The Fremont, California ( US)-based, Indian enterprise-driven, iGATE Corporation which acquired Patni Computer Systems for $ 1.2 billion, just 15 months ago, has announced that it is dropping "Patni" from its brand name.
Patni was the first entrepreneur-driven IT player in India -- founded in 1978 by Narendra Patni and his wife Poonam and run professionally by the Patni brothers. Few remember that Patni was in fact a pioneer in the business of outsourced IT services -- a term that came into popular usage much later in the 1990s.
The original activity of Patni was distributing and renting imported computers. In 1981, the company promoted PCS Data Products and in 1987, it entered into a joint venture with US-based Data General to manufacture and mainten computer hardware.
Patni went public in 2004 and launched some innovative BPO services in sectors like insurance and health, setting up a Green BPO in Noida.
When iGate acquired Patni in January 2011, it was ironically getting a brand name as well as an operation, bigger than itself: Patni Computer Systems, then India's sixth largest IT company, had some 16,000 employees and revenues of over $650 million, while iGate Corporation had 8,000 employees and revenues of $230 million. Together IGate-Patni became a billion dollar entity.
But in this business, the tail often wags the dog -- and iGate founder Phaneesh Murthy decided to ditch the Patni brand in short order. He said on May 7: “I have always articulated that Patni, being a family name, is difficult to protect in several of our markets..." This to me, sounds like nonsense. There could be any number of good reasons why iGate might choose to polish and trim its brand name -- but Patni being a family name is rather specious.
Did HP ditch its name because it was a throwback to founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard? On the contrary, the reputation of the famous "HP Way" of doing business is too valuable an asset.
Do all the people who buy Dell computers know or care that it is the name of founder and still- CEO, Michael Dell?
Why look so far, what about the Tata name that TCS still proudly bears?
Patni was a key element in the India IT story and a name that many thousands of professonals and customers, recall with fondness and nostalgia. Wearing the Patni brand -- and proudly -- would not have diminished iGate in any way . On the contrary, it would have encashed a quarter century of goodwill and testified to the historical continuity of the Indian Information Technology industry. But too many Indian IT players today seem to want to hide their origins and DNA, in pursuit of global business.
Let us leave the last word to Professor S Sadagopan, founder-Director of the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore: "Just as the merger of Digital Computers into Compaq (and later HP) had a nostalgic feeling for many of the old-timers, Patni merging into iGate has a special feeling of 'Bidhai" ( farewell) for many of us associated with this industry for 40 years; particularly because both the words "Digital" and "Patni" have special meaning in English and Sanskrit language!"
Goodbye, Patni -- and thanks, from an industry you helped to establish.