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July 1, 1998


HCL Infosystems

*poof*: VSNL Chairman B K Syngal has logged out. And director Amitabh Kumar is holding the fort until a successor is crowned.

Priya Ganapati in Bombay

Email this story to a friend. Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited Chairman and Managing Director B K Syngal has been refused an extension of his tenure by the government.

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Public Enterprise Selection Board Chairman N Vittal told Rediff the decision was communicated privately to Syngal late last night. No public announcement was made. Vittal's office has the expertise to recommend a decision on such matters to the government.

"The government took a decision that he need not continue. Though he is only 58, they felt they would like a new man in the post," Vittal explained.

He said that appointing a successor would take some time and "as per the convention" the senior-most director, Amitabh Kumar, has been appointed as the acting chairman and managing director. Amitabh Kumar is director, operations, VSNL.

Syngal was not available for comment.

When asked who is likely to be his successor, Vittal revealed that "Earlier we had a shortlist of eight to nine names. But that was before the government took a decision to increase the age of retirement to 60 years. We had to then put our efforts on hold. Now the board is likely to take three weeks to decide on a recommendation to the government. The government will then take another three weeks to decide. So the decision may easily take one and a half months."

When Rediff tried to gauge the mood at the VSNL headquarters in Bombay, which has seen lobbying for and against Syngal's extension, Kumar said, "We have actually not had much time to reflect on this since the decision was made late last night. But I think everybody is quite happy that somebody from VSNL has been given charge."

When asked if he was in the running to succeed Syngal, Kumar said "No. Not actually. I am just the acting CMD." He, however, later told this reporter that "I would be happy if somebody from VSNL, who knows the company well, is appointed."

"What is required now is a person who can run a business efficiently as well as understand the technological aspect. Effectively, we need a good manager with a good business sense and a sound technological background. He should be somebody who is familiar with the drift of the company. We need to bring in good managerial practices. We should not require protection. We should be able to provide the same services at the same cost as that of our competitors. Also there is a need for induction of the latest technology," Kumar said.

When asked whether he is just officiating or would he be taking any major decision while in charge, Kumar explained that "We are not going to put on hold whatever we are already doing as part of our five-year plan or the memorandum of understanding with the government.

"I will definitely take any major decision if needed. If required, I will even talk to members of the board and do whatever is necessary," he said.

Reflecting on Syngal's seven-year tenure, Kumar said, "I think he is a very colourful person. He is very forceful and had his own way of running the organisation. But he is very quick in taking decisions and definitely knows what he wants. He is quick in getting things done. He is a technocrat with a lot of experience in satellite communication."

But when probed on what VSNL would miss in Syngal's leadership, he shot back "The company does not depend on any individual. The gap can be filled in a few days. The team at the top needs to be strengthened. We need more directors, but the government is already working on it."

Syngal, who has a rather severe style of management, had attracted bitter opposition. And days before his contract was to expire, his detractors had taken their campaign public and a trial through the press was in progress.

T H Chowdhary, a former VSNL chairman and a detractor of Syngal, had been extensively quoted in the media reports. Consequently, Syngal has sued Chowdhary for defamation.

When Rediff reached Chowdhary at his Hyderabad office, he refused to speak on the development. This was in sharp contrast to his earlier diatribe against Syngal.


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