Follow us:
Cover Story enterprise strategy markets c'est la vie magazines subscribe catalist
 
RA Chandroo
Power Couple
Akila Krishnakumar & Krishnakumar Natarajan
Chairperson, Social Venture Partners | MD & CEO, Mindtree
COMMENTS PRINT
Special Issue: Power Couple Power Couple

Akila Krishnakumar/52

  • Academic background Master of management studies, BITS Pilani
  • Career path Akila was formerly president, global solutions, at SunGard, a US-based software and services company. She joined Wipro in 1983 after finishing her MMS. After eight years at ICL, she quit the firm to float, in 1993, an entrepreneurial venture, Exeter Systems. This was acquired by Sallie Mae Solutions in 1999, which was in turn acquired by SCT Coporation. In 2004, SunGard acquired SCT.

Krishnakumar Natarajan/57

  • Academic background BE (mechanical engineering), College of Engineering, Chennai; MBA, Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur
  • Career path Krishnakumar Natarajan co-founded Mindtree in 1999. He was instrumental in setting up Mindtree’s US operations, driving expansion in Europe and Asia Pacific and transforming Mindtree’s IT services business. Prior to co-founding Mindtree, Natarajan held several key positions at Wipro. During this time, he launched and grew the e-commerce division of Wipro, served as group vice-president of human resources and was chief marketing officer for Wipro’s IT business.

They are definitely Bengaluru’s favourite couple and when you meet them, you can see why. Despite their very high-profile careers, Krishnakumar Natarajan and Akila Krishnakumar wear their success lightly and are endearingly down-to-earth. Behind their friendly banter, you can see the close friendship that has formed the foundation of their rock-solid relationship. And it is not their similarities but their differences that make it work. Akila is a straight-shooter who speaks her mind, while KK is the more chilled-out gregarious kind of guy. In challenging times, KK remains calm, smoothening out the rough edges, even when Akila gets a little worked up. He loves Tamil movies; she’d rather read a book. He loves to play golf (though he admits he hasn’t had too much time for it recently). She thinks it is a total waste of a weekend and would rather spend her time redecorating the house. Yet, when the time comes, it is their ability to take over from the other without a spoken word that charms. For instance, during her stint at ICI, Akila had to move to London for a while, leaving her young son behind, and KK was more than glad to step in and help out. Similarly, when he quit Wipro to co-found Mindtree with his colleagues from Wipro and had to work out of north America, leaving his family behind in Bengaluru, Akila was only happy to do all the heavy lifting and didn’t mind travelling halfway around the world just to meet up. Being from the same industry, they understood each other’s pressures early on and were sensitive to each other’s needs, ready to support each other even without being asked to. It is clear that the couple — who love to drive on their holidays and always begin their day with a morning walk together — have a deep-rooted respect for each other’s accomplishments and are each other’s best friend before anything.

When and where did you meet?

Akila: We met at Wipro, where we both worked between 1983 and 1984.

How do you complement each other?

Akila: KK is organised, perseverant, has an elephantine memory about people and is a number-shark.

KK: Akila is intense, detail-oriented, an easy conversationalist who is fiercely independent and is also very creative when it comes to making things happen.

Akila: We have similar perspectives about things that matter in life. We agree on all the big issues and don’t sweat the details on small and everyday issues. Temperamentally, KK is patient and I am action-oriented.

What is the one thing you have always wanted to change in your spouse that has not happened yet?

Akila: KK’s dietary preferences. He is quite the snack-lover and I am always telling his office people to keep more healthy stuff in the conference rooms.

KK: Akila’s inability to truly relax.

What are the things you have learnt from each other over the years?

 
 
We have similar perspectives about things that matter in life. We agree on all the big issues and don’t sweat the details on small and everyday issues. Temperamentally, KK is the patient one
 
 
Akila: KK’s ability to meticulously follow up. His checklists are legendary. He is very organised, be it in his work or even when he travels. I believed I could have it all in my head. Eventually, I started keeping lists and that is something I have learnt from him.

KK: Akila’s connectedness and ability to network — she always knows what is going on around us. One more thing that I have learnt is her ability to think big and present ideas in a very appealing and impactful manner.

Akila: KK and I have learnt to support each other’s ambitions and projects, even if it has meant taking turns.

How do you resolve conflicts and disagreements?

KK: We have an advance warning system — an uncanny ability to see around corners. So we believe in preemptive strikes and dousing the fire.

Who is more romantic of the two of you?

Akila: KK.

What is the best gift you have got from each other?

Akila: KK does all the gifting. It is strictly one-way. I have liked all of them, as they are a result of well-timed cues.

Do you have any common interests or hobbies?

Akila: Our children definitely are our common interest while travelling is our common hobby.

What do your children do?

Siddarth (27) is a computer engineer from Carnegie Mellon and now a die-hard social entrepreneur whose passion with the environment and sustainable living is inspiring and infectious. Abhirath (20) is a graduate in organisational psychology from Singapore Management University. He is a young man in a hurry who is already holding down a corporate career in organisational learning and development.

How are other household responsibilities divided?

KK: We are each other’s Plan B. We can slip into each other’s shoes with élan and without a spoken word. When one is gazing at the horizon, the other is looking down the street.

How are parental responsibilities divided?

KK: Akila does the rare roughing up whereas I do the perennial smoothing over.


Akila Krishnakumar & Krishnakumar Natarajan with their sons Siddarth and Abhirath

 
 
We have been uniquely lucky. We are blessed with very supportive families on both sides, who take great pride in our work. With support like that, it is easy to weather any storm
 
 
Who is the stricter parent?

Akila: Neither. Our kids may have complaints but strictness is not one of them.

How do you manage the work-life balance and challenges in a dynamic work environment?

Akila: We look for work-life harmony. Each day is new and we do our best to fit work and life in, sometimes using economically unviable but creative means.

KK: We have been uniquely lucky. We are blessed with very supportive families on both sides, who also take great pride in our work. With support like that, it is easy to weather any storm.

What are the professional traits that you admire in your spouse?

Akila: KK’s entrepreneurial energy.

KK: Akila’s ability to induce excellence and freshness in any role.

When is your time with each other?

KK: On morning walks and travelling together. 

How do you unwind?

KK: I like to watch Tamil movies.

Akila: I have never-finished creative home projects. So, I sometimes indulge myself in renovating and decorating the house.

How many holidays do you take?

KK: Twice a year. One requires staying put in Bengaluru. The other requires getting out.

Do you discuss work at home and does your spouse often act as your sounding board?

Akila: We rarely discuss work. Having pursued active careers and with little time to even discuss essentials, work rarely comes up in our conversations other than swapping stories about our shared network.

Is life compartmentalised between family and work? 

KK: Yes and we decided to keep it like that early on.

How do you motivate your spouse to overcome tough times at work?

Akila: This too shall pass. So, do the best you can today and don’t worry about consequences. That is work for another day.

What has been some of the memorable moments in your journey together? Any favourite holidays?

KK: Raising our children and making our parents proud have been some memorable moments in our journey together. And for holidays, a month-long backpacking experience through Europe in our late twenties.

Akila: Our trip to New Zealand, which we took with our kids a few years ago. All our calendars finally matched and it was wonderful to hang out as an entire family. We discovered New Zealand by driving through the country. It was beautiful.

COMMENTS PRINT
Post a Comment
You are not logged in, please log in or register
If you wish your letter to be considered for publication in the print magazine, we request you to use a proper name, with full postal address - you could still maintain your anonymity, but please desist from using unpublishable sobriquets and handles