He cuts an unassuming figure. Gentle, calm and soft-spoken. But under this quiet demeanour is a tremendously accomplished businessman, a deep thinker, a trekker and a practitioner of transcendental meditation. You sense in him someone who is aware and in control, and who can succeed in the tough world of business while sticking to his principles.
Eleven years ago he and several other business partners founded Mindtree. Formed to bring knowledge-based software and good services to their customers in a seamless, quality manner, this company is today publically-listed and a leader in its field. But it continues to be self-funded and self-run as a testament to the passion of his leaders. That Mindtree’s regional headquarters has been in Singapore for 10 years is of no small significance.
So when Ashok sings Singapore’s praises as being efficient, safe and transparent, there is no doubting the sincerity and weight of his words. But it is not all business. Ashok also enjoys the lighter side of Singapore, from Clarke Quay to Dempsey Hill, strolling in the Singapore Botanic Gardens and kebabs on the East Coast. Here’s what he had to say.
On your many visits here, you dine out, shop and go places. What do you like about doing things in Singapore?
Singapore really represents the best of both worlds. You get the warmth, hospitality and culture, if you will, of places like India that you don’t get in the West, but you get the efficiency also, which you don’t get in India. You get really absolutely the best of both worlds.
You like how safe and efficient Singapore is.
I also like the warmth. For instance, with airlines, the best Western airlines are efficient but can be cold and standoffish, while Singapore Airlines is both very efficient and very warm.
So is efficiency one of the reasons you decided to set up your Southeast Asia office here?
There was not even a close second. Singapore was so clearly the winner. Singapore’s proximity to India was an advantage of course, and it was clearly the best gateway for the various locations we wanted to address. Singapore is also completely transparent. Everything you see here is what you get. And the communication infrastructure here is great—you can get to anywhere in the region, Europe and the US—and there is excellent digital connectivity.
How much do you manage to squeeze into your time off here?
A lot. My recent visit is a good example. I came in on Sunday and went straight to the home of one of my nephew’s on Nathan Road,. We walked around the neighbourhood to look at some of the beautifully preserved old houses. After that I visited my other nephew. To get to his place I had to travel through the wooded area of south Buona Vista, where it’s so green you don’t feel like you are close to a major residential area.
When I was done there I went to the hotel and checked in. Suddenly I had difficulty logging on to the Internet. When I approached the hotel for help they sent someone straight away and she had a great attitude. It later transpired that the problem had nothing to do with local connectivity, but to some special settings on my computer. The point is, even though the hotel couldn’t solve the problem, the attitude and approach of their staff made all the difference.
At night, we celebrated Mindtree’s 11th anniversary at Indian Times East Coast at Playground@Big Splash. We have over 70 staff here and with their families, we became a pretty large group. We had the place to ourselves more or less. The food was super, especially the kebabs, and the service was good.
That wasn’t the end of the day! I came back to the hotel and went for a lovely walk along Clarke Quay to The Fullerton. Now, where else can I get a day like that?
That’s not your typical day, for sure. You are a nature lover. Which of our parks do you enjoy?
The best is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, particularly when the orchids are in bloom. I could spend hours there, just taking in the atmosphere. You don’t create places like that overnight; the Botanic Gardens have really been nurtured. I also learnt that many of your parks are interconnected. I will be looking out for the best walk on my next trip.
How would you describe the culture of modern Singapore?
Firstly, it’s one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Secondly, it’s a young city. It’s vibrant and full of very energetic people. I think there’s a natural propensity towards technology, which is why it’s always on the leading edge and probably one of the most advanced places in terms of getting completely wired up. And, it is today, a completely developed country.
Singapore on His Mind
Ashok Soota, Executive Chairman and co-founder of global IT services and solutions firm Mindtree, has visited Singapore over 50 times. Whether he’s here on business or for pleasure, he loves everything this country has to offer and talks about why he will keep coming back for more.
This article was first published in The Republic