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Satyam's band of bottomline brothers

Key players in the gargantuan effort to restate the company’s fraud-ridden accounts recall those days and nights in the trenches

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Satyam's band of bottomline brothers

29-Sep-2010 : Top management at Mahindra Satyam assembled at the company headquarters in Hyderabad to disclose the financials of the company. The financial number recieved and standing ovation by many auditors which were being watched on TV in the neighbouring building. Investors and auditors had spent many a sleepless night to ensure that the Satyam accounts were released on schedule ever since founder B Ramalinga Raju admitted to a multi-crore fraud in early January, 2009.

Besides the team of 200 from Satyam’s finance, internal audit and IT departments were around 100 forensic investigators and another 100 members of the statutory audit team. It involved collecting 30 terabytes of information (if printed, it would fill 270,000 cupboards), checking over 2 million emails, securing and mining information from over 300 computer hard disks and verifying over 200 bank accounts. “The whole process was not just an intellectual challenge, but a test of physical endurance as well,” recalls Durgashankar.

Venkatakumar Raju , senior vice-president-finance, who is known for his inimitable ‘hands-on’ leadership style, put in a daily average of 15 hours consistently for months together, battling one emergency after another. “VVK carried three back-up batteries for his cellphone and hired two drivers round the clock,” says a source.

The team had to find innovative solutions and workarounds to many problems. Known for his subtle sense of humour and quick thinking, Rama Rao Ramella, assistant vice-president-finance, led the shop-floor coordination effort. The challenge was not just completing the task on time, but to also ensure day-to-day operations were not affected.

Ratnam Kasarbada, head of global payroll, typified this effort. He not only delivered successfully on all payroll-related audit and restatement efforts, but also ensured uninterrupted payroll cycles for Mahindra Satyam during the entire 18 months. “He also switched hats and became our resident systems expert many a time to find solutions to technical glitches,” said a source.

After Tech Mahindra took over the sinking ship Satyam in April 2009, the problems before the new management were manifold. It had to not only keep the show going by keeping employee morale intact, but also ensure a steady inflow of cash for day-to-day operations, including salaries.

At the same time, a slew of investigating agencies had descended on the campus and was on the prowl for every financial transaction by the company’s erstwhile management. They included the criminal investigation department of the Crime Branch, the CBI, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office, the Sebi, the income-tax department, the Registrar of Companies and even the Securities & Exchange Commission of the US.

“The entire process was like refuelling an aircraft in flight. The job was further complicated by the fact that we had new people heading various areas of finance and accounts because several key people had been taken into custody by investigative agencies, leaving a sudden vacuum,” says Durgashankar, who himself was new at Mahindra Satyam, having joined only in June 2009 from the Mahindra Group where he was senior vice-president for M&As.

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