Confed-ITA VP breaks silence after storm

M Natarajan
Vice-President, Confed-ITA
The Confederation of IT Associations (Confed-ITA), a consortium of IT resellers across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, has been in the news for all the right reasons and a few wrong ones in recent times. Of the latter reasons, one that caught the headlines related to the election of office bearers for the next year. At the crosshair of this tussle is M. Natarajan, currently Vice-President of the consortium. In an exclusive chat with Channel Times, he breaks his silence and speaks on a variety of issues – from the controversies to the much-hyped Akshayam scheme and much more. Read on…

CT: How can you justify an association involving in actual business?

Natarajan: I put the question in the other way. Why cannot an association do business? Tell me one summit that has happened in the history like the one recently held in Coimbatore? Earlier, finding the sponsors was a tough ask and my predecessors struggled. In today’s cut-throat competition, even the vendors face a struggle as without a clear ROI (return-on-investment), nobody is ready to shell out a penny. Today, I can see the relationship with vendors getting stronger and those who sponsored for the summit have shown interest to sponsor for other summits.

CT: Don’t you think this will create favoritism?

Natarajan: I honestly do not think so. We have not done it behind closed doors. Even though the first phase was done with limited office-bearers, all the vendor-executives were present. Was there a complaint from the vendor side challenging the transparency? Every vendor representative who came forward in the tender process has wished the winner of L1. And all vendors who participated in the first phase participated in the second. If the method is wrong, how will the corporates allow that?

CT: How come in both the projects, the brands you with deal gets selected?

Natarajan: (Laughs) It is completely coincidental. If I had an intention to influence, I might have done in a hidden way. Why should I call people from associations, representatives from vendors? I might have done it in a way that supports all the brands I deal with. If they want to win a tender, they should ask their vendors to give competitive rate. Not doing that and complaining the system is funny.

CT: A major allegation is that Akshayam has killed the sponsorships of the local association?

Natarajan: Out of many brands, only four brands had participated in the tender process. The remaining vendors are open for the vendors in the market. And considering the market situations, one has to play the game in a different way.

CT: Then why did you continue when there is so much of opposition?

Natarajan: A product costing INR 34,000 is available at INR 29,000 for members. It has helped generate funds for the summit. The marketshare of the sponsors has gone high in RoTN (Rest of Tamil Nadu other than Chennai). On a member-welfare drive we have to do something. It was a member from Tirupur who told that Akshayam should not be over with phase-1 and should continue beyond the expo.

CT: Then why was Akshayam-3 not as much of a success?

Natarajan: It has nothing to do with success or failure. When we launched the project it was at a time when the dollar fluctuation has actually started. We are still in talks with the vendors who were likely to sponsor the event.

Did you sell the unsold laptops through online route and for non-members?

Natarajan: No. It was not sold to non-members and online. It was sold only to members through proper billing.

CT: Can I really hold you to that?

Natarajan: I do not have the exact numbers but I can tell you overall numbers. A Chennai-based distributor has taken 300 laptops, as a distributor for Coimbatore, I had taken 150 and a dealer from Madurai has taken 20 and the balance is taken equally by the members from Salem, Tirupur, Nilgiris, Erode, with the concern of the respective members. Let those above-mentioned people tell they did not buy, let us speak further on this.

CT: But hasn’t this created chaos in the market?

Natarajan: No. According to research reports that we have, if we take Coimbatore as a market, projects through Akshayam holds very minimum share and the remaining market is open for everyone. People who have no guts to accept their defeat create such image in the market. Opposition against me have only one motive – ‘Stop Akshayam’. Other than that they have nothing else.

CT: There is criticism that if questioned, via mail or at a forum, you are not giving proper replies to anyone. What’s your reaction?

Natarajan: Let us take the mail group. It is a 1000-member forum, where some individual from some part of the state will mail, ‘I need justice’. Another person will write, he wants the mail answered by the end of the same day. If the president or the other office bearers have to respond to every single mail, we have to sit in front of the computer through the day. In some cases, the Confed-ITA EC member from every association is eligible to answer. If the response is not enough, we are asking the associations to create a set of questions and get approved in their general body. After that, we are ready to answer everything.

CT: Confed-ITA has gone beyond boundaries and has become the role-model for other states. At this time, why are you against SIITA?

Natarajan: We are not against the South India association. However, we wanted to clarify that there is a difference between a core-committee and an association.

CT: Why is it that every single step you take goes against advisors?

Natarajan: Advisor is a post created to provide advise only when asked for. But many of the so-called advisors are poking their noses into the system. And we are spending huge money organizing an EC meet. In the last EC meeting, one former president speaks for 45 minutes while not allowing his own association’s EC member to speak. Is this an EC meet or a meeting of former presidents? And with the funds that Confed-ITA gives, the hosting association has to conduct the EC meet. By having too many visitors, it becomes tough for the associations. It is a custom in Tamil Nadu to welcome everyone who comes home, be it as an individual or in a group. We don’t stop them from coming in. However, their overstaying the welcome has resulted in the enthusiasm amongst associations dropping for such EC meetings. So, we plan to have only EC members participate in such meetings.

CT: Frankly, are you becoming the power center of this body?

Natarajan: I personally, have high regards for Muthiah Pillai. He speaks frankly and without fear or favor. One has to believe that when he turns out against the advisor system, he knows that he won’t one after two years. Therefore, we can safely say that he is not after power. As for our team, we too are in it to support the community and give back. I will say that this is more of an anti-Akshayam tirade and nothing more.

CT: Why is it that you seldom respond to media reports against you?

Natarajan: You criticize me today, appreciate me tomorrow. I honestly accept that unlike others, I do not know people in media and do not know journalists. This does not mean that I am wrong. I believe that media connections alone does not account for good leadership. However, I too like to develop a good rapport with the media. I decided to meet you only because of your perseverance.

CT: Finally, how do you react to so many adverse comments?

Natarajan: If I were to get upset about the negative comments, that’s my weakness. I brush aside all adverse comments and take the long-term view. During my leadership at the Coimbatore Association, I brought several innovations that continue to reap rewards. Nobody cares to appreciate the value of something in the present. It is only after five years that everyone will appreciate Akshayam.

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