Suresh Sambandam once sold his Innova to pay salary, now, his software firm gifts BMWs to 5 employees

Years back, Suresh Sambandam, a native of Cuddalore in the coastal belt of Tamil Nadu, sold his Innova car for mere Rs 6 lakh for paying the salary of his employees.

Sambandam, who now owns the multi-million-dollar Kissflow Software group, has gifted 530D model BMW car costing around Rs 1 crore to five employees. Suresh believes rewards should be offered to employees to retain and attract exceptional talents.

Another Chennai-based company, IDEAS2IT Technologies, gave 100 Maruti cars to its employees at a total cost of Rs 16 crore. According to IDEAS2IT founder and chairman Murali Vivekanandan and his wife and Chief Executive Officer Gayathri, the company is happily giving back the employees, who have shaped such a fortune for the company, their rightful due.

Born in a village in Cudallore, Sambandam didn't even know during his student days that one had to clear entrance examinations for getting admission to an engineering programne. One of the colleges asked him Rs 5 lakh as capitation fee.

He dropped his ambition of becoming an engineer when his father told him that he would give him money for admission, but then their family would be in dire straits.

Kissflow Software group CEO Suresh Sambandam with employees.

Later, Suresh joined a typewriting institute. During the period, the first set of computers arrived at the institute. It was the first such instance in Cudallore itself. By giving an additional amount of Rs 50 apart from his Rs 30 fee, he joined for a computer course there. Developing interest in computers was a turning point in his life. Soon, he started a computer institute of his own.

From there, he landed in HP Computers. His growth was then phenomenal. Now, the Kissflow group has operations in 160 countries and has more than 100,00 clients.

Sambandam and IDEAS2IT senior marketing manager Hari Subramaniam talks to Manorama about trends shaping the IT industry and the employee retention challenges IT companies face.

Suresh Sambandam, Founder and CEO of Kissflow Inc:

Once you sold your Innova car to give salary to your employees. And now you are giving 5 BMWs to your loyal employees. Tell us about your journey so far?

Being a first-generation entrepreneur, I had hardly any financial backing, except for my ex-boss and mentor who supported me financially. In the early 2000s, I left a high-paying job to take a plunge into starting a company with literally no savings to support my family in case of emergencies. There were times my credit card paid salaries for employees. And there was a time when I had to sell my car. And all of this had to be kept under the wraps, otherwise it would affect employee morale. In the entrepreneurial world, the face of the founder is the barometer that the employees look at to gain confidence. So no matter how troublesome the issues you face, one has to manage and build the company through the tough times. Conviction in our mission on “The Democratization of application development, which is now popularly referred to as ‘Citizen Developement', is what kept me and my team going.

Suresh Sambandam celebrates with his employees.

What was the motive to give BMWs to your employees? How did you come to that decision?

These are the five people who stayed with me in the trenches, through the ups and downs. Without them, Kissflow would not be where it is today. This is a small token of appreciation. I feel happy to see them enjoy it with their families.

The recipients of the gifts were: Dinesh Varadharajan, Chief Product Officer; Kausikram Krishnasayee, Director; Vivek Madurai, Director; Adhi Ramanathan, Director; and Prasanna Rajendran, Vice President.

Why did you choose BMW car as gift?

We didn't give just any BMW. We gave the 5 Series and that too the 530d M Sport edition, which is one the high-end models that give the best self-driving experience among all BMWs. This puts all of these people in a new social pecking order. Few people in Chennai have this version of BMW — mostly successful founders and managing directors own it. The recipients are on par with the Kissflow founders and hence we wanted them to be treated by the society, their friends and family the same way. That is why we chose to give this model.

Tell us more about the most intimate response you got from employees after the giveaway.

This news is a national sensation now. One of our employees (who I don't want to name) sent me this message: My mom has been looking for a bride for me and till last week she was uncomfortable using the word Kissflow or telling the prospective brides' families where I worked. Today she is proudly quoting “BMW company” to every prospective bride's family she is talking to.

Do you think gifting cars is becoming a trend among IT Companies. Many correlate this to IT sector's astonishing growth after covid. What is your take on this?

It's not about the cars at all. As a culture, we reward loyalty. This is a social statement to prove that there are BIG, if not massive benefits, for loyalty. When we say loyalty we are not talking purely tenure alone here, it is tenure combined with contribution that gets rewarded.

I was always worried about the attrition rates after COVID, especially "The Great Resignation". Although, this was not planned to solve that problem, I am happy that we were able to influence a lot of people's mindset towards choosing a long-term career instead of short salary hikes. Initiatives like ours could potentially be a trendsetter. We already saw another company do something similar to what we did.

Employees with their families.

Will you be giving similar gifts to other employees in the coming years?

We have always continuously appreciated the people who perform exceptionally well and those who have stayed loyal to the company - this will continue. It is part of Kissflow's DNA. Only last month, we had a mega celebration - Kissflow Altius Awards - where we awarded the best performers from last year.

IDEAS2IT Technologies, Senior Marketing Manager, Hari Subramanian:

What spurred your firm to give cars to your employees?

We have been an employee-centered company right from our Day-1 in 2009. We provide an environment of trust, empowerment, opportunities, and many initiatives that address the needs of employees. Our employees reciprocated this and helped the company achieve high levels of growth. Considering this steady growth streak enabled by employees, we have implemented a wealth-sharing initiative. As a first step, Ideas2IT awarded 100 cars to 100 employees. That this is just the beginning. We have plans to roll out more initiatives like this in the future.

Why did you choose a car as the gift and how did you select the 100 employees?

This too was a decision of our employees! We shared our plans of launching a wealth-sharing initiative and the budgets. They researched various options and held several internal discussions. Then they circled back to the management with the idea of awarding cars. In this first step, we wanted to award the people who have been with the company for 5-12 years (12 years is the age of the company itself).

IDEAS2IT founder and chairman Murali Vivekanandan with employees and their families.

What was the total cost involved in this car giveaway programme?

Rs 15 Crore.

What is your advice to other companies on giving reward to loyal and hardworking employees?

I would not want to term this as advice. I will just state the current IT industry scenario. The software industry is currently witnessing its biggest demand for talent ever. IT companies are all in the battle to attract and retain top-quality talent. Companies are reacting now by waging a salary war and still struggling. But the companies that have taken care of their people from the start are the ones winning this battle.

A case in point is Ideas2IT: we have no issues with attracting and retaining talent. In the last 12 years, we have grown from 6 to 600 people. In the last 4 years, Ideas2IT has seen a 53% YoY revenue growth and a 37% YoY increase in employee strength. Our attrition rate is only 2.7%. Just to illustrate its growth, in 2020, the company operated out of 2 floors in a shared commercial building. On 11th April 2022, we inaugurated our brand new and premium office in Olympia Square, Chennai, where Ideas2IT will occupy all 9 floors.

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