Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Chitra Subramaniam| The News Minute| January 21, 2015| 2.00 pm IST Reporters often keep diaries full of notes and jottings, of stories they cannot write immediately, saved for a later date. I am a compulsive note-taker with bits and pieces of stories from my travels and travails. Here is one that is ripe for telling. As the world of business, politics and industry travels to Davos, I tell the story of Tata Consultancy Services’ (TCS) early and discreet steps in Davos that went on to become a show stopper with Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in a setting constantly solicited and spoilt for attention. A few years into this century, I was part of a small team of people working closely with Subramaniam Ramadorai, then the CEO and Managing Director of TCS, India’s largest IT services company. I was an advisor to Ram (as he is known) and my job included everything from providing market intelligence to writing speeches, negotiating contracts in Europe to exploring business opportunities in Davos. Space and visibility come at a very high premium in this Swiss village as there is only a main street into which all other streets feed in. If you are not on the main street displaying your brand you do not exist. This is where traffic jams are at their worst, this is where people line up for coffee, and this is where the Belvedere Hotel (where all the summiteers hang around) is situated. All visible space is booked for years. The Spengler Cup (ice-hockey) and WEF are the two main revenue spinners for Davos which is not a glamorous ski station compared to Gstaad or Zermatt.  So when Ram called me in December 2004 saying he agreed it was time to go to Davos I panicked. Not given to panic and knowing Davos well, I thought we had a snowball’s chance in hell to make it in the three weeks that remained. Everything from room reservations to display is renewed year on year so new-comers have little or no chance for the top spots. I told him okay and was on the first train to Davos next morning where I met a friend at the Belvedere Hotel. Davos like all places that hold international conferences has two networks – one that is known to few and submerged and another for which brochures are printed and everybody knows. My networks were in the first category. My friends thought I was joking. I wasn’t. I needed office space, any space on the main street.  We walked over to Café Schneider across the street where he introduced me to Yvonne and Urs Wiprächtiger, a lovely Swiss-German couple who owned the bakery-cum-tea-room.  I told her I was working for the TATA Group and needed office space. She didn’t know the group and did not provide this service. One chair and two tables, I said. Where, she asked. Just there, behind the coat-stand, that corner. How many people? Two, I said. We had a deal. Next problem – rooms. We found the two last rooms in a châlet in Klosters a village between Zurich and Davos most known for as the British royalty’s favourite ski station.  Ram and I would show up at Café Schneider every morning at seven, just as its doors were opening, make our way to the back where we had our “office.” For the next 12 hours we would have back to back meetings with CEOs who would sit on a third chair we had managed to swipe from the next table. Thirty two meetings in 48 hours – can be done! I was coat hanger, coffee/hot chocolate bringer and note taker and Ram and I switched roles depending on what needed to be done. If I was finishing up some notes, he would be coat hanger for the next guest. People stared at us, two Indians, sitting all day on one table, receiving famous looking people, speaking in a strange language (Tamil) when free. Sometimes even singing or comparing ragas. I was told the WEF authorities were unhappy with Yvonne for not going through them- she had broken loose and now had her own show.  Next year we did better. We had four tables in two rows separated by flower pots to demarcate office and back office! By this time word had got around that TCS had an office in Café Schneider and people, curious people came looking for us. Many couldn’t believe the CEO of India’s top IT company was working out of two tables! Even better we said, but we hadn’t managed to make a big bang entry yet, the kind that would make Davos stop and stare.  Bring the Ferrari next year my husband told me over dinner one day. What? Bring the Ferrari. Together with a technical person, I had negotiated TCS’ contract with Ferrari overseen by N. Chandrasekaran the company’s current CEO and Managing Director. I had been on F1 tracks, in the garage onsite and offsite but trying to fit an F1 into a tea-room was new.  I called Maranello, Ferrari’s headquarters in Italy. Yes a display car was free on the required dates. Next call was to Yvonne at the Café. The winter garden she said – we can place it in the glass house in the café. An extension of the tea-room the winter garden is a glass house that opens on the main street where traffic jams are the worst at any given time of the day. This was getting better – more traffic jams, more eyeballs. Brought in a special truck assisted by traffic police for the last mile, it was happening. Gently slipped into the glass house with special ramps, Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari with the TCS logo on it was ready for Davos. The roads were blocked for this moment, but people didn’t seem to mind. Many got out of their cars, walked up to see the whole operation which lasted half an hour.  Over the next four days CEOs and celebrities, royalty and business people came by to see Schumi’s car in the glass house which we had converted into a TCS Lounge in Ferrari and TCS colours – red and blue.  Men at the helm of multi-billion dollar companies would appear late at night in our posh and stylish lounge staring at the car with child-like fascination, taking pictures, inviting more friends the next day. School children, the local fire brigade, policemen, grandmothers all came in turns to view the car. We brought the car the following year and the third year added a road car behind the race car. We had managed to come from behind the coat stand to the main street in two years and how. The Indian delegation stays next to the café. Many of them said they had not noticed it till TCS arrived.  Café Schneider now houses many offices. The Indian presence in Davos is in the winter-garden and it is called the Indian Adda. For Davos 2015 the café’s windows have Make in India posters.  Looks good, but not as magical as when the Ferrari came to town as a show stopper. All human beings are biased. Tweet Follow @thenewsminute