Okay, so now the secret is out in the open, and I can write this without feeling guilty about it. Sometime in the autumn of 2013, we had a visitor in our office, who said he wanted us to work with his company. Okay, we said, so what’s the name of your company? Sorry, he replied, he could not divulge its identity: All he could say for now was that it was part of a diversified group, with a variety of business interests.
We had another meeting with the potential client, and once again he told us he wanted to do business with us, but he could not reveal his company’s identity. This was getting weirder and weirder, and we joked among ourselves that we should simply follow the guy back to his office and solve the puzzle once and for all.
Finally, we were invited to the client’s office to meet the director and discuss the details of our engagement. Their office turned out to be a bungalow with no visible signage. We were ushered into one of the cabins. And then the director concerned walked in.
It was one of Ramalinga Raju’s sons.
Aha! So that explained it. Raju was underground at the time, having recently been released from prison, and there were all kinds of rumours in town about what his plans were. Satyam had become part of Tech Mahindra, and the Satyamites referred to Raju as “Lord Voldemort” – he whose name cannot be mentioned.
Our meeting began. Raju’s son told us that he was involved in setting up this company “on behalf of a group of investors”. So what exactly was the company’s business, we asked. He replied carefully: it was an innovative technology-based business, involved in the healthcare space. Which could have meant almost anything. We proceeded with our discussion, and from time-to-time in our conversation, Raju’s son would get up and leave the room, to confer with someone else - evidently his father, who must have been sitting in the next room.
Our discussions ultimately didn’t lead to anything. But, for more than a year after that, Hyderabad’s best-kept secret was that Ramalinga Raju was back in business. It had to be a secret, of course, because of his ambiguous legal position.
It was only in January this year that a Hyderabad newspaper finally got wind of this story and published a sketchy speculative article on Raju’s comeback. But now, finally, details of the new company - named Call Health Services Pvt Ltd - are gradually becoming public.
The news reports are still sketchy. But what you need to know is this: Call Health is a take-off on Raju’s pet project from his previous avatar, EMRI - the state-of-the-art emergency service that Raju built drawing on Satyam’s technology and expertise.
EMRI was said to be the real crown jewel of Raju’s empire and, in fact, in the glory days, every high-level visitor to Satyam would first be taken to admire EMRI’s operations before being brought to Satyam itself. In fact, its operations were so advanced that a visiting official from 911, the American emergency service, commented that EMRI was doing things in India that they, in the US, hadn’t figured out yet.
Which was not surprising: EMRI prided itself on being run not as a public service, but as a world-class technology business; the only difference was, they said, their quarterly results were measured, not in terms of profits, but in terms of the lives they saved.
Like any global technology business, EMRI was launched small, but then rapidly scaled up, state after state - a public-private enterprise, in which the technology and management inputs were provided by Raju to the governments concerned, for free. Once the model had been tested and proved in India, the master plan was that Raju would launch EMRI globally.
It was rumoured back then that after becoming a dollar billionaire, Raju’s next ambition was to win himself a Nobel Peace Prize - and EMRI was his vehicle to achieve that. In fact, one of the last things he did before he famously emailed his confession to the SEBI authorities was apparently to call a certain telecom tycoon, and spend an hour on the phone trying to persuade him to adopt EMRI, in order to ensure its future. That’s how much EMRI meant to Raju.
Call Health, the new company, is evidently based on learnings from EMRI (although, obviously, unlike EMRI, it is not a not-for-profit). And it is a company to look out for, simply because Raju is a technology visionary and any brainchild of his would necessarily be a strategically-positioned, world-class technology play.
Of course, given the fact that Raju has just been sentenced to seven years imprisonment, officially speaking he has nothing to do with the entity: Neither he nor his sons is mentioned anywhere in the corporate information; Call Health is technically headed by a former EMRI executive, listed as its COO, and the funding of Rs 200 crore (so far) has supposedly come from Raju’s village brethren from Bhimavaram.
Nevertheless, Call Health has Raju’s unmistakable fingerprints all over it. The company has been on an aggressive hiring spree in Hyderabad in the past few weeks, paying top salaries to attract the best talent available. And it has already hired about 500 people (yes, it’s going to be a scale player, befitting of Raju’s vision, not some little amma-nanna shop.)
If EMRI was supposed to be Raju’s vehicle to win himself a Nobel Prize, Call Health is the vehicle for his second coming. It just goes to show that you can’t keep a good man down. Or a not-so-good man, depending on how you choose to view Ramalinga Raju.