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By: Chris A. Weber
Francisco D'Souza is the chief executive officer of Cognizant Technology Solutions, a global technology and consulting services company. He is responsible for the well-being of more than 78,000 employees in more than 30 countries throughout the world.
He was appointed CEO in 2007 at the age of 38.
To put his age in perspective with his career, consider this: Forbes magazine spotlighted him among quite a select group: America's Powerful CEOs 40 & Under—21 Chief Executives No Older Than 40 Who Run U.S. Public Companies Worth At Least $500 Million.
Cognizant is publicly traded on Wall Street, grossed more than $3 billion in 2009 revenues in a challenging economy, and currently has an overall market capital value of more than $13 billion. Impressive numbers to be sure, but D'Souza, sitting in his temporary office at the firm's Teaneck, N.J., headquarters, doesn't seem overly impressed with himself. "I'm a technologist who happens to know a little bit about running a business," he says.
Around him are bare white walls; framed artwork of various shapes and sizes rest along the baseboards, waiting to be hung in permanent locations. The upheaval doesn't bother him. Given his hectic travel schedule that borders on frantic, he isn't in town often enough to mind, anyway. "Right now, I'm traveling about 60 percent of the year," he says, also noting that a 9-to-5 workday doesn't apply to him, even on weekends.
He smiles when asked what drives him in business; his youthful, cherubic face lights up beneath a healthy head of salt-and-pepper hair. It's clear he relishes his career—meeting with clients, keeping tabs on the sales force, staying on top of the latest software trends, streamlining operations.
There are no surprises when delving into how D'Souza (TPR'92)—a member of Carnegie Mellon's Board of Trustees—has so successfully and so rapidly climbed the business ladder. He reveals motivations that are classic textbook variety: Risk. Reward. Passion. Nationalism. Lineage. Hunger. They're all there.
Ask Rajeev Mehta, and he'll tell you all about them, especially that last one. A classmate of D'Souza's at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School, Mehta (TPR'92) recalls how his friend did what was necessary to meet the academic load. "He could get away with very little sleep," says Mehta, Cognizant's chief operating officer, who joined the company at D'Souza's behest 13 years ago. "I was always amazed at how he'd take these power naps of 10 or 15 minutes. ... They'd always freshen him up and he'd be ready to go."
For D'Souza, who came to Carnegie Mellon sight unseen at the encouragement of alumni while living in Hong Kong, success at the graduate level was not a guarantee. "My first year was absolutely brutal. I learned a lot from the professors and so forth, but I also got a chance to interact with people for the first time in an academic environment where—I hate to say this—virtually everybody was smarter than I was. There were times when I called my parents and thought I wasn't going to make it. Even the brightest and smartest people get pushed to the limit. [The Tepper School] is a pressure cooker, and you start to see your own cracks. You find out about your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. But the good thing is, you also find out your strengths. They're all magnified."
He persevered, earned his graduate degree, and clearly has thrived ever since. D'Souza, though, doesn't like to dwell on his accomplishments. He says, particularly now with the struggling economy, this is no time to sit back and enjoy the view. "I still don't feel like I've made it," he explains. "It's a constant journey for me and our company. We're only 16 years old. There's always somebody around the corner that's going to eat your lunch. The world is so hyper-competitive these days, you have to be the absolute best at what you do. When you're competing against IBM and Accenture as we are, being ‘good enough' is no longer enough."(Continued …)