As I heard the stories about the stock exchange and the (over)valuation of the Adani business, I was reminded of my first job after engineering. I was sent as a fresh-faced engineer to the Ahmedabad Stock Exchange (ASE) as part of the team that was supposed to be a backup for the primary implementation team.
The Ahmedabad Stock Exchange was the second oldest Exchange in India and was set up in 1894. This exchange no longer exists as the trading volumes dropped; it closed its doors for good in 2018. Technological change disrupted the ASE and other regional stock exchanges in India. These stock exchanges had to change from an open outcry system to a LAN-based trading system. While they were getting used to that change, they faced disruption from the large National Exchanges in India that spread their reach via satellite across the country, with fast trades and high technology underpinning their trading systems.
All that's good, but technology disruption is not why I am writing this post. It is really to write about the team that implemented the system.
The team worked long and hard, in many cases 12 hour+ days for 6-7 days a week, to pull off a record 90-day implementation of a stock exchange trading platform. I wondered what made us succeed as a team and what keeps the members strongly connected even today.
Here are a few observations on building a solid team and why we were successful.
- History of the trading software: I found out that trading software that we customized was procured from TCAM Systems and is mentioned in S. Ramadorai's Book, the TCS story (the below is from a blog written by Venkatarangan) -"Around 1992 when NSE (National Stock Exchange) was set up in India, TCS partnered as a Systems Integrator (SI) with a US-based company TCam to implement their trading system." Ramadorai quotes NSE and NSDL as examples of India's world-class financial and banking systems, as they embraced IT early enough in the game.TCS implemented the solution in numerous global exchanges, including the Ahmedabad Stock Exchange. We understood the story and purpose behind the software, making working on the project even more special.
- Technical Difficulty: The design of the software was something to behold. The technology was on hyper-fast fault-tolerant technology (Stratus computers using an in-memory database and a VOS (virtual operating system - Unix variant). The networking was done via satellite using X.25 protocol and TCP/IP over a LAN. The front-end GUI was coded on VC++ with Windows programming. We had to commit an ultra-low downtime during the trading day or lose a significant amount of money from a bank guarantee! Also, we had to agree to deliver a high number of trades per second. All this required state-of-the-art tech in those days, making the project even more exciting to be a part of. Techies love tech; no surprise there! We were proud to be part of the special team.
- Fighting a common enemy binds the team together: We had impossible deadlines. No one (we were told) had implemented a trading system in 90 days flat. There were customizations to be done, and it was not a straight port. Among the complications- Mainframes had to be procured from Stratus Singapore, and the LAN and the WAN network had to be set up. Because of this, the team was tight-knit and had an " in the trenches together" mentality. The first system was implemented in 1996 by a foreign competitor - IBM. TCS was brought into this project when a sister company of the Tata group (Tata Infotech) failed to implement the replacement solution. Now our project was being watched at the highest levels by Tata Leadership. Failure was not an option.
- High Pressure helps drive action: We also heard horror stories of how the Project leader from Tata Infotech had been physically slapped by the stock exchange president when the Tata Infotech system crashed on one trading day. Whether this story is true or not, I do not know, but all this caused us to gel well together and to deliver with alacrity. Every trade matters to the brokers who were exchange members, and orders run into millions of Rupees. If the trading system goes down or makes a mistake, people can lose real money, so I can understand the emotions involved. Our project was being delivered on-site in the Stock Exchange premises, and we locked the doors to our rooms just in case anything went wrong with the system! No one wanted to be manhandled.
- Comradery & fun alleviates the Pressure- I remember putting in long hours as part of the project. Still, we never felt the impact simply because it was fun to be around the team. There was constant banter and good-natured ribbing while we worked on the project. We took breaks to go out and get tea or snacks, and the team grew stronger with every interaction.
- Celebrating Success shows the team that they are appreciated. We delivered in 90 days, and it was a superb feeling when we succeeded. I remember there was a newspaper advertisement commemorating the launch! Most of us who completed the project assignment went on to have quick promotions and got good annual bonuses and lucrative overseas postings, so we were well rewarded for our efforts.
The project had a significant impact on me. My collegial leadership style was forged by the leaders I met on the project. I tried replicating the "fun and comradery" in other roles throughout my career. I went to work in the US after the project (the early 2000s), giving me international exposure.
So, here is to the team that made it happen - one of the best I have worked with.