This is what happens when your CEO runs marathons in his spare time

TCS everywhere.
TCS everywhere.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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2009 was an important year for Natarajan Chandrasekaran. He took over as CEO and managing director of  Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). A few weeks later, he ran the New York City Marathon.

On Nov. 2, the two events were inseparable as TCS, India’s largest information-technology company by market cap, was the title sponsor of the largest marathon in the world, replacing long-time sponsor ING. It will remain the title sponsor for the next seven years.

It’s not just New York. TCS has been sponsoring marathons around the world, a curious strategy for an IT company once known for “back office” work.

Or perhaps not.

The average age of a TCS employee is 28, and marathons exude a certain coolness.

TCS showed its involvement through certain tech influences on the marathon itself. Each marathoner’s bib was outfitted with a tracking device that sent information to a race app, allowing users to track 10 runners at a time. Also, guests at the VIP lounge were given portable chargers for their phones.

“We want to make it more like a modern marathon. The feel of the marathon should be very digital,” John Lenzen, vice president and chief marketing officer at TCS, told Quartz. He wouldn’t comment on what it cost to sponsor the marathon.

TCS CEO Natarajan Chandrasekaran
TCS CEO Natarajan Chandrasekaran
Image: Reuters/Shailesh Andrade

Chandrasekaran is 51 years old and started training as a runner about seven years ago. He began encouraging others to join him—starting out with his own employees.

As a yardstick, he completed the Boston Marathon of 2012 in about seven hours. In today’s race, he was wearing the number 14,509 and finished the 42 kilometer course in just over five hours.

Under Chandrasekaran’s lead, TCS marathon sponsorship reached Amsterdam, Berlin and even Singapore. Prior to his appointment, the company had sponsored the marathon at Mumbai just once:

  • 2005: Mumbai (technology sponsor)
  • 2010: Boston, Chicago and New York (technology sponsor)
  • 2011: Amsterdam (title sponsor)
  • 2012: Bangalore 10K and Berlin (technology sponsor)
  • 2014: New York (title sponsor) and Singapore (technology sponsor)

Backing iconic events like the New York City Marathon also helps TCS expand its brand in key markets. About 53% of the company’s earnings come from the United States and Canada, part of its overseas businesses that contribute almost 90% of its total revenuesPast sponsorships include Ferrari Formula One, pro-cycling partnerships in Switzerland, and other cycling sponsorships in Europe.