Thursday, 29 September 2022

Looking Back: A journey of Innovative Interventions


 









Mr Suresh Pugalenthi, Head HR (India operations) Wipro Infrastructure Engineering (WIN), is an accomplished HR professional who believes that innovation is a way of life. He has successfully adopted it in achieving organizational growth in both the companies he has worked namely Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, and WIN. His success is laced with a number of OD initiatives in the niche areas of cultural transformation, innovation and change management. 

It was a pleasure for me (Rajeev Moothedath (RM)) to interview Suresh Pugalenthi (SP) to understand in more detail the nature and success of his HR interventions.

RM: I understand that you are basically from Tamil Nadu. After obtaining degree in Labour Management from the University of Madras, you went on to do MA (PM&IR) from Tata Institute of social sciences, Mumbai. Could you tell us something about your early life motivations as a child and youth?

SP:  I am from a small town called “Manjalar Dam” which is in the foot hills of Kodaikanal. My parents were teachers and we were 4 siblings. Therefore, my parents could not provide personalized attention to each one of us. There was a need to be self-motivated. I did the things I needed to do without being reminded. Being self-driven, became my natural trait. My father once told me that nothing is impossible, “if you can dream and work towards your dream, you can achieve it”. Reading and updating my knowledge has always been important to me.

RM: How was your experience in TISS?  Could you share anecdotes connected to learning and the social life at the college?    

SP: Even as I was doing my BLM (Labour Management) at Chennai, I dreamt about joining TISS which was a prestigious educational institution in the country.  You are one of only 28 candidates selected from among 1 Lakh applicants for the PMIR course. It boosts your self-confidence and for me, the feat reinforced my basic belief that “nothing is impossible”.  At TISS you are tested on a daily basis, competing with the best and I enjoyed the journey. 

The course itself is so designed with emphasis on practical training. You attend three days of theory classes and two days of field work in a week, to practice what you have learnt in the class. By end of 2nd, year, we were exposed to best practices of 5 companies.

In the initial days our professor used to joke “If you have gained admission to TISS, two things are assured – naukri (job) and chokri (girl). Interestingly for me it proved correct, as I not only got my first job but also found my life partner at the campus. We got exposed to the Tata values such as respecting each individual and treating him/her with dignity. This served as a guiding light throughout our career.

Twice in a year, the canteen staff were given holiday. The students cleaned the kitchen utensils, prepared the food and served it to the canteen employees and their families. On this day, we also organized a host of entertainment activities for them. From these activities emerged my professional mantra “Take care of employees, and they take care of the organisation”.  

RM: Tell us about your first job at M/S Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited? What was your initial impression about the company as a fresher?

SP: My first job was a campus placement. I was happy with the role that they offered and was impressed by the world class ambience and physical infrastructure at the head office in the iconic towers at Nariman point, Mumbai

HPCL has an excellent induction program which helped me as a new employee to understand my role, goal, and organizational vision. HPCL understands the importance of retaining high talent especially those coming from premier institutes. They fast track your experience /exposure to various strategic initiatives.

The company’s open-door culture was amazing. You could meet anyone including CEO without appointment. I had an excellent boss who guided me during my journey with HPCL for almost 22 years. The organisation had a plan for my career and tracked my commitment, loyalty and deliverables at every level. I was also recognized for my contribution and values in terms of care, concern, empathy and commitment. I would like to credit whatever achievements I have had so far in my professional and personal life to the strong foundation provided by HPCL.

RM:  I understand that at Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, premier initiatives such as HP- Path, HP- Radio, HP- pace and HP- Future leaders were implemented. Could you briefly tell us about the “What” and “How” of each of them?

SP: The initiatives mentioned were  designed and developed to achieve the company mission of becoming a “World Class Energy Company”. I will briefly explain each one of them.

HP PATH:

This is a “Behavioural Competency Model” that we developed to ensure the company had outstanding performers. The details of the PATH are the following:

 The P stands for “Personal Excellence”, which includes behaviours where the individual is SELF-DRIVEN and works through various situations for achieving long term sustainable goals.

The “A” stands for “Altro -centricity”, which includes behaviours that recognizes and take into account interdependencies across levels, between individuals and departments both internal and external for achieving organisational objectives

The “TH” stands for Thought leaders, who think both analytically and laterally to create robust solutions.

HPCL, used this competency model as a backbone in all the people related processes such as selection, Performance Management, Training and development etc. HP Path served as a guiding compass for nurturing talent at HPCL.  

HP: PACE:

It was a new, robust Performance Management System which sought to align individual employee goals to the organization's objectives. PACE had 4 stages of implementation namely (1) Discover and Define (2) Prioritize and Plan (3) Execute & Evaluate and (4) Reward & Retain.

The accent was on theme-based aspects such as Innovation, Cost, and Process improvement. HPCL witnessed huge growth in volumes after the implementation of PACE.

 HP On Air - 'Hamari Aawaz. Hamara Parivaar':

 Taking cognizance of the importance of Internal Communication, HP on Air was conceptualized. The objective of the net based corporate radio was to inform, educate, and stay connected with the employees anytime, anywhere and on any device. It enabled us to communicate in an innovative way to the employees about new initiatives, department plans and overall progress of the Organization.

Music was also used to keep the listeners engaged. interviews with the leadership, relevant news and events, important HR notices, performance highlights, reward & recognition and interactive segments with employees and their families were featured in these programs.

 HP - Samavesh” - Future Leaders Forum:

 “Samavesh” is a unique induction program designed by the company for facilitating new joiners to “Learn” about the Organization, “Grow” as an individual and professional, and “Lead”  towards Organizational excellence. The program is for a period of 12 months with clearly demarcated five phases for imparting the inputs. At the end of the program the new joinee undertakes a project which helps him/her to get a deeper insight into the assigned roles. The program has been very successful in bringing about reduction in the attrition levels. “ Samavesh” is a vital  investment towards  developing the future leaders of the organization.

 RM:  In the year 2016, you had obtained a Certification in “Driving Growth through Innovation” from the Harvard Business school. Tell us more about this certification and to what extent it influenced your approach and initiatives thereafter.

SP: The competitive landscape of the present times relies heavily on innovation. Business leaders are constantly looking for new ways to innovate because you can't solve new problems with old solutions.

The certification gave me an opportunity to learn the best practices in the field of innovation. This in turn prompted me to revisit the existing practices in HPCL so as to promote innovation in the company. We set up “HP House of Innovation” for implementing Innovative practices across the organisation. A culture of innovation was promoted across the organization by encouraging employees to take up innovative projects.

 RM: After a stint of over two decades in the public sector HPCL , why did you decide to change your job and join a new company?  

SP: I was 42 years of age and heading the OD function of the organisation. In the year 2020, the company identified 100 young leaders for preparing them for the future roles and I was one of them. During this exercise of identification, my coach asked me “Are you happy with what you are doing now? Where do you wish to see yourself in the next 5 years? This set me thinking. While I was grateful for the opportunity to serve and learn from the company, I felt it was time to look beyond HPCL for realizing my full potential and meeting ‘bigger purpose of life’.

RM:  Could you briefly tell us about your present role at WIN?

SP: Currently, as Head (HR) for India Operations with Wipro Infrastructure Engineering (WIN), I am driving people transformation with a focus on achieving strategic and operational excellence.

We have implemented various organization wide initiatives such as ‘One Wipro’ “Wipro First”, “BOLD”, “Pathfinder”, Leadership development, “WINSTAR” etc which have helped in achieving the highest ever production and profitability.        

RM:  You have had a wealth of experience in Industrial relations Could you share your basic approach and methodology for successful industrial relations?     

I believe that it is important to understand people’s perspective- the perspective of those you are interacting with. Once this is done, you can solve any problem. I follow a 5 C model for solving any people related issue. The 1st C stands for “Connection” - Your ability to emotionally connect with the union or employee.  This is achieved by spending time and energy to understand the other person’s perspective and building trust with them.

The 2nd C in the model is “Communication”- Your ability to communicate the reason and the logic for your decision or action. Once the union and employees know that you always act with clarity and without bias, your credibility level goes up.

The 3rd C stands for building “Competency”- Here, we are talking about building the competency levels of union leaders to understand issues so that they can appreciate the decisions taken by management and also take just and unbiased decisions themselves. In this connection, it is important to impart to them relevant knowledge and awareness of the consequences of decisions taken.  

The 4th C is “Collaboration”- The best decisions and smooth implementation happens when it is done in a collaborative manner. Therefore, it is important to discuss, consult your union prior to taking important decisions so that there is smooth implementation and a Win-Win for both parties.

The 5th C stands for Culture. It is important to have a culture in the organization that is in line with the vision and corporate values of the company. With the appropriate culture in the company, no attempt will be made by anyone to look for quick fixes or short-term solutions to problems.

RM: You have had a very successful professional journey so far! What are your future plans and aspirations?   

SP:  I feel that the time has come to give back to the HR fraternity whatever learning and wisdom I have gained over the years by Mentioning and Coaching young HR Professionals.

I also, plan to work with Start-up companies to help them build & grow their organizations. If everything goes well, I will be writing a book (“HR Playbook”) in the near future that captures my experience and learnings of more than two decades.  This will be my gift and contribution to the HR fraternity.

RM:  What advice would you like to give, the young readers who have opted to take up HR as a profession in these challenging times?   

SP: I would advise young HR professionals to always remember that our primary role is to support the company’s business and growth. Focus a lot on enhancing employee engagement and experience.  In the present times, it is most essential to embrace being ‘digital’ and enhance your skill sets through continuous learning. Finally, it helps to always have an open mind and a positive mindset.

RM: Thank you Suresh for a very enlightening and holistic account of your thoughts and experiences.

SP: It is my pleasure, Rajeev. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. 

Sunday, 18 September 2022

Practice of Emotional intelligence by Leaders at Work Place










In the webinar organized on 7th September 2022 by Ms Bija training under their Mask Leadership/ Leaders connect program , Mr Manish Gupta Founder Director, Buddhi World spoke on the topic of emotional intelligence (EI). The speaker has several years of experience in research study and practical application of EI. This was evident in the clarity with which he spoke on the subject sans a lot of jargons. The simple definition of EI given by the speaker was "the ability to know/be aware of one's own emotions, know/be aware of other people's emotions and take appropriate decisions keeping in mind emotions of both parties and the circumstances ." 

EI is most essential in the work place to susatain and grow as a company. There is a need to learn skills for emotion and social management. The key is shifting focus from just "Me" to include others as well. When this happens there would be empathy, caring, practice of listening, self regulation and ability to motivate. Being self aware would include asking questions to yourself such as "Why do I get angry?", "Why do I get irritated?", "What are the triggers?", "How do I behave in a given situation?", "How does my behaviour affect others?", "How does my behaviour affect my own self?", "Does the behaviour motivate me ?" , "Does it depress me?", "Does my response end up in rude behaviour?". The first step before setting out to understanding and correcting others is correcting oneself after gaining insights through the questions discussed above. 

If you are looking for someone else to motivate you, it has limited shelf life. It wouldn't last very long just as you need to take a bath everyday to stay clean and not just take baths on and off. It is here that the importance of self motivation comes in. A strong goal attached with an intense emotion for achieving it, serves as a big self- motivator. EI can be learnt like any other skill by devoting 20 to 30 minutes to it daily. You will soon start seeing the benefits in terms of a new calmness and better judgement while decision making. At the same time, you will no longer have the desire to judge people. 

Practising EI helps you in 'accepting the realities of life'. As a professional HR person you are able to take decisions based on the actual realities on the ground without being influenced by aspects such as fear or favour. As for example, you have a task of handing out  'pink slips' to 50 people and you are able to take action without being influenced by thoughts such as "He is my friend and therefore I have to save his job."  

Mr Manish Gupta gave some tangible and practical tips on the application of EI at the work place and in day to day life. He advised to jot down all those matters discussed earlier that gives us information on self  awareness which can then be used for 'self regulation'. The exercise in turn will enable you to understand other's emotions. Self awareness and empathy are the twin requirements for gaining emotional intelligence. To know whether you are empathetic, ask yourself at night  "How many times during the day did I use the words 'Please', 'Sorry' and 'Thank you'?"  Saying "Please sit down" instead of "Sit down" makes a lot of diffrence. Do this everyday! 

The speaker signed off by observing " When your empathetic levels increase, your self awareness levels will automatically improve". My understanding from the discussion is that the twin factors influence each other. Therefore, we would do well to enhance both our self awareness and empathy for achieving high emotional intelligence. The session was for me one of the most rewarding ones in recent times. Many talk about the subject but few explain it with clarity and in simple terms as done by Mr Manish Gupta.

Thursday, 25 August 2022

What does your Personal Brand Stand for?

 









Personal branding is a concept that developed  as a  strategy in the competitive business scenario. When I started work in the year 1981, although it was still difficult to land a good job (it was pretty bad in the seventies in India),  the compelling need was yet to be felt for showcasing yourself to get  ahead of others. At that time most people were content to serve a single company and receive that 'Wrist watch' or similar  gift at the time of retirement, taking pride in themselves for having served the organization as  loyal employees.  

A lot has  changed over the years and it slowly became a norm to  jump as many jobs as possible for getting  ahead and leaving others far behind. By the time I neared the retirement age, the situation had changed so much that the feeling amongst corporate executives was "If a guy stays for more than three years in the same company, he must not be good or competent enough." Today, cultivating a personal brand has become very important . 

Personal branding differentiates you from the competiton and generates trust and confidence in the prospective clients and employers. Personal branding includes a brand statement in a couple of sentences that explains what you do and why you are unique in your field. It sums up your experience, skills and passion and gives a clear picture to people of what you stand for and are capable of accomplishing. As for example a person may have a brand statement that reads " I help people to reassess their life goals and find new paths to success". Notice how it is short, catchy and yet strong and compelling. Another statement could be "I develop sustainable business models and marketing strategies to fuel small business growth". Here, authenticity is an important element of branding apart from expertise, visibility, growing online presence, following experts in your field, networking etc.

Coming to the  Blogchatter #Bloghop prompt as to what "my personal brand stands for",  I would like to view my personal brand as not merely in the business sense but a personal brand for life itself. After my retirement, I have been engaged in corporate training, teaching MBA students and blogging. In all of these activities, the aim  is "to make a difference in the lives of  my clients / readers." As I also bring my life perspective into the branding, it would also read "Exhibiting compassion, love and respect for all". 

To my mind, if your personal branding for life as a human being is clear and in alignment with your natural and basic nature, it would work for you in all areas including that of the business. It need not then be seen as a mere strategy but a core that defines who you are and what it is that is important to you. In such a scenario, the steps for enhancing your personal brand would happen spontaneously, easily and effortlessly. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

Effective Management of Company Mission














On 17th August 2022, in the webinar  organized by Bija Training under their Mask Leadership series , the speaker Mr Zaved Akhtar, CEO and MD at Unilever, Bangladesh shared his experience of effectively contributing to the goals of the company while at the same time catering to the interests of the country. In the initial part of his talk, Mr Akhtar traced the history of  his 50 year old country that underwent various periods which he called (1) the lost decade (2) Military regime (3) Democracy restoration (4) Gathering momentum and finally the present times of economic progress. 

The speaker said that his company Unilever has always linked itself to the destiny of the country. The policy has been  "Whatever is good for Bangladesh, is good for Unilever". The products of the company are in the areas of home personal care, nutrition, safe drinking water, oral hygiene and sanitation. They account for 60% of the business in the country that was built over a period from 1962 (presence prior to formation of Bangaladesh). The company has always believed in "building a nation, not just a career"

Mr Akhtar said that it is important for companies to be clear about their purpose. It is brands with a purpose that grow. Unilever's purpose is "Sustainable living" with a focus on making a positive impact on society. He said that 50% of the population want to buy products from brands that are sustainable (Brands that undertake sustainable practices in the workings of their business and champion them). Unilever collects back 50% of the plastic that is generated.

The Unilever products such as Life buoy, Surf excel, Horlicks, Pepsodent, Domex etc have been associated with initiatives impacting the quality of life in society. As for example child mortality rate was reduced by the hand washing program associated with Life buoy. Similarly Horlicks has been associated with campaigns for balanced nutrition and pepsodent with oral hygiene. Glow and Lovely (GAL) is a product that is associated with enhancing the levels of women in the work force by imparting to them career skills. The company has been pitching in  "for serving people everywhere" during times of emergencies such as occurance of  floods or Covid 19 faced by the nation.  

Moving to the subject of performance and transformation, Mr Akhtar said that focus should be on purpose & service, agility and  personal mastery with an attitude of  "I can do it". At the same time, one has to be realistic and cautious about the challenges. Prioritization, by giving high priority to high impact matters, is the key. Excellence should always be aimed for rather than perfection. The speaker said that while delegating, always ensure that authority is being delegated and take care not to delegate accountability. That the approach and initiatives of the company has worked is borne out by the fact that in spite of challenges posed by Covid, in 2022, the company has recorded the best performance in 10 years.   

Mr Akhtar said while recruiting, job assigning or transfer of employees, it is necessary to ensure that they are not only in the right bus but the right seat in the bus . If there is a mismatch, take them out and put the person in another bus if necessary. On continous improvement, the speaker gave an analogy from the game of golf. Success is when you are not only been able to beat your last handicap but are able to repeat it over and over again. He said that "opportunities are lurking in every corner"; we only need to have a 'Growth mindset' in place of a 'Fixed mindset'. A coalition of the willing core transformation agents and "unleashing" their collective input can be very powerful. It is important to 'keep educating yourself' and value the key values of the company like ethics, respect, honesty, integrity, daring to dream big and making it happen. 

Finally, Mr Akhtar took questions from the participants. To a question as to what Unilever did to enhance the number of  women working in the company, he said the basic focus and challenge has been to get men to understand the need for women to work and remove the patriarchal bias. After all, 95% of the company's products are bought by women. Therefore, having more women in the workforce would be beneficial in understanding and appreciating the psyche of women customers. Another step taken to facilitate women working was to ensure sufficient women's toilets are available not only in the companies premises but those of distributors so that women managers face no difficulty while visiting them. In order to ensure female managers are feeling secure, security guards are assigned for their protection. Kindergarten and creche facilities are also provided. In short, a woman friendly environment is created by the company for encouraging more women to join its workforce.  

To another question as to what steps are taken for inculcating company values in all the employees, the speaker said that "Purpose workshops" are conducted to enable employees to see the overlap between thier own  and the companies purpose and values. It is the core business principle of the company that company 'Values" are non negotiable and are to be followed whether you are being watched by others or not. People are empowered to call out if and when there is flouting of or deviation from a value. It is a continous process of educating and reinforcing. It would involve correction, disciplinary action and coaching. 

With that, curtains came down on a very enlightening and rewarding webinar. I am so happy to capture it for my readers!   

Saturday, 30 July 2022

Looking Back: Life and Times of a Green Field Expert



Preamble: Mr Sunil Kulkarni in a career spanning 37 years has worked in a number of companies and geographies starting out as a Graduate engineering trainee in the year 1981.Companies he has worked include Hindustan Cables Ltd in Hyderabad, Tamilnadu Telecommunications Ltd in Arakkonan,, Sterilite Industries at Aurangabad/ Pune and finally Power Plus co LLC in the United Arab Emirates where he was the GM (Projects) and later Head of Marketing. He also ran his own company for three years.

Mr Kulkarni had the privilege and good fortune to mostly work and gain rich experience in green field projects during his illustrious career. We briefly worked together in  Tamilnadu Telecommunications Ltd, Arakkonam when Mr Kulkarni was the HOD of Production and I the HOD of Personnel & admin. It was a great pleasure to meet with him after many years and have this engaging and insightful conversation. 

 

Rajeev Moothedath (RM): Warm greetings to you! Although I have given a brief outline in the preamble about your professional journey over the years, could you tell readers something about your childhood and early influences in life?   

Sunil Kulkarni (SK): Happy meeting you once again!. I was born in Indore, MP and spent my childhood and schooling there. My father worked in a company at Dewas, 45 Kms away which meant he left for work very early in the morning and returned late at night at 9 PM, sometimes 10 PM. Therefore, the responsibilities of parenting fell mostly on mother.  As a child, I was active in games and also enjoyed my hobbies involving arts and crafts. 

Although both my parents underscored the importance of studying well, they did not superimpose their views on choice of career etc.

RM:  So how and when did you choose your career?

SK:   When I was in the eight standard, I used to make the models of cars, trucks and buses out of used cardboard boxes. Somehow, this thought came to my mind that I should become a mechanical engineer. It was this discipline that I pursued on growing up by joining the Government engineering College Ujjain. I got admission on merit; in those days ours was a five-year course unlike the present four years. 

RM: It is seen that a major turning point in your career was your joining HCL Hyderabad where you worked for over six years in a green field project. Can you share your experience from that period about important learning in terms of technical aspects and working relationships?  

SK: Yes, the HCL stint at Hyderabad provided an opportunity to work on a green field project with a UK collaborator. It enabled me to acquire not only technical skills but also project management, interpersonal and team management skills.

In the beginning, the local workers on the shop floor, refused to interact with me in any other language other than the regional language Telugu, I rose to the occasion and was determined to learn Telugu at the earliest. I learned the language from the workers themselves by friendly interactions with them. This helped me considerably in my day-to-day work. Later, my knowledge of Telugu helped me in my job in TTL Arakkonam also, as many workmen in the district spoke Telugu. I haven’t forgotten my Telugu even to this day!

RM: In your opinion, what are the basic skills and challenges that are different when working for a green field project and a well-established company?    

SK: In a well-established company, ready to use systems are already available in all areas of the company’s functioning, be it operational or management systems. In a green field project, it becomes your responsibility to develop and put systems in place from the scratch.   You also have to deal with unexpected situations and ensure that there is no cost or time overrun. Your hard, soft and networking skills come into play in a big way while working in a green field project. There is a need to be a quick thinker and decision maker.

RM: In TTL Arakkonam, I have heard employees fondly remembering and relating instances from the project stage. As for example they said that while working round the clock in the initial days, tea prepared by your wife would arrive past midnight at around 2 AM from your residence.

 This gesture clearly was endearing and build an affinity amongst employees irrespective of job designations.  Would you like to tell us as to what prompted you to build good working relationships?   

SK : During the  installation and commissioning of the plant and machinery we had to work round the clock to meet the  requirement of project completion at the earliest and starting commercial production. At the project stage, we had limited staff and we all had to work for extended long hours. Here, motivation and keeping the team spirit high was of paramount importance.

Further, it saved time if tea was readily available at hand without having to take tea breaks. My wife contributed in a big way to our mission of boosting up everyone’s spirit and I am very thankful to her. I am happy to learn that this gesture is remembered by the employees even to this day.

 RM: Could you tell us something from your tenure with Sterilite Industries (Now Vedanta)?

SK:  My tenure with Sterlite Industries can be described as the most valuable period of my career as it provided me an opportunity to consolidate and fully utilise hard and soft skills accumulated from the previous experience of over a decade. Most importantly, it helped me to hone my entrepreneurial skills.

Sterlite’s top management reposed faith in me and gave me full freedom at work. Consequently, I was able to achieve seemingly high targets and goals. This tenure gave me valuable hands-on experience to deal with all the aspects of business.

RM: Could you tell us more about the three-year period from 2002 to 2005 when you started your own venture? Looking back, was it an appropriate decision?  What is the major learning from running your own company and what would you advise those who are planning to venture into start-ups?  

SK: Looking back, It was a very adventurous decision on my part to leave a well-paying job in a good company and start on my own, mid-career.  It would not have been possible without the support of my wife and family who whole heartedly supported my decision. Those three years, functioning as a “one man army” were an eye opener in many ways and they taught me important life lessons.  I understood with more clarity the importance of cash flow in a business. My respect for the business promoters and entrepreneurs have gone up manifold as I realize that they are doing a yeoman service providing employment to people.

I would however advice those who wish to venture into being an entrepreneur, to start early, make mistakes early and grow to their full potential. In my own case, I do not regret the decision as I could keep at bay any hardships to the family. All the same, starting at a young age always helps. Entrepreneurship should be promoted and due respect extended to it in society. Ultimately it is business that can generate employment for the people.

RM:  In 2006 you joined another green field project Power Plus in UAE as GM (projects) and after completing the construction of the plant, commissioning of machinery, starting commercial production moved to the role of Head (marketing).  Did the experiences in your previous green field assignments stand you in good stead at Power plus?    

SK: Yes, my previous experience of working in green field projects and the overall experience of handling a business /business division certainly helped me while working in UAE. I quickly adapted to the new environment and was able to immediately concentrate on what was expected of me in the new job.

RM:  Marketing can be a completely different cup of tea. Could you tell us about the challenges faced? 

SK:  The overall responsibility of marketing the products of a newly formed company, competing against well established companies was very challenging. The task was made even more difficult due to the global recession that happened in 2008, soon after we commissioned our plant.

However, I was able to tide over the difficult time and taste success by relying on my self-confidence, optimistic mindset, and trust in the team’s strength and abilities

RM: I would like to ask you about the cultural factors that you came across during your foreign stint in UAE. Can you share with us anecdotes of conflicts in work perception and how they were resolved? 

SK: I have interacted with foreign nationals, the American and European collaborators while in India and during visits abroad. However, working in a foreign country with a multinational work force is a different ball game all together. It is necessary to learn and understand the local culture, customs and social norms. It is also essential to project an appropriate and positive image of your country through your actions and communication.

I would like to relate one such instance here wherein the “chalta hai” attitude that we, Indians tend to practice can be very costly in another space and culture. Safety at work place or project site is top priority and taken very seriously by the Europeans and Americans. On one occasion, we had delivered our products to a green field project site where the contractor and project consultants were American. The Truck driver of our transporter was wearing the required PPE appliances such as helmet, reflective safety jacket, safety goggles etc. However, he forgot to wear industrial safety shoes and instead wore his normal shoes.

The American site engineer refused to allow the truck to enter the project site for unloading. Finally, our transporter had to arrange industrial safety shoes for the truck driver from the project site about 150 kms away to facilitate entry and unloading of our material at the project site.

RM: It was such a pleasure interacting with you, a seasoned professional with long and diverse experience. As a parting shot what tips would you like to give young people starting out on their career?  

SK:  The tips that come to my mind are basic and simple. Good old sincerity combined with hard and smart work in accordance with the needs of the situation is important. Constantly updating oneself, being open to learning from all quarters be it friends/colleagues/ seniors, spotting & developing talent is the key. Here, it is important to lead by example and develop a sense of ownership in your juniors ("What would I have done if I were the owner of the company?).

 My favourite maxims are “Change is the only constant and therefore be always prepared", "Only the paranoid survive” and "Apne pe barosa hai, toh ek daav laga le" meaning "Self-confidence is the key to take on any challenge"!  A parting advice would be to surround yourself with positive, optimistic people! 

RM: Now, that is a great way of ending an interview. Thanks a lot for a very informative and engaging conversation.  

SK: It is my pleasure; I thoroughly enjoyed our interaction. 


NB: This post was initially published in  'PACER' the Newsletter of the Association for promotion of competitive and responsive enterprises( APCRE).

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Small Steady Steps to Success- Story of a Pioneer in Small Scale Industry


















On a May Day (International workers' day), I met Mr N. Bhaskaran, CEO and MD Aquatech Tanks, headquartered  in Kerala. His success story is intriguing. He started a small-scale unit in his native Kodanad, a nondescript village, in the outskirts of Perumbavoor town at a time when Kerala was known as an "Unfriendly location" for industrial investment. 

Mr Bhaskaran started his first venture four decades ago, a PVC pipe unit under the brand name "Shakthiman", employing just 10 employees. Today his group of establishments are located across three states, Perumbavoor in Kerala, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh.  The group employs 445 employees and has an annual Turnover of 100 crores. The initiative pioneered by Mr Bhaskaran has seen the development of the region into a hub for small-scale  plastic units. Kodanad today boasts of being home to 75 Small scale units.

Mr Bhaskaran's company has bagged a number of awards including the prestigious citation for technology innovation in polymeric products “ - National award 2014-15.  The company has also secured the highest level, credit worthiness under the  CRISIL SME rating (SME1).  Today, in his late seventies, he looks back at his journey with a sense of satisfaction. It was a privilege and pleasure for me Rajeev Moothedath (RM) to interview Mr N. Bhaskaran (NB) to learn more about his extraordinary journey and success.

 RM:  Warm Greetings to you Mr Bhaskaran It gives me great pleasure to do this interview. Could you tell us how it all began? What prompted a qualified engineer to start a factory unit instead of seeking a job as was the norm those days?

NB: To be frank with you Rajeev, my career did not blossom by design or through meticulous planning. I am a product of the circumstances that existed in the late sixties and seventies in our country.  When I passed out in 1968, the opportunities available to an Engineering Graduate was very limited. As an Electrical Graduate, one avenue was joining KSEB (Kerala state electricity board). However, they had only around 20 to 25 vacancies, which were taken by the top ranking students.

Another alternative was to proceed to Bombay or Delhi for a job.  I was not interested in this option, as I did not wish to leave my home town. We owned agricultural land and my father was also running a rice/ flour Mill and Sugar Cane crushing unit apart from engaging in farming. After passing out from college, I took over the farm and introduced scientific farming in the form of power tiller, electric and diesel pump sets in the farm. As a result, we could raise two crops of paddy and the production increased in our farm.

Around this period, Union Bank of India, the leading bank in the area opened a branch in our village.  We availed financial loans from them and expanded our farm.  I had very good relationship with the bank officials and permitted them to conduct training programs for their officers at our farm. 

Frequent interaction with the bank officials created in me the confidence to set up a unit with the Bank’s help. There was a large requirement of good quality pipes for agriculture purposes. Yet, quality pipes were not available in the market. I happened to read an article in the Hindu newspaper about the huge prospects expected for the PVC industry in India and that a PVC resin unit was coming up shortly in the nearby state of Tamil Nadu. 

 I immediately contacted the PVC manufacturers, collected information, and other technical details from them with the intention of starting a unit in our village, 
Accordingly, a PVC Pipe Unit was set up with minimum investment utilising our own existing infrastructure.  However, we made it a point to procure the best machinery and equipment available in India at that time. 

RM: So can we say that it was comparatively ‘easy going’ for you? 

NB:  In real terms, nothing comes ‘easy.’ After my graduation, it had taken six years to set up an industry in my village. With each step, I was learning and gaining in confidence. With God’s grace, our product brand ‘Shakthiman Super’ became popular in the   market very soon and marketing was not a problem. Gradually, we expanded the capacity and increased the production and the variety of products.   Presently, our company is making bathroom items like flushing cisterns, seat cover, water tanks, septic tanks etc. Subsequently, we started supplying Defence products as well. We are an approved supplier for supply of Drop boxes and packing materials to the Indian Armed Forces.

 RM:  Were there any apprehensions in your mind about likely challenges at the time of starting out?  How did you deal with it? 

NB: It is true that I was taking a big step in my life, venturing into an entirely new territory. Therefore, now and then a thought would come “whether I am taking the right decision” but as I told you, my interactions with the bank officials and the correspondence with the PVC manufacturers gave me a kind of inner confidence that this project would succeed. 

 Coming to the challenges, getting an electric connection was a big deal and next to impossible in those days. Further starting a factory meant obtaining several other permissions such as Local Body License, Fire & Safety, Health Clearance, etc. The matter had to be handled with a lot of tact and initiative. Firstly, I arranged to get power supply for the premises and quietly managed to shift the power connection to my name.

 Now that I had a building with power supply, I approached the authorities with the proposal to start the unit and subsequently the authorities concerned for the Licence/Permits.  It was early days of industrialisation and I managed to get the unit working, 


 RM:  How did the interest in SSIs develop in a small village like Kodanad?

NB:  After I had taken the plunge and tasted success, my dealers, relatives and friends came forward to collaborate with me and pump in investments. This resulted in a steady growth over the years.
    
 RM:  Tell us about the circumstances that prompted you to venture out to make investments outside the state of Kerala?

NB: One problem that we faced at that time in Kerala was the militancy of labour. They tended to use muscle power and pressure tactics even when they were  paid fair wages and fringe benefits. I have always believed that it is futile to fight with them, It is better instead to circumvent the problem in some other way without confrontation. Fortunately, around that time the Tamil Nadu Government was encouraging and supporting growth of industries. It was the right time and Coimbatore an ideal place to to commence our new unit. The authorities there had made available one acre land for running the factory. 

At this time we were also fortunate to get orders for the supply of materials to defence. They had given us the design to develop the product. Once done,  there was no looking back as it was like a monopoly for those products. Another plus point in dealing with the defence is that any disruption caused to  supply to the defence can be reported to the police. They take prompt action as it is a defence establishment requirement that is being affected. Starting the Coimbatore unit was a turning point in our operations.   

RM: What is your secret of not only holding on but also thriving for so many years in a state that is held 'unfriendly to business'?

NB: As I mentioned earlier, I did not believe in a policy of confrontation with the labour. Persuading them in a logical and friendly manner was the method that I adopted through out. Besides,  it was sensible to continue operations in Kerala as the state had a good demand for our products and the people also had the buying power since money from Gulf was flowing to Kerala.           

RM:  Do you believe that Kerala continues to be an unfriendly state for investment?   Why do you think so?

NB: I do not think so. A lot has changed in the thinking and approach of the state Government and union leaders as well .They do not interfere much these days in day to day operations. Some annual donation to their union funds and they are happy.                  

 RM: Looking back, what do you see as your most significant achievement in a journey spanning four decades?

NB:   As I look back, it gives me great satisfaction that we were able to establish the brand ' Aquatech' as a quality product across south India. I was able to set up factories in three states including in Vijayawada Andhra Pradesh where the state Government had extended subsidy for setting up the unit.   

 RM:  Could you tell us a little about your family and their support if any that contributed to your success as an entrepreneur? 

NB: My family consists of my wife Suma and three daughters who have been rock solid in thier support through out my jouney . Ofcourse, the girls are now married and I am now a doting grandfather. 

My elder brother, N. Achyuthan, a doctor in the armed services gave me the initial capital of Rs10,000/ when I started out. He was a person who believed that not only should he grow but all those close to him should also come up in life and therefore he helped people in which ever way possible. His death at a young age of 42 was a big blow to me personally and all family members & friends in general. 

Another person who impacted my life in a big way was my second cousin T.N. Sankaran who was a lot older and someone I looked up to for inspiration and guidance. He was very strong in mathematics and almost all of us relatives in the village learnt and honed our knowledge with his help. He also taught us science and his sister Sumathi, English. Sankaran chettan (big brother) could solve complicated geometrical problems easily. Learning from him, we could shine and get noticed in class. In matters of education, he was truly my mentor.     

RM:  What guidance would you like to give a young person today who would like to start out as an entrepreneur? 

NB: A lot has changed since the times when I was a young man starting out. At that time my main source of information was reading. I read the 'Hindu' newspaper regularly, known for its reputation of authentic news. Every wednesday there was a feature called "Engineering & Industry" which I read with a lot of interest. In fact, it was from the article in the 'Hindu' that I first became aware of the huge prospects for the PVC industry in India. I would therefore say that reading and keeping yourself abreast of the latest developments is very important. Ofcouse, today you have the internet and many other sources like podcasts & videos to gather information.

Another important thing is to take initiative. When you are convinced, have the gut feeling that an idea is good, go ahead and act without hesitating! Nothing much can be achieved if we do not act.         

 RM:  What are your plans for the future and how do you see your role and contribution to the eco system of Kodanad?

NB: At this stage in my life and career, no such plans come to my mind. I feel that I have done my bit by inspiring many in my village to take the plunge and become entrepreneurs.

RM:  So true. Thank you so much for this very informative and engaging interaction!

NB: It was my pleasure Rajeev. I enjoyed it very much.

Saturday, 26 February 2022

The Art of Conversation at the Workplace








The  subject of " The Art of Conversation at the Work Place" was discussed in a webinar organized by Ms Bija training under their Mask Leadership/ Leaders connect program on 19th January 2022. The speaker was Mr Nirmal Singh Raghav, Group Head-HR, IT & ORG Ramani Group of companies.  

 A conversational style and ability to converse effectively is something you develop naturally over a period of time. It reflects your values and what the 'Total you' stands for. Conversation is crucial for any relationship, be it at the work place or at home The foundation for effective communication  is your conviction and belief in the idea you wish to convey. At work , the HR employees are required to handle challenging conversational situations such as  when you are sacking someone for non performance/ when organization has lost confidence in the employee, interacting with militant unions etc.  

When  engaged in the role of telling a person that he/ she is losing the job, the conversation should  be made in a sensitive manner, keeping in mind the concerns of that person. Drop your assumptions and listen with an open mind to the other person's  thoughts and feelings. At the same time, it is necessary to tell the point of view of the organization without trying to be  'Goody, goody". By the end of the conversation the person should have more clarity of the situation and the way forward. The employee  should feel that you care for their concerns. This in turn should lead to a mutual discussion on  the possibilities and solutions to a seemingly difficult situation. When the person leaves your cabin, it should be with a feeling of optimism instead of hopelessness. 

When dealing with and conversing with militant unions, it is necessary 'to be careful about every word you speak'. Equally important is the emotional balance and equanimity during the conversation. The speaker gave a situation of an accident having occurred at the plant in a factory that results  in the death of a workman. The HR person coming down  and addressing the 300 odd workers should be sensitive to their feelings and mood of the situation and speak appropriately with proper choice of words. 

While on the subject of conversations, the matter came up as to the care and caution to be observed while conversing with women employees. It is necessary to aware of the cultural background ( as for example, is she from a rural area and not  used to a familiar and informal style of urban people when talking to women?)  of the woman employee so as to not disturb or hurt her feelings. Do some homework in advance as to what and how you would like to convey the message effectively. 

One way to make conversations more acceptable and effective is to ask questions instead of telling- "What do you think?' or "How could it have been done differently?". Always be clear about the purpose of a conversation and be fair to the person you are speaking to. In this regard, it should not only be fair but also appear/feel fair to the other person. The trick is to say what is necessary and important but in a unemotional, neutral tone of voice. 

A question came from the participants as to how to handle the proceedings in  a sexual harassment discussions by a committee  particularly when the person against whom the allegation is made is an important executive of the company?  Mr Raghav  said that  it is important  to remind ourselves of the fact that the purpose of the exercise is to "find out the truth" to enable taking appropriate action. Therefore, do a lot of homework and thoroughly examine relevant facts that should include call records, text messages etc between the charged person and the complainant. Further, it is necessary to dig into  details of  the backgrounds of both the charged employee and the complainant. Has there been any previous complaints related to them?  As finding out the truth is the objective, anything and everything needs to be investigated, concluded the speaker.