FROM TEST-TYPING TO ROCKET ENGINE SELLING
Ch. Your career in Godrej took a sharp turn when you suggested that Godrej should enter the space industry. It was like opening another chapter in your career. What made you turn from Typewriters to Rocket Engines?
N.M. I started Trivandrum Branch in August 1984. VSSC (Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre ?ISRO) located in Veli, close to Trivandrum, was one of the major important customers. My first job was to sort out their problems with our wholesale dealer for inordinate delay in supply of furniture and service matters. I had to meet practically all purchase and stores officers, scientists, and engineers in various projects at VSSC. My interaction with them opened my eyes. I realised the huge potential for fabrication jobs in VSSC. I had some idea of what our Process Equipment Division (PED) was doing during my induction as Management Trainee. Later, when I visited Vikhroli, I took the opportunity and discussed with Mr. G.K. Datar, Plant Manager of PED. He took me round the plant and briefed me thoroughly on our activities in fabrication. I started focusing my attention on space activities while my routine branch sales was going on pretty well.
The first order for Dummy Motor Casing for PSLV was finalised in 1987. It was a big order for us. Datar understood and appreciated our efforts and promised all help. Many more orders followed for precision components. I would talk to every scientist/engineer I met in VSSC about our fabrication capabilities for space work. Some would even remark, astonished: "Godrej, who are in furniture business, can make precision components of space quality-standard!" This was the image of Godrej. Truly so, how many of us really knew our strengths? We have to our credit today 22 Nos. Vikas Engines (Rocket Engines). These Engines are successfully flown in PSLV & GSLV Launches. We have been involved right from the development stage of cryogenic engine whose hot test was successfully completed on February 12, 2002. Thus, in a Launch Vehicle, Godrej plays a major role, supplying the Ďheart?of the vehicle ?the Engine.
Ch. What about our entry into hi-tech?
N.M. Our entry into hi-tech came much later with jobs like PS4, engine valves, where our Tool Room executed the order with zero rejection with + ?nbsp;5 micron of a very costly material called titanium. We lost heavily in this order. Thatís because we could not estimate correctly. When Naval Godrej asked me for an explanation, I told him that we would be compensated later for the loss. "Mr. Godrej, have we really lost?" I asked him. He said, "Su boloj tame?" ("What are you saying?") I told him that the material we used was very costly and we should be happy that Godrej got an opportunity to do this sort of work. It was like getting trained in handling hi-tech. In future this could be a testimony to our abilities. He laughed: "Mani, you are a good salesman!"
Subsequently, ISRO wanted the same components and asked us how much discount we could offer. ISRO repeated the order at a revised price for the subsequent supply. This speaks volumes about the culture of ISRO. They can evaluate the job and the fabricator well.
Today we are associated with numerous precision components like valves for Satellite Thrusters.
Ch. OK, Mr. Mani, you sold the idea to ISRO that Godrej could contribute. But how did you do the million-dollar job of convincing Godrej to plunge into hi-tech space industry when hardly anyone would subscribe to your views then?
N.M. Yes, you are right. Whenever I visited Vikhroli, I used to pursuade Naval Godrej and Jamshyd that we must enter into space business. Naval Godrej once asked me, "Did you understand + ?nbsp;5 micron tolerance? The jobs are highly sophisticated and demanding. How can we do that kind of job here?" I replied, "Sir, you are like Hanumaan, you do not know your strength. Our Tool Room is willing and wants something challenging." Thanks to Datar and P.N. Surendranath of the Tool Room, who fully supported me. I could see that we had set Naval Godrej thinking.
Actually, he had two important reasons to think twice before entering into space activities. One was our investment on dedicated facilities and, second, our lacking the machining capacity. I suggested that we could arrange what we call a "consortium" with MTAR (Machine Tool Aids and Re-Conditioning), Hyderabad, whom we knew as one of our competitors. We worked out modalities for joining hands with them. Although initially ISRO resisted the consortium approach, it was later convinced that sharing of facilities by consortium had lot of advantages. It benefitted both the industry and the customer. Consortium has become a byword today with both ISRO and Defence. Thus Godrej took the lead in the consortium way of working by pooling available resources.
But the going was not that easy in Godrej. Naval Godrej visited Trivandrum in 1987 at the invitation of Prof. U.R. Rao, Chairman of ISRO. His visit to Mahendragiri test facilities and discussion with scientists convinced him of the commitment of Indian scientists to space research. He was not only concerned about the huge expenditure, but what benefits it would reap for the common man in such research projects. Alas, he is not alive today! ISRO has successfully launched quite a few of its own vehicles, contributing in a big way to the Information Technology revolution, taking it to every village. India thus joined the elite club of the Satellite Launch Vehicle countries in the world.
Ch. It may be good being in hi-tech. But how does it help Godrej today in the constantly changing business environment?
N.M. First and foremost our work culture at least in two Divisions viz. PED (Aerospace) and Tool Room has changed due to exposure to demanding quality standards in aerospace. Sohrabji often used to deplore the "chalta hai chalne do" attitude. That is our culture even today.
Secondly, the spin-off advantages ? because of our experience and exposure in fabrication of space research areas, we could enter into Defence, Nuclear Power, etc. We have built an excellent image in the precision fabrication market.
Thirdly, this market is booming. We are one of the few recognised fabricators. With indegenisation gaining momentum in this strategic sector, the skyís the limit. If only we pool all our resources, we can beat any one.
Ch. When did you retire, Mr. Mani?
N.M. I retired in April 1996.
Ch. Were you immediately appointed as Consultant?
N.M. What consultant? Iím still a front line salesman. If I had become a consultant, I could have made some quick bucks!
Ch. You have been very close to Naval Godrej. How do you feel working now, especially after his death?
N.M. Naval Godrej had his own style. As I have been associated with Godrej for four decades, what disturbs me is the change in culture in our Company.
Ch. Could you please elaborate?
N.M. In our generation we had total commitment to the organisation. The organisation also had commitment towards its people. Now both have become totally impersonal. I feel sad at the passing of the parental kind of relationship.
Ch. What are your present goals?
N.M. Professionally, Iím satisfied with my achievements. But what have I done for society? Nothing. Iím confused.
Ch. What are your current goals with reference to your profession?
N.M. Godrej has the potential to emerge leaders in hi-tech fabrication in the consortium of Industries inside and outside. If you are innovative and committed, no one can stop you. I am only trying to work on our inherent strengths.
Ch. What is it that makes you so sure about our becoming leaders in hi-tech?
N.M. (Proudly): If you recollect, GSLV maiden launch had to be aborted at the last second, which seemed impossible but we did it. Later, within 15 days, it was launched successfully. An engineering marvel! Even US and European Space Agencies commented on this rare feat. Has not Godrej contributed to this?
We have everything. Only the will to achieve is needed.