N.P. Mani in discussion with Rashna Ardesher

He was an S.S.C. in the Tamil medium from Tenkasi, Tamilnadu (South). His aim was to graduate, for which he would have had to go to the nearest district Hq., far away from Tenkasi. But his father could not afford this at that time having lost Rs. 50,000/-, a lot of money in those days, in business. But the son was determined to come up in life, to make something of himself. He started working on a daily wage of Re. 1.25 in the Government of Tamilnadu Electricity Department so as to be able to come to Bombay and pursue his studies.

In 1956 the simple, starry-eyed N.P. Mani came to Bombay to earn and learn at the same time. Within 10 days he had several interviews under his belt viz. BEST, Burmah Shell, Richardson & Cruddas and multinationals. But rejecting all those wonderful offers, he joined Godrej as test-typist, grew to become Deputy General Manager with his inborn showmanship and became one of the most valuable, trusted stalwarts of none other than Naval Godrej.

Mani’s contribution to this Company has been so creditable that today he is one of the rare former employees, with a record service of 39 years, continuing as Consultant to Godrej, leading Godrej into the hi-tech space industry.

Her Excellency, The Governor of Kerala, Smt. Jyothi
Venkatachalam on a visit to the "PB" Launch Exhibition in March
1980. N. P. Mani (right) demonstrating the Godrej typewriter.



It is surprising that being a Tamil medium S.S.C. pass, you got so many interview calls from MNCs. What made you join Godrej? Please tell us about your first interview.


Mr. Subbaraman, who was my uncle’s neighbour in Goregaon, Bombay, and working as Stenographer to N.D. Sahukar, General Manager in Godrej, got me an interview in Typewriter Assembly within two to three days of my arrival in Bombay.

At that time Godrej was manufacturing totally indigenous manual typewriters, the first "All-Indian typewriters". The Company was looking out for fast typists to test the new typewriters. The only qualification needed was typing at a very good speed. During the interview, Vasan, the Plant-in-charge, asked my typing speed. I said I didn’t know, maybe around 25 words per minute (w.p.m.). Vasan started laughing. Nevertheless, I sat for the test. The passage given to me was quite tough. I typed at the rate of 73 w.p.m.!


  Ch. But were you accurate?

Well, I was within the accuracy level. Just a few mistakes. The significant aspect of the test was to see whether the Typewriter keys responded well to the fingers leading ultimately to speed typing.


  Ch. Mr. Vasan must have been quite surprised?

Indeed he was. But so was I! My subsequent interview with K.N. Naoroji, Works Superintendent (that was his designation then), immediately after the typing test, lasted less than a minute. I was selected and asked to join immediately. My uncle was particular about my joining an Indian company like Godrej rather than a multinational. I joined on January 2, 1957 at the age of 19. My gross salary was fixed at Rs.130/- p.m. at a Basic of Rs. 65/-. I was placed in the factory at Lalbaug with the timing 7.15 a.m. to 3.45 p.m.

The typewriter manufacturing and assembly were later shifted to Vikhroli in May 1957 to the present Plant 7 (then known as IA) where the Tool Room occupied the last bay.

  Ch. Then, how did you pursue your studies?

It was impossible to attend morning colleges. Besides, there were no evening colleges at that time. So, for three to four years I was unable to join any college. I continued work as test-typist, and, in the meantime, did a Diploma Course in Commerce and passed my CCS (Corporate Company Secretary), Intermediate Examination from London.



But that’s not really graduation! You could have easily left Godrej and first completed your studies.


Yes. I could have. But even morning colleges were abolished by Bombay University. It was only after the then Central Education Minister, Justice Chagla intervened, the morning and evening colleges were permitted in the academic year 1965. I was the first to join Jhunjhunwala College, Ghatkopar, in the evening classes. But I utilised this intervening period very well. Working with machines and their functions. Typewriters particularly attracted me.



That means you had a mechanical bent of mind. What was it in the ‘machine’ that attracted you?


Yes. Indeed, it was an opportunity for learning things to do with machines. The typewriter with its mechanism, over 1,900 moving parts, the design which has to take care of strength, sense of direction and movement of fingers with keys, carriage, and so on. Half-spacing, dead keys for language typewriters… Oh! It was an engineering marvel. But today the computer has replaced it and made it so simple! Besides, working with technicians of varying skills, I understood the different methods of fine-tuning typewriters. I really cherished and enjoyed my work, but at the bottom of my heart I felt I was wasting my time. Had I continued my stenography I would have become a different person perhaps. But little did I realise then that one day I’d become an expert and a force to be reckoned with and create history in typewriter selling. It’s no exaggeration that I was uncrowned king in typewriter selling!


  Ch. Was it smooth sailing in Godrej all through?
  N.M. There were a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in my career. They did not define whether I was a worker or a staff member. They would at times make me a worker and at times a staff member to suit their convenience. Only when I raised this issue, through the union, that K.N. Naoroji and Naval Godrej sorted it out.

Later, in 1962, Godrej entered into a technical collaboration with VEP Optima, GDR for manufacturing typewriters under license. Godrej retrenched some workers in Typewriters Plant, including some mechanics and some test-typists. I was one of them.


  Ch. But you were the best of the lot!

There was a reason. Two of my seniors had to go. So the axe fell on me too. But within 15 days, I was called back. This was the only break in my long career.


  Ch. What were those 15 days without a job like?

In fact by the time the notice of retrenchment was put up, I had already taken up a job of salesman in a furnace manufacturing company. In the meanwhile, my colleagues wanted to go to Court. But I prevailed upon them to form a co-operative society of servicing typewriters. We had almost formed this co-operative when Godrej called me and I was reinstated. All those senior technicians went to different places and took up jobs. Thus I channelled them to something positive rather than taking the negative path.


  Ch. In which department were you reinstated?

I joined as clerk-cum-typist in the Service Department. But, looking at my background, Mr. Mirchandani, Service Manager, gave me the job of managing typewriter service. There was no system for indoor service. A large number of customers’ typewriters were pending for repairs and overhauling. I introduced the job card system. With just one additional technician, the productivity increased to such an extent that we cleared six months’ pending work in less than a month. Then I was shifted to Machine Tool and Forklift Service and worked very closely with Mirchandani. I created a new system, which worked very well. All this I did before I could even start my graduation studies.


  Ch. Your relations with Mirchandani must have improved.

Yes. Mirchandani gave me the permission and all facilities for my studies. I had the morning duty and he made my timing flexible in order to enable me to attend College. He sanctioned my leave without posing any problems. He was always very encouraging. Whenever I passed any exam, I’d find a box of sweets on my table!

But I must mention here that when I was selected as Management Trainee in 1978, Mirchandani wanted me to opt for service. I declined. I knew my strengths and weaknesses. First of all, I was not an engineer and I felt I would do well in marketing of typewriters because of my all-round experience — production, inspection, service, and enter into the user’s shoe, the typist, the ultimate person who chooses the brand. Prabhavalkar, Production Manager, marketing Furniture, Storwel, etc. strongly supported my view.



When did you ultimately join College, which was your prime objective in coming to Bombay?


Yes, this was really dragging me. I was the first to take admission in Jhunjhunwala College in 1965 and graduated in 1969. Then I wanted to do my post-graduation in Econometrics, but could not because I did not have a mathematics background. Moreover, the classes were in the afternoon in the University. So, in 1970-71 I did my M.A., Economics, from Pune Univeristy as a regular student.

Immediately after my post-graduation in Economics, I did Business Management and then Master in Marketing Management from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies (University of Bombay). This was how I studied for 16 long years from 1965 to 1981. That was a great penance — a tapasia in my life. I accomplished my mission.

N.P. Mani (standing) demonstrating Godrej 'PB' typewriter in Indore
in June 1980. Seated on his right is Dr. K. R. Hathi.