Sophisticated Fabrication
Interviewed by B. K. Karanjia

Indrapal Singh, a Godrej veteran, has had exposure to quite a few product divisions: Forklift, Security Equipment, Storwel, Precision Equipment Division and Machine Tools and now he is President of the Industrial Products Group. Indrapal finds this latest assignment most challenging because while Godrej have had a good market share in consumer durables, the same cannot be said about industrial products, particularly machine tools, which, ironically, were closest to Navalís heart. Frankly, Indrapal feels the need of looking outwards for fulfilling the needs of customers instead of looking within to meet requirements of our plants. He would also like stronger focus on product strategy, market selection and systematic development of the business.

Above all, Indrapal stresses the need to be market-oriented, especially in the coming days of greater national and international competition. Indrapalís apparent lack of purposiveness is deceptive. Behind a seemingly casual approach to things, lie a keen analytical mind and a shrewd intelligence. He is gifted too with a sense of humour, most particularly the ability to laugh at himself.


  Ch. Apart from books on Management, which are books you personally like to read?

As I work long hours, it is difficult to find time to read widely. Besides books on Management, I try to read books on psychology, philosophy and some fiction. During the last year I read some books on Zen. Currently Iím reading fiction ?stories by Isabel Allende. To develop a balanced world view, I read the Economist, Harvard Business Review and Esquire. Esquire is a perfect blend of reportage, information, short fiction, aesthetics, and the list goes on. It is simply the best menís magazine in print.


  Ch. Could you please tell us something about your training and management studies?

By training I am an Electrical Engineer and was selected by the Indian Air Force as a Pilot Officer in the Engineering Branch in 1966, but as it turned out, I was destined for a career in Business Management. On the advice of a close family friend I decided to apply to the Post Graduate programme in Business Administration at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM) ?Ahmedabad. I was admitted in the third batch (1966-?8). IIM had close ties with Harvard Business School (HBS). Most of the cases that we analysed were from HBS and we had a very distinguished faculty, which was a blend of prominent management educators of India and professors from the HBS. It was a rewarding experience. In 1968, I was selected by Godrej & Boyce. The final interview panel comprised Naval Godrej, K.R. Hathi, K. Naoroji and N. Sahukar. I joined our Company as a Management Trainee and was exposed to various functions over the two-year duration of the Management Trainee programme. Hathi, who was a Fellow of MITís Sloan School of Management, personally supervised and guided the Management Trainees.


  Ch. What were those days like?

In 1968, our Sales Department was located at the Lalbaug premises. We had to traverse the infamous Bombay Gas Company lane to reach our office. It was always dirty and congested and was heavily flooded in the monsoons. However, this was more than offset by the warmth and camaraderie of my colleagues. The work atmosphere was very informal. We worked hard and had a lot of fun working together. My impeccable Gujarati helped me mingle easily with the team.


  Ch. Less meetings, also!

There were no formal meetings and most of the communication was informal. There were no conference rooms. If Hathi required more than five of us to be present at the same time, we had to look for chairs. Life, indeed, was simple.


  Ch. Besides, there was a sense of family feeling.

Yes, there was, as I have elaborated earlier. In those days we could sell whatever we produced, as there was hardly any competition. Only in the last decade, we have had to fight for our survival. This combined with broader societal changes has weakened familial bonds to some extent.


  Ch. You are quoted in Volume II of Godrej: A Hundred Years as saying: "If you look at the kind of structure and systems we had way back in 1968, I doubt whether it would have enabled us to grow to the extent we have today." Could you elaborate?

In those days, we were production-oriented as we could sell all that we produced. The times were changing and we had to increase our distribution to reach far-flung markets. Also, we had to strengthen our product management function. Therefore to cater to the strategy of market expansion, we had to bring about greater focus on our sales and service network and expand substantially. This required major changes in our internal structure and systems. Unless we had de-centralised, we could not achieve focus. To make this transition we moved from manual systems to Electronic Data Processing way back in 1972! Today, to integrate our Production, Sales and Accounting functions we have implemented a state-of-the-art Enterprise Resource Planning system. In anticipation of the challenges ahead we have already begun restructuring and our systems will also change, accordingly.


  Ch. Yes, I am all for change. But change for the better.

I agree. But to say Ďchange for the better?is too obvious and simplistic. The real challenge of change is three-fold.

1. What to change?

2. What to change to?

3. How to cause the change?

This is an on-going process. Therefore, during the ensuing chaos we need a strong anchorage. Only Core Values can provide such a firm foundation during these tumultuous times. The challenge for management is to retain and strengthen Core Values whilst changing strategies, structure and systems? for adapting to the environment.


  Ch. Yes, itís there. But the bonds of loyalty have loosened.

Yes and No. If you interpret Ďloyalty?in a very narrow sense, then I agree with you. However, in the present context, employees have to be loyal to the organisation in a broader sense. This involves having the required competencies to deliver. Also, they must have a sense of ownership and accountability towards making our Company globally competitive. The newer mindset must enable us to embrace all the changes wholeheartedly.

Thus, the challenge facing us is to inculcate and nurture this newer, relevant loyalty.


  Ch. Why is it so?

The resistance to change is very deeply rooted in our organisation. It is probably a vestige of our past success. Also, it could be a function of the way weíve managed our employees. So, once again, how do you make an employee feel like an owner? However, there is one thing Iím certain of. In the ambience of rigid and bureaucratic rules and procedures, a sense of ownership will not flourish.



Comparing to when I was Publicity Manager in Godrej in the early fifties, I today find a marked contrast in the staff and to some extent in the managementís attitude to the staff as well. But my interview with Kalwachia opened my eyes. Itís not that workers have grievances. Circumstances have changed and facilities that were once extended cannot any more be extended. On paper it seemed most convincing. But a cynical attitude has seeped in. And a cynical attitude is the beginning of destruction. That attitude was not there in the seven years I worked with Godrej from 1954-61. Having come from outside, I am in a better position to comment on this. But would you say that there is a change, a sharp contrast?


The times when you had worked for Godrej were part of our good old days when competitive pressures to perform were much less than they are today. Today the work ethic has deteriorated. Everyone wants more for less. That vital sense of ownership is absent. People are not giving of their best. Hence, everyday is a struggle for managers and supervisors to get those tasks done for which people are paid for anyway. They have to spend vast amounts of energy to Ďextract?the very basic work. In such a context, how does one get improvement-related things done? And thatís the challenge of change.


  Ch. Are you a great believer in MBAs?

Certainly not. However, you do require some MBAs in the Company. Iím a great believer in sound professionals, be it in engineering, finance, personnel?Being a manufacturing organisation, we need to give engineers their place of pride. The question we have to ask ourselves is that have we, over the years, enhanced the pride of engineers or not?