Saturday, August 10, 2013

GUEST POST - Fiction By my Sweet Husband - The Innovator Who Succeeded



“Fix these minor glitches, and we are ready to roll !”, said Mr. Khurana with an emphatic smile and patted Ravi on his back, upon reviewing the new and the most unconventional prototype for the exhaust heat conservator.

“Thank you Sir. I’ll be back with the corrections by the end of the day”, said Ravi and went back to the workshop to his team and his tools.

This was a significant step, and yet another feather in the cap of achievements, for Ravi Malhotra, mechanical engineer by qualification, and intern and a prospective full time employee, at Khurana Furnace Works. Ravi was not so much the top ranked in his class, but he was the best innovator in his batch at BITS, Pilani. That’s what caught Mr. Khurana’s eye when he went there to recruit interns for his factory. Khurana had put down one of the actual problems from his furnace as a case study for the candidates. Ravi had barely made the cut-off and was among the last few to have submitted his case study for review. The solutions presented by some of the other candidates were in line with what Khurana had in mind. He had almost made up his mind to call a couple of them for further interview.  That’s when the moderator presented him with Ravi’s case study. To say that he was completely surprised would have been an understatement. The solution was absolutely in contrast to what most of the other candidates had proposed. Khurana was almost agitated when he started reading the solution initially. How could something as preposterous as this can even work. But something in his mind told him to continue reading the solution further. And as he read further, he started liking the solution better and better. In fact, it seemed so simple and straightforward. This had to be the only way to approach the problem. This was so intuitive. How could he not have thought about this? How could he, Mr. Anand Khurana, the great engineer the whole Furnace industry looks up to, have missed such an obvious solution. He decided then and there to hire Ravi. The interview was more of a process formality, which saw Ravi bag the offer formally. 

Ravi was delighted to get this opportunity to work for Khurana Furnace. This had been his dream company even before the company confirmed its participation in the placement process. He had always been awed by the genius of Mr. Khurana. He had read about Mr. Khurana’s accomplishments in the field of Furnace Engineering. He had come to be widely regarded as the Father of modern Furnace Engineering in industrial circles in the country. Some of his ideas on Furnace design had been instrumental in improving the Furnace Efficiency as well as in delivering significant energy savings to a lot of companies. Ravi had also read about Khurana’s upcoming research in Exhaust technology to minimize the heat loss and further improve the Furnace efficiency, and was very much interested to participate in and contribute to this research. Thus, his surprise knew no bounds when he was told by Mr. Khurana that he would be working on the Exhaust project as part of his internship. This was a huge responsibility for an intern, but then that was the level of trust and confidence Mr. Khurana had in Ravi.

The loud knocks on his cabin brought Ravi back to the present. The memories from 23 years past, still fresh as yesterday, slowly faded as he looked at the door. There was some pause and then some more knocking. And then some more pause.

“Sir, we need your help. We seem to have a problem, sir.”, came a voice from across the door.

Ravi’s eyes lit up. He loved problems and providing solutions to problems. 

“Come in.”, said Ravi.

Two junior engineers entered inside. They were not carrying anything with them. For a moment, Ravi was baffled. How could they approach him with a problem and not carry any plans and designs where he can provide his input. He didn’t speak yet. He just raised his eyebrows.

“Sir, the Kundanwadi plant union is demanding better facilities and a higher pay. They threaten to strike work if their demands are not met. “, said Prasad, one of the Junior Engineers.

“Do you have a list of their demands ?”, asked Ravi.

“No. We don’t have it with us right now. I’ll ask the Kundanwadi Plant Manager to mail it over.”, said Rajesh, the other Junior Engineer.

“Okay. What about the pay?”

“The union demands pay revision for the class C and D workers.”

“When was the last pay revision done? Is it in lines with the HR guidelines?”

“Uhm... I need to check this with HR, sir.”

“What is the backup if these employees were to strike. How much buffer capacity do we have to sustain operations. How much can we cross-ship from our other factories?”

“I’ll need to gather these details from the other plant managers, sir”, said Prasad.

Ravi was silent for a full minute. Gathering all the calm he had, he said,

“Please gather all the relevant information from the required sources and then let’s talk this. I cannot suggest anything without any data”.

“Okay Sir”, said both Prasad and Rajesh and went away.

The door closed behind them and Ravi put his head in his hands. He was frustrated with the current crop of employees in the company. Nobody seemed to be willing to take any firm stance and a decision. Nobody seemed to have any data to do so either. Production was slowly but consistently going down. Costs were increasing. The orders were there, but still lesser than what used to be during Khurana’s time. It almost seemed to him as if the fortunes turned downhill the day Khurana named him his successor 7 years ago. From being an intern to an Engineer to Senior Engineer to a Specialist, his progress in the company was rapid. All throughout, his sole focus was to improve the Furnace Efficiency and Productivity. He wasn’t aware of his surroundings. He didn’t bother much to socialize and make friends out of his colleagues. He was an absolute favourite of Mr. Khurana and that saw him receive many favours as well. Now that Mr. Khurana was stepping down and a successor was needed, everybody knew that Ravi was in the front. It came as little surprise then that Khurana named Ravi as the next MD and CEO of the company. Obviously this caused some discontent among the senior VPs who were more skilled and equally loyal, to see someone so junior surpass them for the top job. As a result, the company lost out some good leadership.

All through his career, being in a role which demanded him to focus on his love – Furnace, it now became difficult for him to shift his focus to the broader issues demanded out of a CEO. Over the last 7 years, he lost touch with the R&D to track the new developments. As also, the loss of leadership meant fostering new ties with a new set of people. This had seemingly proven more difficult to Ravi than he had originally estimated. Today, after 7 years of holding fort, he was on the verge of a breakdown. How had it come down to this state. He, a mechanical engineer, a lover of Factories and furnaces, with a passion for innovating, had ended up as an MD of the company. Anybody else in his place would have been proud of this accomplishment. But Ravi didn’t seem to feel proud. He didn’t seem to feel happy about it. Rather, if anything, he felt discontented. Any time he had had a problem, he would reach out to Mr. Khurana and get a patient ear from him. Besides any solution, Khurana had always provided him with good advice. But that was so long as Khurana was the CEO. Ravi hadn’t kept up touch in the last 7 years. But today was going to be different. He fidgeted with the telephone receiver for about 10 mins, but couldn’t get the courage to call Mr. Khurana. He poured himself a glass of water and gulped it in one go. He took his hand towards the receiver and the phone rang just then.

“Hello !”

“Hey Ravi. Long time no see, my friend. How are you doing?”

It was Mr. Khurana’s voice on the other side of the phone. Ravi, as though lost his voice upon hearing Mr. Khurana speak. 

“Hello. Ravi, you still there ? Can’t hear you boy !”

“Ahh. Yes sir. I’m here.”, said Ravi almost choking on his own words. 

Khurana was quick to understand that something was wrong. He didn’t drag along and invited Ravi over for coffee right away. Ravi came over to the Khurana residence. He was dressed in smart formals, but his drooped shoulders and slow gait gave away the struggle that he was going through. Khurana had him seated in the frontyard which had a small garden. Presently Khurana arrived and asked the house help to get them coffee.

“So, my son. How are things lately. Seems you’ve been keeping quite busy. Haven’t had much time to talk with your old man, eh?”

Ravi was silent for a long while. But Khurana was a seasoned man. He knew how to get people talking. And soon he realized that being CEO was not driving Ravi as much as it had driven him. Khurana gave him a good talk to raise his spirits. As he left for home that evening, he appeared a changed man. He was beginning to internalize the knowledge from the evening.

The next day he came in and straightaway asked for the HR Manager. 

“Mr. Raghuram. Kundanwadi plant seems to be having some issues. Could you please take leadership on checking the case. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with a couple of good proposals to resolve the demands. Let’s talk about this in the evening today. Also, I want to discuss some policies regarding employee welfare. Let’s talk now.”

Next he called the engineering department and asked to send over the Senior Engineer, Mr. Prakash in. 

“Prakash, I don’t think I have seen any “Contingency Plan” anywhere so far. I’d like you to assess the material impact that we would have if we face a shutdown in our plants. Please have a plan ready for me to evaluate by the end of tomorrow. Use all resources you need. Involve me as necessary.”

Quality Control was next. Followed by R&D. And thus, one after the other, he picked up all the loose threads and started knotting them up together. He then went on the workshop floor. He asked all the employees to join him and then addressed them. He gave a 10 minute speech motivating them to give their best, and expect the best from the company. He announced a slew of measures he had drafted and validated with HR. 

Lastly, he went into the innovation center. He saw a young boy of twenty two working out a complex equation on the blackboard all by himself. He seemed to be working on some design model. Ravi couldn’t make out from the distance as to what it could have been. He waited patiently for the next 30 minutes for the boy to notice him and come to talk to him. But it wasn’t to be. The boy was totally engrossed in his work. Ravi could see the same passion in the boy as he had when he was an intern here. Just when he was about to leave, the boy exclaimed loudly and gave a fist pump in the air. Smiling, but not surprised, Ravi cleared his throat.

“Oh. Sorry sir. I didn’t realize you were here”, said the boy.

“Tell me about this thing you are working on. You seem to be pretty passionate about it”, said Ravi.

“Oh Yes sir. I am working on this next generation exhaust technology, which would improve the exhaust heat conservator efficiency by upto 85%. It has not been implemented by anyone in the industry as a key link in the chain was missing so far. I think I have just got that element implemented in my prototype design. Would you like to see it sir?”

Ravi was now surprised, pleasantly, to hear these words after so long.

“Absolutely. Let me see it”, said Ravi.

He eagerly got the model to Ravi and the next half hour was spent in reviewing, discussing and analyzing the prototype. A totally unconventional design, but yet simple and intuitive. Ravi was impressed to say the least. Here was a boy who reminded him of himself.

“I have not seen much of you here. Are you new here?”

“I am an intern sir. I joined two weeks back. I specialized in Exhaust Furnaces and this is my area of core interest.”

“What’s your name, son?”

“Anand sir. Anand Malhotra”.

“Fix these minor glitches, and we are ready to roll !”, said Ravi with an emphatic smile and patted Anand on his back.

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