Hyderabad: After working for almost three decades with General Electric Co. (GE) in the US, Sanjay Correa returned to India last year to become managing director of the company’s John F. Welch Technology Centre in Bangalore.
“I feel like Rip Van Winkle sometimes,” says Correa, referring to the fictional character who wakes up after 20 years.
The US-trained aerospace engineer cites the transformation of cricket into entertainment as an example of the change that has overtaken India.
Tracing origins : Correa says the customer’s voice is the starting point for innovation product development at the Bangalore centre.
Correa, who was in Hyderabad to attend an innovation educators’ conference organised by the Indian School of Business (IBS), spoke in an interview about the work being done by the Bangalore centre, GE’s biggest technology development hub outside of the US with some 5,000 employees, and plans for expansion in the country. Edited excerpts:
On product development
I have been in GE 30 years—this is my 30th year. So I have been drinking from the water cooler for a while. Our company was founded by Thomas Edison (inventor of the electric bulb and the phonograph), and he was one of the top technologists, engineers of the Victorian era. But he also had an amazing flair for identifying what society needed. When he saw darkness, he saw a need for electric light. Our fundamental model is: find out what societies need and typically it was where he (Edison) was, which was basically the US, and by extension Western countries. He took all of the sciences and things that were being discovered and engineered products out of them to answer the needs that people had.
We are very driven; indeed, to this day, our innovation product development process basically starts from the voice of the customer. Our marketing teams go out there, they find out (what the needs are)... We mostly deal with jet engines, and big electrical products kind of stuff, healthcare.
We have got a big focus now on emerging markets, including India... When we say we find out what the world wants, it means we also find out what India wants.
So what are the real needs of rural healthcare (in India). What are the real needs of electrical power? What are the real needs of (India in) hydrocarbons? And then you go and assign your engineering teams (to develop products) because you now know that there is a market.
There is an investment strategy that would spell affordable products for end users and, yet, business that would make sense for our company. So for us, that’s the voice of customer, engineering fulfilment, supply chain fulfilment...that’s the story, but it kind of starts at the front-end.
On the role of the Bangalore technology centre
Our company is the world’s biggest maker of jet engines. Every two seconds, roughly, a jet plane or a helicopter takes off somewhere in the world, powered by GE engines. The Bangalore team is involved in that kind of activity. Three thousand lives are saved every day as a result of GE healthcare. Bangalore people are involved in that.
We are a kind of a high payoff group because we work on stuff where, for the most part, it is going to be the next jet engine, the next MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), the next ultrasound (machine). We know how to do that. We know how to take steps of appropriate magnitude.
The Bangalore team, like all GE teams, has a very high success rate. The successes are as long as the list of GE products. because our teams are very networked globally. We don’t have a system where (we tell) Bangalore, you go and work on that, Greenville, you go and work on that.
Rather, this (product) will have contribution from all our centres; that will have contributions from all the centres. Every single GE business that you can enumerate, every industrial business, any modality of healthcare, any modality of energy, aviation, water, oil and gas, you name it, has an engineering team at the centre...within GE we don’t worry about credit in that sense. We are all successful if the product is successful, and we all fail if any one product fails.
On GE’s Indian product pipeline
Rural healthcare, the right products that do the right things; it’s not about de-featured products. I could bring some of those products and show you, lay them alongside the product, the equivalent things, that’s not in India and this product is more sophisticated.
This circuitry has to do things that that circuitry had never had to do. It has to run on batteries. As ill as the person is, they are more reliable than the electric grid to that city. If I sent something that needs electricity and that there wasn’t electricity that day, what did I actually accomplish? It’s a big sweep of products in the rural healthcare space...
India, unfortunately, has a very high incidence of infant mortality, much higher than the global average; so we try to understand what are the causes of disease. There is a suite of products, the most famous of which is the lullaby infant warmer.
In energy, there is a lot of wind turbine activity, a lot of gas turbine, combined cycle activity. We are on the verge of a steam turbine. We got a lot of engineering work on the steam turbine for the Indian market.
In aviation, there are a lot of sales on both the commercial as well as the military side.
The light combat aircraft, Tejas Mark II, has GE power. That engine will have to be redesigned somewhat for this application. So that activity is going on...
In water there is a suite of products from industrial products where you may go and treat water at a factory, or refinery, or something all the way through to rural water... Can we design filtration systems and so forth at a price point that makes sense so they (rural consumers) can afford to buy the stuff? We are actually in the pilot phase with some products there.
It’s going to come from the need of the market. Again, it’s going to be more products, more specifications, more work has to be done...
My expectation is that we are going to have to grow the size of the engineering team in India. Whether we choose to do it in Bangalore or not, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. So I can’t tell you we are going to grow in a specific site because it is going to depend on where some of these centres of activity have to be housed.
We will also increase our manufacturing footprint in India in a very large way... we announced a $200 million greenfield plant. We haven’t picked a site yet. It will have the flexibility to do a lot of different kind of products. That will require engineering support.
I personally think that we need to grow the engineering team. There is no constraint on me... If the market says grow it, that’s what we will do. Nobody constraints my budget, but I don’t go out and hire in advance (of the need).