Fresh out of engineering college, disadvantaged by a change in the duration of the graduate course, a young R. Ramakrishnan walked into Bombay House, to the human resources department of his favourite company, Tata. He told them campus recruiters had not visited the Regional Engineering College, Tiruchirappalli, for his batch because they had done so six months ago.
Ramakrishnan’s batch was the first to go into a four-year engineering degree, from the five-year course earlier.
He obviously touched a chord because within a few weeks he was asked if he would join the company’s excavator division. With “no ghost of an idea” of what this division did, he said yes, and started with the division that made construction and mining machinery in Jamshedpur.
Retaining the spark
Twenty-five years later, Ramakrishnan, 46, sits in a spacious office at the World Trade Centre in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai, as vice-president (sales and marketing, commercial vehicle business unit), Tata Motors. He’s been there, done that and is looking forward to more.
Ramakrishnan has seldom been tempted to leave. He says the constant challenges within the company have kept him going over the years. From starting out in a small division to moving into bigger roles, working in places such as Hyderabad, Burnpur (West Bengal) and Pune—these are some of the reasons why life with the company has never been short on excitement.
“It’s a large company; you can try anything. You don’t have to seek permissions, and sometimes it’s difficult because people don’t understand. But if you take the right steps, there’s no limit to what you can do,” he says.
He also found a match with his value system with the organization. “I am at home here. I have interacted with people in other companies, heard about the situations they go through. I am not sure I would be able to gel in terms of their value systems,” says Ramakrishnan.
There have been times when he was unhappy, but he always attempted to come out of the rut by trying something new and different. “Over five-six years, you start to see there is a semblance of justice and fairness. It’s only built on as the years have gone by. By the 10th year, if you feel something is wrong, you look back at the track record, which reassures. With 25 years behind me, the number of pluses are so large, they grossly outweigh an odd minus that comes.”
He has the same advice for people who are inclined to change jobs during moments of frustration. Change your negative bent of mind, he says, and people will sit up and take notice. “People might call it loyalty, some might dismiss it. What really matters is what you are able to give each other. It’s not exactly a one-to-one exchange. Over a period of time, if you look back, you are happy you contributed and have been recognized, it’s fine,” says Ramakrishnan.
The soft-spoken, well-mannered man of medium build does not come across as someone who would be comfortable in a world of tough truckers and aggressive dealers. But that’s what Ramakrishnan does best—he knows the working of trucks inside out, has spoken to thousands of drivers and travelled with them to figure out how to make the product work best.
As someone who has been with the company for a quarter of a century, he has had his moments of euphoria—such as being able to convince someone in Andhra Pradesh, in broken Telugu, to buy equipment worth Rs18 lakh in the early 1990s, being selected for the company’s fast-track scheme—one of seven from among 250 candidates—which propelled him three grades up in one go; revitalizing the division with the multi-axel 25-tonne truck at the beginning of the decade when the company was still recovering from a Rs550 crore loss, and coming up with a ready-made construction vehicle at a time when the company was producing only the chassis for bodies to be assembled later.
He has seen change, both personally and with the company. “Our situation is more and more like a university. People come to spend a year or two here and then they are gone to a different place. I encourage people to do that. They need to get a different profile, grow to see different facets in their job. However much you can be trained, unless you get into the pool, jump and splash your hands and legs, you will not know how to swim.”
The 46-year-old sees another two decades of work in front of him, about the amount of time he has already spent working. As he says without a hint of fatigue, “I have another career waiting for me.”
THE FOREVER GUYS
Sudhir Mohan Trehan
Managing director, Crompton Greaves Ltd
Trehan joined Crompton Greaves Ltd in India in 1972 and has served in various departments and divisions such as transformers, turbines and switchgear.
Deepak S Parekh
Chairman, Housing Development Finance Corp.
Parekh joined HDFC in 1978 and took over as chairman from his uncle and HDFC’s founder Hasmukhbhai Parekh in 1993 after serving as its managing director from 1985.
Chairman and managing director, Larsen and Toubro Ltd
He joined as a junior engineer in 1964, and will retire in 2012 after 48 years with the company. He once told a newspaper that “this life was reserved for L&T”.