The author, Mr Sudhanshu Mani, in conversation with Mr Keshav, Founder & CEO, Mantra, tells us how it is possible to deliver as a leader in a public enterprise, overcoming the shackles of bureaucracy, provided that the leader has a committed and capable team.
The Superstar Train
Ms Vidya Ragu, founder, Himalayacalling and Skillsgurucool
The legacy of Indian railways started in 1845, exactly 177 years ago. But it got its fastest best in 2018-2019 when it got its superstar Train18 hitting the tracks. What made it very special was that it was made in India, from ICF, Chennai. The train from scratch-to-prototype was completed in 18 months, when the global standard is 36 months. It was completed with less than 50% of the estimated global cost, without any TOT (Transfer of Technology) from global experts and all made with in-house IPRs available with us. In India, we are very good at doing things but not so good at documenting them, in an interesting way. Luckily, Mr Mani has documented the Train 18 journey so well.
Attributes of a good leader
Mr Muthukumar, TAFE
To me, leaders stand out when they believe that impossibility is a possibility. They also make other people believe in this. A leader has the courage of conviction (like Mahatma Gandhi, who fought a war without weapons). As Steven Covey says, a leader is one who makes people believe that they have capability in them. The journey that they take is holistic.
A good leader always takes risks. A baby turtle that does not stick its neck out after it is hatched, cannot reach the sea. Leaders influence the entire system to start working around them. They convert adversity into opportunity. Sudhanshu Mani’s team coming up with the first indigenous, semi-high-speed train in India is a great achievement. As a leader, he has made a difference to the country, which every Indian can be proud of.
Insulate our reserves
Mrs Indra Prem Menon, Senapathy Whiteley Group of Companies
Train 18 is a Make-in-India story, from start to finish. It is a story that deserves to be told. It is a story that will inspire engineers, entrepreneurs, creators, dreamers, doers and the like. The author Sudhanshu Mani has transformed a regular team of engineers into a well-oiled machine and made them perform like champions to create India’s first Vande Bharat express, in a matter of 18 months. This kind of devotion from a team to a leader and vice-versa can come only when there is openness and sharing of credit and praise to each other. It shows how one determined individual with a can-do spirit, though being a government employee, can face the onslaught of the bureaucracy and still manoeuvre the shackles and show the world that it can be done.
My company was associated with Indian Railways in developing and getting approval for our mica tape used as insulation for 6FRA Traction motors. I know how difficult it is to get approval from RDSO (Research, Designs and Standards Organisation). It was in the late 90s and early 2000s that I met Mr Mani who was heading RDSO at that time. I am proud to say that mica tape is used now as a primary insulation in Indian Railways. It took seven long years and very stringent quality testing before our product was approved. Our successful experiments opened the doors to other Indian manufacturers. We could reduce the insulation cost by 60%. We in India have 80% of the world’s best Mica reserves. We should qualify it as rare earth. China and Brazil have done it. We really need to protect our natural resources.
Train 18 is a pure electric locomotive. There is no cleaner way to transport such a large, populous country. E-mobility is what Train 18 provides and it is a platform for minimal carbon emission. Clean energy is really required in the field of transportation.
Not just a storm in a teacup
Mr R Bala Kesari, Retired Member of Railway Board & Columnist
In 2017, when the idea of Train18 was getting a push, Mr Mani invited me and a few other retired Railway employees to ICF. We were asked to share our thoughts on how and what should be done to make a train of this type, which is unique. We gave our ideas but thought it was probably one of those routine brainstorming sessions. Normally, after the storm, things become calm. But we never knew that Mr Mani had so much passion for this project.
We were privileged to be present on the occasion when the train was inaugurated in ICF on 29 Oct 2018. After a lot of trials and safety checks, the train was inaugurated in Feb 2019 as the Vande Bharat Express by the Prime Minister, as the train between New Delhi and Varanasi. It has changed the way the Indian Railways are looking at passenger travel in this country. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a manager in a public enterprise set his own agenda, amidst opposition, both explicit and implicit and yet achieved that.
Sudhanshu Mani is a person who has been responsible for the success of Train 18. Railways have announced that they will launch 300 Vande Bharat Express trains. But Mr Mani has recently written a blog, cautioning the Railways not to go overboard as only two trains are now running. He is honest enough to say to the Railways that they are over-ambitious. Even before our PM made the slogan of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat,’ the Train 18 was launched. These trains being completely indigenous, I had suggested that the two (Train 18) trains running now be called ‘Atmanirbhar Express,’ instead of Vande Bharat Express. The spirit of self-reliance was the motivating force for Train 18.
Dreaming to launch Hyperloop
Prof V Kamakoti, IIT Madras
Train 18 is a very passionate topic for me. There are many important events that happened during Covid time which had mandated that India should move towards atma nirbhar. The
Ladakh incident was one factor. The more frustrating part was that many medical equipment, like ventilators, were not available and we had to very quickly make those equipment. There was a company that created 3000 oxygen beds within a month. When the western world had a vaccine that would work at 8 deg C, we developed a vaccine that would work at 32 deg C. During the lockdown, our Prime Minister had been giving many messages on the need for self-reliance and he coined the word, ‘atma nirbhar.’
If we do a project without challenges, it is a victory. But then, if we do a project with challenges, it becomes history. I am sure Mr Mani has made history. I was also involved in a similar project, which was Shakti Microprocessor. We wanted to build the entire process and ecosystem to happen in India. We had only one fab in the semiconductor complex in Chandigarh. People were sceptical of their processor. But it did work. Mr Mani deserves a big applause for completing the project in spite of so many challenges.
He has written a whole chapter on the public procurement policy. He has used the policy, brought in consultants, partners and vendors and created the train within the time. He deserves a big applause. He has run a factory with Mahila Shakti, which is very important today. That the Vande Bharat express is running now is proof of its success. This will surely inspire many of our students. There is a trend among our youth to become entrepreneurs rather than employees. The railways is sponsoring our Hyperloop project. I wish that one day, we can release a book on the success story of Hyperloop.
Mr Sudhanshu Mani (in a chat with Mr Keshav)
In 2016, I became the GM of ICF, Chennai, after 35 years of service in the railways. Right from childhood, I always wondered why we don’t have trains in India like we see in Japan or Europe. There was always a talk of doing it. But we were never able to do it. One group supported it and the other opposed it. But the support was only for imports. Making it on our own was not on the agenda. ICF is in the Limca book of records for making the highest number of coaches under one roof. So this was an opportunity for me. I thought I had the dream, if not the vision, to bring out a modern train. I had the fortune of getting people in my team who were willing to do my dream, without which it would not have been possible.
In an organisation like Railways, there are 20 to 30% who are totally self-motivated and they are the ones who drive such organisations. All they need is a pat on the back. In fact, driving them can be counter-productive. If their leader is not willing to take up a task, then obviously they would be wary. My role was only to make people come together and work.
Initiatives like Quality Circle and Kaizen must be implemented from bottom-up and never forced from top. Never ridicule anybody for giving suggestions, though you may not accept them. During my tenure at ICF, I asked every officer to give one idea for improvement every month. We called it ‘An idea, a month.’ They have to bring it to the forum and if accepted, they have to implement it by themselves. It took some time for people to adjust to this but most officers were very quick to follow this. All I gave was a hand-written certificate for good ideas. We had around 160 officers. 95% of them gave good ideas. In the 29 months that I was in ICF, we could implement nearly 3000 ideas, with no extra effort.
A vision can turn into a nightmare if the leader has a good dream but a bad team. If the visions of the leader and the team get aligned and if they have the capability to deliver, then it gets done in any organisation, and I would dare to say, even more in a government organisation.