22nd All India Management Students Convention Speakers’ Profile

Read Time:14 Minute

With a distinguished educational background, including a Chemical Engineering degree from NIT Trichy and a PGDM from IIM Calcutta, this individual boasts over 35 years of experience as an exceptional leader and transformation specialist. They have been the driving force behind the remarkable evolution of T S Mahalingam & Sons into a highly respected automobile after-market brand in South India, expanding its operations across multiple businesses and locations. As a pioneer, they revolutionized the financial services industry by introducing third-party loan products in collaboration with Citi bank and ventured into real estate, successfully delivering over 100 projects. Notably, they have made a significant impact on various alumni associations, serving as President of REC alumni (RECAL), President of the IIM Calcutta Alumni Chennai, and President of the Madras Management Association (MMA). Additionally, their role on the Chennai Angels’ Executive Committee showcases their dedication to fostering entrepreneurship and supporting budding entrepreneurs through mentorship and investment guidance, solidifying their reputation as a go-to figure in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In his career spanning over 35 years in Upstream Oil & Gas Sector, Elango has held several leadership roles in different areas of the business and is a recognized leader in the Indian Oil and Gas industry.

Currently Elango is the Managing Director of Hindustan Oil Exploration Company Ltd (HOEC) since February 2015.

Prior to joining HOEC, he was the Chief Executive Officer & Whole Time Director of Cairn India Limited.

Elango was one of the five finalists for Platts’ first-ever Asia CEO of the Year award 2013

Elango holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration and began his career with ONGC in 1985 and over a span of 10-years, has performed diverse roles Prior to joining Cairn India in January 1996.

Apurba is an Associate Partner with KPMG in India’s ESG practice. As a climate, energy and ESG specialist, over the years, she has focused on solutions around deep decarbonisation, ESG transformation, energy transitions, carbon markets, green finance, platform building, energy modelling, sustainability reporting and strategy, corporate social responsibility, etc. She has worked extensively with the corporate sector but also worked quite closely with the government on policy. In her previous role, she was the Head for Climate Policy and Modelling at WRI India.

Mr K V Ramani, founder and chancellor of Sai University, is one of the pioneers who led the efforts to bring India’s information technology sector to global prominence. He co-founded the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) to assist the growth and development of the IT sector in India. He served as its chairman from 1997 to 1998 and was a member of its executive council for the first 10 years, being re-elected by the members five times over. He received the Founder’s Award at NASSCOM’s silver jubilee celebrations in 2015 for ‘putting India on the Global IT Map.’ 

Mr Ramani is currently the chairman and managing director of Digital Holdings Pvt. Ltd. and the founder and managing trustee of Shirdi Sai Trust. A successful technology entrepreneur, he joined IBM as a graduate engineer in 1970 at a time when very few Indians were a part of the IT sector’s talent pipeline. Anticipating the advent of the age of technology, he founded a premier communications technology firm called Future Software in 1985. He co-founded Hughes Software Systems, a telecommunications software company in India, as a joint venture with the US firm Hughes Software in 1990. 

He has been the charter president of the TiE (The indUS Entrepreneurs), Chennai Chapter. Additionally, he has worked for the department of electronics as a member of the working group on information technology and as the chairman of the study team on software development and exports for the ninth Five-Year plan during 1996. Between 1988 and 1992, he was the chairman of the software panel, southern region, for the Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council (ESC) under the Ministry of Commerce. 

He has been honored by Hon. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for creating the brand of a new India as co-founder of NASSCOM and for the Shri Saibaba Sansthan, Shirdi, the inspiration behind his numerous philanthropic initiatives which include educational and medical services for the underprivileged. 

Mr Ramani is driven by the urgent need to create world-class institutions for higher education in India and now steers his philanthropic efforts towards building a global interdisciplinary university in India. He is currently the Founder and Chancellor of Sai University, India’s first international university, based in Chennai. Sai University is a multi disciplinary and inter disciplinary university providing Liberal Education in Arts, Science. Technology and Law.

Gp Capt R Vijayakumar (Retd), VSM, is a highly accomplished individual with a distinguished career in the Indian Air Force and currently serves as the Executive Director of the Madras Management Association (MMA) since April 2007. Throughout his tenure, he has significantly contributed to the growth and reputation of MMA.

During his three-decade-long service in the Indian Air Force, Gp Capt Vijayakumar held various pivotal positions, including Director of Financial Planning and Financial Advisor to the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Air Command. His exceptional service and dedication were recognized through several prestigious awards. He was honored with the Vishisht Seva Medal by the President of India for his outstanding and meritorious service. Additionally, he received the Commendation Medallion on four occasions from the Chief of Air Staff and Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief for his commendable contributions.

Gp Capt Vijayakumar is an alumnus of Loyola, Chennai, and holds a diverse range of educational qualifications. He has obtained an LLB degree and pursued his studies further to earn a Master’s degree in Industrial Relations & Personnel Management from Nagpur University. He has also earned a Master’s degree in Management Studies from Osmania University.

Under Gp Capt Vijayakumar’s dynamic leadership, MMA has become a prominent and highly respected management association in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. The organization consistently attracts top industry leaders and policy makers, solidifying its status as the recognized face of Indian industry in the state. Thanks to his exceptional leadership skills, MMA has been honored with the Best Management Association in India award by AIMA for fourteen consecutive years, including the year 2022-23.

Apart from his professional pursuits, Gp Capt Vijayakumar is an avid golfer and has represented the Indian golf team in various international tournaments. He is actively involved in various philanthropic endeavors as well. Currently, he serves as a member of the Executive Committee of St. John Ambulance Association and P S Educational Society. Additionally, he holds the position of President at P S Matriculation School, North (SRKM, Mylapore).

Dr. Ashwin Mahalingam joined the faculty in the Building Technology and Construction Management division of the Civil engineering department at IIT-Madras in 2006. Ashwin received his B.Tech in Civil engineering from IIT-Madras and then proceeded to Stanford University for a Masters in Construction Engineering and Management. He then helped start up an internet based company in the USA called All Star Fleet, aimed at providing asset management services for construction companies. Following this he returned to Stanford University to pursue a PhD in the area of Infrastructure Project Management. Ashwin’s research interests are in the areas of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) in Infrastructure planning and management, the management and governance of large engineering projects and the use of technology in infrastructure development. Ashwin is also a co-founder of Okapi Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd and serves as a Director on the Board. He is the Editor of the Engineering Project Organization Journal (EPOJ) and has served on many national committees. 

Girish is a seasoned sustainability professional and entrepreneur with a specialization in energy analytics.
His expertise encompasses various fields, including 3D digital twin technology, city mapping for climate change initiatives including water & energy conservation strategy development, ventilation system design, automation, and retrofits. In recognition of his contributions to the field, he received the IGBC fellowship in 2020, becoming the youngest Indian to receive this honor.

With over fifteen years of experience, Girish has successfully managed and led award winning green projects across diverse sectors, including FDIs, retail, healthcare, hospitality, government, and educational institutions. Girish has had the honor of spearheading the attainment of Platinum Rated Green campus status for IIT Madras, while also proudly holding the distinction of overseeing the highest rated green building in India. His work extends to both new and existing manufacturing industries, where he has employed mathematical and simulation models to devise solutions for indoor air quality (IAQ) and thermal comfort while achieving significant energy savings.

Girish is also actively engaged in collaborations with different Green Building councils and regularly serves as a specialized trainer and lecturer at reputed institutions worldwide. His passion remains on fostering stronger connections with students and young professionals whilst bridging the industry-academia gap.

Nathan is a partner with Deloitte, focusing on Advisory and enterprise development work. He is the former CHRO of Deloitte South Asia where he was a member of the India leadership team and served on the Talent Executive Leadership of Deloitte Asia Pacific.

Nathan has over 35 years of experience in HR management in Indian and MNCs across diverse industries including Manufacturing, Services, Telecom, IT and Professional Services.  He has worked extensively in the field of education and skills development as the pillars for social upliftment.

A respected voice of the HR profession in India, Nathan was featured in all National events of significance related to HR. He has been recognized as a ‘Distinguished Alumnus’ by XLRI by his Alma Mater. Incidentally he was a topper of his batch. He was recognized and awarded a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ 2021 by Economic Times and Business People’.

He served as the immediate past President of National Human Resources Development Network, the largest body of HR Professionals in the country.

Nathan is on the advisory Board of the Economic Times on HR matters.

Nathan is an author of a bestseller ‘The Heart of work’. He is a regular blogger, an HR Power Influencer on LinkedIn and Twitter, and has an active presence on social media and is well known for his ‘#OfficeTruths’. He is recognized as a Power Profile of LinkedIn and Twitter.  He is known as a storyteller and cooks for family and friends.

Hema Mani has over 25 years of experience in Strategic Human Resources Capacity, with wide ranging Multinational experiences from Kelly Consultants, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Jain Group of Institutions, i2 Technologies and Honeywell.

She is a Leadership Coach certified under Korn Ferry Leadership Architect & Marshall Goldsmith and certified OD Facilitator from International OD Federation.

She is currently Regional Director, Asia Pacific HR at Lennox International, part of her responsibility in Lennox India & Asia sourcing leadership team. Her responsibilities include HR, Leadership Development, Culture building, Site Operational Management, Driving Community Engagement, External Communications for the company in this region.

Under her leadership, Lennox India has won several honors for HR such as the 13 best workplaces in Tamil Nadu by Times of India, 100 Best places to work for women in India 2016 by Avatar, Best places to work in Chennai by Economic Times, Dream companies to work in 2016 by Times Ascent. Best Community engagement Award by Economic Times. Lennox India has been certified as Top Great Places to work thrice in row, More recently Lennox was Certified as the Top 15 Great Places to work under her leadership.

She is the current the Chairwoman for CII-Indian Women Network in TamilNadu and part of her role she is focused on develop Leadership talent among women, Mentoring initiatives, Gender Parity diagnostics & facilitation in corporations and POSH activities.

She has represented on topics of Human sciences in forums of IHRD, NHRD, ISTD, CII, Nasscom and SHRM. She has published a couple of papers on Execution Excellence in HR which is compiled into a journal released by Indian Institute of Science and another one on Innovative learning strategies was recognized by Nasscom. She is recognized as one of the 30 Women Super Achievers and One of the TOP HR Innovators in 2023.

Mr Swaran Singh has three decades of public service and had held significant portfolio in the Government of Tamil Nadu, including Corporation Commissioner in Trichy, District Collector of Tuticorin and Chairman of TNEB. He retired as Principal Secretary and Commissioner for Industries & Commerce for the Government of Tamil Nadu. Mr Singh has been associated with TVS SST from 2017 and started heading the organisation as Chairman from 2018.

Mr. Suniti Kumar Bhat is the Founder and Director of Antelopus Energy Private Limited, an India-focused energy Company.

Mr. Bhat served as the Chief Operating Officer and Member- Executive Committee at Cairn Oil & Gas.  He has extensive experience in exploration, development and production operations of all assets and has successfully led the implementation of the world’s largest polymer flooding project at the Mangala Field.

An experienced CXO with a demonstrated history of working in the oil & energy industry delivering top quartile safety and cost performance. He is skilled in reservoir development and management, production operations, project execution and Production Optimization with operators including BG and Centrica in UK & Central Asia. He has completed a General Management Program from Harvard Business School, Masters in Petroleum Engineering from Stanford University and has a BE (Hons.) in Chemical Engineering from Punjab University Chandigarh.

Suhrith Parthasarathy practices as an advocate at the Madras High Court in Chennai, India. In 2013, Suhrith established an independent law office, specialising in public law, commercial disputes and income tax litigation. Suhrith holds a BA. LLB. (Hons) degree from the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, and an MS from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York. He has contributed chapters to two books: “Dignity in the Legal and Political Philosophy of Ronald Dworkin,” and “Appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court of India: Transparency, Accountability, and Independence,” both published by Oxford University Press. Suhrith is a regular contributor to the op-ed pages of The Hindu newspaper. He has also published articles in a number of other dailies and magazines including The Caravan Magazine, The Open Magazine, The Indian Express, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and the Economic and Political Weekly. He participated in the third Melbourne Forum in 2018.

Gayathri Shanmugam has held various roles throughout their work experience. Gayathri started their career at Ramco Systems as a Senior Product Executive in 2001. Gayathri then worked at TCS as an Assistant Manager – HR from 2002 to 2005. From 2006 to 2008, they were a Manager at TeleTech UK Ltd, specifically in the Operations Support Centre. In 2009, Gayathri attended IIM Bangalore as a student for a year. In 2010, they joined IBM Global Process Services, where they served as DGM and later as GM in the WFM department until 2013. In 2014, they founded two organizations – ScienceHopper and Litmus and Bubbles. Gayathri worked at Gray Matters India as a Consultant from 2019 to 2020. In 2020, they joined Snehadhara Foundation as a Process Consultant. Gayathri then moved to Haqdarshak Empowerment Solutions, where they initially worked as a Consultant from October to December 2020. Gayathri subsequently held the positions of Vice President from January to June 2021, and Chief Program Officer starting from July 2021.

Gayathri Shanmugam pursued their education in a chronological order. Gayathri started their academic journey at the University of Madras in 1995, where they obtained a Bachelor of Engineering (BE) degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering (EEE) in 1999. Following this, they joined the Bharathidasan Institute of Management Tiruchirapalli from 1999 to 2001, where they completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. In 2009, they enrolled at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore for an unspecified course or field of study, which they completed in 2010.

Additionally, Gayathri Shanmugam obtained a certification in “Social Impact Strategy: Tools for Entrepreneurs and Innovators” from Coursera in April 2020.

Business leader with 30 years of track record in delivering growth in emerging markets by nurturing deep industry relationships and building high performance teams, with specific expertise on the power sector across multiple segments (generation to T&D) and with domain knowledge of a broad set of technologies from gas turbines to wind and solar PV and grid automation.

Mr V Shankar an IITM, IIMC graduate who worked briefly then went on to found CAMS (Computer Age Management Services Pvt. Ltd.) in 1988 to provide a Platform and services to the Indian Mutual Fund industry. CAMS was recently listed. 

He is involved with several organisations that promote entrepreneurship, as will as with both his alma mater.

Ravi Viswanathan is responsible for driving strategy formulation and execution. He is implementing a transformation agenda to drive Digital Operating System at TVS SCS, enabling a digital journey and a Zero Touch Process to engage with customers in the supply chain space seamlessly.

Before joining TVS SCS, Ravi worked in the TATA group for over 33 years holding various positions in the Tata group of companies. He was the Chief Marketing Officer at Tata Consultancy Services just before joining TVS SCS. Ravi is actively engaged with the Industry bodies, namely Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), where he headed the IT committee.

Ravi was formerly President of the Madras Management Association and has been part of the Executive Council of NASSCOM since 2015. Ravi Viswanathan graduated from the Regional Engineering College, Tiruchirappalli (since renamed as NIT Tiruchirappalli) with a degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering.

Managerial Excellence & the Changing Leadership Landscape

Read Time:18 Minute
Two of industries’ top leaders talk on achieving managerial excellence and changing leadership in changing times.

Ways to Achieve Managerial Excellence

Mr Shenu Agarwal, MD & CEO, Ashok Leyland

Five or six points are very important for any manager or a leader: clarity of purpose, clarity of path, clarity of role on one side and then getting ready for the job, managing time, and connecting with the people. In the management world, we play the role of a soldier or that of a general. As a general, we have to see ahead of time, predict situations and tell our troops how to deal with those situations.

Clarity of purpose, mission, goal, task or whatever we want to get done is requirement number one. A lot of times, I see that a manager’s vision is something and the action on the ground is entirely different. When that happens, it is very hard to get magical results. If there is something wrong happening in the work environment and it is getting repeated, it is not the mistake of a lower level manager but that of a senior level manager. Probably the manager has not taken enough time or effort to clarify the purpose or mission or the goal. The manager or leader must clarify the purpose again and again and only then the desired results will come.

The second most important point is the clarity of path. Generally speaking, there are two types of managers in the management world. One is the specialists and the other is generalists. We must be clear if we want to become a specialist or a generalist. The world needs both in probably equal measure, but a lot of people make a mistake in the corporate world. They just can’t decide if they want to go deep or wide. Their career path depends on this particular attribute.

I am a generalist and it suits me. If you want to become a specialist, you must work with the best, so you can become the best in a particular field. If you want to become a generalist, it is not so important to work with the best. But it is more important to try different challenges and do different things. I started my career as a graduate engineer trainee. I got into technical services—a field job, then moved into sales after four or five years and later to international business. Some of these, I did intentionally and some of these just happened to me. But I was very fortunate to work in two very different areas. To become a generalist, you must have a wider perspective about the business. Managers must identify specialists and generalists in their team, depending on their capability and also choose their own paths.

Three Things Managers Must Do

There are only three kinds of things we do as managers or leaders. We do daily work—the routine jobs. Visiting a customer, making a pitch and coming back is a routine job for a salesperson. The other part is improvement and the third is breakthrough. All three are important. Breakthrough is like disrupting something that has been happening the way it has been happening for years and doing it very differently.

I have 30 years of experience in the corporate world. I see a lot of top managers doing routine jobs—not just 10% or 20% but much more than that, engaging themselves in routine jobs and doing firefighting because that is the way they have learned, growing up from the bottom. When you excel at doing routine jobs, you think that is how you should always be. You must have heard of a thing called midlife crisis or mid-career crisis and this is what that crisis is.

In a junior management role, 80% of your time goes in routine jobs. As a middle management person, probably only 50% should go into routine jobs and as a top manager or a leader of an organization, function or department, only 20% of your time should go into routine jobs. This clarity of role of who I am, what and where I am supposed to devote my time and effort is very important. A great area sales manager can sometimes become the poorest or the weakest zonal sales manager. You will see this all the time, because people just don’t realize that they have to do different things when they grow.

Focus on Mind, Body and Soul

Getting ready for a task requires acquiring the right skill and right competency. Most organizations or most of the HR people focus only on one part of the manager—which is the mind and its learning. They don’t focus on the body and the soul. Spiritual gurus will always tell you that you cannot be successful until the mind, body and soul are all trained and developed together over time. I see very little emphasis, at least in the corporate world, on training the body and even lesser emphasis on training the soul.

Work-life balance is a big issue in the corporate world. I have found a very simple method to tackle this. You have both external and internal customers. You also have tools and technology. I have observed a lot of successful people very closely and talked to them a lot. They spend most of their time either with customers and / or technology and spend the least amount of time in administrative jobs.

As a leader, I have to attend quarterly board meetings. It like takes me two days in a quarter. I don’t think that adds so much value to my life or career. So the best way to handle that is to schedule them. Normally, what I have learned to do is at the beginning of the year, I ask my office to set up my calendar for the entire year for my administrative tasks. The rest of the time is now available to focus on customer and technology. I have spent a lot of time travelling outside with customers, with other stakeholders and with our engineers in our R&D Center.  We have to connect with them at a certain level, in a certain way and align them to one goal and one thinking so that we can work together and achieve something big.

Emphasis on EQ

In organizations, there is a lot of emphasis on intelligence. Intelligence is very important, but in most of the situations, intelligence alone does not work.  There is very little emphasis on emotional quotient.  We hardly talk about this and we are very shy in talking about these things. I have been involved in some major decision makings for years. At least 80% of the decisions are not made with logic but with emotional intelligence. By building a team together that connects each other, that looks at the problem in the same way, that works together to find a solution and that helps each other find a path is more important than just applying mind to a particular problem.

Personal Excellence 

Managerial excellence is nothing but personal excellence in a lot many ways. Only people who are personally excellent can be managerially excellent. If you have lots of issues personally, it is very difficult to excel in some other environment, because you are you. To be personally excellent is to be internally very secure. If you have a lot of insecurity inside, you are not going to be an excellent human being. You will do a lot of mistakes and your mind will be in chaos all the time. So inside, you have to be much secured.

Of course, security means different things for different people. But there is one common theme that gives security to all of us and which is simplicity. We must live a simple life, which has less needs. Acquiring wealth and living a simple life are two different things.  When your expectations are less and when you know that you can survive even with less means, you will be very secure inside. It’s not about how much wealth you have or do not have but it is about simplicity. Even very rich people who have accomplished a lot are not secure inside.

Changing Leadership in Changing Times

Mr Shrinivas V Dempo,

President-AIMA & Chairman, Dempo Group of Companies

Unlike Mr. Shenu Agarwal, I’m not a professional, though I’ve tried to get as much education as possible. I am a family person, from the third generation of the family who runs businesses and manages the challenges and also the opportunities that are phenomenal in our country.

In one way, we are connected to the whole world. In the other way, India is an outlier in many senses. You must have seen the body language in the US Congress House when our Honourable Prime Minister spoke there. It’s not that they just want to make friendship with us for no reason. They know that India is a powerhouse and will give their businesses an opportunity to expand their wealth and market cap. India is no longer ignored. That’s a great news for us that we all have an opportunity to prove ourselves and to contribute to the country’s GDP.

The VUCA World

But you must also realize that increasingly, the world is getting into VUCA. We have volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. That makes the life of a leader, all the more challenging. But there are solutions to all these and the solution is to change your mindset, while keeping all the basics like clarity of purpose, clarity of role, human interaction and vision building intact. These will never change at any point of time.

But a leader today has to react differently in different situations. It’s no longer ‘His Lordship’ type of approach in the company. You have to believe in shared leadership and must take your people with you. Today, the lines of hierarchy are slowly disappearing.  Whether it’s work timings or hybrid models, Covid has taught us a lot of things. When complexity as well as opportunities are increasing, how should a leader behave and react?

Stay With Your Vision

You must never fail to recognize your vision. I’ll give you an example of what happened to us. Our core business about 10-15 years back was iron ore mining. We were one of the oldest families in Goa, which did iron ore mining. It started from my grandfather’s times. We had long term contracts with Japanese steel mills such as Nippon Steel, JFE and all the top leaders of the world. We did this business very sustainably and very respectfully for a very long time.

Suddenly, China changed the rules of the game. What was $30 became $130. What it also meant was it challenged our values and morals, as there were competitors coming in overnight. They were bypassing all the rules and regulations. They said that if your cost of ore is $20 and you can sell it for $130, then go for it. They abolished all the long term contracts, went to China and sold in the spot market. I was increasingly challenged by this. I had a dilemma, whether to rake in the money the way that all others were doing or if I should be different from them and others.

I said, “No. I will stick to my long term contracts and my core business.  Even if I make only $5 a ton instead of $105 a ton, I would stick to my core business.” It became difficult for me to continue when the majority part of the world was looking the other way. Generating wealth is extremely important but it is not the only purpose in life. You run your businesses for a purpose other than money. Money is a side effect. I sold my mining business, though it was my identity in a lot of ways. Imagine Tata Group selling Tata Steel tomorrow.

Our family was known for two things—mining and football. Football still continues, but mining has disappeared. Why did I do it? Because it challenged my morals and the vision that the founders had set up. I did sell the business at the most profitable time. In three years’ time, mining closed down in Goa due to several illegalities that were happening.

Not that I was a visionary. Not that I foresaw what was coming. But I stuck to my core values and beliefs. The chance of making much more money could be seen in front of my eyes. But I thought it was not my main purpose. My main purpose was to deal with my customers and they weren’t happy in the in the environment that was happening. That’s why I sold the mining business. In three years, the government took a firm stand and closed mining. Till today, even after 11 years, the mining has not started. Now, they are taking initiatives. They are running an auction and a transparent bid process. This is my lesson number one: You may be challenged by the VUCA world but please don’t forget your beliefs and values. Build and sustain those beliefs and values.

Changing Mindset

The second is changing Indian entrepreneur mindset. One needs to look at a bigger mindset. Many of us run family businesses and it’s not easy to run them. When I took over the business, it was largely a family operated and a family controlled business. We operated in six sectors. Our ancestors had their own way of dealing and their times were different. With technology, geopolitics and all of that coming together on you, you need to build professionalism within your organization, take that risk, and go ahead.

The biggest challenge was, how do we pay a salary bigger than ourselves? We all have egos as owners. As the chairman of the company, if I’m getting an X amount, how can my CEO get an X plus one or X plus two? I came out of that mindset, took the courage which never prevailed in our culture, to appoint professionals in all the six segments that we were operating. Today, I can say in a very humble way that each of the segments has grown at least 3X. That’s the kind of risk that one takes without disturbing the vision. You must believe in the empowerment of people.

Embrace Digital

What Covid helped me to do is empower even my middle managers. All our factories were closed then and it taught me two things. One is, how to embrace technology, which was not prevalent in an organization like mine. We also had a mix of youngsters and old people and how do we mingle? That’s another challenge. How do we combine a smartphone app based population with somebody who is not exposed to this in the past?

We embraced technology and digital mode very fast. We empowered middle level managers, because the situation was such that we had to take very quick actions. It exposed me to a lot of junior and middle level managers, whom I would have never seen in my life. If I was in person in the office, I would meet only with my senior team due to lack of time.

It taught me another lesson—to take risk and be much more open to all the employees in the organization rather than with your three or four key people. Send messages across the board. Have a shared leadership and empower people. With your own experience of running the business for so many years, you must know with whom you should take the risk. To start with, you must empower people one level below you and then start looking for people and empower them. Start communicating to them. The younger generation today is not there only for money. Of course, money plays a very key role but they want a purpose for your business.  If they believe in the purpose or the vision of the founder or the chairman, they will join. Otherwise, they will not join.

Take Care of Employees

The third challenge that we face today is, how do we take care of our employees? It’s no longer a cost. It’s a dividend that you’re paying yourself. Earlier, we used to take labour as a cost. Today, you can’t think in those terms. Covid has put all of us in one plank. My staff and I could have got Covid and gone to the same ICU.

When we had to cut salaries of employees, we made sure that at the middle level and junior level, there was no cut. It was only at the highest level. It was not even a cut. It was a deferment. You need to take that risk, communicate with people, build the vision that you have created along with people and take them forward. The real challenge is to get all of them aligned to the organization and the only way is to be true to yourself and to be very open about it. Believe that they are part of your organization.

In my grandfather’s days, they used to create a rift between two senior employees, so that they gained. Now, the management methods have changed. Everybody sits in one table and discusses. We have open offices and the cabins are done away with. They only have a sitting area and conference rooms. Change your leadership philosophy to embrace people.

Sustainability is the Key

The fourth thing is, you cannot ignore sustainability issues and technology. Many of us think that we are small, we are not in that game and nothing will happen to us. But with the way that things are happening in technology, climate change and sustainability, it’s so fearsome, that if you don’t act with speed, you will be left behind in the race. We have to be extremely vigilant. We have to start working on a plan. Whatever size you are, you have to go to your drawing board and say, “This is my technology. This is my production. How do I make a difference to the environment and the global climate crisis?”

You have to start with yourself and your employees. Question your organization people as to what you are doing jointly. Initially, we did not take this very seriously and it only became mottos and slogans at board meetings and press conferences. We got pressure from the reverse side. Some of our customers are based internationally. They sent us an ESG grade chart and asked us where we are graded there. They gave us a timeline and said that if in the next three years, we didn’t come to their score, they would be constrained to discontinue their purchase. This is the kind of pressure that is coming.

As a nation, we have committed to net zero emission by 2070. Many of the countries have committed to 2050. We are still 20 years behind. We must embrace renewable sources of energy and change our transportation methods.

Welcome New Technology

One of my companies is listed. I wanted to make a letter to the shareholders because the annual report was supposed to be published. Generally, I talk to my research team, which does research on the industry and write.  When I asked them about writing the letter to the shareholders, they wanted three days’ time. I decided to try myself with ChatGPT.  It took me just three and a half minutes to get the letter from ChatGPT, which was, in fact, better in language. There’s a deeper message in this, that you can’t ignore technology—whether it’s artificial intelligence, augmented reality or virtual reality. We have to embrace it.

Embracing means that you have to expose your employees of the company, make them more aware of these things, train and reskill them. If you don’t empower them and reskill them, not only will they lose their jobs, but also, we will lose our businesses. Do not think that you are in a sector which doesn’t get embraced by technology. Every single business today is going to be embraced by technology. Covid has changed so much for us. People want to work from home or in hybrid and they are not willing to come to offices full time.  We have to change our mindset, look at it in a different way, so that the world moves on and your businesses move on.

No Substitute for Values

Today, because of geopolitics, there’s a lot of distrust. It is commendable that some of our Indian Universities have come in the Top 500 global rankings. But there are three or four Chinese Universities that come in the top 50. We have a lot of catching up to do. India is capable and it has the potential. But we need to understand that we must think big, change our mindsets, empower people and seriously focus on ease of doing business. It is not only for the government to look at it also for the private entities to look at the ease of doing business.

I would like to end with some excerpts from what Mr. Deepak Parekh has written in a recent article in Economic Times: “There is no substitute for time tested values of honesty, integrity and accountability. It is always there. There is no switch on and switch off. As a leader, you must have clarity, humility and courage. Always ensure that humility sticks with you like glue. There is no softer pillow to rest your head at night, than a very clear conscience. Ultimate success is just an illusion, but contentment and honesty of intention are real. Build life worth, not net worth. Think big and act small. Greed and arrogance have been the pitfall of many people. Most people will not remember the work you do. They will remember how you make them feel.”

“The mandate to ensure India becomes water resilient is massive.”

Read Time:9 Minute

The country needs a progressive water resiliency policy to ensure accessibility, equity and sustainability. Mr. Amit Chandra, Chairman, Bain Capital, explores the ways and means in his recent talk at MMA. 

An estimated 1 in 40 people in the large region of Syria have died since 2011. Even more stunning: 1 in 3 people have been displaced. The impact of this has rippled well beyond Syria and has drawn in players and superpowers from all over, reshaping geopolitics.

In Sudan, in recent times, the displacement is around 1 in 15 people, still a very scary number. I have given a few speeches recently and I am scheduled to give a couple more in coming days—and before anyone thinks I have mixed up my speeches—let me elaborate that the common thread between these incredibly sad stories is the issue of water scarcity made worse by climate change. This, combined with local undercurrents and inequality, have ignited tensions between communities and farmers, leading to violent clashes, and ultimately causing mass displacement and death.

These are two horror movie trailers that underscore the vital importance for us to address our lurking water crises. First, we must agree that we have a problem that looks similar. I need not elaborate on the tensions between states, which are sometimes deep-rooted in unresolved issues. Lay on top of that, growing inequality and agri-distress, which has the potential to cause significant disquiet in rural areas. In the world of social media, aspirations are now much higher and it is easier for dissatisfaction to spread. But what is the underlying water-related crisis? According to NITI Aayog’s own data, nearly half our population faces high-to-extreme water stress:

  • Unsustainable extraction of groundwater has led to declining water tables in 2/3rd of our states to precarious levels
  • Consequently, our Per capita water availability has rapidly fallen by 2/3rd to under 1,500 cubic meters
  • We are now witnessing far more frequent droughts and floods on account of climate change.

Even urban areas are increasingly experiencing volatility in municipal supply—something Mridula has written about—and in some cases, relying less on fresh surface water supplied by Municipalities for all of the year. By way of example, I was in Jalna, the steel and seeds capital of Maharashtra yesterday; it gets 1-2 days of municipal water every month for under 2 hours a day for the past decade—this, despite having just experienced one drought in that period!

If our problem with quantity wasn’t enough of an issue, around 70% of India’s surface water is estimated to be polluted or of poor quality, and this is and will increasingly affect the health of humans, animals and flora/fauna in times to come.

Now, with all this, if the current pattern of demand continues, given we are aiming to build pipes to ALL houses, and our GDP per capita is now projected to grow robustly, about half of the national demand for water could remain unmet in a decade.

I believe a radical and urgent change is needed in the approach to water management for us to address this looming crisis and make India water resilient.

In my view, this approach needs to have four major pillars. Mridula often writes about ancient wisdom and what we can learn from what. Therefore, not much of what I am also going to say is new, but based on my experience, I believe that our execution needs to shift in high gears on these pragmatic pivots for us to achieve our goal.


The first and most critical way to make India water resilient is by being smarter about how we recycle our water—be it harvest our rainwater or process our wastewater. I dream of a not very distant day when rainwater harvesting is not bypassed by greasing palms while executing every construction permit, residential, commercial, or industrial, and we have 100% compliance. Chennai is currently one of the best cities in this regard but while it needs to do a lot more, other cities are scratching the surface.

This will not be adequate, and recycling of wastewater will become an imperative and is already showing promising results in multiple countries. Singapore and Namibia are two examples where around 1/3rd of water demand is met from recycling wastewater. Singapore is perhaps most famous for implementing a successful water recycling program. Singapore’s NEWater is targeting this number to go up to 55% by 2060.

Our work in peri-urban India is showing us that treated household wastewater has the potential to keep lakes—which were once part of a rural landscape—full throughout the year. This will help these waterbodies, which are becoming crowded by housing and filled with treated wastewater, act as critical lungs for these rapidly urbanising spaces.

Between rainwater harvesting structures added to new constructions and voluntarily implemented in old ones, recycling of wastewater and traditional supply of freshwater, we should be in a much better position to deal with uncertainties and achieve water resilience in most areas.

Demand-Side Management (Crops, Micro-Irrigation)

The next area we need to focus on is demand-side management. Here, the sector that requires maximum attention is agriculture given that it consumes more than 80% of our freshwater resources. Studies show us two things:

  1. Bulk of this consumption is due to inefficient practices
  2. Again, Mridula has pointed out in her books and research that human errors, some of it dating back to British times and then extended to bad policy making post-Independence, has resulted in poor choices for where we grow, what crops to grow, etc

Therefore, micro-irrigation practices need to be promoted much more aggressively by the government through subsidies. While I am generally not in favour of subsidies, I believe this one will help significantly lower water use in agriculture and importantly save the other one which has bankrupted most of our states—farmer electricity dues. It will also materially boost productivity of our farms which is well below other comparable countries for no evident reasons. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), drip irrigation can save up to 30-70% of water compared to traditional flood irrigation methods. Where used, in states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, this has proven to result in material water savings, and farmers have reported substantial increases in crop productivity. This is even more true for water guzzling crops like sugarcane, with farmers in Maharashtra who use drip irrigation for sugarcane cultivation reporting water savings of up to 50% and yield increases of up to 30%. We need to consider making farming of all water guzzling crops covered by these methods in a mission mode.

The second part of this solution requires sensible policy and human behavioural shifts to ensure crop choices by region take into account water as a key input. The blind push during the Green Revolution for cultivation of wheat and rice irrespective of the agro- ecological conditions due to the assured price and buyback offer by the government needs to be re-thought given it is a major contributing factor of water crises, health crises, subsidy crises and pollution crises. Only by looking at things holistically will we be able to encourage more region specific choices both as government and consumers. The Millet mission is a great beginning and needs a huge thrust.

Supply Side Management (RWB, Ridge to Valleys etc)

The third pillar is supply-side management. We need to remember that India is running out of sites for further construction of large dams at a time when the water table is falling in many areas. Also, these solutions take time, are hugely expensive, and cause displacement which is very difficult; and we have to often deal with environmental challenges which are now a very big issue.

There is mounting evidence across the globe in favour of “nature-based solutions” for water storage and supply. Our own National Water Policy (NWP) places major emphasis on supply of water through rejuvenation of catchment areas, which needs to be incentivised through compensation for eco-system services, especially to vulnerable communities in the upstream, mountainous regions.

I can give you one example—our Foundation has been working with various Governments and NGOs to rejuvenate waterbodies for the past 7-8 years. This has resulted in helping form a policy which has led to rejuvenation of over 5000 water bodies across Maharashtra through a scheme called the Galmukt Dharan Galmukt Shivar (GDGS Scheme) over the last 6 years. Encouraged by this, last year, we successfully ran a similar program for NITI Aayog in 3 states across 6 aspirational districts and are now expanding that to 5 states this year.

In this model, partnership is critical, starting with community participation—farmers cart the silt paying for around 65% of the entire cost in exchange for addressing their water security and getting good quality silt that is rich in soil organic carbon, all of which turbo charges their income. The state and donors like us come in as partners to fund the balance 35% cost and work with NGOs who help run the program on the ground.

The recently concluded Census of Waterbodies by the Ministry of Jal Shakti shows the huge scope of this solution. For example, Maharashtra alone has around 94K functional water bodies. Imagine the impact of rejuvenating even half of these could have on water security and boosting farm income. Importantly, given it costs just Rs. 3 Lakhs to add 1 crore liters of Surface Water and a multiple of that via recharge, the cost of such a project would be less than that of building one decent size dam. The Maharashtra Government recognizes this and is moving in that direction.


While we do all this, the mandate to ensure India becomes water resilient is massive, and this is why innovative solutions—be it policy, or technology becomes important. We should constantly be on the lookout for these and wherever we find something promising we should explore scaling them quickly.

Promising technology innovations to watch for could be in the area of desalination and waste water treatment. A good example of policy innovations could be what South Africa has recently done with putting in place a system of water pricing that aims to balance economic, social, and environmental considerations. They have introduced a progressive water tariff system that takes into account the affordability of water for low-income households while ensuring that higher consumers pay a higher price for their water use. This approach encourages efficient water use and cross-subsidizes water access for low- income communities, promoting equitable and sustainable water management. We should study how such approaches are working and run our own pilots to explore scaling a solution that we think could work here.


As I conclude, I would like to say that we need to recognize that we live with the threat of a water crisis that is, in many ways, already playing out.

However, as the Chinese proverb goes: “Within each challenge lies an exciting opportunity—one for growth and transformation.”

As Nelson Mandela said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

The solutions, as I outlined, are before us, as is ancient wisdom of how our ancestors managed water so well and those who didn’t saw their dynasties perish. So friends, let adversity be the catalyst that ignites our own resilience, our determination, and our desire to collaborate. If we do so, we shall certainly overcome this crisis and make our beloved country water resilient.

How to Make India Water Resilient?

Read Time:11 Minute

According to Ms. Mridula Ramesh, CEO, Sundaram Climate Institute, it is possible to work within the existing limitations to develop practical solutions to ensure water resiliency in India. “How to Make India Water Resilient”—a report compiled by her was launched recently.

If you take 100 people in the world, 18 of them are Indians. But if you take 100 water drops in the world, only three of them are from India. So those 18 people have to make do with almost three water drops. That’s India’s problem. Parts of India are worse than dry regions like Rajasthan. Cities have less water and more people. The water available per person per day is falling, and it is falling fast.

Indeed, many people say that by 2030, India will be unable to meet half of its water demand. That’s already evident across the country. This year promises to be what is called an El Nino year, which is a year with typically low rainfall. Some of the major El Nino events in the past have resulted in famines that have killed millions of Indians. We forgot it, but less than 140 years ago, millions of Indians died in an El Nino year. So what does that mean?

Need for Data

When I left McKinsey, I joined the textile company that my mother runs, where we were implementing TPM (Total Plant Maintenance). The one thing that TPM emphasizes is data. If you want to solve a problem, you can’t do it sitting in an air-conditioned room, on an easy chair. You have to get out there. With water, I didn’t have the data to understand the problem. That’s why Sundaram Climate Institute began gathering data on water and waste, which, to me, are the most important issues for India to address in its climate battle.

There’s a piece of good news if you want to see the cup as half full. India’s water largely comes from the monsoon; and this feature is common across geographical regions. So lessons from one city are applicable to others.

Our study focused on Madurai. Over five years, we spoke to 2,000 households. That’s important because if I had spoken to only 30 or 100 households, we would have obtained very different answers. If we hadn’t collected data year after year, the answers would have been different. The situation we found in 2018 was different from the situation on the ground in 2020. The water in one neighbourhood differed from that in another neighbourhood. The water in T. Nagar in Chennai is very different from that in Sowcarpet.

Need for Storage

Again and again, storage, especially water body storage, becomes important. We spoke to thousands of people to gather groundwater data across water bodies and understand why some water bodies are very effective in recharging groundwater while others fail. India recently released its first census report on water bodies across the country. In Tamil Nadu, we found that nearly half of them are not in use. So why have they disappeared? What are the key questions we’re trying to answer? Where does a typical Indian city get its water from? How is that water used? What risks does it face? And what can we do about it?

Our data is from Madurai, but many of the realities in Madurai apply to other cities. Most cities in India rely on a combination of water sources, including rivers, rainfall, groundwater, private water sources, and treated sewage. Rainfall, which is one of the main sources of water for many Indians, is highly variable. India probably has one of the most seasonal rainfalls in the world. We experience very few rainy days, and most of India’s rainfall occurs within 100 hours. But can we go without water for drinking or washing purposes on the remaining days? The one thing we need then is storage. Climate makes the water supply even more volatile, seasonal, and increases demand.

Dysfunctional Rainwater Harvesting

We conducted a survey of 2,000 households to assess the functionality of rainwater harvesting systems. The results were surprising, considering Tamil Nadu’s early legislation mandating every household to have rainwater harvesting. We found that half of the households we surveyed did not have a functional rainwater harvesting system. They had something that met the requirements on paper but didn’t actually work. With our water bodies disappearing, it’s like cutting off our leg before starting a marathon. Losing water bodies has severe consequences.

We face both perennial and seasonal water demands. During periods of abundant rainfall and when rivers are full, water access is possible. However, during dry periods, access becomes limited. Cities across India are now looking to build water supply systems by sourcing water from distant locations. For instance, Mumbai is going 200-300 kilometers away, and Delhi is also exploring similar options.

Paying for Water

In dry years, like the summer of 2019 in Chennai, only half of the households received regular water supply. So, what do people do when they don’t get municipal water? They tap into groundwater. Around 60% of households rely on groundwater, while the poorest 40% resort to buying water. The idea of free water is deceptive. These households spend around 500 rupees a month to meet some of their water needs. Essentially, they are burdened with an El Nino tax every few years, which they can’t afford.

Subsequently, compromises are made. If they can only afford 25 liters of water per day or per week, they will prioritize giving it to their newborn child while letting their two-year-old suffer with whatever dirty water is available. This is why India loses numerous school days due to diseases like diarrhea. The poorest segments of society pay the highest price for water.

What about sewage? Countries like Israel and Singapore treat and reuse their sewage. I consider sewage a hidden asset. We produce it every day, and it’s not dependent on seasons, like rainfall. However, India treats very little of its sewage and often releases it into rivers. The condition of the Cooum river is a clear illustration of this reality. If we treated sewage, we could achieve water resilience.

Measure to Monitor

Managing demand is crucial for solving the water problem. Do households have water meters? While my house has one, very few households actually have a meter to measure their water usage. Without knowing how much water they are using, it becomes challenging to manage and address the issue effectively. You can’t run a company without knowing its revenue, similarly, understanding water demand is essential. However, most people have no idea about their water usage. In our survey, only those who collected water in pots and faced scarcity knew the exact amount they were using. When I give speeches, I often ask the audience how much water they use, and most don’t have a clue.

Nevertheless, we found some interesting patterns. People with flushable toilets consume more water compared to those with common or non-flushable toilets. Similarly, those with access to borewells use more water than those without. We also discovered that 3% of the people we surveyed had dry borewells, indicating they were already living in a water-scarce situation and used the least amount of water.

With Growth Comes Demand

Combining these findings, it becomes evident that wealthier individuals tend to consume more water. As India’s population grows and cities become wealthier due to urban migration, urban water demand is projected to increase by 20 to 30% in the next five years. However, corporations don’t have sufficient funds to build the required infrastructure, and people aren’t willing to pay for good quality water provided by the government. Pricing options become limited. Therefore, any solution must address these realities.

Many people argue that the government should develop effective water policies. However, when we asked people if they would consider water as an election issue, even during the drought in Chennai in 2019 when water scarcity was severe, it was not a significant concern for voters. These are the constraints we face.

Considering the problem at hand, our studies indicate that we need storage facilities. We should also explore treated sewage as a potential water source. However, people are unwilling to pay for water, and it is not a voting issue. With these constraints in mind, what can we do?

The Need to Collaborate

We need to collaborate with various stakeholders because this is not a journey we can undertake alone. It requires funding, corporate involvement, implementation organizations, and research institutions to work together. Those providing financial support are aware that there are many demands competing for their resources. Therefore, it’s crucial to allocate funds wisely.

Our ancestors constructed numerous water storage structures throughout the country. Surprisingly, recent government reports indicate that nearly half of Tamil Nadu’s water bodies are not in use. It remains unclear why such a mistake was made initially.

Water tanks play a crucial role in groundwater replenishment, which is essential for maintaining water resilience in cities. For example, in T.Nagar, long ago, there used to be a large tank where the Madras Boat Club held their regatta. However, it has now vanished, and the area faces flooding and water problems. I live in Chokkikulam, Madurai, where we ran out of groundwater after extracting it from a depth of 550 feet. The Chokkikulam lake is long gone. Constructing water tanks is vital for building water resilience in India.

Rejuvenating Water Bodies

We also examined satellite data to understand why some tanks perform better than others. We identified three factors: the inlet or feeder channel is critical for maintaining a healthy tank, the land use pattern (green and blue areas), and the number of months the tank holds water each year. However, community connection remains the underlying factor. The surrounding community must care about the tank. During our visit to a crowded neighbourhood, we encountered a small town where the community prevented people from approaching the tank and even requested visitors to remove their slippers as a sign of respect. Unfortunately, in many cities, the community isn’t even aware of the existence of a tank in their vicinity.

Where does this community connection come from? Consider your family—why are you connected to them? It’s because you receive something from them, such as love, food, and protection. Similarly, in rural communities, the connection to tanks stems from monetary benefits, water for livestock, fishing rights, and sacred significance. However, in cities, these factors no longer hold. Tanks are seen as a nuisance and valuable land. People wouldn’t sacrifice land to create a lake.

However, opportunities exist. Many organizations are working on water body rejuvenation. But before performing interventions, it’s crucial to understand the issues through comprehensive assessments. Just like you wouldn’t undergo heart surgery without conducting tests, you need to evaluate what’s wrong with the tank to determine the appropriate interventions. After implementing the necessary actions, re-evaluation is essential to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved. Collaboration with various organizations can facilitate this research. Our report is open source, so anyone can access it and follow the process. It involves conducting before and after tests for interventions, enabling prioritization of efforts.

Therefore, our approach suggests intervening where necessary, focusing on areas with low groundwater levels and particularly vulnerable tanks. There are also areas where intervention is unnecessary.  Just do nothing and you can save valuable resources.

The 4Ps

Partnership and Prioritisation are the first two steps. The third step is Preaching or raising awareness. The fourth P is Prosperity.

When we asked people about their role in managing water, most admitted they had no idea. If people don’t take responsibility for their water usage, addressing the problem becomes challenging. Since water is not a voting issue, policies may not be effective.

Many households are unaware that sewage can be treated and reused. These are potential opportunities for improvement. In urban areas, residents don’t realize that having a functional tank in their neighborhood can contribute to increased groundwater levels and flood resilience.

How can we promote prosperity? Our study demonstrated that an urban tank, with appropriate infrastructure, can provide a minimum of 100 jobs. Developing walking paths, cycling paths, benches, selfie spots, Wi-Fi hotspots, and performance spaces can attract food stalls and create employment opportunities. The Kodaikanal Lake supports approximately 1,000 jobs. Similarly, the Vandiyur Thepakulam, which we supported in our study, went from zero to 123 jobs. Building connections between the urban community and water bodies is essential.

Decentralized sewage treatment is also necessary. Treating just half of the sewage in Chennai can significantly impact the city’s water balance. Though the water problem is serious, we believe it is solvable within the constraints we face by focusing on community connection and sewage treatment.

In summary, solving India’s water problem requires collaboration among stakeholders, prioritizing interventions, raising awareness, and promoting prosperity. Water storage structures, treated sewage, and community engagement are vital aspects of building water resilience. While constraints such as unwillingness to pay for water and lack of voting support pose challenges, by working within these limitations, we can develop practical solutions to ensure water resiliency in India.

Exit mobile version