“Entering the field of manufacturing gave a new meaning to my professional life”

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T Vasu

Ranked as one of the ‘Top 100 Influential People in Electronics Manufacturing’ by Venture Outsource, a global electronics manufacturing operations community, and with 45 years of committed service, T Vasu’s professional career has been dedicated to promoting the electronics industry. Along with being a director of the Tandon Group and the managing director of 3G Wireless Communications, T Vasu is the current elected president of ELCINA (Electronics Industries Association of India). He is also past chairman of the Export Promotion Council for Export Oriented Units (EOU) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ). Speaking to Richa Chakravarty of Electronics Bazaar, T Vasu reminisces about his journey within the industry.

I was born into the family of an idealist in Coimbatore, in 1946. My father, Tirumalai, was an electrical engineer who worked with the British government on power generation systems. He subsequently joined the freedom movement and even went to jail. Having struggled for freedom, my father did not want to work for the British government, and hence took to farming. He was an idealist and his beliefs were part of the upbringing that my two sisters and I received. My mother, Jayalakhsmi, was a home maker. I was closer to my uncle Sundarajan, who was head of the administration department at Madras Atomic Power Project. Though he was 27 years older to me, we were like close buddies.

Engineering was my passion

Though academics had been a core part of my educational background, as a student, I was equally interested in extra-curricular activities and games.

I did my primary schooling from Suburban School in Coimbatore, while secondary schooling was done from Hindu High School in Chennai. During this period, I would identify myself as just an ‘above average’ student; however, in college I was very serious with my academics and scored very well.

I graduated in mechanical engineering, specialising in managerial economics and entrepreneurship from the College of Engineering, Guindy, Chennai. I was also awarded a technical diploma in manufacturing and repairing techniques of electronic teleprinters at M/s Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy in 1977. While my education was shaping up, I had a chance to train in ship engineering at the Chennai port, which was an experience in itself. Currently, I have been conferred with the Fellowship from the Institution of Engineers, Kolkata early 2000’s.

Apart from academics, I was very keen on football, representing my school and college in various inter-school and inter-college tournaments. Music also held my interest for a long time. Irrespective of whether it was classical or movie songs—I just loved it.

My first job—an enriching experience

After finishing my college, and after a short spell in heavy engineering, I landed in my first job in 1966 with Hindustan Teleprinters (under the Ministry of Communications), a telecommunications equipment manufacturing company in Chennai. This experience has been the most rewarding because of the exposure it gave me in various fields of engineering, manufacturing and management. I experienced various aspects of professional life, right from manufacturing, then shifting to regional sales, before heading quality and taking charge of systems and industrial engineering. Thus, working in a public sector company was an experience in itself. Experiencing various levels of responsibility in the public sector gave me lot of exposure and abundant opportunity to equip myself in managerial skills.

An incident that I vividly remember and that left a lasting impression on me was when the entire plant was shut down for about three months due to labour unrest and no one was allowed to enter the premises. During this crisis, I was able to establish successfully a supply chain and meet our orders within a short span of time (of less than three months). More than the appreciation from the top management for this seemingly impossible and unachievable task, the satisfaction and self-belief I gained were invaluable. Even today, nearly after 35 years, it makes me feel proud that I contributed in some way to the telecom needs of the country at a crucial time. It was not a cakewalk, yet working in the public sector gave me enough knowledge and skills to walk through life.

From a short stint in heavy engineering, I have then spent more than 45 years in the electronics industry. Having worked in public sector telecom manufacturing for over 23 years in the areas spanning production, quality, industrial engineering, systems, etc, I moved to the private sector in 1989 to the Tandon Group to head their Chennai facilities which manufactured and exported HDD parts of which I had no manufacturing knowledge. With mere managerial skills, I not only managed to learn the production cycle but also succeeded in growing the business many times over, in all parameters. Professionally, this move has been one of the turning phases of my life. I remember, the day in June 1996, when I had come down to Mumbai for a day to meet Manoharlal Tandon, head of the Tandon Group to discuss a project near Chennai. It was a brief meeting and I was given the responsibility to turn around a business that was about to get extinguished. He made the decision in a few minutes and I accepted the challenge. Though this was an uphill task coupled with huge risk, I took up the challenge. Continuous support from Manoharlal Tandon and my team made this risk worth undertaking and task accomplished. I was now heading a business that manufactured high precision hard disc drive components and assemblies, of which I had no manufacturing knowledge. With mere managerial skills, I not only managed to learn the production cycle but also succeeded in growing the business many times over, in all parameters.

A career dedicated to the industry

While I was heading the business unit of the Chennai Export Processing Zone, I became the secretary of Madras Export Promotion Zone (MEPZ). This gave me the opportunity to raise various issues faced by manufacturers and the industry, with the government, particularly the Commerce Ministry. This exposure to working with government organisations improved my ability to sort out issues and sharpened my leadership skills. I have made my own humble contributions towards creating a favourable environment for the growth of the electronics industry in India. I was first elected as the vice chairman, and then chairman of the Export Promotion Council from 2004-2008.

T Vasu with Sam Pitroda (L), advisor to the Indian Prime Minister, and Muthu Sivam (R), MD, Sanmina-SCI at ELCINA-EFY Awards 2012 ceremony

In ELCINA, I was first just a committee member, later became the vice president in 2010, and president the following year 2011. Leading an association is a huge responsibility and this can only be possible if the members of the association contribute equally. ELCINA, in association with DeitY, has been able to put up the white paper for the formation of electronics clusters, which is now a part of the National Manufacturing Policy. This has been a major step in promoting the electronics industry. The power of an association is far greater than that of an individual. The contributions that I have made are always through the association. I believe that opportunities to an individual come through such responsibilities.

My inspiration
Life, I believe, is a learning process and our achievements are linked to the opportunities that are thrown to us. I had the opportunity to work with some of the best people in the industry, both as team mates and as leaders. Three people who have influenced my life immensely are the late RP Subramanian of Hindustan Teleprinters, Manoharlal Tandon and GK Pillai, former commerce home secretary of India from whom I learnt to be more dynamic as well as systematic. Working with GK Pillai inspired me to reach for my goals untiringly, within the bureaucratic set up. With strict discipline and a trusted team, these people have been able to build large operations. This is what we can imbibe from them.

Working with these eminent people, I have realised that one needs to believe that employees or teams should be given enough freedom to operate in their domain, and their work and talent should be appreciated in public. One also needs to point out their limitations or mistakes at the appropriate time. I believe that we should create a corporate environment geared towards improvement, rather than a ‘penalty culture’. For budding entrepreneurs, I have just one message to convey—to be sincere, passionate and dedicated in all your professional endeavours. Patience is the name of the game and winning is certain.

A family with high moral and cultural standards
My wife Vijayalakshmi is an economics graduate but decided to be a home maker to take care of our children. My contribution is not much in raising my kids; it’s my wife who has brought them up with a high degree of morals and culture. I am extremely grateful and proud to have a partner like her who has been so supportive and dedicated in life. She is also the one who has contributed immensely to my life. My daughters Priya and Vidhya are both married. While my elder daughter is a medical professional living in the US, the younger one is a management graduate in human resources and training, in Bengaluru.

Today I feel I should have given more time to my family. While moving ahead in life, I feel there is a compromise that we make and this generally happens with our closed ones. I wish I could spend more time with my near and dear ones.

Instrumental in bringing changes

Success cannot be counted in numbers. Having spent decades contributing to building a better electronics industry, I would love to be remembered as a person instrumental in bringing about positive changes in the system governing trade, exports and electronics manufacturing in this country.

Success is something I don’t know how to define, but yes, to an extent I have been able to reach a level in professional life. I am fairly satisfied but I wish to continue to contribute to the industry I started with. I look more at the positive aspects in people while trying to correct the negative ones. So far, I have no regrets in life. Entering the field of manufacturing opened a new path in my professional life and gave it meaning.

Though I have no future plans nor do I maintain a wish list, but of course, I would be glad to dedicate my life to some social activity—for instance, to train rural women for electronics manufacturing. Also, through my association with ELCINA, I would like to involve myself in the development of clusters by DeitY and ELCINA. And of course, try to gain more free time to spend with my family, which I have failed to do in the past.

These are a few of my favourite things

Singer: Dr Balamurali Krishna
Food: Manage with any type of food, Indian/continental, etc.
Film: Singham, Abhiyum Naanum
Book: I am not a heavy reader
Dress: Informal clothes, except for ceremonial occasions
Colour: Light blue
Historical figure: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
Actors: Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Hassan
Actress: Hema Malini

By Richa Chakravarty

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