“Don’t Let Designations Become A Wild Goose Chase”

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In his childhood, he possessed just one sweater, meant to last through many winters. He could not join IIT Roorkee because the cost of a train ticket to Roorkee from his home town was “much more” than a train ticket to IT Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Bhanu Prakash Srivastava embraced postings that many others shied away from. Putting less emphasis on titles and more on the work itself, he now leads Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) with determination and vision. This is the story of Bhanu Prakash Srivastava, as recounted to EFY’s Mukul Yudhveer Singh.

Born in Jaunpur near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Bhanu Prakash Srivastava is the youngest of five siblings, with two elder brothers and two elder sisters. His childhood was filled with challenges which only a few have the power to go through and come out smiling.

His father, who had been ailing from a serious illness, passed away when Srivastava was just eight! This meant that his mother would now have to make sure that there was enough to eat in the house, while also making sure that her children did not have to stop going to school.

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Dearth of money is not dearth of education

Eight-year-old Srivastava was too young to sense the difficulties his mother was going through, but he made sure to study hard, and the results of his hard work started paying back in the form of 100% education scholarships he got standard after standard, starting Class V. In 10th standard, he was at 9th rank in the merit list of the entire UP Board of Education. The feat was repeated in 1982 when he secured 6th rank in UP State merit list for 12th standard.

“I had only one sweater to wear in winters, and it was clear in my mind that going out to play would mean getting it dirty and going to school without wearing one. There was no choice other than staying back home most winter days,” he recalls! And while staying at home most of the time would sound like a major setback to a lot of children; to him, it was an opportunity to read more!

He smiles and adds, “I think that one sweater is what made me read more. One sweater is what made it possible for me to stand in the top 10 list of students for standard 10 exams. That sweater made me a hero amongst a million students!”

Phoolpati Devi, Srivastava’s mother and his first role model, meanwhile continued to teach her children the importance of studying and working hard. Srivastava remembers incidents when she would skip meals because one of her children needed a new notebook! Meanwhile, his eldest brother had cleared his engineering and got a job. This also meant that the eldest brother was now supporting the whole family, and this is when he became the second role model for Srivastava!

“Family is the most important thing in the universe” is what I learnt from my eldest brother. He was the first graduate engineer from our village, and that made us all immensely proud, Srivastava recalls. Eating puri-sabji is one of the most cherished memories of Srivastava from his childhood days. He remembers how his mother would cook puri-sabji even at 10 pm in the night because he wanted to enjoy the same. In his mother’s words conveyed by Srivastava to us, “The most important priority in life should be hard work; rest everything falls in place.” She used to tell her kids these lines when they had to choose between meals and buying a book!

B.P. Srivastava with family
B.P. Srivastava with family

The ₹750 difference in BHU and IIT Roorkee

Having done much of his schooling via the 100% scholarship route, Srivastava did not just master academics but also understood the value of punctuality and discipline, and never took the scholarships offered by the government for granted. Apart from his dedication towards education, he credits his mother for the same.

“I hardly took leave from school. Even on days when it poured, I went to school. My mother would ensure that I go to school on days it rained for checking whether a holiday was announced or not! On most such days, I was among a few students who showed up to school,” he recalls.

Though the financial condition that the family had to go through after the death of his father had taught him about the value of money, the same proved to be one of the crucial deciding factors when it came to choosing between IIT and BHU! Pursuing engineering was Srivastava’s first choice, but everyone told him that his chances were bleak as the IIT entrance exam was conducted in English.

“Though I studied in Hindi medium, I was a topper in English subject throughout school. With excellent academic results with rank in state merit, I was confident that I will be able to crack the IIT entrance,” he shares.

And so, he did! However, he got 1110 rank in the IIT entrance. At the same time, he also gave exams for the University of Roorkee, a very prestigious institute (presently IIT Roorkee), where the option to answer in Hindi was also available. In this exam, he secured a rank in the top 50. As he was not getting the engineering branch of his choice in IITs, the option was choosing between IT BHU and the University of Roorkee. He could get any branch of his choice in these two institutes. He chose IT BHU—the reason being ₹750 difference in fee structure! BHU (Banaras Hindu University’s engineering colleges were a part of IIT entrance exams back in those days. Not only was Srivastava getting an admission in a good college, he was also getting the mechanical engineering stream, and on top of everything the fee for BHU was almost ₹750 less than that of Roorkee.

“BHU’s fee was ₹359. A train ticket to my hometown from BHU college was much cheaper than a train ticket to Roorkee. Money was so scarce a resource for us those days that I had to choose between the entrance exams I wanted to give as every exam form needed a fee,” he shares.

He adds, “I was happy choosing BHU as I knew I could visit my family more than I could have visited while studying at IIT Roorkee. One more reason that triggered Srivastava’s decision to join BHU was his visit to the same in his childhood with his elder brother. The latter was studying in BHU when he had taken his younger brother to see and feel the experience of studying in one of the most sought after colleges and institutions in India.”

Bhanu Prakash Srivastava’s guru mantras
The only results you should be concerned about are the results for the organisation, not for your individual self!
• Times will come when teams need to make sacrifices. Be the first one to be ready to sacrifice for the team!
• Running after designations is like chasing a wild goose. Chase efficiency if you want to chase something!
• Stay relevant by constantly updating yourself with the latest from your industry and how it intersects with everything else. It is easy for others to fool you if you do not stay relevant!
• Everything you expect from your team, you should be able to give them!
• Do not be afraid to upset people if that is the requirement of the task at hand. Similarly, always be ready to get upset by people!
• The applause for the success of a project belongs to the team, never to an individual!

India over the US, engineering over civil services

The first semester at BHU did not come easy at all for Srivastava. Though he ranked 14th in the first set of results, it was a shock for a student who was always in the merit lists! Srivastava could not believe the results he had yielded despite studying hard, and instead of going into a state of denial, he chose to find out the reason. BHU was filled with toppers from all over India: the competition, as he recalls, was tough, but he had not left any stone unturned. Then what was the cause of him being able to secure only 14th rank?

“English was the main problem. Though I was a topper in the subject at school level, the English everyone spoke at the BHU campus was completely different from the English we learned at school level. All lectures used to be in English, the study material used to be in English, and most discussions would be in English,” Srivastava says.

Everyone at BHU was busy studying, and Srivastava could not find help for learning English. He started listening to BBC news shows on the radio to build mastery over the language. In the next semester result Srivastava got first rank. From then on, he was in the top three ranks most of the time.

Listening to BBC shows also sparked his curiosity about global affairs and India’s place in the world. As a result, he started comparing India’s growth to that of the modern world.

“This was the point when I made up my mind to work for the country till the last breath. Though a lot of my fellow students were going to the United States and other parts of the world, I wanted to stay here in India and serve my country. In the form of scholarships, the country had spent so much on me. It was my time to dedicate myself to the country,” he says with a proud face. Srivastava did not have a passport till he joined BEL and was sent to Tokyo for training in 1989.

Even though Srivastava had a great inclination towards the coveted civil services exam of India, he decided not to pursue it because he believed every effort made by him for gaining technical knowledge and every penny spent by the government of the country in enabling the same “would go in vain.”

“I sometimes think I could have helped a lot in policymaking if I had chosen to give the civil services exam. However, I am happy that because of BEL, I have been able to work with a lot of departments of the government,” he says.

Srivastava was selected at BEL via campus interviews and was holding multiple job offers when he appeared for the BEL interview. In fact, many companies reached out to him while he was working with BEL, with job offers that promised much higher salaries. He says he has never considered such an offer.

Ringing a bell at BEL

Before joining BEL, Srivastava was asked about his choice of posting. While he told the seniors that he was open to being posted at any of the locations that BEL operates in, the process required him to mention names of two cities he wanted to be posted in. Srivastava mentioned Ghaziabad and Kotdwara as the top two choices.

As Kotdwara was a remote place and very few opted for that, he was selected for the Kotdwara unit and posted to the Ghaziabad unit for initial training. For general information, the Ghaziabad unit is considered one of the most sought-after postings in the organisation as it not only gives one proximity to seniors but also opportunities to work on technologies that are among the prime interests of the nation. However, little did Srivastava of that time know that Kotdwara, the city that he mentioned on his posting preference form at BEL, would prove to be one of the best opportunities for him.

On completion of around 1.5 years at BEL’s Ghaziabad unit, he was moved to Kotdwara. “Many saw this as a backtrack of my career at BEL, but it turned out to be a blessing for me,” he says.

Why was it so hard to be posted at Kotdwara for a lot of people? The city is located about 200 kilometres away from Delhi. In today’s Uttarakhand, this city back in time (around 1985 to 1990) did not have amenities like telephone lines, proper medical facilities, and a lot of other things. As this unit of BEL was new, the availability of these amenities would have taken a few more years to come.

“One needed to travel at least 100 kilometres one way to make a telephone call to his/her family. There were many more significant challenges. But more than those, the opportunities were the biggest,” he shares.

What Srivastava saw at Kotdwara was an opportunity to work in a senior role as the facility did not have a lot of presence of seniors back then. It meant a lot of exposure to work and an opportunity to prove his worth at BEL. Srivastava remained positioned at the Kotdwara unit for the next ten years! During this time frame, he developed expertise in numerous projects and technologies. And what happened at the end of those ten years?

He was selected among many aspirants to work at BEL’s office in New York, United States of America. Srivastava got a chance to work on procurement for all the projects spread across all the geographies BEL was operating in. As Srivastava informs, “The opportunity gave him a chance to learn about all the technologies, products, and solutions that BEL was working on. As I was in the procurement division, I was responsible for sourcing components for all the projects; this was a challenging yet superb posting for me.”

Bhanu Prakash Srivastava’s postings
• 1.5 years at Ghaziabad
• 10 years at Kotdwara
• 3 years at New York, USA
• 10 years in Kotdwara
• 7 years at Ghaziabad
• 2007 onwards at Bengaluru

Firefighting on the international podium

One of the core principles of Srivastava has been not to be choosy. Rather, he has concentrated on developing a passion for whatever he has been entrusted with. He says, “I chose BEL to serve my country and made it a point that everything chosen by BEL for me would be my destiny. I have learnt it from Ramayana and Mahabharata to be devoted to a cause wholeheartedly!”

In New York, fate was going to try and test Srivastava’s resilience via one of the most rigid situations BEL has ever been in. “There was a misunderstanding between the governments of the United States and India, and the former imposed sanctions on BEL. It was a tough situation to be in,” he recalls.

“BEL was put on the banned list for exports. We started working with the Department of Commerce and a lot of other stakeholders in the USA to bring BEL out of the ban,” explains Srivastava. He was having a constant dialogue with the industries and all stakeholders BEL was procuring from the US.

He adds, “That gave me a perspective of how things work on the global stage. I got to understand firefighting, how international business is done, and a lot of other things”.

According to Srivastava, the circumstances that he and his family went through when he was young made everything else look “solvable.” The single sweater that he had while growing up gave him a different outlook towards the world and the problems it faces. In his words, “he unknowingly developed an approach where he, instead of asking questions, wanted to ask the right questions!”

In his professional innings with BEL so far, the organisation has asked him to change base six times and, according to Srivastava, every posting has been a demanding yet rewarding one. The toughest assignment at BEL, he recalls, has been the one where he was posted as the general manager of Naval Systems. “Sonar, communications, and a lot of other things made things complex for me. Additionally, it was tough because we had to work with a lot of customers,” he says.

Radio equipment, data equipment, switches, radar systems, sonar systems, communication systems, missile systems, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, are some of the technologies and solutions that Srivastava has worked on at BEL so far.

After his three-year stint in New York, he was once again asked to work at Kotdwara! This time he was posted to this unit for 10 years! As he recalls, “After New York, which is seen as a corporate posting, I was asked where I would like to be posted. I told my seniors anywhere they liked, and I was once again given Kotdwara.”

Leading BEL

During April 2022, Srivastava was promoted to the Board as Director (Other Units). Other Units of BEL include the eight manufacturing units of BEL across India (other than the oldest unit at Bengaluru) – Ghaziabad, Kotdwara, Panchkula, Pune, Navi Mumbai, Hyderabad, Machilipatnam, and Chennai. As Operational Head of Other Units, he has the overall responsibility and accountability for the growth and profitability of these eight units. He gave a major thrust to improving the turnaround time of products to meet the delivery timelines and ensure the fast-track execution of capital projects.

Since November 2022, Srivastava is also holding Additional Charge as Chairman & Managing Director of BEL and is responsible for the efficient functioning of BEL to achieve its corporate objectives and performance parameters as per the MoU signed between BEL and the Ministry of Defence, Government of India. Srivastava says, “Having a modest background during my early days, I never aspired to lead BEL. Apart from my passion for my work, my professional journey has been supported by God’s grace.”

“If we look at the business environment of BEL, the defence business segment continues to remain dynamic. It is constantly changing due to ecosystem drivers like procurement policies, industry competition, rapid advances in technology, R&D policies, and the global geopolitical scenario. To remain on par with the current industry standards, meeting the stakeholders’ expectations, and continuously striving for innovation towards achieving self-reliance in defence brings its own challenges. I feel proud to have an energetic workforce at BEL who selflessly keep pursuing these goals,” says Srivastava.

Leading BEL requires extensive travel to meet stakeholders across the country. Srivastava’s travel schedule is often gruelling. He shrugs off his Staff Officer’s suggestions for a more relaxed travel plan or to sub-delegate/reschedule back-to-back meetings. Srivastava says that it’s part of life and keeps up a hectic schedule to meet stakeholders and ensure that BEL is in the forefront.

Bhanu Prakash Srivastava’s favourites
• Fav book – The Goal
• Fav food – Puri-sabji
• Fav singer – Mukesh Kumar
• Fav actor – Amitabh
• Fav actress – Rekha
• Fav movies – Baghban, Zanjeer
• Fav villain – Amjad Khan
• Cars or bikes – Cars
• First car – Maruti 800
• Fav car – Cars are only for utility
• Fav sport – Cricket
• Fav cricketer – Sunil Gavaskar

Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the vision of BEL

If you ever encounter Srivastava, you will find a man who is spiritually strong. He often recites verses and quotes from Ramayana and Mahabharata to elucidate present-day events. The focal point of these two revered literary works for him is not just admiring one character, but rather every character described.

“There is something to learn from every character. You can glean leadership from Lord Rama, while Shri Krishna can impart the right set of values necessary for being an excellent advisor. Similarly, focus can be gleaned from the mighty Hanuman, and the importance of experience can be imbibed from Jamwant. The list goes on,” he says, with hands folded in respect.

Blessed with a family comprising a daughter, a son, and a caring wife, Srivastava credits his achievements to his better half, Alka. “I owe everything to her decision to be a homemaker. She has singlehandedly managed our kids most of the time. Despite my late nights at BEL, she ensured my absence never adversely affected Yash and Payal!”

With just over a year left until his retirement, Srivastava is uncertain about his plans post BEL. “I have never given it much thought. But everyone needs a break, and I believe my break is approaching in a few months. I want to spend more time with my family, and even start working on my PhD,” he jokes with a mix of emotions in his eyes.

For now, he aims to steer BEL towards a path that leads to a larger share of civilian electronics, considering that Defence currently contributes over 90% of BEL’s revenue. He also intends to ensure that BEL remains profitable in the years to come.

“I joined BEL out of love and respect for the nation, but I stayed with BEL because I wanted to contribute to India’s self-reliance in defence electronics. Moving forward, I see BEL expanding and excelling in the export market,” he concludes, “I hope to impart my learnings to the younger generation after my retirement.”

Interestingly, his teachers from school days used to urge him to share lessons he had mastered with his fellow students. Perhaps India will have another teacher who imparts wisdom more from experiences and less from books!

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Mukul Yudhveer Singh
Mukul Yudhveer Singh
Mukul Yudhveer Singh is an Editor at EFY. He’s an experienced business journalist who is both an enthusiast and a cynic of technology. Believes in data, as well as hunch-based journalism. He defines journalism as- reporting facts which help the audience take their own decisions, not ones that influence them!


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