“I want people to remember me for my work as a sincere and honest engineer”

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During the IT boom, when every one was jumping onto the bandwagon and pouring money into this sector as if there was no tomorrow, he had the courage to choose a different path and do something that he knew best. He believed in his convictions and wanted to lead rather than be led. And the rest is history.

R Chellappan, managing director of Numeric
R Chellappan, managing director
of Numeric

Wednesday, February 19, 2014: Meet R Chellappan, an electrical and electronics engineer by profession, who founded Numeric Power Systems in 1984. In a tete-a-tete with Kartiki Negi of Electronics Bazaar,Chellappan, managing director of Numeric, now called Swelect Energy Systems Ltd, shares his 35-year professional journey.

A sincere and hardworking engineer, he believes that there is no substitute to hard work. Thirsty to achieve greater heights, he had no regrets when he sold the UPS business he had built from scratch, to Legrand of France for Rs 8714 million in 2012.

I was born in Salem district in 1953 into a farming family that also owned a small business. My mother was a homemaker while my father looked after our farms and managed the family transport business. My elder brother and I spent a wonderful childhood in a protective environment. I think childhood is the best phase of everybody’s life. I have beautiful memories of that period that I can cherish for my entire life.

I went to the Government Boys High School at Sankari Durg town of Salem district in Tamil Nadu. Since my school days, I had a great interest in studies and was keen on gathering knowledge. I was also attracted to sports and used to participate in several extra curricular activities. Table tennis was my favourite game and I still love to practice it in my free time.

Soon after completing my school, I persued an engineering course in electrical and electronics from Thiagarajar Polytechnic College in Salem in 1972 and later joined Coimbatore Institute of Technology. I was a rank holder from Madras University in 1979.

Being born and brought up in a business family, I had always aspired to start my own business. My parents were always supportive, and it is their guidance and values that led me to where I am today. I attribute my success to them. I could not have scaled these heights without them.

My professional journey

I started my career as a trainee engineer with Sri Ramakrishna Steels Industries Ltd in Coimbatore, and rose to the position of assistant plant engineer during my eight-year stint with the company. After that I served as a senior executive in the electrical maintenance department at Ashok Leyland Ltd, Chennai, for over five years. It was during this time that I thought of giving shape to my dreams of setting up my own business. So I chucked up my job at Ashok Leyland, to do what I was passionate about—digital electronics and making uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. Those were the early days of computerisation and UPS systems were badly needed.

In November 1984, I established Numeric Engineers and started designing and developing digital earth monitoring systems and industrial maximum-demand controllers based on digital electronics technology and also started building UPS systems in the best possible manner. The first UPS machine that Numeric Engineers manufactured was literally hand-made by me. I can still do it—right from soldering to commissioning and servicing. This hand-made machine, which was bought by Southern Explosives of Chennai, worked well for over 15 years. The first year’s turnover of Numeric Engineers was Rs 1.5 million (Rs 15 lakh).

Within a year from starting, Numeric bagged orders from India Pistons, Tata Bearings and Spencers. In 1986, HCL signed a deal with Numeric for the supply of UPS systems for its offices and customers.

In 1987, I established Numeric Controls & Systems and transferred the UPS manufacturing facility to it, where our engineers focused more on R&D, marketing, sales and servicing of UPS systems. In 1989, I went ahead and established Hi-Power Corporation for the distribution of energy storage solutions and batteries manufactured by Power Sonic Corporation, USA, and Hitachi Ltd, Japan. Looking at the success of this venture, I subsequently set up Numeric Electronics Pvt Ltd to manufacture mid-range UPS systems. Five years later, in 1994, Numeric Engineers, Numeric Controls & Systems and Hi-Power Corporation were all merged within Numeric Power Systems Ltd.

Our company was the pioneer in solar energy systems for a long time. It was the first UPS company to have installed a 1.1 kWp solar power charging system at its fabrication plant in Chennai in 1995.

In 2003, we started Numeric Lanka Technology Pvt Ltd as a wholly owned subsidiary based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and in 2004, we established Numeric Power Systems Pte Ltd, as a wholly owned subsidiary based in Singapore. This expansion was undertaken to export UPS systems to countries like USA, Africa, Mauritius and Sri Lanka. In 2005, Numeric started Numeric Power Systems (Mauritius) Pvt Ltd to manufacture and market UPS systems and batteries to the east and south African markets.

From a Rs 190 million company in 1994, today Numeric has grown many fold. With my passion and drive, along with a combination of quality and round the clock service, I could keep all our customers happy. I arranged to provide after sales services in a very systematic and methodical manner.

To begin with, I had invested Rs 300 million to set up five state-of-art manufacturing facilities in the country, and one in Sri Lanka. On the other front, we tied up with Panasonic for batteries, and also became its distributor in India. We also opened a large number of sales and service centres. In fact, I left no stone unturned to delight our customers.

Moving towards the greener side, I established Numeric Solar Energy Pvt Ltd in 2008, to offer a specialised and standard solar product range for a wide range of applications.

Numeric acquired 92 per cent share in Amex Alloys Pvt Ltd, a leading steel foundry in Coimbatore engaged in exporting special alloy steel castings to oil and gas EPCs in Europe and the US. In 2011, Numeric also acquired 100 per cent of the shares of Amex Irons Pvt Ltd, an iron custom foundry in Coimbatore engaged in quality iron castings for the automobile and infrastructure industries. It also exports to Europe.

In a major development in May 2012, I sold the UPS division of Numeric to Novateur Electrical & Digital Systems Pvt Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Legrand SA, France, under a business transfer agreement, owing to which Numeric was renamed Swelect Energy Systems Ltd, and I was nominated as chairman of Novateur India.

In January 2013, Swelect acquired a 49 per cent equity share and management control in HHV Solar Technologies Pvt Ltd. In July 2013, Swelect acquired an 8 per cent equity share in Amex Alloys Pvt Ltd to make it a 100 per cent owned subsidiary of Swelect.

My success mantra

Yves Martinez, MD, Legrand India and R Chellappan, MD, Numeric Power Systems Ltd, at a press conference in Chennai
Yves Martinez, MD, Legrand India and R Chellappan, MD, Numeric Power Systems Ltd, at a
press conference in Chennai

I have always believed in one mantra to success—have a clear focus and fulfil all the commitments in order to satisfy customers. I want people to remember me for my work as a sincere and honest engineer and not as the director of a company.

However, success cannot be achieved single-handedly. It is a combination of hard work, dedication and honesty, coupled with the knowledge acquired over time. I have always insisted on good work practices and compliance to standards. We are a company whose employees respect each other and work to make each other successful by exceeding our clients’ needs and expectations.

The value placed on people, customers and employees is the defining trait of our business. In my view, productivity and sales are high when employees are given the much needed attention to address customers’ needs and expectations. This makes a business more likely to become profitable and grow.

Motivation plays a pivotal role in the success of an organisation. If you display consideration and respect and encourage your colleagues, innovation and creativity is all that they will give you in return. Providing this motivation will benefit you in challenging times. In 2009, when the electronics industry was reeling under the recession, Numeric registered a consistent growth in performance and also ventured into new business areas. We strived to demonstrate honesty, integrity and understanding, and to develop a culture that leaves all members with a sense of being heard, understood and valued.

All my life I have worked on the principle of ‘believe, build and become’. I would advise the same to budding entrepreneurs. Believe in your strengths, build and be patient. Every challenge is an opportunity and pressure is a privilege.

My family is my pillar of strength

My family has been my pillar of strength. It would have been hard to achieve what I have, without the support of my wife and children. I depend a lot on my wife, C Gunasundari, who is a home maker. I have two children. My son, V C Raghunath, has done his masters in electrical engineering from the University of Texas, USA and is now taking care of the green energy division of Swelect. My daughter, V C Mirunalini, did her masters in electrical engineering from Texas A&M University. She is taking care of the products and the special projects division of Swelect.

Contribution towards industry

Today, I can very proudly say that we were among the first companies to demonstrate and implement the adoption of renewable energy for conventional UPS systems across India and at several projects overseas as well. This has made Swelect one of the very few power conditioning specialists across the globe to have rolled out several hundred renewable energy power projects. In recent times we have implemented hundreds of solar power projects in many manufacturing facilities to ensure reduced fuel consumption and to speed up the adoption of renewable energy.

Continuous innovation by studying the market’s needs, constant customer feedback and well authenticated quality control measures laid the foundation for us to create benchmark products and services for our customers.

Future plans

With things going very well for me on the professional side, in the future I would like to find some time for my personal life as well. As an avid table tennis player and a keen traveller, I would like to find some time to pursue both these interests. I would like to balance the demands of business with my hobbies.

As far as the professional front goes, I have very clear future plans. In the coming years, we aim to provide clean and green energy to all our customers, adapting to the latest technology and offering excellent services. We are looking forward to design, develop, manufacture, supply, install and service state-of-the-art green energy products and systems, and ensure that every customer is given the opportunity to use energy with maximum efficiency and from clean energy sources.

Apart from this, I have one more dream, which is yet to be fulfilled. Teaching has been my secret dream and passion. I have decided that post-retirement, I will take up part time teaching and start mentoring students. To achieve this goal, I am fortunate to be a member of the Board of Studies (syllabus committee member) in the faculty of electrical engineering of Anna University, Chennai.

I also plan to contribute towards infrastructure development in schools across the country. I would like to help in raising the standard of teaching, especially in rural schools. I would also like to associate myself with a social organisation.

One thing that I would like to change…

In this world:

Make it a green world

In the country:

Work towards harmony, a country where there will be no poverty and no corruption

At your work place:

Make it full of joy and make work a pleasure

In yourself:

Learn to balance work with my hobbies

 

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS…

Music:

Carnatic instrumental

Food: 

Chinese, French and Japanese cuisine

Books:

Mostly IEEE transactions on technical concepts

Holiday destinations: 

Mauritius, Maldives, Europe and the Alps

Political/ historical figure:

Mahatma Gandhi

Role model:

Dr Abdul Kalam

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine