Mukesh Bhandari (Chairman and CTO, Electrotherm (India) Ltd.) explains to Darpan Pandya the growth story behind indigenously-developed technologies for the company that believes in ‘No engines, no pollution’
While traveling to his hometown of Indore once, Mr. Mukesh Bhandari was struck by the damage that man’s greed had caused to the environment. This inspired him to take action; thus was born the concept of an electric scooter. His efforts bore fruit in 2007, when the YObyke was awarded the Automotive Product of the Year by Overdrive.
Founded in 1983, Electrotherm provides engineering and metallurgical solutions with more than 2600 employees propelling it forward. The ISO 9001:2008 certified global company presently holds a 2,500,000 kW market share in the metal melting industry globally, and a 50 per cent market share in induction melting equipments used by the engineering and automotive industries in India. At the same time, Mr. Bhandari dreams of electrifying the automotive and power sector-major polluters of the environment.
This strong focus on putting India on the world’s metal melting map, along with the focus on the environment that boosted production of electric two wheelers, was the impetus that made it possible. In an exclusive interaction with The Human Factor, Mr. Bhandari talks about his experiences, what India needs to do to in the future, and more about his vision for the county.
Q. How did you realise that you wanted to set up your own business venture?
A. Right from my school and college days, I knew that I would do something on my own; the thought of getting a job never even struck me. The only thing I was not sure about was ‘when’. After I completed my Engineering, I worked for 10 years and then started my company in 1982.
Q. What is your vision for building Electrotherm?
A. I want Electrotherm to be an organisation based on engineering and technology. Our focus will be manufacturing equipment for producing steel. We have always tried to compare ourselves with China – the annual steel production in India is 62 million tonnes, whereas in China, this figure is 650 million tonnes; more than ten times the production here. If India has to become an industrial country, it has to increase production to close to 200 million tonnes. This is a huge task and there are a lot of opportunities in the steel manufacturing sector. We will continue to make additions to our manufacturing range.
Q. What attracted you towards the concept of environment-friendly transport?
A. I was travelling from Ahmedabad to my hometown, Indore, in 2001 when I noticed that the jungle that used to flank the road between the two cities had vanished. I had traveled on that route as a child and I knew how much greenery had surrounded the area then. The sudden disappearance concerned me about the world that we were leaving for our future generations, and I decided to work towards developing an electric vehicle. I started working on this in 2002. Most industry-oriented products go through ups and downs in demand, so I wanted to devote my work to a consumer-oriented product which would be in demand even during a lean period.
Q. Electrotherm posted 19 per cent growth last year while many others globally were still coping with the meltdown. How did you achieve positive growth?
A. That happened naturally! In 2008, we had started expanding in pipe division. Last year, the equipment was installed and it came on stream. Not only us, but many other companies showed similar trends.
Q. Electrotherm has recently taken over Hans Ispat and Shriram Electro Cast. How have those helped your market standing?
A. Earlier, we were unable to meet the market demand for Electro TMT Rebars for construction, because we did not have sufficient rolling capacity. Hans Ispat has helped us to meet the demand. Shriram Electro is a blast furnace which will be ultimately converted into a ductile pipe plant. This will help us save cost, since it is very expensive to send pipes to southern parts of the country.
Q. What does the future hold?
A. After this five-year phase of rapid expansion (2006 to 2011), it is time for us to consolidate and focus on operations and capacity utilisation.
Q. YoBykes won the award for Automotive Product of the Year in 2007. How can we see more YoBykes on the streets?
A. There is a need to change the perceptions of people about electric vehicles. People have very high expectations from their vehicles. They want their vehicles to have a range of 200 kilometers, even if they travel only 25 to 30 kilometers per day. Electrotherm has developed high power electric vehicles, with the speed of 50 kilometers per hour, good load bearing capacity, and a battery that gives a longer range per charge and good cycle life.
However, there are a few more factors that have helped the growth of the segment, such as, increasing environmental awareness among people; endlessly-increasing petrol prices; and government support to the electric vehicle segment.
Q. Electrotherm also intends to launch electric three wheelers and hybrid buses. How long will it take before this becomes a reality?
A. We see a very large market emerging over the next 10 years for electric two wheelers in India. By the year 2020, we estimate it to be valued at about 20 million. We will continue to lead this segment with our current market share of 35 per cent or more.
Q. How have the state and central governments responded to the concept?
A. They had foreseen the problem in the crude oil supply. The continuous increase in prices helped the government realise the necessity for electric vehicles. Soon, they started providing incentives on taxes and duties. It is expected that the government will come forward to provide further support in terms of infrastructure development through charging stations, etc.
Q. How important is the role of HR for your business?
A. HR plays a very important role, since people are the most important assets of any organisation. Because of rapid developments in IT, knowledge has become very important, and this knowledge comes from the people.
Q. What qualities do you look for in a new hire?
A. I do not come from a rich family, so I look to hire people from a background similar to mine. Another thing I have noticed is that people from towns nearby take things easy and comfortably. But those who come from far away work seriously, as they realise the need to fend for themselves. Apart from this, we also study the technical capabilities of candidates.
Q. How was the experience of working with a consultant to strengthen your HR practices?
A. KPMG helped us focus in the right direction. Over one year, they conducted various surveys. We felt that our management style needed improvement, but they rated us between 7 and 8 on a scale of 10. We want to improve continuously so are not fully satisfied yet. People are our most important assets and it is important to strengthen our focus on them.
Q. How would you define your leadership style?
A. I am basically a technical person and not a leader. I am the chairman only because I am the company’s founder. Many people find it difficult to work with me! Work is most important to me. If I find anyone being lax about their work, I am very blunt about it. I tend to lead by example.
Q. Do you take time off for yourself? What are your hobbies?
A. Besides technical books, I read about nature and skill development. I like listening to classical and instrumental music. I enjoy photography and travel whenever I have time.