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A Titan of the Industry—Sitting Down with Banmali Agrawala

Holding several top-tier management positions, Mr Banmali Agrawala, a graduate of Harvard Business School, graced us with his presence at The Manipal Conclave.  A veteran in the energy domain, Mr Agrawala has over 30 years of global corporate experience. He started his career with the Wartsila Group, a Finnish manufacturing and services company, where he soon rose to the position of Managing Director, after spending over 20 years. After a small stint with Tata Power as their executive director for three years, Mr Agrawala joined GE South Asia as their President and CEO for seven years.

Currently, Mr Agrawala is the President of Infrastructure, Defense, and Aerospace at Tata Sons. An active member of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Mr Agrawala has held several official positions within CII such as Chairman of the Western Regional Council, and currently is also a Member of CII’s National Council. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the US—India Business Council (USIBC). We at The MIT Post got the opportunity to interview this Titan of the energy industry as a part of The Manipal Conclave 2020.

Being in such a position of immense responsibility, how do you cope with the mental stress that it puts on you, especially during this lockdown?

Mental stress in times like these is a very important issue and plays a significant role. There are a few practical ways to deal with the mind that I have learnt, and I am still learning. One, you have to stay connected with people. The more people you talk to, the more people you engage with, the better it is. So keep talking, keep engaging with people, and keep sharing your thoughts with them. The other is to take breaks, and during the breaks, you should switch off as well because this is not a 24×7 situation. When you are working from home or the office, it feels like an endless day, and you don’t know when it begins or when it stops. So taking breaks is extremely important. Finally, there is the physical dimension to it, that is, eating, sleeping, and exercising well is extremely important; otherwise, it can wear you down. 

There has been a recent trend in Silicon Valley and other such places where they employ young CEOs, and some other companies stick to the tradition of employing more senior members in such positions. Which model do you agree with?

Well, I am not sure if there is a specific model as such. If you are an entrepreneur like Mark Zuckerberg or someone like that, then it is a different issue altogether because it’s your company and it is up to you to decide what is to be done. But if you are a professional, it is just a question of how well you are doing, how mature you are, or what is the skill you bring to the table. We do have people like Sundar Pichai who are relatively young and still right at the top, and we also have a person like Tim Cook in the same world who is a bit more seasoned and is running an extensive operation or even Satya Nadella who is there in Microsoft. I am not sure if there is a formula for this; it all depends on what you are delivering.

I would argue that, as time has passed by, age has become irrelevant, your gender has become irrelevant, if you can deliver the goods whether you are young or old, I think it is all okay. 

Image Credits: MoneyControl

Since the world is becoming increasingly IT-oriented, and even in our college we are having more tech companies coming in—what advice do you have for the people or students who are not from an IT or tech background?

I would say not knowing or understanding tech in today’s time, and the world is not allowed. It is a necessary condition, like reading or writing, and you cannot say that you don’t understand it. I still remember in GE, and this was six-seven years ago, we almost had a rule that if you did not know how to code, you would not get a job. It does not matter what kind of job it may be an HR job, a tech job, or whatever else. But if you didn’t know how to write code, you would not get a job. Now it depends on how far you want to stretch it, but knowing what to do with data, knowing how you handle smart devices, and so on, is extremely crucial. One need not be a PhD, but you cannot be ignorant either. So having a fundamental base is extremely crucial. 

Given a lot of education systems are moving online, how important do you think higher studies programmes such as Masters or MBA are for the students right now?

I think higher education is still vital in many areas. Going deeper into a subject in terms of research and understanding is what higher education is all about. As a country, as we further develop, we will need more-and-more higher education kind of talent. You talk about AI, machine learning, industrial engineering, 3D printing, and so on, you have to be at the cutting edge of technology. It retains its importance, and it is very critical. We as a country do not produce a lot of advanced engineering talent, which can then be directly absorbed into the industry. The numbers are too few for the size of the opportunity it provides.

How much progress has been seen by Indian companies when it comes to investment into aerospace based ventures?

There is a lot of progress. People like us [TATA], there are others also who have invested in aerospace, and several companies who have diversified in space. Now if you see ISRO, it is one of the most successful organisations in the world in what it does, comparable with NASA in many ways, in terms of innovation and all that. Space is another frontier that many Indian companies are looking at. If you see some of the startups, particularly from Bangalore, they are making drones, making launches that go up to the moon etc. I think there was a contest held by Google, to find a solution to take an object to the moon, and five companies from Bangalore did a lot of work and a lot of progress to get there. So a lot is happening there, India is making dramatic progress, and there is a great opportunity in that field. 

Banmali Agrawala at The Manipal Conclave 2020

Featured Image Credits: The Economic Times