Our fascination for not just possessing, but also brandishing anything imported, actually demotivates and discourages Indian entrepreneurship
The government’s preference for indigenously designed and manufactured products will create a ripple effect for such services
G. Raj Narayan grew up with two very diverse passions, music and aircraft designing. After a few years, he moved away from a successful career at a DPSU and turned his passions into a company. In 1979, he established the Radel Group as an indigenous design and manufacturing company for aerospace and defence sectors and digital music instruments. In this interview, he talks about his journey as an entrepreneur, his take on the ‘Make in India’ campaign and his various other ideas that are now moving him on his path to excellence.
You moved from a promising career at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to setting up Radel. What inspired you to do that and how did you go about building structures and processes there?
I cultivated innovation and design traits right from my childhood thanks to a wonderful environment at home that integrated arts and engineering and this was particularly useful at the workplace. The ability to identify a need and devise a gadget to fill that need, however small or insignificant, was what fuelled my imagination to find innovative solutions.
At HAL, I was exposed to really excellent training and my stint there provided me with a sound appreciation of the value of good systems and procedures. However, I cut short my career there for the lack of challenges and appreciation. I knew that I possessed a large variety of skills that would enable me to succeed in any endeavor and this formed the basis for my dive into entrepreneurship. Thanks to my learning at HAL, I put in place the organizational structure of Radel right from day one. This sound structure paid very rich dividends as the company grew. For me, achieving customer satisfaction was more important than profits. I believed in fairness both to the customer and to self. Hence, I never undervalued my products. Soon, Radel emerged at the forefront and established a reputation for itself as a highly innovative and quality conscious brand. Our products very rarely failed and even in those cases, customer satisfaction was strengthened by quick and efficient after-sales support. Many of the dealers of Radel musical instruments were heard telling their customers “Radel products never fail. Where is the need for after-sales support?”
What is your leadership style? How did you choose and hire people? What kind of culture do you promote in your company?
Being organized, disciplined and methodical are the cornerstones of my work. I lead by example and simplicity, quality of output, attention to detail and punctuality are my hallmarks. I believe that the most important quality of an employee is his/her desire as well as the ability to learn and pick up new skills. So, I try to look for some evidence of the candidate having acquired practical knowledge or analytical skills by himself/herself. Marks do not mean anything to me and I have never evaluated a person on that basis. In keeping with this philosophy, I have tried to encourage a continuous process of learning within the organization. In spite of being an MSME, I have exposed almost all employees to external as well as in-house training sessions.
You started out as an MSME way before the government launched fruitful campaigns. What are your thoughts on the ‘Make in India’ campaign?
The Make in India program is a very important and significant move by the central government, both in the industrial as well as the aerospace & defence (A&D) sector. It is bound to open up huge opportunities for MSMEs with strong design and development capabilities. As far as the A&D sector is concerned, there are clear signals that the new government prefers indigenously designed and manufactured products instead of products procured from foreign companies. This will, therefore, create a ripple effect for indigenous development of all accessories, support equipment and other services, thus creating a quantum jump. However, how this will translate into real business will depend to a large extent on how well the MSMEs get integrated into the A&D ecosystem. The Centre will need to ensure that the PSUs as well as the large private sector companies take an active interest in this process of inducting MSMEs into the supply chain, since this will ultimately lead to a win-win situation for everyone concerned.
What do you think are the challenges faced by the industrial and A&D sectors?
The first challenge would be the Indian consumer mindset. Most Indians lack trust and confidence in Indian products and industry compared to imported products. Our fascination for not just possessing, but also brandishing anything imported, actually demotivates and discourages Indian entrepreneurship. This also applies to the attitude of Indian armed services or a defence public sector undertaking who prefer to buy imported equipment instead of encouraging indigenously produced ones. The second challenge is to improve the efficiency of government processes (licences, customs clearances, decision-making, judicial proceedings, complex taxation laws, etc.) that impede productivity of the indigenous industry, thus making Indian businesses uncompetitive even within our own country. A far better environment needs to in place to inspire and encourage not only the existing industries, but also attract new entrepreneurs. The third challenge is the lack of discipline, desire and aspiration among Indian employees to enhance their skills and capabilities leading to higher productivity comparable to global standards. If the term ‘employees’ is seen as extending across all levels and strata of Indian society, it would include government as well as private corporate sector, which means that the Indian society as a whole needs to orient itself to ‘Make in India’. Everything will then fall into place.
Radel Group did its bit for the Make in Program by setting up the Drona Centre for Excellence and launching the Drona Apprenternship Program. Tell us how you came up with the idea and what makes it different from other skilling initiatives?
While there are several skilling initiatives in the country for technicians, workmen, software and hardware professionals, there are hardly any training initiatives for fresh engineers in core engineering skills and none that provide training in robust processes and documentation. The Drona initiative will address all such issues. It is a finishing school for engineers, where the trainees are provided practical experience of the theory that they learn in engineering colleges through short lectures, hands-on experience on live projects and close mentoring by veterans of industry. The Drona ‘Apprenternship’ program provides the manufacturing industry with a trained engineer who is job ready so that he is productive from day one. Drona offers customized programs tailored to each corporate’s needs and courses ranging from the flagship six-month program Campus2Career ‘Apprenternship’ to three-day orientation programs.
An engineering graduate with good grades, who joins the Drona training program at Radel, acquires skills in product design and manufacturing and is mentored by industry veterans and well-known guest faculty. The trainees undergo a transformation of their thought processes and develop critical, analytical, communicative and innovative skills.
Additionally, they receive complete exposure to a systematic quality and documentation process. The Drona program attempts to compensate the deficiencies of engineering institutions, which churn out graduates every year with little or no hands-on engineering skills, by exposing fresh graduates to live projects in A&D as well as consumer electronics sectors, thus providing an insight into the complete design and manufacturing process, whether of specialized defence equipment or of consumer electronics.