The Innovative Innovator:Lalit Vashishta
Recently, our institute witnessed the visits of many alumni as ties between the institute and NITRAA are steadily growing. One of them was Mr Lalit Vashishta, who returned to the campus to interact with the students and let them know how they could benefit from forming a network with the alumni. Team MM sat down with him to discuss his journey from being a student in REC Rourkela to now being one of the most influential people in the field of Chemical and Process Engineering.
MM: Tell us something about your childhood and school days.
LV: I belong to the lovely city of Rourkela and I have spent all of my childhood here. The beauty of Rourkela is that it is a very cosmopolitan, multicultural city. It is home to people from different states of the country owing to the presence of the steel plant. I did my schooling from Ispat English Medium school. After my schooling I wanted to get into REC and study engineering since in those days studying commerce or arts was considered as a taboo. Parental pressure always propelled the students to take up either engineering or medicine.
MM: You took up an undergraduate course in Chemical Engineering. Was it your own choice or simply what fate had in store for you?
LV: It was one of my teachers Mr Acharya whose charismatic style of teaching inspired me a lot. He used to help us actually visualise things pictorially. He was excellent at connecting to the students and thus Chemistry became one my favourite subjects, thanks to him. I had scored enough in the entrance examinations for a place in the Department of Mechanical Engineering but I took up Chemical Engineering, instead, due to my sheer interest in it.
MM: How has the institute changed according to you from the times when you were in college? When was the last time you visited NITR?
LV: The institute has changed tremendously in almost every aspect. You know have lovely classrooms, beautiful hostels and even well-to-do mess facilities. The infrastructure has improved by leaps and bounds but the library is still not up to the mark. More books should be brought in and the reading habit should be inculcated by the students.
I visited the institute during the 50th Anniversary of the institute in 2011. I also paid a small visit in 2013. After graduating I have come back about 4 to 5 times and each time I've had a good interactive session with most of my professors.
MM: As an alumnus how do you think we can improve the outreach of current students and the alumni to foster a sustainable relationship?
LV: Fostering a sustainable relationship should be a two-way process: students reaching the alumni and the alumni reaching the students. There should be a feedback mechanism which makes the alumni aware of what is happening in the institute with regard to curriculum, academics, research and projects including industry related projects. We as alumni have already put in our efforts to reach the students and let them know what our strengths are so that they can approach us whenever they want. We can also have a mechanism just like LinkedIn where skills of the alumni are tagged under his name and students can approach them according to the skills and guidance that they require.
MM: What do you consider as the most significant contribution of REC Rourkela (as it was called then) to your life and personality?
LV: The training I got here really nourished me a lot. It not only made me an able chemical engineer but also ensured that I had the necessary skill set and practical knowledge to pursue my passion of running a business in the same field. Another thing that I'd like to bring to your notice is that though I have not been in touch with the faculty, the reverse has started happening now wherein faculties approach the alumni for certain projects which is most certainly a progressive step in fostering and strengthening alumni and institute’s contact.
MM: What other changes would you like to see in the institute?
Team work is one aspect in which the students are lagging behind and should try to inculcate amongst themselves in order to have a holistic development. I strongly believe that this is what will take the students ahead in the long run. Another aspect which needs improvisation is the condition of the labs. Old machines have been lying around since years. More and more advanced equipment should be brought in and students should be allowed to do research work in the labs whenever they wish but I strongly believe that this responsibility of improving the condition of labs lies in the hands of the students
MM: You have been the President of Rotaract club in the year 1985. What social causes do you feel strongly about the most and how have you contributed towards solving those causes during your tenure as a President?
LV: My biggest inspiration has been C P Gurnani who was instrumental in getting me into the club. He was the Rotaract President when I was about to join. Rotaract gave me the platform to nurture my leadership skills and it helped me in overcoming my fear of speaking in public. There was a time when I used to have tremendous of fear in speaking in public and now I don’t stop speaking in front of them!
There was an interesting anecdote which I would like to share with my students. There was a Rotaract meeting going on in the Indo-German club and Somnath Mishra - our principal, was the guest speaker that day. We Rotaractors used to go for volunteering the meeting. It was my first day in the club and I was sitting in the last bench and was having a good time with my friends. Suddenly my senior Raj Raman came to me and asked me to give the vote of thanks. I had no idea what to say since I wasn’t listening to what the guests were speaking but somehow with trembling legs and shivering with fear, I went on to the stage and spoke. My father who was sitting in the front line had tears in his eyes. That actually changed my way of seeing things in life, and then there was no looking back.
MM: You were a part of the team which started the Annual Spring Festival in college for the first time. Can you share your experiences?
LV: Spring festival started during our times. I used to visit spring fests of other colleges as part of the cultural team. Then I thought why couldn’t we have such a fest in our college. Like Monday Morning now, the first magazine was also started by us with the name “The Roving Eye”. Biswajit Roy, who is in London now whom I still have contact with started it. I was there for two Spring festivals and it was an overwhelming success
MM: You have a lot of interests: Music, Theatre, Networking, collecting arts and artefacts. Were you always so passionate about this right from the childhood or your interests developed over the course of time?
LV: You evolve as you grow. When you meet someone passionate, you become passionate yourself in that field. Music was always my passion. We did a skit and a drama and started the music orchestra in the college. We had gone to Kolkata to buy the first drum set for the college. We didn’t have any music room earlier. This involvement in culture made me kind of forget my studies for a while but luckily for me still, I did well academically in spite of that!
MM: What was it like stepping into a professional field for the first time?
LV: It was a big challenge. When I came to Bombay, I had no job. I had literally run away from home. In Orissa, you had no scope for a Chemical Engineer. My father was running a mechanical engineering unit and I did not fit into that. Thus, the Western Zone was my only option. I left Rourkela to find my dreams in Bombay. There I worked in a small company after which I was finally picked up by Millipore. That experience in a small company helped me excel in Millipore where I worked for five years and became the National Head of Process.
Growth in a smaller company is just a number. If you are good, dedicated you will go places. Outside in the corporate world, it’s a business. Business is making money. If my work can bring a person more money, then that person will share the money with you. That is how the private sector works. In our company, I train many freshers who have no prior experience and I observe how readily they pick up the skills. Based on their performance they can have an increment from 10-50 % in the first year.
I have seen many engineers slogging it out in the public sector and not showing the same growth they could have in the private sector. However, they do not want to leave the security of the public sector. In the private sector, if you don’t perform you will get kicked out whereas in the public sector you are like a strong pillar whom nobody can touch.
MM: Tell us about 'Diva Envitec Pvt Ltd: Engineering today for a greener tomorrow' which is your entrepreneurial venture.
LV: When I left my job at Millipore, I became a freelancer. I ventured into an area where I could do my best taking a big risk in the process. I knew it was going to be successful. There were not many market professionals like me. Even now I can count on my fingers and say that the kind of work I am doing, very few people here and abroad are doing it. I had received my training in filtration and while I was working in Millipore who focussed on Micro, Ultra and Nano-filtration, I realised the demand for Coarse Filtration which was an area that was neglected and not understood in the industry. Diva Envitec has thus focussed on this area and it comes up with newer and more innovative products every year.
The first Ceramic Membrane System in India was setup by me. It was for Vitamin B12 concentration. The second system we did was for recovery for 6-aminopenicillanic acid which was an environmental hazard. We concentrated it for Lupin Laboratories in 1992-93, a time when no one knew about membranes in the country.
MM: You are also a part of IIChE- Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers. What has been your experience being a member?
LV: I joined IIChE much later. One day I was invited by the IIChe who recognised my work to speak in a conference named ‘Aqua’ to speak on waste water management and filtration. They were impressed by my speech and said that the next Aqua conference would be convened by me. I was then put into the committee
MM: How was the interaction with the students at BBA?
LV: I was disappointed initially by the numbers that turned up in the BBA to hear us speak. This made me realise that there might be a disconnect between what we are trying to communicate and what students are perceiving. I know that there have been instances of the past where speakers have come and they have been boring which might not have appealed to the young minds of students nowadays. Dushyant and I have tried to interact with the students in a much more interactive way. The overall response I would say has been positive.
MM: What is your final message for the students?
Overall I was very happy since I came here. A very positive environment has been created by the visit and the Hyderabad Meet that happened earlier. The SARC (Student Alumni Relations Cell) has been successful in creating a vibe in the campus. From how I see this, it should go a really long way if we maintain such an active dialogue and this movement certainly has the potential to snowball into something much bigger!