Illustrious And Inspiring: N.R. Mohanty
Padma Shri Nalini Ranjan Mohanty is an alumnus from the first batch of REC, 1965 and is a well-known figure in the aviation industry of the nation. He had an illustrious career spanning 31 years with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), where he rose up to the rank of CEO of the organization. He has also contributed significantly with his expertise to the Aeronautical Society of India (ASI) and Textron (India). Recently, on a visit to NITR for the Foundation Day celebrations, Team MM caught up with this magnanimous personality for a little tete-e-tete. Here are a few excerpts from the interview.
MM: Tell us something about your days before REC.
NRM: I had a very enjoyable childhood. I was the oldest child of my family and was pampered by every other member. My father had an administrative job, so we had to move along with him whenever he was transferred to a new city. I was good at studies and was applauded by my teachers and friends alike. By the time I completed my schooling, I had studied in six different schools, which in hindsight feels like a boon.
After my schooling, I joined Ravenshaw College, which was one of the premier colleges of Odisha back then. I was residing in my college hostel. Ravenshaw had excellent infrastructure, a huge library and highly experienced professors. Besides that, my classmates were of very high caliber and the environment was very competitive. It was then, when I was in Ravenshaw that I dreamt of joining a reputed college of India and grow up as an engineer.
MM: How important do you think were the years at REC for your career? Considering the fact that you were the first batch to graduate, how would you describe your experience at REC?
NRM: It was nothing less than a miracle that REC happened in my life. Probably, I would have never become an engineer, had it not been the establishment of the college in the year 1961. This story is quite long. I was not meeting the minimum age limit for admission into IITs, thus preventing me from appearing for the IIT Entrance Exam. I was totally dejected and frustrated when I witnessed my friends with lower marks getting admission in BHU (Banaras Hindi University). I continued my studies in Ravenshaw and pursued B.Sc. in Mathematics (Honors). On the independence day of 1961, Biju Pattnaik, the legendary leader and the greatest statesman from Odisha declared the establishment of REC, Rourkela and I became one of the luckiest students to get admitted into this institute.
As a new college, it hardly had any infrastructure of its own. It started from an ITI at Panposh and we continued there for a year before moving out. But the real strength of the institute lied with the founder, Principal, Prof. Bhubaneswar Behera and the experienced faculty members, who were selected from reputed colleges from all over the country. They displayed incredible devotion in building this institute from scratch. We were the 120 lucky students of the 1st batch, and were privileged enough to receive special coaching and personal attention from the faculties.
MM: After graduating, you joined REC as a faculty member. How would you describe the transition from a student to a faculty?
NRM: It was not just the transition from a student to a faculty member, but also the beginning of my professional career. It was a highly inspirational beginning. I was loved and blessed by my own teachers and respected by students. It was an exciting experience and I always tried to be a student-friendly teacher.
MM: You later joined the Indian Ordnance Factories Service and worked with the major ordnance manufacturing industries of the country. How would you describe your experience in the ordnance industry?
NRM: I joined Indian Ordnance Factories Service in December 1966. I worked at Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur and Heavy Vehicles Factory (Tank Factory) at Avadi, Madras till June 1971. These are well-developed defense factories which were established during the British Raj. It was my first experience in the industry where I got to learn a lot of things through my experience and the opportunity to acquaint myself with manufacturing technologies and planning processes. It was an excellent platform to learn and specialize in Finance and Human Resource Management.
MM: You later joined HAL and were associated with HAL for the next few decades. How did HAL happen and what spiked your interest in the Aeronautical Industry?
NRM: I have served at HAL for more than 33 years in various capacities and finally became its Chief Executive Officer. It is a great organization, a technological paradise for any stream of engineering. It provides opportunities and freedom to learn, experiment and implement the knowledge acquired through books. It imbibes high standard of personal values such as integrity, credibility and fair play, which are necessary for working in such an organization. I grew up in this organization, made significant contributions and was suitably rewarded.
My contributions to HAL were well recognized by a Fortune 500 US Company named TEXTRON and they chose me as the CMD of Textron (India) for 6 years. Even today, Govt. of India has engaged me in various important Defence Committees and I continue to be an Independent Director on Boards of many companies.
MM: How would you describe HAL’s evolution from 1971 to 2001? How would you describe the impact of HAL on augmenting the Indian Aero Defense systems?
NRM: During this period, HAL made significant contributions to the field of Aerospace Engineering. HAL had an extremely qualified design team. The task was to engage the team by assigning them a challenge so that they can contribute to HAL. Prior to this period, the defense forces had ordered for a number of aircraft and helicopters, but the delivery wasn't completed by HAL, much to the dismay of the defense forces. I landed myself in the helicopter division in September 2001.
My target was to satisfy the customers before 31st March 2002. I formed a new team and was determined to contribute in anyway they wanted. I used to make the occasional surprise visits to the workshop floor. My objective was to encourage and motivate the team to work and design the helicopters. By the end of March, we produced seven helicopters. More than a decade had passed without the production of even one helicopter, so you can imagine the transformation which was underway. The following two years, three and fourteen helicopters were produced respectively.
Today, HAL has established itself as an internationally recognized brand in the aviation industry with an overhaul of aircraft, helicopters, aero-engines and much more. There are huge requirements of aircraft and helicopters both for military and civil sectors in our country. Strategic partnerships should be taken up, especially with private-sector companies to help expand the aeronautical industry in India.
MM: You also served as a non-executive Director in major public sector undertakings such as Kudremukh Iron Ore Company, Mahanadi Coalfields, Dynamatic Technologies to name a few. How would you describe your experience in the public sector industries?
NRM: I think the experience of serving as an Independent Director in both PSUs and Private Sector Undertakings have been very positive. The deliberations in the Boards are quite open and transparent. It has helped me a lot to understand the functioning of companies.
MM: Having been a member of the Kelkar Committee, what are your views on private-sector participation in the defense industry and how do you think it can boost India’s defensive prowess?
NRM: The Central Government has been planning to include and augment private sector participation in Defence Production for many years. The present Government has approved the model of selecting Strategic Partners from Private Industries for Defence Production. The private companies will be working in the segments of aircraft, helicopters, submarines and armed vehicles. The total order value will be 2 lakh crores of rupees.
As a consequence of the participation of private companies, a large amount of FDI will flow into our country. A strong industrial ecosystem will be created as a result of the Make in India Programme, which will result in large-scale employment generation. When we talk about the private sector joining the defense industry, we are not talking about shutting the public sector out. This will actually provide healthy competition; both the sectors will grow simultaneously. The private sector alone cannot build an aircraft; they’ll struggle for years and they will take time to master the technology. So, both the private and the public sectors should join hands and pool resources.
MM: You have received numerous honors and awards throughout your lifetime. Which one would you rate as your most coveted achievement?
NRM: Out of all the honors bestowed on me, I feel the Padma Shri is the most special achievement.
MM: You visited the Institute after a long time and recently you have been inducted as a member of the BOG, how do you look forward to it?
NRM: Our Institute has grown significantly. It presents a scholastic atmosphere. Truly, it has become an institute of national importance. I consider myself privileged to be a member of the BOG of my Alma Mater. I shall strive along with the Chairman and other distinguished members of the Board to enhance the brand image of our Institute.
I look forward to the feedback of students to know what changes are required. I will consider their demands and would try to fulfill them.
MM: What is your take on the role of alumni for an institute of national importance like ours? How do you think the present scenario of alumni interaction can be improved?
NRM: Alumni play a vital role in shaping an institute. They should contribute both physically and financially to create a world-class institute. A sense of trust needs to be established between the Alumni Association and the institute. The newly appointed Director and the NITRAA President have taken numerous steps to ensure that the level of interaction improves and I hope that a positive change will be seen in the future.
MM: How do you keep your spirits high amidst professional pressure and hectic schedule? Any long drawn hobbies that you still indulge in?
NRM: I regularly indulge in my prayers for strength and wisdom, particularly during the hours of trouble. I used to play bridge. I started playing the game in the Faculties’ club at REC (NITR). In addition to this, I’m very fond of cricket. I didn’t play much but when I was in college, my batch mates used to choose me as the non-playing captain of the team. Today, after retirement, I still work on various boards, I am a consultant to two major companies and that keeps me busy.
MM: You have come a long way in your journey; how do you feel when you look back – do you have any regrets?
NRM: I don’t have any regrets so far. Maybe, it is because of the karma of my parents and the blessings of the supreme power that I have had my fair share of ups and downs. That invisible power had always guided me during my period of distress. For instance, once I couldn’t get the position of the Managing Director of HAL and was disappointed; but then I became the chairman of the company owing to my dedication and hard work. Something propelled me to do my job after failing to become the MD of HAL. One needs to work hard and should have faith in the almighty.
MM: What does it take to be Nalini Ranjan Mohanty? Please enlighten our readers with a few lines of inspiration.
NRM: I sincerely pray that every reader should be able to beat me at each and every step of his or her life’s journey. Students should know their interests and set goals accordingly. They should work hard to achieve their goals. They should never believe that they are over-ambitious. My life’s mantra is:
Fewer excuses, bigger results; fewer distractions, more focus.
And I want the students to follow this so that they can achieve something bigger in their life.