The Motivating Magnate:John Kochukutty
A man of few words, John Kochukutty, is the kind of person that will leave you in awe on an interaction with him. An alumnus from the Department of Electrical Engineering of the batch of 1985, he is currently serving as the Joint General Manager at L&T, Mumbai. In a recent interview with Team Monday Morning, he shares his experience, and about the journey so far. Here are the excerpts from the candid conversation.
Team Monday Morning: Tell us about your early years and life. What memories do you recollect and fondly look back on today?
John Kochukutty: I hail from Kerala but grew up in Odisha. I completed my 10th as well 12th from KV.No.1 in Bhubaneshwar after which I’d taken admission in REC Rourkela. I spent my early years in Puri. My fondest memories of my childhood include the beach at Puri. As a child I had a thirst for knowledge and I never really studied for the sake of marks. Although I would score pretty well, marks were never my priority. In fact, a lot of my teachers had trouble handling my curiosity. I was always filled with questions and doubts. I was also a voracious reader and would always be lost in my books. Back in our time, getting an engineering seat was very difficult as there were only two engineering colleges in Odisha. One was in Burla while the other was REC Rourkela. Getting into REC was very tough as there were only about 350 seats in total. So, only the best students would get in.
MM: You graduated in Electrical Engineering from NIT Rourkela (the then REC). Why B.tech in “Electrical engineering” only? Is it that you always wanted or fate had it in store for you?
JK: To be honest, there weren’t many choices available to us. Getting an engineering seat on its own was difficult enough. My first preference was Electrical Engineering in REC and my second choice was Electrical Engineering in Burla. I wasn’t even sure that I would get in so I didn’t even bother to check the result. In fact, a friend who also applied with me checked the result and told me I got in. My main reason for pursuing Electrical Engineering was because it was all imaginary. I wasn’t really every fascinated with working with physical objects like they do in Mechanical Engineering, so this became an obvious choice.
MM: Elaborate on your life at NIT Rourkela. Are there any anecdotes of some notable experiences, friends that you would like to share?
JK: Life at REC Rourkela was quite memorable. When we were in college, there were very few branches as compared to what you now have. We had Electrical, Mechanical, Chemical, Metallurgy, Mining and the Civil departments at that time. Each of these courses was well sought after. We had a lot of good facilities and well-equipped laboratories. We had things like the Open-Circuit test and Short- Circuit test which would strengthen our concepts.
In my batch, I would always perform the experiments. I remember, in our lab group, we had four people. My friend, Pabitra, would issue the lab equipment and then we would all run off to the canteen. Another friend would do all the connections and I would perform the test. Soma, the only girl in our batch, would make the report. We would all copy from her.
In our time, people were scared of “RENGCOLIANS”. We were always addressed as RENGCOLIANS and it was derived from the telegram code which was RENGCOL.
I think some things have changed a lot in the institute while others have remained the same. One of the notable difference is we were given degrees in B.Sc. Engg and not B.Tech. Also, in our time, the hostel allotments happened year wise. Speaking of hostels, the mess food was very good during our time. The mess was run by students and you could even place orders for what you want and get it made. We had a very decent mess.
MM: Were you a part of any extracurricular activities during your time here? How did participating in these activities help you later on in life?
JK: Aside from academics, I used to write poems and short stories during my time here. I also played Volleyball, Cricket and table tennis in the hostel. I was the compere for the college orchestra and I dabbled in mimicry as well. I think skills like writing have helped me through life as I’ve been able to express myself better. For this generation, I think it’s important for them to spend less time on social media. It is much better to do actual activities than virtual activities. Those four years were the most memorable years of our lives.
Our batch was also the pioneer of the Spring Festival. People from other colleges would visit but also people from our college would also showcase their talents. We had sitar players, violin players and more. While I didn’t play those instruments, I would make the sounds from my mouth.
MM: Being an Electrical Engineer, what career options were available to you at the time?
JK: Back then, there were many prospects in Electrical Engineering. I myself had taken up a job in Electrical Engineering and remained there. A lot of my batch mates though have moved on to different domains like IT, Banking, and Management even though they started out as Electrical Engineers. I first received a placement on campus with Electro Steel Castings and I joined the company. I worked for that company near Kolkata for four years. Initially, I wanted to go for a government job so I was only planning to use Electro Steel Castings as a launch pad. At the end, I liked the job so much that I stayed there for four years.
MM: How was your transition from an Electrical Engineer to a Manager in Marketing?
JK: Sometimes, things are easy; sometimes they are tough. Most of the times, while making a transition from one role to another, things certainly are difficult. However, the transition helped me learn and develop a lot. Certain skills are naturally there in a person and the other attributes are developed while working in the company through methods like training and job rotation. I joined the electrical standard products. First I worked as the trainer in Lucknow, then I moved on to sales, then I was into product marketing, segment marketing, and strategic marketing, next I became the head of customers’ support and now I am into monetization solutions; so like that, I worked in various departments. There are jobs that people don’t do conventionally, but those provide you faster growth rate because there is less crowd there. I take a job change in every three years or so. I take an assignment that lasts up to three years and when there’s nothing much left for me to contribute, I move on.
MM: You have 26+ years of experience in professional leadership and management. What are the essential skills that you would advise the future leaders and managers to possess?
JK: Every step in your career is a learning opportunity. Learn to take responsibilities; don’t run away from problems that come on the way because that is when you learn the most and that experience stays with you for a lifetime. And yes, along with learning, try to teach others also; spread the knowledge among others and grow! I also make it a point to stay with the young generation. When you stay with young people, you learn how to think; with the changing times, the way of thinking has also changed and staying in contact with the young people helps me brush up my knowledge and skills.
You must always lead the team; a manager must be a leader first. All good leaders are good managers, but all good managers may not be good leaders. Leadership means doing the right things; management means doing the things right.
Apart from that, you must always be accessible; if your juniors and colleagues cannot freely approach you for a discussion, then there will be a gap between the leader and the other team members. The mode of communication should be transparent and smooth so that everybody can contribute in an unhesitant fashion.
MM: How recently did you visit the Institute and how did you feel about the visit?
JK: I often come to Rourkela since my wife hails from around here. Whenever I used to come here, I used to visit the Institute as well. But after our family moved out of Rourkela, my visits reduced. Then I came after a long gap in 2010. However, my wife is always ready to come back to this place! (chuckles)
There has been a tremendous change in the face of the institute; it has grown exponentially. The student and faculty population was very less as compared to what it is today. There were fewer entertainment options available those days. They used to display movies in the BBA and in other theatres across Rourkela and I made sure I watched all the movies. On Sundays, I used to go to the Church. However, the entertainment and recreational activities are available in plenty now. Apart from that, the institute as a whole has completely changed, be it the infrastructure, labs, academics or research.
MM: What is your opinion about the current status of the alumni relationship? How do you think the present scenario of alumni interaction can be improved?
JK: The alumni interaction is really good. We constantly schedule alumni meet and we all are connected via Facebook and other social networking sites. We have been able to generate a lot of funds for NITRAA and other scholarships for the students of NIT Rourkela. But the scenario can definitely be improved. We are around 20,000 people spread all across the globe. If we all come together, then wonders can be done.
MM: What small piece of advice would you like to give to the present students here at NIT Rourkela?
The generation today is far more mature than what we were at your age. In this digital world, you people have lots of information and resources readily available to you. Make the best use of the information, but stay away from social media. These social networking sites kill your time. So, put sincere efforts as there are no shortcuts to anything. Work, strive, have the right attitude and success is sure! Don’t be afraid of failures. Think big, think innovative and be different!