Wednesday, August 8, 2007

R A Mashelkar--Catalyst for Change

Business India, June 28-July 11, 1999


Under his leadership, 40-odd laboratories of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research have not only undergone a culture change, but are showing what proactive management is all about. In the general atmosphere of despair, R.A. Mashelkar, FRS, has shown that one man can, even now, make a difference

Shivanand Kanavi

"Asking scientists to do industrial research is close to prostitution!" the director of a CSIR laboratory declared at a press conference 10 years ago.

last year CSIR labs earned Rs125 crore from industry.

In 1989 the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, a highly respected R&D centre worldwide, did not own a single US patent.

last year alone CSIR filed about 100 international patents. NCL was at the vanguard.

Tables, charts and computer graphics are eloquent about the money earned from industry, foreign clients contracted, interna­tional patents filed, and so on, by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The quantitative change becomes obvious at a glance. But they do not tell the story, the process. Neither do they indicate if, at some point, this quantitative change has led to a change in quality, a change in culture.

Talking about "managing change" is fashionable. A large number of books displayed prominently at airport bookstores for the benefit of travelling businessmen and executives give ready aphorisms on "change management", "managing chaos", and so on. However, they all read like fairy tales, possible only in enabling environments in distant developed economies. They make you feel good for some time, fill you with enthusi­asm to tryout the easily digestible, encapsulated pop wisdom. But in no time the ifs and buts butt in. And despair deepens as one re-enters real­ity before the flight of fancy ends. But, of course, one rationalises and conver­sations end with familiar justifica­tions: "In a country like India ... "

Under these conditions, the CSIR turnaround has generated consider­able optimism in India's science and technology circles, and increas­ingly among businessmen too. It is an excellent example of change manage­ment, in a 50-year-old institution, which could have fossilised and crum­bled in the post-1991 environment. Business India visited nine CSIR labora­tories in Lucknow, Jammu, Goa, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, and Dehradun, and talked extensively to businessmen and scientists to bring you this story.

Dr Raghunath A. Mashelkar, direc­tor-general of CSIR, speaks with great enthusiasm and optimism in public and in private that India will be one of the hubs of the future global knowl­edge economy. He showers the audi­ence with a host of catchy slogans. If you didn't know that the man was a distinguished scientist with a Fellow­ship of the Royal Society (an honour shared by only 35 Indian scientists and engineers in over three centuries), you could easily mistake him for a tacky copywriter. "At times it looks like he is overselling a bit, but look at his accomplishments in turning around CSIR," says Prof M.M. Sharma FRS, who was also his teacher at the University Department of Chemical Technology, Mumbai. "Change is always a product of proactive leader­ship and in India, where personalities matter so much, leadership is even more crucial," he adds. Naturally the story of change in CSIR is the story of Mashelkar's leadership.

"At a recent meet on R&D organised by an MNC he lifted up everybody's spirits, including that of international participants, with his vision," says Dr pradip, a well-known materials scien­tist from Tata Consultancy Services. "From anyone else it would have sounded like bombast, but Mashelkar has a good track record and there is absolute conviction in what he says. And that enables him to carry others with him."

Mashelkar understands the use of oft-repeated slogans and symbolism very well. He started his campaign to globalise Indian R&D and thereby elevate its quality and competitive­ness during his tenure as director of National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune. Though CSIR labs are not supposed to concentrate on pure science, a number of them have been producing a large number of high- quality scientific papers. For example, NCL alone used to produce over 250 papers (now close to 350), while the whole of Indonesia produces about 70. Mashelkar however knew that global knowledge markets do not pay much attention to research papers but they do if you have patents in critical areas.

"At times it looks like Mashelkar is overselling a bit, but his accom­plishments in turning around CSIR, are impressive" says Prof M.M. Sharma FRS, who was his teacher.

So he convinced his colleagues at NCL that, while the output of the labora­tory in terms of science was excellent, it had not staked its claim in technol­ogy markets with patents. In fact, NCL then did not have a single US patent.

Mashelkar advised his colleagues, many of them distinguished scientists on their own standing, to scan patent databases before they started a research project, to make sure that they weren't reinventing the wheel. He also asked them to scan their papers for any patentable (novel, non-­obvious, commercially exploitable) result and file a patent before sending it for publication. It was hard initially, because it is research publications that bring peer recognition in science and not patents. So he replaced the old adage in science "publish or perish" with a new slogan "patent, publish, and prosper". He tom-tommed it constantly and today it has caught on all over CSIR (see box). A new body NCL Research Foundation funded through donations gave away medallions to all US patent holders every year. A healthy competitive spirit developed, especially between the catalysis and polymer groups headed by two eminent scientists, Dr Paul Ratnasamy and Dr S. Sivram respectively. A few specialists were trained in writing patents. After all, patent-writing is an art where you give away the least amount of information while at the same time covering the flanks of your work so that others cannot easily bypass your patent. In the last five years CSIR has filed about 350 interna­tional patents and NCL is the leader in US patent applications from India.

Today Mashelkar is spearheading a campaign for patent literacy. "I compliment CSIR for creating an intel­lectual climate supportive of the early passage of the bill to amend the Patents Act," said Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, on 15 January 1999.

"While the team at the helm of CSIR has helped realise the goal, he as an individual has led them as one from within them. This approach makes all the difference,” comments Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Industries

That is a handsome compliment because only five years back there was deep opposition to amending the law both in Parliament and outside. A key factor that influenced this turnaround was CSIR'S victory in the turmeric case. At one stroke the turmeric case showed that the IPR system works if backed by proper documentation. That those advocating a change in patent laws are not necessarily "agents of multina­tionals". That urgent steps should be taken to spread patent literacy in scientific and business circles. That it is a two-way street and India's knowl­edge base, be it traditional or modern, requires protection too. At once Mashelkar became a swashbuckling national hero who" rescued haldi from Western biopirates".

Today the battle over patenting has been won. For example, two years back a brilliant young molecular biologist from the Centre for Cellular and Mole­cular Biology, Hyderabad, came to Mashelkar for advice. He had patented an innovation, published the paper, and a US biotech company had come to negotiate the commercial terms for exploiting his patent. Mashelkar was overjoyed because the same scientist in 1995 had argued passionately and boldly about keeping science away from commerce.

However, Mashelkar is not compla­cent. "Demands change as time moves on. Now, there will be a greater empha­sis on exploitation of patents, and income generated from them - and not merely on the number of patents." Even forward-looking entrepreneurs like Parvinder Singh and Anji Reddy hail him for his work in this regard.

"In fact one of his greatest contribu­tions to CSIR is to inculcate the culture of patenting. Many years before we filed patents from our research founda­tion, it was NCL which was at the fore­front of filing process patents licensing to big multinationals like Akzo. He was a kind of inspiration for me and always used to say that we should stand in the forefront in technology and file patents in developed countries. To that extent, I must admit that he has not only inspired scientists in CSIR to create wealth by harnessing intellectual prop­erty, but was also inspiration for all of us in the industry," says Reddy.

"To evaluate the contribution of Dr Mashelkar you have to look at the goals he had set for CSIR in 1996 to be achieved by the year 2001. I would say Mashelkar has set up very high stan­dards to achieve, but he is well on his way to meeting some of these," says Singh. "He has increased the awareness in the Indian scientific community towards patent-worthy innovations. He has also successfully defended our traditional intellectual wealth in the challenge to patents filed abroad," adds he.

Spreading its wings
Patents, however, are really a small part of a larger goal of turning India into a global R&D platform. But even that has required a change in the mindset. CSIR has had an open culture. So nothing passes through just because the director-general says so. In fact, individual directors have a lot of power and can act as satraps. It is extremely important for the top man to carry his 40 directors with him. What does globalising CSIR mean? Should publicly funded Indian R&D become an adjunct of multinational corporate R&D? While celebrating NCL'S golden jubilee earlier this year, several senior scientists who have retired from CSIR -like B.D. Tilak, L.K. Doreswamy, and A. V. Ramarao ­expressed the fear that NCL might become "a lab on rent" for MNCS

Maharashtrians are prone to add kar to a profession, a characteristic, or a place and derive a surname out of it. So, recently, Mashelkar has been nicknamed Patentkar, Polymerkar, and so on by his compatriots. However, these names are inadequate as they reflect only some facets . of a multifaceted personality. His enthusi­asm for India and its future is infectious. In fact, only his track record and utter convic­tion in it makes it genuine rather than c1iche­ridden hyperbole. "How can I not be an optimist? I am what I am because of India," he says to sceptics. The truth in those words only becomes clear when you look at his childhood and the struggle that he has gone through to reach the present heights.

Raghunath Anant Mashelkar was born on 1 January 1943 in Mashel a small village in south Goa. The lone child almost died of smallpox when he was a little over a year old. With no land and Mumbai beckoning with means of livelihood in the difficult postwar years, the family joined thousands of others from Konkan who migrated to the city. A couple of years later Mashelkar lost his father at the age of six. His barely literate mother, Anjanitai Mashelkar, brought up her son with great courage, grit, and hunger for education. She drove Mashelkar forward at decisive moments in his life, when he could have easily succumbed to the overwhelming odds and given up.

The family lived in a crowded one-room chawl, sharing it with other migrant fami­lies in Deshmukh Galli in Khetwadi near Girgaum. His maternal uncle got him admitted into West Khetwadi Upper Primary School, a Marathi-medium munic­ipal school, where he was a consistent topper. When it was time for him to enter senior school (Std VIII), the high schools nearby needed Rs21 as an entrance fee. His mother, who was trying to provide for the family by doing all kinds of odd jobs in nearby households, could not rustle up the amount. It looked like curtains for Mashelkar's acade­mic career. But she didn't give up and finally managed to borrow it from a friend, who was also working as a household help. Mashelkar often publicly recounts that struggle for Rs21 . But by then a month had passed and admis­sions to many schools had closed. He eventu­ally joined Union High School in Girgaum.

"Poverty is not an abstraction or a statis­tic for me," says Mashelkar. "I walked bare­foot till I was 12. I remember that when we had weekly tests in school on Saturdays, and we had to carry our own answer paper, which cost 3 paise. One had to always wonder where that money would come from the next week." For this reason he almost gave up his studies at Std XI. Just then the Gomanthak Maratha Samaj came to his assistance with a modest scholarship.

Unable to have either privacy or space in the chawl, he studied for his matriculation under the streetlights of Chowpatty. The dazzling grades he got at the Std XII exams despite all the odds, standing 11 th in the board, were the turning point in his academic life. Not because of the marks themselves - after all, he was always used to excelling at studies - but in terms of the number of people who suddenly came forward to help him pursue his education further. That is how he did not have a partic­ularly difficult time getting Rs200 for his college admis­sion. Meanwhile, the Sir Dorab Tata Trust selected him for their coveted scholarship and considerably reduced his hardship. He fondly remembers that the trust's personnel even helped him improve his English language skills, public speaking, and so on. When he received the JRD Tata Award for corporate leadership recently, Mashelkar publicly expressed his gratitude to the Tata Trust. "Dr Mashelkar's vast knowl­edge and standing is deceptively hidden by his great humility," says Ratan Tata.

After two years at Jaihind College, Mashelkar chose to enter the relatively new field of chemical engineering at Bombay University's Department of Chemical Tech­nology. When he finished his BChem with flying colours and wanted to take up a job to ease the financial situation at home, his mother asked him a simple question: "What is the next degree in this subject?" And thus Mashelkar started and finished one of the quickest PhDs in chemical engineering. He was offered fellowships at some universities in North America, but a young professor called Manmohan Sharma, who had just returned after a brilliant innings at Cambridge, persuaded him to stay. That was the beginning of a legendary guru-shishya relationship. Today in chemical engineering Sharma and Mashelkar's names are always taken in the same breath.
After his PhD his mother encouraged him to go abroad and excel in his chosen field and there followed an illustrious career at the University of Salford, UK, where he estab­lished a first-rate group in polymer engineer­ing and carried out pioneering work in the field. He also came out of his guru's shadows in mass transfer and charted a new path. A few years back he presented a new paradigm at his Dankwerts' Memorial Lecture at Cambridge, where he championed "border­less chemical engineering". In short, he pointed out that future breakthroughs are going to come through sharing of ideas and techniques between various disciplines. "Borderless", a pet word in his vocabulary, also summarises his personality very well.

In 1975 Y. Nayudamma, the then direc­tor-general of CSIR who had a brief from Mrs Gandhi to entice some of the best Indian brains working abroad, sold him the idea of coming back to India and joining the National Chemical Laboratory. And thus started an intense 23-year commitment to CSIR and another chapter in his career as a polymer scientist, R&D manager, and vision­ary leader. It eventually won him widespread international recognition, including the pres­tigious Fellowship of the Royal Society. Unfortunately, health reasons kept that gritty woman, Anjanitai Mashelkar, away from the elaborate induction ceremony in London where Mashelkar signed the register of the Royal Society, which still carries the much­revered (and hence laminated) page 9 that carries the signature of Isaac Newton.

The whole debate would not have taken place 10 years ago. After all, NCL'S external earnings in hard currency were negligible then. Today it earns about $4 million annually, which constitutes 80 per cent of its industrial earnings. It has successfully networked with a number of global corporations. Several other labs are following NCL'S example and globalis­ing their clientele (see table). "Though one has to carefully allocate resources between contract research and origi­nal work, criticism that NCL is selling R&D cheaply to MNCS at the Indian taxpayers' expense is unjustified. NCL has no more than 10 foreign clients; its Indian clients number over 100! It is a different issue that Indian industry, which is still busy reverse-engineer­ing, may not be able to absorb some of the sophisticated work done in NCL in polymers and catalysis. But that's not its fault. Moreover, NCL has never sold R&D by 'man-hours' - only by 'brain hours', counters Mashelkar.

"When a GE team came to NCL to negotiate some pilot projects in 1992-93 they had come via Russia. When they saw the sum quoted by NCL for contract research they said that they could buy a whole R&D lab in Russia for that kind of money. I said, 'Go ahead and buy a Russian lab but come back to NCL if you want world­ class quality.' GE was finally convinced and, since then, has not looked back. In fact, NCL charges foreign clients at least five times what it does Indian clients. So I do believe that, without outpricing ourselves, we are getting outstanding results," he adds.

Cutting-edge work for foreign clients has many intangible benefits. It raises the quality of research of the whole lab. For example, GE ran its pres­tigious Six Sigma training course for NCL. Several scientists got training that they would otherwise never have got. Even contract research for foreign clients requires the use of cutting-edge biology and chemistry - no 'me too' products and processes. Time, quality, price, and delivery are all internation­ally benchmarked. CSlR is creating a cadre of top-class professionals who will serve Indian industry with highest level of skills. Ashok Ganguli, former R&D director of Unilever plc and current chairman of ICI India, completely supports Mashelkar's plan to globalise Indian R&D.

"I would say Dr Mashelkar has set up very high standards to achieve, but he is well on his way to meeting some of these," says Dr Parvindar Singh, Ranbaxy Laboratories

Spreading its wings worldwide has not been easy. Mashelkar has taken extra pains to achieve this. When he took over as the youngest director of NCL 10 years ago, he said in his inau­gural speech to the staff that his ambi­tion was to convert it into the "International Chemical Laboratory". As usual, he started turning the catchy slogan into a reality by hard-selling NCL to a number of multinationals. He has since used everything at his command to market CSlR globally, including his own impeccable scien­tific credentials. For example, in 1992, he visited GE'S corporate R&D at Schenectady in upstate New York to deliver a scientific talk on polymer engineering. He had, however, asked his contacts at GE to gather some busi­ness development people as well. The seminar soon became a presentation of NCL'S capabilities, including a pitch on a US patent obtained by NCL in "solid state poly-condensation" - a topic of interest to GE, which is the world leader in polycarbonates.

The one-hour seminar stretched to two. It then led to an extended lunch, where more executives joined. The lunch was followed by meetings with senior vps in the afternoon. And in the evening he had to change his flight plans for more serious talks. One of the vp’s exclaimed, "You speak our (corpo­rate) language. Nobody in publicly funded labs in the US seems to do so." Today GE'S corporate R&D considers its relationship with NCL as its most successful external relationship. It is a partnership in joint technology devel­opment and not "a lab on rent.”

The time is ripe to strike more such partnerships. Globally R&D and innovation have become a high-risk game for all high-technology corpora­tions. R&D is becoming very expensive and is yielding diminishing returns when carried out under a single roof. On the other hand, without innova­tion and new technology, one can lose one's business position very quickly. This dilemma has led to networking, outsourcing, strategic alliances, and partnerships in R&D. None of the Indian labs is in a position to develop a full-scale globally competitive tech­nology by itself and then license it worldwide. Partnerships, where they assume a junior position initially, can help them catch up with the rest of the world. So it is indeed a win-­win situation. After GE several other MNCS like DuPont and Smith Kline Beecham have come to various CSIR for R&D tie-ups.

Soon after he was appointed director-­general in 1995, Mashelkar said in an interview, "I would like to be known as the first CEO of CSIR mc." In effect, he was voicing his intense desire to turn the network of 40 disparate laborato­ries spread all over the country into a highly focused, goal-oriented, well ­networked organisation doing "research as business" and in the most businesslike manner. Within a short period of four years he has achieved his goal to a great extent.

"He always used to say that we should stand in the forefront of technology and file patents in developed countries. I must admit that he has not only inspired scientists in CSIR to create wealth by harnessing intellectual prop­erty, but also all of us in the indus­try," says Dr Anji Reddy

The sweeping economic changes in the 1990s have hit publicly funded R&D institutions globally. Budget cuts, scrambling for funds from industry, corporatisation, privatisation, and even closure have been the night­mares of any R&D manager in the world. Organisations in the UK, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia which are similar in structure to CSIR have had a tumultuous decade. Even corporate R&D is in great turmoil worldwide. In India in the last few years, Hoechst (Hoechst Marion Rous­sel), Hindustan Lever, and Ciba-Geigy (Novartis) have either closed down their R&D labs or sold them. In this context one could safely say that CSIR is introducing cultural changes, which are pioneering not only in India but also globally.

The new businesslike approach is palpable. For example, annual reports of government institutions are not particularly known either for readabil­ity or transparency. The bulk of one report is repeated the next year, thereby making it opaque for anyone to figure out what actually was done in the current year that was different from last year. The annual report of the Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun, reads differently. The achievements of the last year are unambiguously stated with clear graphics. "We believe in 'delta reports' (delta is the mathematical symbol for incremental change)", says T.S.R. Prasad Rao who was the director of the lab till recently.

In another instance it was common in the 1970s and 1980s for many a science chieftain to announce a "breakthrough" for every two-bit import substitution done. If all the claims made by our government-run R&D laboratories about breakthroughs in technology were true, then India by now would have been an economic and technological superpower. Today Paul Ratnasamy, director of NCL and an internationally recognised author­ity on catalysis, is tight-lipped about the work done by his scientists even after they have got US patents.

Incidentally, this approach has not led to a decrease in science at CSIR. In fact, the quality has gone up. Accord­ing to an internal study, even though the number of scientific papers published between 1995 and 1998 remained more or less the same (1,500-1,600 every year), the citation index, which shows how many others are quoting ones paper internation­ally, has gone up by 60 per cent in the same period.

"Dr Mashelkar has brought about a new direction to the management of scientific institutions in India by making their research user oriented with economic benefits. This is path-­breaking. While the team at the helm of CSIR has helped realise the goal, he as an individual has led them as one from within them. This approach makes all the difference," comments Mukesh Ambani.

Molecular hunt
CSIR is quietly starting an ambitious drug discovery programme that capi­talises on the rich biodiversity and millen­nia-old traditional systems of medicine, using the most modern equipment and methods that are leagues ahead of what Indian industry is currently equipped with. Today CSIR has a large number of laborato­ries specialising in chemistry and biology. Moreover, out of the 13 new drugs discov­ered in the last 50 years in India, 10 have resulted from the efforts of CSIR labs, thereby generating a certain level of confi­dence. The bane of CSIR labs however, has been lack of networking and synergising among themselves. In the past many a director has treated his lab as a fiefdom in itself and there have been cases of serious internecine rivalry leading to fragmenta­tion of skills and replication of facilities.

Now 20 CSIR labs spread allover India are being networked for new drug discov­ery. Others outside the CSIR fold have also been co-opted. One example is Arya Vaidya Shala at Kottakkal, Kerala, which is well known for its expertise in Ayurveda. Simi­larly other traditional systems of herbal medicine like Siddha and Rasayana are also being explored. The rich biodiversity of India in terms of plants, fungi, bacteria, marine organisms, and insects are being systemati­cally scoured for novel molecules that might

If CSIR'S New Drug Discovery programme succeeds, it will be an example of success on a shoestring budget. After all, a leading phar­maceutical company like Glaxo-Wellcome spends more than 10 times CSIR'S entire budget for forty odd laboratories!

Sticking the neck out

Within months of becoming director-­general of CSIR in mid-199S, Mashelkar took an extraordinary step. He put down in black and white what he aimed to achieve by 2001 (see table), thereby making CSIR vulnerable to criticism if the goals were not met. In bureaucratic Delhi, where the watch­word is 'cover-your-back', this new secretary to the Government of India broke all rules and actually stuck his neck out! But he was not a general full of bluster without an army. In fact he set out to visit all the 40 labs within three months of taking over, a task not carried out by any recent DG in his entire term! Individual labs soon followed with their own concrete 2001 strategy statements.

CSIR knows that, in the current conditions, it has to fight for every rupee and dollar and see to it that its old clients keep coming back while new ones are added. That's why, in another pioneering move, it is conducting a meticulous customer satisfaction survey among its indus­trial clients to review its own weak­nesses. In an effort to improve systems, more than 10 labs have already received ISO 9000 certification.

It is clear that, while CSIR has defi­nitely moved forward on patenting, it is definitely lagging far behind in its targets for 2001 (see table). So, is Mashelkar ready to reset some of his targets? "The context decides the content. 'CSIR 2001' was visualised in the context of rapid anticipated indus­trial growth. That has not happened. In fact, industry has had a bad reces­sion in the last two years. This has affected us. Although the percentage of income from industry has risen to the desired figure, absolute figures have not been reached," he says.

"The foreign earnings are rising and have come close to $4 million, but any further rise will take time. For example, if the right manpower were available within CSIR, we would earn our targeted $40 million by 2001 from GE itself. So we are paying a lot of attention to recruiting bright young people. Moreover, once the drug research programme takes off, there will be considerable earnings at each milestone reached during drug development.

"Infrastructure projects and espe­cially a large number of bridges are going to be built in the country. CSIR labs like the Central Road Research Institute, the Central Building Research Institute, and SERC can form a consortium and offer design and other consul­tancy,” says Dr Vijay Gupchup.

"However, overemphasis on balancing the laboratory budget has to give way to balancing the national budget. For example, when CSIR brought 270 tanneries back into action in Tamil Nadu through green technologies, it saved an industry with a turnover of Rs2,000-crore-plus, but the direct benefit to CSIR in monetary terms was not even Rs5 crore. So far CSIR has been technology-centred. However, now we are launching a Leather Vision 2010 and driving the industry towards that. Similarly, CSIR will become the nucleus of future civil­ian aircraft industry. We have made a modest beginning with a Hansa licensed to Taneja Aerospace, and we are now taking up the 14-seater multi­purpose aircraft Saras. In less than a year from now, the first prototype will roll out. We are putting in our own money with HAL and Pratt & Whitney as partners. The same can be said about CSIR launching the IPR movement, protection of India's traditional knowl­edge base movement, and so on."

The road to the future

"Do you need all the 40 labs or should some non-performing ones be closed down?" That's a question Mashelkar is often asked. "I do not have 'non­performing assets' in the normal sense of the word. My assets are not plant and machinery. We might have a few non-performing brains. Though we need to be slim and trim, I do not think the answer is closing down labs. What we need to do first is provide leader­ship to the underperforming labs."

He illustrates his assertion with the example of the Central Mining Research Institute, in the badlands of Bihar, right in the midst of the Dhan­bad mafia. Five years ago it was at the bottom in all respects and could have easily been written off. A new director Dr B.B. Dhar came along and turned it around in five years. Today it is in the top 10 in terms of earnings from industry and recently won the CSIR technology award, beating better equipped engineering labs.

At a systemic level Mashelkar's emphasis is on networking, echoing Sun Micro Systems' by now famous declaration "the network is the computer, not individual servers and other components". Projects and new initiatives are being taken up which involve many labs. The New Drug Discovery Initiative is one such involving about 20 labs (see box: mole­cular hunt). Over 500 scientists are involved in searching for new molecules which can become drugs and agrochemicals. "Similarly, the National Metallurgical Laboratory, the National Aerospace Laboratory, the Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute, and the Structural Engineering Research Centre (Chen­nai) put together have more expertise than any foreign consultant in the matter of residual life assessment of power plants," says Mashelkar.

"Infrastructure projects and espe­cially a large number of bridges are going to be built in the country. CSIR labs like the Central Road Research Institute, the Central Build­ing Research Institute, and SERC can fmm a consortium and offer design and other consultancy," says Dr Vijay Gupchup, a structural engineer and former Pro Vice Chancellor of Bombay University.

Die-hard optimist

He and his team are showing that science administration is not a cushy position for a retiring scientist; that it needs hardcore management skills. For the first time, after five decades of independent India R&D management has made its appearance as an organi­sational culture. It involves harmonis­ing short-term and long-term goals, and encouraging innovation and creativity, while insisting on deliver­ability and targets, handling tempera­mental scientists on the one hand and hard-nosed businessmen, bankers, and bureaucrats on the other. Natu­rally it surprised nobody when vice­ president Krishan Kant presented the JRD Tata Award for Corporate Leader­ship to Mashelkar in February 1999, even though earlier recipients had been businessmen and bankers: Aditya Birla, Deepak Parekh, and Narayana Murthy. It was a recognition of the fact that CSIR mc had arrived, along with its first CEO.

No wonder the Indian scientific community has chosen him to preside over the first Indian Science Congress of the new millennium, on 3 January 2000. There is no doubt that it will be different, because Mashelkar has left his indelible mark of optimism and businesslike approach on whatever he has taken up.

"I believe in the lilies-in-the-pond story. That is, we should look at the rate of change to see the future. Let us say that lilies double every day and there is one lily in a pond and it takes 30 days to fill the pond. Then on the 29th day the pond will be half full, on the 28th one-fourth full, on the 27th one-eighth full, on the 26th only one ­sixteenth full, and so on. But if you see the rate of growth then you will see that soon it will be full," he replies to his critics.

Managing change requires clear goals, lucid argumentation, empathy, doggedness, faith in your team, opti­mism, and the ability to enthuse others with your dreams and convert them into collective dreams. Mashelkar is doing just that. The boy who had stars in his eyes on the sands of Chowpatty is today filling others with his dream of an India that will be a significant player in global knowledge economics. In the prevailing gloom and cynicism he personifies hope.


Anonymous said...

how is the situation now in csir,drdo,have they changed or they want to go back to the ages before 1991.

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