Business India, February 8-21, 1999
ISRO has launched the career of many a senior executive in the global satellite industry
If one were to organise an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) alumni reunion, it could easily be mistaken for a conference of the global satellite industry. There would be high-level executives from Inmarsat, PanAmSat, World Space, Agrani, ICO Global, Lockheed Martin, Matra Marconi, and Loral, in essence, every player that counts in the bird business (see table).
"We are proud that a single Indian organisation has contributed so much talent to the global satellite industry. It is an acknowledgement of ISRO'S talent pool and capabilities," says Dr Kasturirangan, chairman, ISRO. He maintains that the talent flight has not affected the organisation. "While we do regret losing such highly trained and capable people, we cannot stop this. We have enough depth to replace such people; hence overall the space programme does not suffer."
ISRO alumni in the global satellite industry
Inmarsat: D V Ramana
ICO-Global: P Ramachandran, Y N Bhushan
Agrani: Jai P Singh, K Narayanan
World Space: M G Chandrasekhar, D Venugopal
Matra Marconi: Mrinal Saha
MTSat: K P M Bhat
Loral: P Damodaran, Devendra Verma
Intelsat: S Manoharan,
Discovery: Kiran Karnik
Every year ISRO loses about 150 people, mainly to the software industry. Besides new recruits, people who have been with ISRO for 10 years and who have taken on independent responsibilities also start looking for opportunities outside.
"We continue to recruit from regional engineering colleges and other good colleges. It depends on the projects on hand, but about 300-350 scientists and engineers are recruited every year," says Kasturirangan. ISRO is increasingly targeting MTechs rather than BTechs as many private sector companies are doing, and encourages them to do an in-house PhD as well in a specialised field.
Nonetheless, thanks to the Fifth Pay Commission, ISRO'S packages at the entry level are now as good as in the private sector, except probably for software. A new recruit gets above Rs.15,000 on a monthly cost-to-company basis, though at the senior level people do not find it very attractive monetarily. For example, the chairman himself gets a pay package of around Rs30,000 and a few perks like housing and car.
Jai Singh, CEO of Agrani Satellite Communications and an ISRO alumnus, concurs that the organisation has very good depth in its management ranks. Singh left ISRO in 1988 after a 15-year stint. Says he: "The work, albeit hi-tech, was getting a bit routine. I had no other problems at ISRO. It was for personal reasons- I wanted my family to get an international environment and so on -that I took on the Inmarsat assignment."
K. Narayanan, who was Insat programme director and director of satellite communications at the Department of Space and is now executive vice-president at Agrani, suggests: "ISRO people should be allowed to work in Indian industry for a couple of years and join back. That will help both sides. The hi-tech developed within ISRO will get transferred to industry and they will bring back industry practices in cost-cutting, customer service, and so on."
Kasturirangan is all for lateral movement of professionals into ISRO. "Already an MS or PhD from a decent university abroad with some experience is taken in directly. They can send in their CVs any time. Professionals working in India are also taken in through advertisements."
Some engineers feel ISRO restricts their career mobility. Being a government organisation, it discourages
employees with over 10 years of service from taking voluntary retirement and joining the private sector, by stipulating a two-year 'cooling off' period. Such a rule makes sense in cases where, for example, a bureaucrat might award a government contract to a private sector company and then leave to join the same company as a quid pro quo. But engineers today would turn down any company that restricts their mobility.
ISRO is an organisation with over 18,000 personnel and has been successful in a hi-tech area on a shoestring budget. Naturally it has become a favourite for headhunters. It should be given a free hand by the government to formulate a liberal HRD policy which takes cognisance of market realities. However, ISRO would benefit by networking the wider ISRO parivar. Almost all of them hold fond memories, and would help ISRO gain an entry into the $60-billion global space industry.