After my masters, I briefly joined Tube Investments as a trainee before moving to Godrej and Boyce in 1990, my first job in Bombay. With one suitcase, Rs.1,500 and a haversack, I got off the train at Kalyan at 4 am. There was not much of a crowd but I had to figure out how to get to Vikhroli. But the first thing I was asked was whether I want to go east or west, I felt that was a rather odd question, since you are otherwise asked your destination. When I went native, I realised that had been in reference to the rail lines, the arteries that connect the north and south of the city.
By sheer luck, here I was managing one of the largest refrigerators plants in India. We had a great team that constantly looked for ways to increase productivity. But how do you convince the workers to build even more refrigerators?
I stumbled upon a fantastic, natural advantage. My knowledge of Hindi was poor and that of Marathi non-existent. So half the time, I really listened to the union guys without saying anything. Even when I had something to say, I just couldn’t translate fast enough. So the union leaders thought either he does not know anything or he knows everything and he’s playing the waiting game. But with some of them, I built a one-to-one rapport, and therefore during negotiations they began to trust what I said.
This bonding paid off when one morning the shop floor went all misty. Everyone’s eyes were itching and tearing up. We could not figure out what it was, so the plant was shut down. But we had to quickly figure out where the problem was and get the plant up and running. That is when the relationship helped. I called up these union leaders and said, “I want you on the shop floor now. Let’s together identify the cause”. The usual labour stance would be to take time off, not work for a couple of days and demand an inquiry. But, this time, everyone stepped up. We later figured the R&D lab was experimenting using a different set of specialised gases for refrigeration and some of the gas had leaked into a part of the plant. Tremendous quick thinking and a motivated workforce saved the day.