An interview with former CSIR Director-General Raghunath Anant Mashelkar

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 12 July 2011

Citation

Prabhakar, G.P. (2011), "An interview with former CSIR Director-General Raghunath Anant Mashelkar", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 24 No. 5. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijpsm.2011.04224eaa.001

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


An interview with former CSIR Director-General Raghunath Anant Mashelkar

Article Type: Leadership, vision, and corporatization From: International Journal of Public Sector Management, Volume 24, Issue 5

For 11 years, Dr Mashelkar served as the Director-General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which is a premier industrial R&D organization in India. He has been bestowed with Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awards by the government of India for his distinguished contribution to science and technology. He enunciated “CSIR 2001: Vision & Strategy” which was a bold step to draw out a corporate like R&D and business plan for a publicly funded R&D institution. This initiative has transformed CSIR into a user focused, performance driven and an accountable organization. He has also contributed in generating awareness about intellectual property rights among Indian thinkers, scientists and research establishments resulting in safeguarding traditional Indian knowledge. He was instrumental in successfully revoking US patents on basmati rice and use of turmeric for its healing powers.

In this interview, Mashelkar addresses the philosophy of management, corporatization of R&D, leadership and vision for India as a land of not only ideas but as a land of opportunities. As a self-proclaimed “CEO of CSIR Inc.” he speaks about leading a government funded organization and transforming it into a customer-focused, commercial and financially independent institution.

Introduction

Dr R.A. Mashelkar, was appointed as the Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of India in 1995. He retired as Director-General in 2006 but continues his research at National Chemical Laboratory, a part of CSIR. He is the President of Global Research Alliance, a body of association of the publicly funded research institutions of India, South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Finland, The Netherlands, Denmark, the USA and Germany. He also served as the President of the British Institute of Chemical Engineers. He graduated as a Chemical Engineer from the prestigious University Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT), University of Bombay. In 1966 he decided to do PhD in India and after finishing PhD, he took up Leverhume Research Fellowship in the University of Salford in England, and then became a Lecturer in Chemical Engineering. There he established a school on Non-Newtonian Fluid mechanics, which did not exist before. Then in 1975-1976, he was in the USA as a visiting professor at University of Delaware.

Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India initiated an effort to look for outstanding young Indians settled abroad who could be brought back to India because she was tired of seeing young people coming to India and getting frustrated and going back abroad. Dr Mashelkar was one of the few that were picked up by Dr Y. Nayudamma, ex- Director General of CSIR. He was offered a job at National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), which is a premier chemical research laboratory in the city of Pune. Dr Mashelkar accepted the offer. In fact, it was an intuitive decision. He was given the dream and vision of the future India and what role this laboratory could play and what role young people like him could play if they could come back and that was good enough for him. He did not ask what salary he was going to be offered. In 1976 he came back to India and as a young man of 33, he started his career. First, in the chemical engineering department, where his responsibility was to build a Polymer Science Engineering Group, NCL had a division of polymer chemistry, but not polymer engineering, which was required in order to take polymer products to the market place. He remembers building a very competent group for the next few years. Today, of course, that polymer science and engineering division is known for its world class work, its break throughs and rated as among the best in India. Later he was to become the Head of the Chemical Engineering Department and Director of the National Chemical Laboratory in 1989, which position he held for six years. In July 1995, he was chosen as the Director General of CSIR.

The interviewInterviewer

When you took over your present position, what was the plan and vision, which you articulated? We have heard so much about it but I would love to hear it from you.

Mashelkar

Well, I would think that most complex things in life could be described simply. My very first interview, when I was selected as the Director General of CSIR was carried out by the Economic Times (ET). This was a couple of weeks before I came to Delhi. ET asked me what my vision for CSIR was and I said, CSIR Incorporated (Inc.). They again asked me as to what is your vision for your self and I said, CEO of CSIR Inc. I believe these two things summed up everything, CSIR Inc. implies that the organization which is scattered into 40 laboratories i.e. an organization where 40 laboratories behave like 40 individual laboratories without a common goal or a vision should be converted into something, which heavily networks itself and works as one team and therefore, CSIR Inc. The concept of CSIR Inc. also incorporates certain amount of private sector orientation. We should be doing research as a business and doing it in a business like manner. Research as a business is a product and doing this in a business like manner, is a process. I suppose CSIR Inc. also defines that.

Interviewer

Don’t you think it was this big philosophical mindset change which India had in terms of research in a pure invention oriented approach and to the kind in which you were trying to fashion it:

Mashelkar

You are right there, our value system, particularly among scientists was such that wherever was useful was considered inferior to the esoteric work that involved basic research. Whoever was doing useful research was considered inferior to those doing blue sky research. In fact, one of the tragedies of our country is that the great connection between Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge) and Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) is not understood. The second is that CSIR believed very strongly in the name that was given to it, namely Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. That “and” was taken very seriously and scientific research and industrial research were done in isolation with each other. Scientific research was done, which had no connection whatsoever with the industry. Industrial research was done which had no cutting edge science basis, indeed reverse engineering, a glorious name for copying was the Mantra in the good old times. So I said we need to drop the “and” – call it Council of Scientific Industrial Research!

Interviewer

How did you go about operationalizing scientific industrial research? Was it a kind of phase wise implementation or it was this comprehensive vision, which had to come one fold, all in one go?

Mashelkar

The process started at National Chemical Laboratory itself in 1989. Let me emphasise that this process started two years before India liberalized and opened up in 1991. I remember saying that National Chemical Laboratory must become International Chemical Laboratory exporting our knowledge to Europe and the US. They couldn’t believe that something like that could be done. I said, when we generate ideas in research, we are talking about flights of imagination. There is no limit to the heights to which you can go and the distance to which you can land, excepting the limits that you put to yourself. So, I said free ourselves and create pathbreaking ideas ahead of the rest of the world.

Number two, we were copying in an era of import substitution. Further, we said “context decides the content”. The national context in the pre-liberalised India was that of complete protection and therefore, the content was that of products, which were born in a protected regime. But I said, suppose, if you change the local context. National Chemical Laboratory should become International Chemical Laboratory. That means we should start research that will help us export our knowledge. The moment you focus on exporting knowledge in the entire approach changes. That is where it began. After liberalization in 1991 the budgets were reduced. I still remember in 1991, I had to negotiate with the Chairman of the Maharashtra State Electricity Board so that we could pay the bill in installments. Now, when you are going through this adversity, your orientation also starts changing. You realize that the government funds are going to be scarce and therefore, you have to generate an income of your own to survive and succeed.

Interviewer

So you realized that the government funding were not the sovereign Ganges that it will keep coming?

Mashelkar

Today National Chemical Laboratory’s income is more than the budget that the CSIR headquarter gives them. Real break for me came in 1993, because of the way CSIR was moving, it was decided that CSIR needs to get closer to the industry, get well networked, deliver results and create income for itself and so on. A marketing committee was set up. I was asked to be the Chairman. So, I came out with the blueprint that was called the CSIR Marketing Committee Report, which designed a completely new strategy as far as CSIR was concerned. It created incentives for scientists to do research that could be applied in the field, and that could benefit industry, society and so on. It said that if science creates technology, technology creates wealth, then a part of that wealth must be shared by those, who generate it.

Second, the report said that the institutions which generate wealth and create a surplus, there should be incentives for them too. The surplus should remain with the institution. It should get carried over from year to year. We allowed our people to go out and set up their businesses, the so-called “Scientist Entrepreneur Scheme”. We said the laboratory should be able to take an equity in lieu of cash. So, a lot of paradigm shifting ideas were proposed. By the time the report was submitted, it was early 1995 and by mid 1995, I had to come to CSIR and implement my own report. So, I think it is rather rare that the Chairman of a particular committee is asked to implement his own report!

Interviewer

But how difficult was it to actually to implement the Report, with so many of these revolutionary ideas, within the government context:

Mashelkar

It was not easy. The first difficulty was with the mindset and that mindset had been built over a period of 50 years. It was not very easy to change that, but I believe in the 80:20 rule. 80 per cent of your income comes from 20 per cent of work. So, I decided to focus on those 20 per cent who will generate that 80 per cent of the income.

To convince the government that we will run faster and faster if you give us more and more freedom especially convincing the finance ministry was not easy. I will give an example. When CSIR laboratories generated some income, that income used to come to CSIR’s Delhi headquarter. There was, therefore no incentive for people to generate income. One of the things that we convinced the government was that why don’t we take up that surplus and allow the laboratories to keep it and carry forward from year to year. A simple act like that for the Finance Ministry would have been unacceptable, because they would lose a source of income. But we were able to convince them. The simple reason given to them was like this. Surplus was defined as price minus cost. Therefore, for the first time, costing systems were worked out in a government system for research. So the efficiency of doing research increased.

The second was the price. Price became important and people started realizing that if you really want to get higher and higher price for your research offerings then you must push in more innovation, more value, in the offering – you must build a superior intellectual property. Because surplus was price minus cost, to increase the surplus meant increasing the price and reducing the cost. The first brought in improvement in quality of offerings – the second brought in efficiency. So the differential started increasing.

Further, we said that if there was a surplus the Laboratory directors could use it in the way they wanted. The directors and scientists enjoyed that particular freedom. Today, we have significant reserves with CSIR. If the government says today that there is no salary for the next three months then I think CSIR is the only organization in the government, which will survive.

Interviewer

Was there a particular blueprint you were inspired by in terms of creating this research organization?

Mashelkar

Well, maybe there was some silent inspiration from different sorts of experiences that I had. One thing that I realized was that when you have 40 laboratories, they are like 40 magnetic needles, so as to say, and they lie in different orientations. My aim was aligning them. How do you get a common vector? Therefore, we decided to create a common vision and a strategy to reach that vision. What we did therefore was to have a dialogue across CSIR and create what is called as the “CSIR 2001: Vision and Strategy”. That white paper created the required magic. It said CSIR is here and CSIR wants to be there. What is the roadmap to reaching there? When you reach there what is that you would have liked to have achieved in different measurable terms because bulk of the time when you create such documents, they are beautiful in English, but they don’t translate into business.

For example, we made life very hard for ourselves by saying that our external income is “x” this year. By the year “y” it will be “10x”. The number of patents that we were going to have, the number of internationally competitive technologies that we were going to have, were defined in quantitative terms.

I believe that this was the first document, which stated the goals in quantitative terms. I had very interesting reactions from people, the conservative ones told me that this was an excellent fodder for audit because you all locked yourself up in numbers.

Mr Ratan Tata saw it and he said, this looks exactly like a corporate house document, in both the language as well as intent. The moment we came out with the CSIR vision document, our individual laboratories created their own vision documents, viz., CFIR created CFIR vision, CMRI declares CMRI vision and so on. But what was interesting was that all of them aligned themselves with the CSIR vision.

Interviewer

So they came out with their own domestic plans.

Mashelkar

In a sense they started saying that in order to reach there what is it that I can contribute to make CSIRs vision happen or in other words those disoriented magnetic needles started orienting themselves towards a common vector. I believe that was one of the most important initiative we took at that time.

Interviewer

Was the model inspired in any way by any other developing countries, the way Japan did it, the way South Korea attempted to do at that time and eventually did it?

Mashelkar

I would say that India is unique, very frankly. We can pick up some good elements from different countries and learn from them but the kind of chain and capacity under one roof that CSIR has, I have not seen it anywhere in the world. We had 40 laboratories and at the time when I took over there were something like 25,000 employees, there are now 21,000. We had 40 laboratories, now they have become 38. We have become slim and trim, but still such large publicly funded industrial R & D, does not exist anywhere in the world.

Interviewer

Including the United States of America?

Mashelkar

Yes, including the United States. There is no industrial R & D being done in a chain of publicly funded R&D institutions. You may have laboratories in space and in defense and atomic energy, and health and so on and so forth, but for industrial R & D, ours is a unique chain. Therefore, the prescription that we needed really had to be different.

When you look at developed countries, for example Japan, the bulk of the research and development does get done in industry, in companies. Over here in India bulk of it gets done in public sector institutions. So, we had to have a completely different model. Particularly, at a point in time when Indian industry itself was undergoing a transition.

Interviewer

Which was post-1991? How much of a pressure do you think that is needed for an Indian industry to actually adjust to that?

Mashelkar

Some perhaps felt that it can be wished away and still things will be all right. These industries don’t exist today. They are gone. There were others who said, let me start recalculating everything on the basis of dramatically dropping import duties and then ask myself, am I going to be competitive in the new India that is emerging? They started internal restructuring. They started moving higher up on the ladder of the value chain. I remember we got a lot of consulting business to help analyse the new scenario setting and help design new strategies particularly in chemical industry, when I was at National Chemical Laboratory.

Those industries, which saw the writing on the wall moved over to innovation. Look at the drugs and pharmaceuticals industry because right there, they saw the writing on the wall. They realized that the product patents were coming. They would not have the license to copy anymore. So move over to creating new molecules. If you look at pharmaceuticals industry of India, especially, if you look at companies like Reddy labs, have moved higher up on the innovation path. I would say auto industry also moved in that path. I am afraid not many other sub-sectors did that.

Interviewer

How much more could you kind of trigger them off? What could you do as an organization?

Mashelkar

Well, I remember both as an individual as well as a laboratory, we used to sell our products by talking to them in terms of what is it that we can do to add further value to them. We had a range of programs including “know your products”.

Interviewer

I mean, are they with us?

Mashelkar

Yes, they are with us, for example, we showed to people how they can get “more from less” by using new knowledge. From the same reactor, how do you get more out put? From the same processing machine, how do you get more?

The second was the quality competition. To achieve that level of higher quality, you must “know” your product at a molecular level, at a structural level, and then link it to property, which defines the quality that the user is looking for. Some of our laboratories were so aggressive that they actually led the industry.

Take for example, leather industry. As you know India has a significant share of leather exports. A laboratory like Central Leather Research Institute did something remarkable. It saved the leather industry when they were going through turmoil. That turmoil was when 400 tanneries out of 1,100 were closed down by a high court order, since they were creating unacceptable pollution levels. This closure would have meant that one third of our exports would have vanished. But equally importantly, 250,000 jobs in primary, secondary and tertiary sectors would have evaporated. Central Leather Research Institute and our National Environmental Engineering Research Institute worked together to introduce in “green” technologies to get those jobs back within one and a half years after their closure.

Interviewer

So, was it kind of anticipated?

Mashelkar

Yes. Not only that but taking lessons from that, they also created an example. Can you imagine a publicly funded institution driving that change and working shoulder to shoulder with the industry? In fact it was Central Leather Research Institute, that wrote a futuristic vision document for the Indian leather industry.

Interviewer

That was within the national context. What about the international context? I mean you talked of becoming a platform to the world. How these global companies started coming to CSIR?

Mashelkar

After I had announced in 1989 that National Chemical Laboratory will become International Chemical Laboratory, new messages started. At National Chemical Laboratory, we said that we will become a knowledge based consultancy organization, get into global competition, and test those waters. I still remember there was a World Bank project in China for institutional transformation. There were open bids from around the world to win the contract. We had no prior experience at all in such a global competition. But we decided to take a plunge and bid that we did. We competed against three companies Arthur D. Little, Chem Systems and International Development Planners form USA. And we won the contract. That was a great first and a great feeling!

Interviewer

Was that again in chemical industry?

Mashelkar

Yes, it was in chemical industry. And by the way was surprisingly the first consultancy contract that India had ever won in China. And I am proud it came from a publicly funded laboratory like National Chemical Laboratory. Then, of course our client base started increasing; DuPont, General Electric, FMC, Ciba Geigy, and a whole range of companies started working with us. That was the difference. As the message spread, others came like Amoco came to the Indian Institute of Petroleum, or Boeing came to National Space Laboratory and SmithKline Beecham came to Indian Institute of Chemical Technology. So, our client base kept on increasing. Second, there was a growing recognition of Indian talent in companies abroad. In the last few years hundreds of companies have set up their Research and Development Centres in India, General Electric R & D center in Bangalore being splendid example. But if you really look deeply into it, the origin of this goes to what happened in NCL. I had visited to General Electric R & D center in Schenectady in USA in 1992. We established our first contract GE and then started our contract research with a foreign firm. We were successful and then at a point in time when our name started figuring in on GE map first Jack Welch said if India is so good why are we not there. I still remember GE’s Senior Vice President and I sitting together right here in Maurya Sheraton over lunch and conceptualising the first blueprint on how Jack Welch Research Center, could look like. The only difference was when it went to Jack Welch, he looked at those 100 PhDs that we had planned and said, not 100 but 1,000 PhDs!. That was Jack Welch’s style!

Interviewer

Do you think that could be a method India could use to bypass the manufacturing revolution and I just sort of jump the stage and go straight to say design?

Mashelkar

It is possible. But for that we require a massively skilled and trained, highly educated workforce. I will tell you where the problem lies. The problem lies in the following: 50 per cent children go to school, 30 per cent of them go up to 10th standard (GCSE), and 40 per cent out of them pass. Multiply the three and you will come with a number of 6 per cent. So, only 6 per cent of India is matriculate (GCSE) as against Korea, which is 68 per cent. So, it’s a tip of the iceberg. Now when you talk about the IT for example and you say 8 billion dollars was the export of software. How many people created it? Only 500,000; which is 0.05 per cent of India’s population create 12 to 14 per cent of our export. So, to answer your question what you say is absolutely right. If 0.05 per cent can generate 12 to 14 per cent just imagine moving that 0.05 per cent to 0.5 per cent which should be easy that is factor of 10 and you can see the kind of impact that it can make. Therefore, what is required is large investments in higher education. Supporting higher education by including aggressive private sector participation, including international participation is crucial for taking a step jump.

Interviewer

Coming to the other issue of entrepreneurship, in this country I think we have evolved a different model of entrepreneurship, the State protected entrepreneurship. How do you think CSIR could kind of dope them in creating innovation-based entrepreneurship, which is so critical?

Mashelkar

I believe it is absolutely critical. We tried to do several experiments. For example, I created what is called as the Scientist Entrepreneur Scheme when I was the Director General of CSIR in nineties, I said a scientist could go out and set up his own firm by taking knowledge from the laboratory. His job would be protected up to three years and if things do not work out, he could come back. I am afraid we did not have great success – not many takers were there.

Interviewer

What were the reasons for that?

Mashelkar

One is that there is a lack of entrepreneurial spirit amongst the young in the scientific community in particular. Secondly, of course there was a lack of those role models, where people have gone and made it happen. Where’s the Bill Gates in India for example? The third issue was the need for industries, where knowledge becomes the dominant factor and therefore your requirements of capital, regulatory affairs, etc. are minimal. In other words, there is a hassle free environment. Such hassle free environment didn’t exist at that point in time. It was pre-IT revolution in India. Today you can see the difference actually and therefore there were exceptions like Kiran Mazumdar setting up Biocon, or Varaprasad Reddy setting up Shantha Biotech. So, these were exceptions to the rule. The pioneers were there in Silicon Valley and our problem was how do we create Silicon Valleys in our Indus Valley and that requires the entrepreneurial spirit.

Interviewer

But do you think it is possible? I mean Stanford of course played a major role in catalyzing that in America and of course they had the technology. So many things accidentally happened in that. Can it be seeded as a process?

Mashelkar

It can be seeded as a process. It takes two to make a tango. What had happened was that our scientific institutions, for example, were beautifully isolated from the real world. Like I said that this connection between Saraswati and Lakshmi is a part of our value system and which is so deep. I mean look at our best scientific institution, which is Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. Until four to five years ago entrepreneurship was not a word that formed a part of IISc dictionary. But today the same institute allows private sector to come in and occupy their laboratories, allows their scientists to go out, set up companies and yet be an Associate Professor or a Professor. So, when you say Stanford or MIT, it means a particular culture where you talk in terms of science and business very comfortably and you have no confusions between basic science and applied science. For example, Louis Pasteur said I believe only in science and its application and that’s it.

Interviewer

That was within the national context. What about the international context?

Mashelkar

Creativity as a value system is something that is a must for the society. If that happens then everything happens. Things like technology parks etc. flourish basically where academic excellence and entrepreneurship live together.

Interviewer

The other side, you talked of global companies coming to India. But isn’t it that they are going to kind of raid our brains and still keep the cream and the entire value chain in terms of people upto themselves. I am kind of raising the issue.

Mashelkar

I think that’s a very interesting question. In fact, I love this particular question because this is something that we need to address. One of the things we always forget is that India is a large country. We are one sixth of humanity and we must behave like one sixth of the humanity. How many PhDs do we produce 5,000. How, many can be produced? 10,000, 15,000, 50,000? Why are we not producing it? Because when you get a PhD, you don’t have jobs? We have tremendous capacity. Singapore cannot do that. Finaland cannot do that. But we can do that. More and more young people will go to science provided they see attractive opportunities.

General Electric R & D Center came to India. They are “raiding our brains” was the phrase that you used. I played a small humble role in initiating the process of GE R&D Centre coming to Bangalore. When it came to hiring, GE R&D Centre picked up four scientists from National Chemical Laboratory and made them job offers. They were all in their late 30s, with great competency in molecular dynamics, computational fluid dynamics, combinatorial chemistry, etc. Do you know how many of them left? None Do you know what salary we at NCL were giving them? One third of what they would be getting at the start in GE. Still they did not leave why? Because it is the issue of “physical income” versus “psychic income” and young people are looking at “psychic income” and therefore those laboratories where you create opportunities for psychic income like National Chemical Laboratory none of those young people left us.

We are in twenty-first century. We are talking about this being the century of knowledge. We are talking about knowledge economy. We are talking about knowledge industry, knowledge management. So, knowledge is the dominant factor and therefore the production of knowledge is going to be the key. Production of knowledge is getting to be very expensive all around the world and therefore they are looking at locations where the best intellectual capital per dollar is available. Now India can easily work out a strategy to position itself as the strategic destination for that. How will we be then secure? Today, how many corporates support India in the US? But imagine that the top 25 per cent of the US corporate knowledge capital was locked up in India. Don’t you think they will be supporting us? They will do so in their own interest because their valuable capital is being built here.

On 4 March 1995, I gave the Thapar Memorial Lecture in Delhi. It was titled as “India’s Emergence as a Global R&D Platform: The Challenges and Opportunities”. Dr Man Mohan Singh, who was then the Prime Minister of India had presided over the lecture. I had spelt out this vision then.

Interviewer

But somehow I guess that strategy never unfolded.

Mashelkar

What has happened is that India has not marketed itself for that particular positioning around the world? The fact of the matter is that there are only isolated islands of excellence here. There has been no global strategy. Because any other country, which wants to move in a position like that will go and say that these are the benefits of locating R & D in India and this is a roadmap to do it. I must also say that when we talk about putting knowledge based industries and their knowledge products here, protection of knowledge is of a key importance to them. Mere knowledge doesn’t create value. It is knowledge that is usable and the knowledge that is protected and protectable that creates value. Therefore there are anxieties about protecting their knowledge in India. Our weak intellectual property laws, our weak enforcement mechanisms do cause a concern for them.

Interviewer

Again going back on the value chain, don’t you think that Indian University System requires a drastic overhaul for that kind of thing to come?

Mashelkar

I entirely agree with you. See what has happened is that we have 250 plus universities but they are not equal. I think the first thing you must understand is that even in the United States of America you do have the MITs and the Stanfords but you do have some other universities, which are not as good. It’s exactly the same thing here. However, what they do is to believe in meritocracy and treat the very best differently than the others. We have not yet learnt to do that. So, I think the first message is there is nothing like intellectual democracy. There is only meritocracy. Therefore we must say that here are the top 30 universities, which are going to become world class and treat them differently.

Interviewer

And these are the kind of the infant industry protection. Let’s kind of nurture them.

Mashelkar

Correct that’s priority number one.

Interviewer

I think this we did de facto with IITs (Indian Institute of Technology).

Mashelkar

Indeed that’s what we did de facto. Therefore, the IIT graduates do well as they are chosen from 200,000 who sit in the entrance test and only 2,000 out of them get in. Then within the university system itself the value system must change. You do find, for example, that this issue of looking at knowledge that can create wealth is something that is still being scoffed at. If you want to get elected as a Fellow of a science academy in India. It will be on the basis of your number of research papers. They will not look at your breakthrough US patents for instance. I have been fighting for this change of attitude for quite a while.

Interviewer

How do you think CSIR could do this, CSIR sponsored change? You must have thought about this.

Mashelkar

We have a very-very deep linkage with the Universities in a number of ways. Firstly, we realize that if universities die, CSIR dies because the products on which we do research they come from Universities. We do number of things to partner with the Universities.

We have research fellows who do PhDs in the laboratories but the supervision is done jointly by a University Professor and a Scientist in a National Chemical Laboratory or National Physical Laboratory and so on.

We have joint programs. The industrial research that we do has to have a strong basic research foundation. Let us say we are designing an industrial catalyst. We need a deeper understanding of what happens at a molecular level. We hive off such work to the University system so that both of us benefit. We benefit because the level of our technology is raised. The Universities benefit because they start solving problems that need to be solved rather than solving problems that can be solved.

We created endowment professional chairs in the University. We encourage our people to be adjunct faculty in the Universities. We encourage their students to come and spend their summers in our laboratories and in fact we have taken the chain down to such an extent that even for the school passing students we have created special scholarships and fellowships so that they can spend their summertime in CSIR. For example, we have a system where we are trying to look at the best minds. Let us say the top 50, which pass through the CBSE (GCSE) exams from all the States. So, these students after their 10th standard they come along with their parents for a couple of days in our laboratories. They come with parents because, in India, it is them who make the decisions for their children. We tell them about the glory of science and what science can do. We truly capture their imagination. We sell science and science as a career for them. Thefor those of them, who after their 12th standard (A-levels) will remain in science and get more than 90 per cent marks, we pick them up. We give them Rupees 500 per week up to 14 weeks and during that time they come and work on a project with a senior scientist. What do achieve? We are holding their hand because it is that dark tunnel from 12th standard (A-levels) to B.Sc. when we loose them, because of uninspiring teachers, no modern classrooms and nobody to guide and inspire them. So we guide them through that difficult journey. Secondly, by doing science in the laboratory, they feel the joy and excitement of science. So, these are the unique schemes by which we are trying to tap the cream and keep it in science.

Interviewer

It’s such a difficult job especially if you are a scientist. The second issue is of the quality of PhDs that currently we have. If an individual doesn’t make it anywhere, he joins a PhD program.

Mashelkar

I admit that we have this particular problem and therefore we have large number of schemes by which the very best minds get attracted. The great tragedy about India is that every good news is followed by a bad news. You look at it. The great news for example is that in this year’s science Olympiads, there are gold medal winners at these Olympiads. But the tragedy would be that these students would not remain in science. They will go away to other attractive careers. Therefore, we need to be innovative in retaining them.

Interviewer

Do you think that technologies will pull them away?

Mashelkar

Let me bit anecdotal I was interviewing some people the other day for National Innovation Foundation. We were looking for chief innovation officer. When I looked at one of the interviewer’s bio-data I found that he was in the area of branding of product. So, I said to him I want to brand India. First he didn’t understand because he was always involved in branding products like soaps and cars, not branding nations. I said I would explain to you. For example US brands itself as a land of opportunity. How would you brand India’s? Back came the answer. He said India is the land of ideas. Now here is the interesting paradox. India is a land of ideas but it America is the land of opportunity. India is not a land of opportunity. What we need to do is to see as to how India also becomes a land of opportunity apart from ideas.

Interviewer

And do you think it will happen?

Mashelkar

It will happen. I have absolutely no doubt. Of course people brand me as a die-hard optimist, or a dangerous optimist.

Interviewer

Coming back to CSIR, what do you think are the strengths of CSIR as on today?

Mashelkar

I believe CSIR’s strengths are in terms of its multi-disciplinarity. You want a solution on any problem. We have the core competency right from oceanography to aerospace. I do not think that there is a single organization that has such a wide spectrum of competencies. We have a superb physical infrastructure at least in six or seven areas of technology, which are world class. Chemical is one, aerospace, high performance materials, composites and the others. If you look at Indias light combat aircraft, 40 per cent of the components that have gone in there, I have been produced at NAL (National Aerospace Laboratories). There is very unique smell of the science that we do. The science that we do is not just academic for publishing of papers. It is that high science, which supports high technology Of course, we have this tremendous cost advantage. You look at supporting 21,000 people in just less than 300 million dollars. Look at the budget of a single company like General Motors. What is it?

Interviewer

Their (General Motors) R & D is 8 billion dollars.

Mashelkar

You are right so we are fragmentally cost effect Pfizer’s annual budget is 5 billion dollars. So, offering solutions cost effectively is our strength. The next is the diversity of problems at different levels of technology that we have been able to solve.

Interviewer

What do you think of the weaknesses of CSIR?

Mashelkar

Weakness is that the “Team CSIR” song that I have been singing right from day one is still not being sung by everyone happening. The “Team India” song that I have been singing is not being sung by everyone. The second problem is that we are an ageing organization; the demography of CSIR is changing because the kind of recruitment that should have taken place, the injection of young people that should have taken place has not really happened. So, both in terms of physical infrastructure as well as intellectual infrastructure, we have been ageing. Now to some extent the physical infrastructure has improved substantially. The government has been fantastic. For example, this year I have got 35 per cent increase in budget, which is the highest in post independent India for any single department. But induction of the young continues to be a problem. Our real problem is, of course, except in a few laboratories, CSIR is not the first choice for the young people. We have National Chemical Laboratory, Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology. They should become the first choices. The issue is the support structure, the administration, the finance, the stores and purchase and so on, we have a problem there because it is almost like a car which has four tyres, three perfect and the fourth one punctured! How can that car run. How can we deliver in time, in quality and in price? I would say that is also something on my agenda.

Interviewer

Coming specifically to CSIR, What do you think are the organizational changes you are planning to implement over a period of time?

Mashelkar

We have just gone through the performance appraisal boards for each laboratory. We have all sorts of people evaluating us including people like Mr N.R.Narayana Murthy (CEO of Infosys) and others. They were on those boards. So, we have looked at those and this is kind of a self-inflicted pain, nobody has asked us to do it, we did it. In fact we have done an excruciating process, which lasted for six months. The results have just come in. Now we are looking at where do we stand? We are looking at our NPAs (Non Performing Assets), the physical capital as well as intellectual capital. Some part of our NPAs may not be of use to us but possibly good for colleges and universities. We can share it with them. We have some valuable assets, that can used by everyone.

Interviewer

How is it that anybody can use it, operate it?

Mashelkar

Well, we are going to classify as per the interest of the business group and send the information it out to them. We will put it on the web. We have also recently changed our rules. For example we have a world- class fermentation pilot plant facility on which we have spent 5 million dollars. How much time in a year do we use it? 10 per cent of the time, because we are a research organization. What do I do for the rest of the 90 per cent? I am seeing this as a national asset industry, please come in here and use this national assets. We are also going to see as to which laboratories will grow, which will shrink, which can be merged and which will be closed down. For example, we had 80 so-called extension centers, these are like mini labs, around 2001 I closed 40 of them.

Interviewer

So you rationalized them?

Mashelkar

Yes, and 40 of them were rationalized. So, CSIR will become a slimmer and a trimmer organization. While we were closing down, newer frontiers are opening up. When you set up new institutions or modernize the current institutions into new ones, these processes have to be undertaken. CSIR always has been a living organization. For example, in Hyderabad we had a regional research laboratory. It did such a fantastic work in advanced chemical research that it was turned into the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology. It had a small group on cellular molecular biology. It did great work. So we converted it into a laboratory, viz. Center For Cellular Molecular Biology (CCMB). It is one of the best in Asia today. That CCMB had a small group on DNA fingerprinting. That has been taken out and made into a very major center for DNA fingerprinting that is center for DNA Fingerprinting (CDFD). So, it’s a kind of a mother, then a daughter then a grand daughter. Let us say attribute of a living system, old cells die and new cells come in and you regenerate and so on. So, on this entire process by looking at things holistically, we are going to decide as to where CSIR as a whole is going to go.

Interviewer

Does this also include corporatization of CSIR?

Mashelkar

I would be hesitant on that. I will be very frank with you. My idea always has been to see as to how we balance the budget of India rather than balancing the budget of a laboratory. I will explain that to you. If I save the budget of a laboratory, of say “x” million dollars, for India it will make no difference. But if that laboratory by being where it is, can make a difference to the nation by “100x” million dollars in a year, to me that is far more significant. Because that is the major purpose of a publicly funded R & D institution. I look at publicly funded R & D institution in the following way to answer your question.

If this institution is too close to industry, there is a solid coupling. It’s almost like when I was in England. I remember it was a very cold room in Manchester. In order to keep warm, we used to an electrical heater. If I sat too close to it, it used to burn me. If I sat too far away, I would be shivering. So I found an optimum distance. The relationship between a public institution and industry has to be like that. When we start docking in completely with them, we are working for their today’s problems and tomorrow’s problems. We are not looking at the future challenges. If you are not at all coupled, on the other hand, then we are just wasting public money. The optimum coupling is where we can keep on looking at the distant future and yet provide them the solution for the products and services that they need.

This delicate balance of high technology is very important. That’s why I said there is a special science and special smell of science (high technology and high science) and that particular balance is something I like to see come in the entire laboratory. I have done a lot of consulting. I helped in restructuring of industrial R & D institutions in Indonesia, in South Africa. It is always the issue of a balance, because if you move too far, you become an ordinary service provider or provider of testing and quality control facilities. That is not why these laboratories are set up.

Look at National Aerospace Laboratory. They have NALTECH, for example which is a company that has been spun off and the organic connectivity is kept by the director being also on their board of directors and so on.

Interviewer

What are your individual strengths that you think are most important in setting up CSIR?

Mashelkar

I always talk about three things that a CEO must have that a leader must have. They are innovation, compassion and passion. Innovation is one, which keeps you driving with your ideas. Innovator is the one who does not know it cannot be done. Innovator is one, who sees what everybody else sees but thinks of what nobody else thinks. That innovation keeps you ahead. Second is compassion. Compassion is a feeling for the downtrodden. Passion means fire in the belly. I do believe that I have a good balance of these three attributes.

My weakness is perhaps I am too intolerant about imperfection. I continue to correct draft of a letter even up to the 12th time.

Interviewer

What is your philosophy of management?

Mashelkar

I think management is all about people and you must understand people. You must deal with people as they are. People are not routine pieces of furniture. Even the lowest among them in terms of hierarchy has a heart, has a family, has an aspiration and I do believe if you start understanding that and you start linking with them, things happen. I think that is something that we have missed in CSIR. That is why you will find that human capital was never looked at seriously. In fact, for the human resource development, there was no specific budget until I came and created an HRD cell. So, I think it is the issue of realizing that people are your capital and treating them as such.

Interviewer

Who has inspired you most as a leader in any walk of life and not just in science?

Mashelkar

There have been several. In terms of science, I have been inspired by Professor C.N.R. Rao, for example. People marvel at the way I do ten different things but Professor Rao did 100 different things at the same time. He was the Chairman of the Science Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister of India. He was the President of the Indian National Science Academy, Chairman of IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) and he handled it equally well. He is an inspiration once again because I have seen his way of work even at the age of 70 plus. A person like him is truly inspiring. If I look at outside the country, people like Jack Welch for example. I have studied his life very closely. I saw him also when he visited India. I have been inspired by people like him. I have been inspired by people who are able to think ahead of the rest of the world and who are passionate. A man like Dhirubhai Ambani was passionate. I saw him. I still remember, I congratulated him for having the Hazira project completed on time and for keeping to the schedule. He said doctor, we don’t believe in keeping to the schedules, we want to be ahead of the schedules! I was in Jamnagar, Mukesh Ambani had invited me to speak to the YPOs (Young Presidents’ Organisation). He had invited me, Chandrababu Naidu (a politician) and his own father (Dhirubhai Ambani) because he wanted three people from industry, from science and technology and from politics. I spoke for about an hour. Dhirubhai was sitting right in front. There was a half an hour discussion and lunch had come. He said, now let’s jump into the car and I am going to show this great refinery and how we built it in Jamnagar. It was unbelievable that he remembered the name plate capacities as we went around. What I find is that different individuals inspire you for different things. Nobody is perfect, just as I am not perfect and there are attributes of different people and I have been very fortunate to have many great people. Whether it is Verghese Kurien or Narayana Murthy, I respect them in a completely different way. So, it is not so much of single individual on whom I have tried to model myself.

Interviewer

Any single organization which inspired you?

Mashelkar

I believe that MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is one, which I found very special because I did teach in US. Year after year MIT continue to be way ahead of everybody else. Without sacrificing science they do technology and they continue to be a world-leader in Science & Technology for so long. It’s really a brand name. I was recently there in Boston giving the keynote in the American Association for Advancement of Science and again I had a chance to interact with the MIT faculty. MIT is reinventing itself all the time, setting higher and higher goals, entering newer and newer areas, creating newer and newer models.

Interviewer

Anything you think I have not covered you would like to tell us?

Mashelkar

I think it has been one of the most comprehensive and brilliant set of questions that I have had.

Commentary and critique

Raghunath Mashelkar presents an informed, intelligent and comprehensive view of the R&D sector with specific reference to India and the world in general. In this section I am going to analyze two specific aspects of this interview:

  1. 1.

    leadership, philosophy, and corporatization; and

  2. 2.

    management and decision making.

Indeed leadership challenges facing Indian leaders may have many unique aspects due to the demography, vastness and culture of the country.

Leadership, philosophy, and corporatization

Mashelkar can be characterized as a transformational leader by way of reshaping, restructuring, and reforming not only CSIR’s way of functioning but also the science and technology policies of India post liberalization in 1991 (Bass, 1990; Fiol et al., 1999; Müller and Turner, 2007; Odusami et al., 2003; Den Hartog et al., 1999; Holmberg and Åkerblom’s, 2006; Dickson et al.’s, 2003).

Lowe et al. (1996) explored how transactional and transformational leadership affects effectiveness in an organisation. They established that transformational and some transactional leadership was highly effective at all levels, that intellectual stimulation was differentially effective at all levels and that leader behaviour was important at lower levels. Prabhakar (2005) further posited that a combination of transformational leadership, the project manager’s experience and switch leadership would lead to project success, regardless of industrial, budgetary, cultural or geographical location factors. Mashelkar also transformed CSIR from an inward looking public sector organization to a more business-focused organization by way of adapting with the environment and employing switch leadership qualities.

Kloppenborg and Petrick (1999) believe that a project manager needs to develop both a life cycle technical competency and a team character development competency in order to achieve project success.

Mashelkar’s philosophy of management is people-centric. This is interesting and inspirational that as a technocrat he values people more than technology. He defines people as human-capital. Leaders need to understand and manage organisational and behavioural variables, whilst encouraging active participation, accountability and result orientation in staff. An example of this would be the provision of a professionally stimulating environment, which would require a leader to work towards achieving a suitable organisational atmosphere to underpin this. This ability would require great skill on the part of the leader and would require support from his team in order to succeed (Thamhain, 2004).

Corporatization of public sector institutions is a touchy issue in India as that could be easily linked-up with privatization and mean job losses for the employees, budget-cuts from the state and central governments and a greater business orientation. Many public sector undertakings have been partly or fully privatized during the last two decades and the process continues. This is a good source of income for the government; it provides them with instant cash which can be redeployed on future projects, and a safe exit-route from otherwise under-performing and non-performing assets. Mashelkar would like CSIR to function as “CSIR Inc.” with agility, professionalism, innovation and above all financially self- sustainable. He is an advocate of CSIR functioning as a corporate entity. Here it must be made clear that corporatization does not necessarily mean privatization.

Guru Prakash PrabhakarInterviewer

References

Bass, B.M. (1990), “From transactional to transformational leadership: learning to share the vision”, Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 19–31

Den Hartog, D., House, R., Hanges, S. and Associates (1999), “Culture-specific and cross-culturally generalizable implicit leadership theories: are attributes of charismatic/transformational leadership universally endorsed?”, Leadership Quarterly, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 219–56

Dickson, M., Den Hartog, D. and Mitchelson, J. (2003), “Research on leadership in a cross-cultural context: making progress, and raising new questions”, Leadership Quarterly, Vol. 14 No. 6, pp. 729–68

Fiol, C., Harris, D. and House, R. (1999), “Charismatic leadership: strategies for effecting social change”, Leadership Quarterly, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 449–82

Holmberg, I. and Åkerblom, S. (2006), “Modelling leadership – implicit leadership theories in Sweden”, Scandinavian Journal of Management, Vol. 22 No. 4, pp. 307–29

Kloppenborg, T.J. and Petrick, J.A. (1999), “Leadership in project life cycle and team character development”, Project Management Journal, Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 8–13

Lowe, K., Kroek, G. and Sivasubramaniam, N. (1996), “Effectiveness correlates of transformational and transactional leadership: a meta-analytic review”, Leadership Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 385–425

Müller, R. and Turner, R. (2007), “Matching the project manager’s leadership style to project type”, International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 21–32

Odusami, K.T., Iyagba, R.R.O. and Omirin, M.M. (2003), “The relationship between project leadership, team composition and construction project performance in Nigeria”, International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 21, pp. 519–27

Prabhakar, G. (2005), “Switch leadership in projects. An empirical study reflecting the importance of the transformational leadership on project success across 28 nations”, Project Management Journal, Vol. 36 No. 4, pp. 53–60

Thamhain, H. (2004), “Linkages of project environment to performance: lessons for team leadership”, International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 22 No. 7, pp. 533–44