John Hoffmire: You are an increasingly rare entity in management these days — you’ve stayed with the same company for nearly 20 years. Tell me about your work with Bharat Heavy Electricals and why you’ve felt comfortable staying there for so long.
Sanghamitra: You are right, I’ve been with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) for a long time. It is one of the country’s largest public sector engineering and manufacturing enterprises, and has made great contributions to India’s nation building. To give an example, more than half of the electricity generated in the country comes from our equipment. So I am proud to be a part of this organization – the learning has been enormous. The company is huge, with more than a dozen business verticals, sixteen manufacturing units, and a number of offices spread across the country and abroad. Though I have been in one company, so to speak, I have worked in many different units, functions, and locations – each with its own set of challenges and steep learning curves.
I started with the engineering of large-size thermal power equipment at our heavy electrical equipment plant at Haridwar, located at the holy city of Haridwar at the foothills of the Himalayas. My focus then was looking at things more from a micro-perspective. From there I moved to a bigger role doing project management of large-size power plants and taking care of how the equipment developed and was manufactured at our units and then erected and commissioned in the field. My perspective changed from micro to macro as I interacted with a larger number of players from the grass-root workers, customers, multiple manufacturers, vendors, service providers, and so on. During this phase, I also worked on an important initiative developing and implementing an adaptive and sustainable safety system model applicable to complex socio-technical environments like power project sites, targeting zero fatalities and promoting ‘value of life’. By this time in my career, I had seen a product end-to-end through its engineering, development, manufacturing, erection, and commissioning, including project and quality management.
For the last five years I’ve been part of the Corporate Strategy Team that supports BHEL’s Board of Directors in strategy formulation and implementation. BHEL’s core business of thermal power equipment has been greatly impacted by the global energy transition – the market has shrunk dramatically over the last few years. Our greatest challenge is to ensure our revival and then growth in these very uncertain and complex business times. Our team is leading the organization’s pivot from dependency on thermal power equipment to offering more broad-based sustainable solutions around energy efficiency and de-carbonization for the Indian energy sector and industries. My focus includes orchestrating new business development related to upcoming technologies for de-carbonization such as upstream solar manufacturing, green hydrogen production and fuel cells, energy storage, carbon capture, and coal gasification. In each of these areas, we have formed dedicated teams of intrapreneurs to incubate these businesses.
My current work is particularly interesting because it is at the intersection of business strategy, technology, sustainable development, and policy. For an effective energy transition and de-carbonization to take place in our country, we need to continue working on three key areas that each build on each other: First, technology – we need new technologies and we’re attempting to innovate and develop them through BHEL’s R&D centers and in association with other leading institutes and research centers, and through collaborating with foreign technology partners. Second, we are working with policy makers on a series of enabling policies for effective transition to renewable and clean energy. Third, and very important, we are working together with industry partners on implementing new technologies and systems – either at a project or pilot level.
So you can see now how BHEL has provided me with ample opportunities to grow, change directions, and advance in my career. I feel extremely fortunate.
John: In addition to your accomplishments and achievements at BHEL, you’ve also pursued additional education and training. I’d love to know more about that.
Sanghamitra: I have found it invaluable to take the opportunity on occasion to step out of my everyday life and work, for a time, and to upskill and seek fresh perspectives and knowledge. The first time I did that, as you know, was as a fellow of Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme (CRISP) in 2013. My time in Oxford with the CRISP programme, being part of that group of 13 hand-picked executives from India, was a game changer for me and took me from being an engineer, to being an engineer with an entrepreneurial attitude. That transformation has opened all sorts of opportunities to me and helped me realize how valuable continuing education can be, both personally and professionally. I have been able to bring new ideas to my area of work such as the concept of intrapreneurship, which is rather uncommon in the Indian public sector environment.
Following my CRISP experience, I have regularly taken time out for learning. I did some executive training on innovation and commercialization through MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and from IMT Business School in Business Analytics. Just last year, I was fortunate to be among the 20 from Asia selected for a programme in sustainable development and responsible leadership through the Swedish Institute (SIMP Asia 2020). This programme actually triggered me to connect the concepts of sustainable development to the efforts related to BHEL’s pivoting and positioning.
This year I took the leap and enrolled as a doctorate candidate in the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-Delhi) – School of Public Policy in their energy transition and climate change programme, with a focus on science and technology policy. In many ways, CRISP was the starting point in a line of educational programmes that have brought me to where I am now – always trying to learn, adapt, innovate, and transition.
John: That’s exciting news about your PhD programme. And it’s good to know that you think CRISP helped you to initiate this string of educational experiences. If you will, tell me about being a founding member of CRISP Social Ventures India.
Sanghamitra: I am one of the founding members of CRISP Social Ventures India (CSVI), whose mission is to bring about positive social change, and promote science and innovation as a lever for sustainable economic development in India. Chevening scholars founded CSVI with support from Oxford University, British High Commission in India, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK.
I think stepping up and getting involved with CSVI made me realize a need I felt to exercise my entrepreneurial spirit, and my interest to explore social ventures. If I could help get this social ventures alumni group organized, I could help in other ways, especially at work, to make the world a little better place.
John: You are an inspiration to me. Thanks for helping to start CSVI, which I’m honored to be involved with. I wish you every success with your work and your new doctorate programme.
Sanghamitra: Thank you, John, and to Richard Briant, for all the hard work you pour into the CRISP programme. Best wishes to you, too.
Sanghamitra Biswas Jayant is a member of the Corporate Strategic Management Team for Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited and an alum of the Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme (CRISP) 2013
Interviewer: Dr. John Hoffmire is the Founder and the Carmen Porco Chair in Sustainable Business at the Center on Business and Poverty, and Research Associate at the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business