Alums @ IIMB: COO MIJSC – Saideep Rathnam, PGP 1980

Mr. Saideep Rathnam is a true example of the age-old saying – Age is just a number. He has a rich experience of over 47 years in both industry and academia. Mr. Saideep is now serving as the COO at Mizuho India Japan Study Centre, IIMB. He is a pass-out from one of the early batches of the institute and has many rare experiences and stories to share.

He has also authored a book titled – Creating Next Generation Manufacturing Change Leaders, documenting the unique approach for creating industry-ready engineers trained in the new manufacturing paradigm of flow-oriented manufacturing.

An exclusive interview with Mr. Saideep Rathnam on his journey, experiences and more.

Overview

Being a son of a prospecting and mining engineer in mid nineteen fifties, I was brought up in remote camps with no easy access to schools. This was probably a blessing in disguise for me and my siblings, who were homeschooled by our mother, who herself was self-schooled to reach postgraduation levels. The first real school was when we came to Bangalore for my 10th standard! These early memories of learning at own pace (albeit with a strict teacher who would not allow us to goof-off) helped me, I think, to excel academically in later years. Looking back at my life, graduating in engineering from Indian Institute of Science Bangalore and later post graduating from Indian Institute of Management Bangalore were not very onerous tasks, because of the strong foundations in those formative years.

These college years was followed by stints in two main sectors of industry viz. aeronautics and automobiles.  The four decades of work experience was almost equally shared between these two sectors. I worked in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. for 20+ years, with stints in various responsibilities from shopfloor engineer to general management levels. It also included a 5 years+ stint in the UK, where I worked with British Aerospace with liaison responsibilities on technology transfer.

This was followed by a long association of 20+ years with auto component industry, where I worked in senior leadership positions, including as a head of a Corporate University at Anand Automotive Ltd, a USD 2 B auto component group which makes parts for all vehicles in India, with a substantial share of its revenues coming from exports.

Post retirement in 2014, I have been helping SMEs in India and abroad to innovate and change through a unique approach to transform their manufacturing and business paradigms. During this period, I was also working on my PhD with University of Twente, Netherlands.

In early 2020, I joined India Japan Study Centre as a Chief Operating Officer.

Association with MIJSC

During my PhD studies, I was associated with Prof Krishna Sundar (KS), who was my local supervisor. Following the completion of my PhD work, Prof KS asked me to join this new Centre as a head to help setup this Centre and achieve its ambitious goals to become a  focal point of contact for all India-Japan interaction in varied fields such as academia, business, culture, and policy formulations.

Purpose of MIJSC

With the compelling business and national interests propelling the fast-evolving India-Japan business environment, IIMB with its academic and research competencies, conceived the idea of establishing an India Japan Study Centre to facilitate collaborative initiatives among academia, industry, and government agencies of both the countries to work on areas of mutual interest. These would include domains such as business environment, government policies, innovation, project management, sourcing, technology transfer, development and management, sustainability, intellectual property rights, and understanding of local culture and business practices. The sectoral focus would be on infrastructure including energy and transportation, and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

Currently, there is no focused initiative in India among academic institutes, particularly, in management institutes, to create, share and disseminate knowledge in the relevant areas of Indo-Japanese business. The Mizuho India Japan Study Centre @ IIMB aims to become a leading research and networking hub that would provide students, researchers, business managers and policy makers with a deeper understanding of Japanese and Indian business.

Bangalore, as a location, has the highest number of Japanese companies and professionals in India. Further, Bangalore’s innovation ecosystem has been ranked among the world’s best.

IIMB is ideally positioned to start the India Japan Study Centre as it has ongoing research collaborations and student exchange programs with many Japanese institutes of higher learning. Focused activities of the Mizuho India Japan Study Centre @ IIMB will be aimed at stimulating, strengthening, and sustaining Indo-Japanese academic-business interactions.

Mizuho Bank, one of the top 3 banks in Japan, has been a major donor contributing significant sums to help he Centre work on its mission. In recognition of this, the Centre has been renamed as Mizuho India Japan Study Centre, effective 01 April 2021.

The Mission of MIJSC is ‘To promote understanding of Japan in India and India in Japan through research, teaching and policy outreach efforts.’ The objectives include to become a knowledge centre of Japanese business history, business strategies, culture, and technology innovations; to initiate focused studies on India-Japan collaborative projects, to promote collaborative research between partnering Japanese institutes, industry and IIMB; to host scholars from Japanese institutes of higher learning, practitioners from industry and policy makers and to disseminate the outcomes of academic research in the focused areas.

Experience at MIJSC

As the old adage goes, ‘the best way to learn swimming is to jump into the pool at the deep end’, this is what I had to do when I joined. The week following my joining, a major international program hosted by the Centre was scheduled. This program called India Japan Leadership Program (IJLP) was to include young entrepreneurs from Japan and India who were supposed to stay at the campus (this was in February ’20, just weeks prior to the lockdown) and work together in a bootcamp to work on joint projects. To top this, I was to lead the team to Delhi and make presentation to the Ambassador of Japan. And the success of the program seemed to have endorsed the above adage!

The subsequent experiences have also been very positive, with full operational freedom to tryout new initiatives. The unconditional and full support of the Chairperson (Prof KS) is central to this set of experiences  over the past 15 months!

Initiatives at MIJSC

There were many activities which were ongoing at the time of my joining. Some of these include Student Exchange against existing MoUs with Japanese Universities, Research Projects funded by IJSC, Electives for PGP students (BPIM – J / J-EMPS) and of course the Leadership Development Programs for Young entrepreneurs / executives from India and Japan (IJLP) that I had alluded to above.

Many new activities have been launched  or are there in the pipeline. Some of them include the following:

  • Webinar Lecture Series: Focuses on bringing in experts from various fields to promote understanding of Japan in India and India in Japan. These Webinar lecture series is designed to foster the interaction of experts in the field to interact with IIMB and local/global community to produce insights into the various challenges of industry, academia, and the society.  Tatsujin-Speak has the objective of bringing high-quality information and insights in the fields of management and technology, to the informed and interested members of the public. The format of the lecture series is a one-hour talk, followed by Q&As.
  • Business Evaluation & Transformation Index (BET Index) focuses on helping SMEs to scaleup through transparent evaluation and providing networking opportunities with Japanese investors, but also to provide a rich database of companies who are trying to improve their business performance, which could be used for research studies by IIMB faculty. 
  • Visionary Learning Community of India (VLCI). VLCI has been conceptualized to give state-of-art inputs to Engineering college students by forming learning communities of SMEs, College faculty and engineering students. Over 50 Engineering colleges across India would be brought under the aegis of MIJSC to offer certification programs, both for Faculty and Students. This would also help these engineering students to become Industry ready and be Japan-ready.
  • Newsletter: Planned to be released on a quarterly basis and the first issue has been released in February’21. The next issue is scheduled for release in May’21
  • CCS Project for PGP Students  .

After the constrained functioning during 2020-21 due to the Covid pandemic, we expect that the coming year would be much more productive, especially in terms of improving the networking activities. Some of the activities that are planned for the coming year include the launch of BET Project, launch of VLCI Project Mixed-Mode Learning Program, road shows which are field events covering the academic and industrial sectors and are planned to highlight the various initiatives of the Centre as well as raise funds for the Centre. Some of the other programs that could be launched if the pandemic subsides (allowing national / international travel) would be an International Conference which is focused on a research theme linked with India Japan relationship. Also in the pipeline is a unique Japanese Language Course in partnership with a university in Japan as an immersive learning program.

Family

The nuclear family consists of my wife (Lalitha), a son (Prateet) and daughter (Anchita). Both children are professionally qualified, married and have given us three grandsons. Both our children are currently staying abroad – my son in Boston USA and daughter in Singapore. My siblings (2 elder brothers and one elder sister) are staying in Mysore, Bangalore and Hyderabad respectively.

IIMB Days: Some Memories

We 1978-80 graduates were lucky to be one of the last few batches to study and graduate from the Langford Road buildings. The lack of a campus added to its charm – the small batches made the bond stronger, both between the students themselves and the students with the faculty. Personal rapport built with the faculty has left deep and lasting impression on the minds of we youngsters. One episode that we remember fondly was with Prof Valecha, our OB-2 teacher. He spent long evenings with some select students who opted to delve deeper into Transactional Analysis (TA), one of the topics in OB-2.  Though these discussions earned us no extra credit points (and no recognition to Prof V in his own evaluations), he made those evenings so memorable! Over unending cups of tea and hot pakodis (of course paid for by Prof V), he would explain the nuances of TA so well that even after 4 decades, I can still talk about ego-diagrams and life-scripts without batting an eyelid!

Hobbies

Though I have always wanted to give back to the society that has given so much to me, it is only recently that I have started to do something more than just cutting a cheque periodically. I work (in my spare time) with autistic children in a special school called Apoorva School for the Autistic Children. Autism is a little understood neurological disorder and the joy one gets in making a difference in the lives of these children is immense!

This apart, I love to travel – across India and across the continents. I like to travel for three reasons – for adventure, for reconnecting with our historic past and for the sheer pleasure of meeting different people with different cultures/customs/food habits etc.