The journey towards success and excellence is never a predictable road. The key is to grab every opportunity you get and learn with it. On these lines, PVG Menon, President, and CEO, VANN Consulting speaks to Ankita KS from EFY Group about his journey in the industry for over three decades, best practices, key mistakes, learnings and advice to young engineers out there. Excerpts follow…
Q: Can you brief about your journey in the industry for 30+ years? How has the journey in the world been?
I term my journey as one of continuous learning and reinvention over the past 3+ decades. My professional journey has traversed multiple paths – I have been part of implementation teams for epochal projects like the Railway Reservation System and Container Port Terminal computerization, Computer Graphics & Animation, etc. If I am not mistaken, many years ago, I probably did the very first direct-transfer of computer graphics onto celluloid film — without using film printers or reverse-telecine.
Then I got into the semiconductor industry and got the opportunity to lead global teams and run global product lines.
There were entrepreneurial stints in-between and eventually I went into Management Consulting. Then I was called upon to run a Trade Body (the India Electronics & Semiconductor Association), with a clear mandate to “level-shift” the body and scale it.
I would like to believe that I played a small part in contributing to the development of the electronics policy in India.
Policy Making is a massive exercise involving multiple stakeholders. I would like to believe that I could put forth a view which can be defined as “India First” and called for creating a level playing field for Indian product companies. I also coined the slogan “Innovation Led Design. Design Led Manufacturing” for the Electronic Systems Design & Manufacturing (ESDM) industry, with the vision of making electronics products which are Conceived in India, Designed in India, Made in India — and Used & Sold Worldwide. Restated, it means products built to global scale and quality, in India.
Q: What are the key mistakes that you made that you think you should have avoided in hindsight? Any learnings?
When I look back, I now regret not having accepted the opportunity to spend a stint overseas at a time when I was directly running a global product line for a large multinational ODM. Whilst I used to travel very frequently to meet customers etc., sometimes the immersive experience of working directly in the customer’s own time-zone and being directly present in the foreign market gives one a very different perspective. Similarly, being local at the corporate headquarters of a large global company is very different from being a frequent visitor to the same place.
Other than that, I am truly grateful for the phenomenal colleagues and companies I have worked with, and for the great opportunities, I had along the way.
Q: What are the key mistakes that you have seen made by the engineers with respect to choosing their jobs? What would your advice be to them?
One of the main key mistakes usually seen is the desire to chase titles rather than gaining deep experience in a specific domain. This is a killer and comes back to bite one as the individual progresses in his/her career.
Second is the inability to develop a proper 360-degree view of the System and the application context. There is a story about two bricklayers being asked what they were doing. One said he was laying bricks for a wall. The other said he was building a hospital! No prizes for guessing who exemplified systems thinking.
As technologies like IoT go mainstream, systems thinking becomes critical. Security, power, form factor, etc become critical – while high-performance is considered a hygiene factor. There will be trade-offs needed and these will have to be thought through very carefully. Unfortunately, this is something which is not readily done in India, thus earning us a reputation of having an industry which is good in implementation, but bad in designing.
Q: How do you motivate your team? What is your leadership style in terms of managing your people? Any mantras?
I do not believe in micro-managing. I like to challenge people to stretch and I hope I have given them the freedom to achieve their targets.
Nor am I a clock watcher. As long as the job is done to time, budget and requirement, I really don’t bother when a person clocks-in or out, or how many leaves he or she takes. But the meeting of agreed upon targets is important.
Q: Can you describe your current role? What are the things that excite you–about this role?
For the past four-five years, I have been very heavily involved in dealing with Policy and Regulatory aspects of the ESDM industry in India. Involvement has been at both a policy formulation and advisory level, as well as at overseeing regulatory approvals and ecosystem development for a very large and complex project.
The biggest thrill in this kind of a role is that you have a chance to participate in the creation of the ESDM industry of tomorrow.
Q: Is this the kind of role that you had dreamt of when you were in college? If not, how did the shift happen? Are you happy with it?
When I was in college, I was in the NCC and had thought I would join the Armed Forces. But then life took me on a different path which I found extremely interesting, and I kept exploring that path.
The big shift in my professional life was when I was asked to lead a trade body – the India Electronics & Semiconductor Association (IESA). Being involved as a volunteer from industry, versus running a trade body full-time are two completely different things! Besides, the “world-view” that you develop while running an Association is very different from what you have when you are working in a single company. And I have loved every minute of both the roles.
Q: How do you balance time between work and personal life?
I am going to be politically incorrect and say that I come from an era where “life is the balance after work.” That’s how I have lived my life so I am probably not the best person to answer this question! I have held (and enjoyed!) jobs which made me travel 15-17 days out of 30. No regrets and no complaints.
Q: For youngsters dreaming to fill in your shoes—what would be your advice to them? What aspects should they work on to reach here?
- There is no substitute for hard work.
- Be prepared to challenge yourself and go outside your comfort zone. As you start leading teams, do the same for your team members and support and guide them in their journeys.
- Never ever lose your curiosity to learn new things. For instance, whenever I go abroad, I will make it a point to visit an electronics store and see how they sell the products. Believe me, it is a huge learning experience! Similarly, read up and make every effort to understand your customer’s business. Semiconductor and embedded design is a B2B business, so you are several steps removed from the end customer. But make the effort – it will help you as a person and as a professional.
- Stay current in your field. If you are doing innovative work, see if you can present papers at the technical conference – of course after seeking clearance from your company since the IPR belongs to them. Read extensively, visit conference and trade shows. Ask questions. Network. Volunteer at professional bodies like IEEE, IET, etc.
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