Sunday, May 19, 2024

“Don’t Let Designations Become A Wild Goose Chase”

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In his childhood, he possessed just one sweater, meant to last through many winters. He could not join IIT Roorkee because the cost of a train ticket to Roorkee from his home town was “much more” than a train ticket to IT Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Bhanu Prakash Srivastava embraced postings that many others shied away from. Putting less emphasis on titles and more on the work itself, he now leads Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) with determination and vision. This is the story of Bhanu Prakash Srivastava, as recounted to EFY’s Mukul Yudhveer Singh.

Born in Jaunpur near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Bhanu Prakash Srivastava is the youngest of five siblings, with two elder brothers and two elder sisters. His childhood was filled with challenges which only a few have the power to go through and come out smiling.

Bhanu Prakash Srivastava CMD, Bharat Electronics Limited

His father, who had been ailing from a serious illness, passed away when Srivastava was just eight! This meant that his mother would now have to make sure that there was enough to eat in the house, while also making sure that her children did not have to stop going to school.

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Dearth of money is not dearth of education

Eight-year-old Srivastava was too young to sense the difficulties his mother was going through, but he made sure to study hard, and the results of his hard work started paying back in the form of 100% education scholarships he got standard after standard, starting Class V. In 10th standard, he was at 9th rank in the merit list of the entire UP Board of Education. The feat was repeated in 1982 when he secured 6th rank in UP State merit list for 12th standard.

“I had only one sweater to wear in winters, and it was clear in my mind that going out to play would mean getting it dirty and going to school without wearing one. There was no choice other than staying back home most winter days,” he recalls! And while staying at home most of the time would sound like a major setback to a lot of children; to him, it was an opportunity to read more!

He smiles and adds, “I think that one sweater is what made me read more. One sweater is what made it possible for me to stand in the top 10 list of students for standard 10 exams. That sweater made me a hero amongst a million students!”

Phoolpati Devi, Srivastava’s mother and his first role model, meanwhile continued to teach her children the importance of studying and working hard. Srivastava remembers incidents when she would skip meals because one of her children needed a new notebook! Meanwhile, his eldest brother had cleared his engineering and got a job. This also meant that the eldest brother was now supporting the whole family, and this is when he became the second role model for Srivastava!

“Family is the most important thing in the universe” is what I learnt from my eldest brother. He was the first graduate engineer from our village, and that made us all immensely proud, Srivastava recalls. Eating puri-sabji is one of the most cherished memories of Srivastava from his childhood days. He remembers how his mother would cook puri-sabji even at 10 pm in the night because he wanted to enjoy the same. In his mother’s words conveyed by Srivastava to us, “The most important priority in life should be hard work; rest everything falls in place.” She used to tell her kids these lines when they had to choose between meals and buying a book!

The ₹750 difference in BHU and IIT Roorkee

Having done much of his schooling via the 100% scholarship route, Srivastava did not just master academics but also understood the value of punctuality and discipline, and never took the scholarships offered by the government for granted. Apart from his dedication towards education, he credits his mother for the same.

“I hardly took leave from school. Even on days when it poured, I went to school. My mother would ensure that I go to school on days it rained for checking whether a holiday was announced or not! On most such days, I was among a few students who showed up to school,” he recalls.

Though the financial condition that the family had to go through after the death of his father had taught him about the value of money, the same proved to be one of the crucial deciding factors when it came to choosing between IIT and BHU! Pursuing engineering was Srivastava’s first choice, but everyone told him that his chances were bleak as the IIT entrance exam was conducted in English.

“Though I studied in Hindi medium, I was a topper in English subject throughout school. With excellent academic results with rank in state merit, I was confident that I will be able to crack the IIT entrance,” he shares.

And so, he did! However, he got 1110 rank in the IIT entrance. At the same time, he also gave exams for the University of Roorkee, a very prestigious institute (presently IIT Roorkee), where the option to answer in Hindi was also available. In this exam, he secured a rank in the top 50. As he was not getting the engineering branch of his choice in IITs, the option was choosing between IT BHU and the University of Roorkee. He could get any branch of his choice in these two institutes. He chose IT BHU—the reason being ₹750 difference in fee structure! BHU (Banaras Hindu University’s engineering colleges were a part of IIT entrance exams back in those days. Not only was Srivastava getting an admission in a good college, he was also getting the mechanical engineering stream, and on top of everything the fee for BHU was almost ₹750 less than that of Roorkee.

“BHU’s fee was ₹359. A train ticket to my hometown from BHU college was much cheaper than a train ticket to Roorkee. Money was so scarce a resource for us those days that I had to choose between the entrance exams I wanted to give as every exam form needed a fee,” he shares.

He adds, “I was happy choosing BHU as I knew I could visit my family more than I could have visited while studying at IIT Roorkee. One more reason that triggered Srivastava’s decision to join BHU was his visit to the same in his childhood with his elder brother. The latter was studying in BHU when he had taken his younger brother to see and feel the experience of studying in one of the most sought after colleges and institutions in India.”

Bhanu Prakash Srivastava’s guru mantras
•The only results you should be concerned about are the results for the organisation, not for your individual self!
• Times will come when teams need to make sacrifices. Be the first one to be ready to sacrifice for the team!
• Running after designations is like chasing a wild goose. Chase efficiency if you want to chase something!
• Stay relevant by constantly updating yourself with the latest from your industry and how it intersects with everything else. It is easy for others to fool you if you do not stay relevant!
• Everything you expect from your team, you should be able to give them!
• Do not be afraid to upset people if that is the requirement of the task at hand. Similarly, always be ready to get upset by people!
• The applause for the success of a project belongs to the team, never to an individual!

India over the US, engineering over civil services

The first semester at BHU did not come easy at all for Srivastava. Though he ranked 14th in the first set of results, it was a shock for a student who was always in the merit lists! Srivastava could not believe the results he had yielded despite studying hard, and instead of going into a state of denial, he chose to find out the reason. BHU was filled with toppers from all over India: the competition, as he recalls, was tough, but he had not left any stone unturned. Then what was the cause of him being able to secure only 14th rank?

“English was the main problem. Though I was a topper in the subject at school level, the English everyone spoke at the BHU campus was completely different from the English we learned at school level. All lectures used to be in English, the study material used to be in English, and most discussions would be in English,” Srivastava says.

Everyone at BHU was busy studying, and Srivastava could not find help for learning English. He started listening to BBC news shows on the radio to build mastery over the language. In the next semester result Srivastava got first rank. From then on, he was in the top three ranks most of the time.

Listening to BBC shows also sparked his curiosity about global affairs and India’s place in the world. As a result, he started comparing India’s growth to that of the modern world.

“This was the point when I made up my mind to work for the country till the last breath. Though a lot of my fellow students were going to the United States and other parts of the world, I wanted to stay here in India and serve my country. In the form of scholarships, the country had spent so much on me. It was my time to dedicate myself to the country,” he says with a proud face. Srivastava did not have a passport till he joined BEL and was sent to Tokyo for training in 1989.

Even though Srivastava had a great inclination towards the coveted civil services exam of India, he decided not to pursue it because he believed every effort made by him for gaining technical knowledge and every penny spent by the government of the country in enabling the same “would go in vain.”

“I sometimes think I could have helped a lot in policymaking if I had chosen to give the civil services exam. However, I am happy that because of BEL, I have been able to work with a lot of departments of the government,” he says.

Srivastava was selected at BEL via campus interviews and was holding multiple job offers when he appeared for the BEL interview. In fact, many companies reached out to him while he was working with BEL, with job offers that promised much higher salaries. He says he has never considered such an offer.

Bhanu Prakash Srivastava’s postings
• 1.5 years at Ghaziabad
• 10 years at Kotdwara
• 3 years at New York, USA
• 10 years in Kotdwara
• 7 years at Ghaziabad
• 2007 onwards at Bengaluru

Ringing a bell at BEL

Before joining BEL, Srivastava was asked about his choice of posting. While he told the seniors that he was open to being posted at any of the locations that BEL operates in, the process required him to mention names of two cities he wanted to be posted in. Srivastava mentioned Ghaziabad and Kotdwara as the top two choices.

As Kotdwara was a remote place and very few opted for that, he was selected for the Kotdwara unit and posted to the Ghaziabad unit for initial training. For general information, the Ghaziabad unit is considered one of the most sought-after postings in the organisation as it not only gives one proximity to seniors but also opportunities to work on technologies that are among the prime interests of the nation. However, little did Srivastava of that time know that Kotdwara, the city that he mentioned on his posting preference form at BEL, would prove to be one of the best opportunities for him.


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Mukul Yudhveer Singh
Mukul Yudhveer Singh
Mukul Yudhveer Singh is an Editor at EFY. He’s an experienced business journalist who is both an enthusiast and a cynic of technology. Believes in data, as well as hunch-based journalism. He defines journalism as- reporting facts which help the audience take their own decisions, not ones that influence them!


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