R Madhavan to steer HAL amid headwinds

R Madhavan
Madhavan takes control at a time when HAL stares at a tense and unclear future.
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Bengaluru: R Madhavan took the hot seat of plane-maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) on Saturday. He assumed the office of Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) following the retirement of T S Raju on Friday.

The Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) had chosen Madhavan for the top post in May this year. Madhavan, a native of Kerala, takes charge at a time when HAL stares at a tense and unclear future.

When PESB stamped its approval on Madhavan, he was the Executive Director (ED) of HAL's Accessory Division in Lucknow. Interestingly, there were many EDs, CEOs and Directors senior to Madhavan ineligible to attend the interview as they were left with less years of service before retirement. Three EDs from HAL, including Madhavan, had attended the PESB interview, out of the total four candidates.

The new incumbent has to steady the company on many fronts, in addition to managing the HAL officials (Directors, Executive Directors & CEOs) who are senior to him. Interestingly, Madhavan took a flight to Bengaluru from Lucknow only last evening, a clear indication of the happenings within HAL.

"Normally the Chairman-elect gets some time at the Corporate Office ahead of assuming office. This is to ensure a smooth take over. This year for the first time in the history of HAL, a chairman did not hand over the reins to the next man. We are not sure about the reasons," a finance official said.

Another situation that Madhavan will have to confront is that of the entire Board members being senior to him. "It all depends upon how he manoeuvres and at what speeds," the official added.

Next-line leadership must

Among the many challenges, Madhavan will have to streamline the poor human resources record of HAL and put in a strong leadership line, who can steer the ship even after his tenure.

"Unless promotions are given on time to well-deserving people there will be a leadership vacuum. It was evident when Madhavan attended the PESB interview," an official remarked.

Madhavan will have a four-year tenure and during this period he will have to build a strong team of inspiring leaders who can propel the dreams of youngsters in HAL. He will superannuate in July 2022.

As reported by Onmanorama, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is waiting in the wings to take the command and control of some HAL projects. It will be interesting to see how Madhavan will take these challenges head on and safeguard the interests of HAL.

He will also have to script a new chapter for HAL’s engagement with the private industry to fulfill in the mandates under the Make in India mission. "The pressure from private industry has grown and we are now facing stiff competition from them. There has to be a fresh thinking in place to find a win-win solution and Madhavan is a man with sharp insights," the official added.

Focus on technology

HAL claimed in a release that Madhavan’s focus will be to make the company ‘numero uno’ in the aerospace sector through delivery of world-class products with a thrust on indigenisation. His emphasis will also be to make HAL a preferred supplier in the aerospace industry.

“Mr Madhavan is a firm believer that technology is one of the key determinants for the future success of any organisation in today’s cutting-edge tech-world,” stated the release.

Topping his list of his achievements is the successful technology absorption for production of Su-30 airframe and engine accessories from raw material phase while at Lucknow. But for the ‘Madhavan magic’ to work HAL needs to wake up from its slumber and win the customers’ confidence.

“To cite an example, he will have to bridge the gap between HAL and ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency), immediately. The Tejas project needs a big push. Our demands are not for any individual gains. We have our chap (pilot) sitting inside the cockpit and his safety is paramount,” an IAF official said.

But, those who have seen Madhavan, an M Tech holder from IIT Madras, from close quarters, said that he understands the needs of the customers and is sensitive to all user needs. They added that he is a sharp engineer with a clear vision.

Only time will tell if Madhavan, with his 36 years of experience as an insider, can turn the fortunes of HAL in the next four years.

(The writer is an independent aerospace, defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)

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