You assumed the position as the President & MD just in the beginning of April 2020, which is also around the period when the country went into a lockdown. What were the challenges that you had to deal with in the first few weeks of taking over?
I assumed responsibility for RBEI right at the heart of the COVID-19 scenario. We had to now do business in ways that we were not used to. One of the biggest challenges that I faced at the get-go was to equip 96% of our employees to work from home amid a very long and indefinite lockdown. We are into R&D operations, which meant, in some cases, supporting associates working in our labs to continue with their research and testing from the confines of their homes. Our primary focus was that our employees stay safe as they continue to do great work from home and ensure our clients did not lose too much momentum. Another challenge was allaying any fear of a long-term impact on careers and ensuring that we, in the leadership team, led by example inspiring others to take on these new challenges one day at a time. A great example of our employees’ spirit is how they have designed solutions using technology available in hand, for COVID symptom scanning, monitoring physical distancing, mask usage and related applications. It was the need of the hour.
Are there any opportunities that you see for your company out of this present situation? If yes, then what are they?
The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on global economies and trade. It has taken down fundamental ecosystems across industries. Our focus is to build RBEI up from being an engineering powerhouse into a company that is aspirational for India’s best tech-talent – a fun company that builds technologies that impact daily lives. One thing that I keep saying is that the connected world is coming, whether we like it or not. The biggest opportunity that I see is for us to play at the intersection of these future technologies and become an innovator across the value chain with our years of experience across software, sensors and services. We build beautiful software in India, which is a part of every product that comes out of Bosch, globally.
In what ways do you think India can add significant value to your global customers, especially with the ‘Self-reliant India’ movement being announced?
Nearly every software from Bosch has a footprint of India or RBEI in it. India has a huge potential in terms of talent to scale when one looks at the full-stack development for the connected world. We have eye care and haemoglobin solutions that are locally made and have the potential to go beyond India. The fact that our services to our customers have continued uninterrupted during a crisis itself is very reassuring to our customers. They can focus their attention on other priority areas. This in itself is the value-add that our customers have realised.
Industries you cater to, like automotive, have started working with the ‘new normal’. How can solutions by RBEI help with its solution in this shift to the ‘new normal’? In addition, what structural changes do you think are set to come in the automotive sector?
The pandemic has hugely affected the automotive industry, which is going through a structural change, and our customers across the world have been affected. However, almost nobody red-lighted any future product engineering. We have been building products for the automotive industry that can be used during the pandemic, like facial recognition and temperature recognition products, which are being provided commercially. Big brands are already going contactless in the automobile industry for contactless service.
I am optimistic about the mid to long-term in the sense of pick-up, especially in the automotive sector in India. With the market bound to get more competitive, future products will see an increase in features and innovations in the digital space and we envision that turning into a great opportunity for us. As we prepare to take on the role of a technology enabler, I believe India will continue to drive a lot of that innovation.
You have been very out-and-out about promoting start-up culture in India. Now, with you assuming the top managerial position in the company, how do you plan on offering a boost to start-ups in India? What sort of start-ups does your company intend on collaborating with?
At Bosch, we look at how we can create value with partners across the board, including technology start-ups. We often explore these synergistic relationships, sometimes to gain access to a particular competency, bridge the gap on solutions and sometimes for the talent. As we continue to run programs like Discover, Nurture, Align (DNA) & encourage technology start-ups to work with us, this inter-dependency with Bosch will increase. While we bring these solutions into our fold, the start-up also gain access to a much larger market – our global customers, as well as our technology expertise to ensure that their solution is market-ready. Some of the niche markets where we continue to see opportunities for collaboration include telemedicine, pharma & agriculture, automation in factories, energy, retail and safety.
Do you think it would be a smart decision for companies to invest now in digitalisation/Industry 4.0? Or should they wait for normalcy to restore before starting to invest in technologies?
This is a time as good as any for companies to invest in automation and digital technologies. The prime focus for most companies, especially in the manufacturing space, is to go back to the business scenario of the pre-lockdown era, or a better scenario. This will mean new products and the ability to compete in an extremely competitive market, while still managing to survive. Cost cutting and innovation are inevitable. In manufacturing, it is imperative to ensure efficient factory orchestration of machinery, resources and processes. At this point, I do not believe that any company can afford to have a wait and watch approach to what lies ahead. All decisions need to be taken here and now.
What is the recovery period you are aiming for RBEI to overcome the side-effects of the lockdown? What is the plan of action that you intend on implementing for a quick recovery?
At RBEI, we are sufficiently prepared for the near future. Contingency measures were put in place early on. As we move towards the opening up of the lockdown and with employees returning to work in a phased manner, we feel more confident about the situation improving. Recovery is the strong word – with a majority of our workforce working from home, we never really shut down. At RBEI, it will continue to be business as usual, with some amount of caution and some amount of uncertainty – but that is the new normal.