His is a frugal lunch. One chapathi, some vegetable curry, 2 to 3 spoonfuls of curd rice - there weren't any appalams around, so one doesn't know if he'd have a bite or two - a finger lick of pickle, a few gulps of water and he's off. There's a Norwegian visitor expected and he doesn't like to keep people waiting.
Rajiv Vasudevan, Chief Operating Officer (CEO) of Technopark, is in a hurry. Not necessarily implying that all his lunches are frugal, just that he'd rather eat to live than live to eat. He's in a hurry not because he's going somewhere, but because he's got to get Technopark up there. And "there" means, 'the promised land'.
Like most CEOs are inclined to be, Rajiv Vasudevan is extremely passionate about his organization. "Technopark is doing something significantly different from what a technology park in Bangalore or some other park is doing, because we are providing a holistic environment," he says, raising one hand to his face to block away rays of the setting sun pouring into his spacious chambers. His first floor office in The Park Centre overlooks a huge cluster of green forests. Not too far, as the crow flies, are the azure waters of the Arabian Sea.
Rajiv Vasudevan, a Mechanical Engineer from the Regional Engineering College, Calicut, had a short stint at Thumba for 7 months and then went on to the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. Later, he joined Godrej and Boyce in their Telecom Division, where he worked for over 5 years. Then suddenly, he went on a 2-year sabbatical because he "needed a break". "I didn't work for anybody. I was doing certain projects, which were of interest to me. Not business but something socially relevant," he says. At some point his savings ran out and he was back in the corporate sector. He joined Motorola's Pager division as Regional Sales Manager, Western Region. From end 1996 onwards through end 1999 he was Country Head, India & SAARC, for the Paging Systems Group of Motorola, and then for one year as Head, Customer Operations, India & SAARC, for Motorola, CGISS. "The market had just opened up and that was a very exciting time," says Rajiv Vasudevan, having spent 6 years with the multinational. Then this interesting opportunity came by and that too with a location in his 'homeland'. It was a challenge he couldn't refuse.
For someone soaked to the skin in corporate acumen, the decision to move into the government sector would be considered uncharacteristic by corporate pundits. Rajiv Vasudevan doesn't think so. "That's the challenge, but the main thing is that your work style doesn't change. I don't think I work any different," he explains. In fact, he thinks he's now busier than he ever was. Proves our point about the man being in a hurry. But, doesn't government enterprise mean getting bogged down with constraints? Stuff like red tape, approvals and so on? The reply comes in his soft-spoken style, an attribute that's endeared him to all. "I guess in every place there are constraints. Here, its good exposure and also an opportunity to do some fulfilling work," he adds.
When he said 'fulfilling', we wondered if the corporate sector wasn't fulfilling enough? He seemed to have read our thoughts. Perhaps that's what prompted this candid reply, "If you work in the private sector long enough, particularly the MNCs, the blue chips, there's a charm. But at the end of the day when you're looking for true fulfillment there could be other roles that come in." Like his present assignment for instance? "I came in at a time when things were totally written off for Kerala. It was a completely fresh agenda for the State. And I could play a role in creating some awareness for this place and what can be done."
Does he see a vision for Kerala? There's a sparkle in his eyes, a gleam on his face. Part of the question was already answered. The rest followed, "Take any particular place. You can't create investment only through an island of excellence. There's a larger, macro picture there. And I believe the present State Government is doing a lot of work to change that particular perception. The future for Kerela really lies in leveraging its excellent infrastructure."
According to him, Kerala has invested in good people, good social equity, good infrastructure and the only barrier he sees is how to improve communication skills. Not that they aren't literate. They are – 100%. "If we can make them English-speaking, this State cannot be equaled in India," adds Rajiv Vasudevan. "Therefore, building a pool of people who can communicate with confidence, who are aware of general issues and what typically a cosmopolitan urban environment provides and how does one create it here. That's the challenge." Indeed! That will be Kerala's litmus test.
He opines that Kerala has taken major strides in improving its work culture. The tainted image it carried on its shoulders like the proverbial cross, is set to change. "In the last 2 years itself one can see significant changes having taken place. When you judge a place like Kerala, the strengths that it has got will last a long, long time. The weakness - and you talked of flash strikes, etc – it's a process of social change. Over a period of time, when that gets resolved you'll have here a very mature society," emphasizes Rajiv Vasudevan. "I think a new generation has come in."
Did a union spring up along with Technopark, as was usual in Kerala? Pat came the reply, "Nothing. None at all." And where does he see Technopark heading? "Technopark has already got a momentum and it's happening. Possibly, in the next 6 months we may have to start construction of new buildings," says a very optimistic and upbeat Rajiv Vasudevan.
As dusk descended on Technopark, it was time to go. As we did, one comment of Rajiv Vasudevan's kept reverberating in our mind, "I always tell people that Technopark is a huge agent of change." We believe it is.
The massive stone statue in the campus, gazes perpetually across the ocean to the far off horizon and perhaps silently wondering at the mysteries of what lies beyond. Interestingly, its chin is always up.
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