Vivek Venkatachalam CEO, G.E Energy

Have you met anyone who is extremely good in communicating. They might not have been public speakers or news readers, they might have simply been good in communicating what they mean. The background for these people is that they excel in Thinking and and so are able to communicate with clarity and exactness and take the most appropriate decisions. Clarity is power and confusion is weakness. This world belongs to the energetic and the world belongs to those who do things differently and those who manage change pretty well. Extremely pleased to put forth in this month's success story Mr Vivek Venkatachalam 95 T who is the President and CEO at GE Energy, Power Conversion - India. His clarity in thinking and understanding things "as they are" with the ability to set the pace and direction, exploring various possibilities by thinking differently and providing solutions to complex business situations has got him to where he is today. Vivek has very little blind spots, has good self-awareness and tries to maintain harmony and rhythm in all what he does. He understands his strengths and doesn’t feel shy to seek help, guidance or support. AUETAA is proud of Vivek for reaching this far and know from his potential has miles to go. He has successfully completed running five half marathon this year (21.09 kms) including the Wipro Chennai HM on 1'st Dec 2013. The theme of this year's run is "For the long run."

Vivek grew in a disciplined family, the only son for his parents, his father worked with Indian Oxygen until retirement. His grandmother's grandfather was Sir Subramania Iyer who was a lawyer, jurist, a freedom fighter who with Annie Besant founded The Home Rule Movement. He was popularly known as the the Grand Old Man Of South India. He was the First acting Chief Justice of Madras High Court, one of the founding members of Indian National Congress, presided over a public meeting to welcome M.K Gandhi's in 1915 who had just then come back from South Africa, He was the nominated Senator of the Madras University in 1885, continued until 1896 when he became vice Chancellor in the year 1896 and a Great Theosophist till the end in 1924 when he was 82. Vivek's family had more lawyers who went on to become Judges but for Vivek his parents wanted him to do engineering.

Vivek did 14 years of schooling at DAV Gopalapuram, Chennai and was reasonably good in academics. He played a lot of badminton and cricket throughout his school and college and represented FEAT in their some cricket matches as a batsman. When he passed the XII exam he got admissions to BITS Pilani for pursuing Information technology but chose to join Chemical engineering in Annamalai University. Vivek passed out of engineering in 1995 with good marks and joined Orchid Chemicals as a Project engineer in the process control industry. It was an engineering job and he was providing technical support for the project engineering team. He was responsible for Engineering and Vendor development as well as planning, product identification of competitive advantage. He created and implemented paradigm shift in project plan, resulting in commissioning the plant 3 months ahead of schedule. Given that Orchid was a start up at that time, Vivek was exposed to a lot of valuable experience. He worked long hours and learnt a lot which provided him a platform in his later years of being very strong in the "Basics" and the experience provided him a wholesome exposure.

As it happens in everyone’s career Vivek's opportunity came in the disguise of a problem in an operating plant at Orchid Chemicals in 1999. As a customer he was dealing with this reputed speciality Chemicals MNC called Betz to solve this problem. As is the case the path to finding a solution was not smooth but Vivek and team persisted and found the solution over a few grueling months. The recognition for having found a solution to the problem came from Betz where they offered Vivek a Sales and Service job which was largely to leverage his technical skills. It was a blessing in disguise as this opened the door to the commercial world which Vivek was always aspiring for. The transition to Betz was smooth with full disclosure to both organizations and the offer was too good to refuse !!

Right place & right time. In Betz it was great fun working for a MNC with a philosophy of "Play hard and party hard" with hands on learning on all fronts where his commercial skills were sharpened and his career responsibilities grew to becoming a region leader. By that time GE had acquired Betz globally and the newly acquired company was called GE Betz. As an outcome of the acquisition was reorganization, Vivek was given the responsibility of leading a few verticals (Oil and Gas and Automotive) for South Asia. This stint provided tremendous learning and gave a global perspective and expanded his horizon. Riding on the good fortune of both these segments the business grew several fold which did capture the attention of the leadership in GE. This was recognized with being challenged with larger responsibilities, thus his O&G journey commenced.

Vivek was asked to start up GE's Oil and Gas business in Mumbai in 2005 as Regional Manager. As unnerving as it could be, everything was, neighbourhood, language, school, boss, products, customers etc. The only option Vivek had was to adapt to the change and this experience taught him that the only constant in the ever changing world is to manage the changes for “Change is an eternal constant”. Vivek embraced the change and freedom which was coupled with responsibility & accountability. He was able to close large deals with Reliance and Cairn which Vivek feels were critical from the nation's energy infrastructure point of view. This positioned him to take further responsibilities and in the course of few years became the country head for Oil and Gas business in India located in New Delhi. His best moment was when he bagged a Rs 1400 crore contract from the largest private O&G company in India. As a Country leader in 2009 at GE Oil and Gas his responsibilities were to build an O & G platform and increase presence across all P & L’s. Vivek was instrumental in drive commercial growth and expand presence in the Indian market, a vital segment for the company’s continued business success.

In 2011, as GE acquired another global company called Converteam (electrical & automation space) which was head quartered in Paris and renamed as GE Power Conversion. This organization had their Indian operations run out of Chennai. Vivek’s manager in O&G was named the global CEO of this newly acquired company and he called Vivek and asked him to help integrate the business and set it up for growth in the Indian context. The role of integration is tough and a thankless job, but it was also something Vivek had not done until then. Operating from Chennai for the last 2 years, Vivek says that it has been very valuable and equally challenging experience. It is the hottest fire that forges the hardest steel !

GE power conversion applies the science and systems of power conversion to help drive the electric transformation of the world's energy infrastructure. Designing and delivering advanced motor, drive and control technologies that evolve today's industrial processes for a cleaner, more productive future. It serves specialized sectors such as energy, marine, industry and all related services. In India the organization has approx 700 employees encompassing sales and Service organization serving the India market, Engineering & Technology operations serving regional and global operations and a manufacturing facility for drives. Vivek at 40 now is the President and CEO, GE Energy, power conversion – India. Vivek said that GE does not believe in age but believes in meritocracy He also added that “Say – Do ratio” has to be good to build Credibility which is a very important factor for growth in any organization. In business there are only two things – Results and Reasons… Reasons don’t count !!

When I asked him whether he has missed out in telling me that he has done his MBA, since he was managing a large Corporate business Vivek said that he joined MBA part time in Madras University while working at Orchid Chemicals but could not pursue because of work commitments. About his time while studying in Annamalai University he said that far besides learning Chemical engineering the alma mater has taught him valuable life skills like negotiation,being frugal, to do more with less and being street smart. Another valuable aspect in AU has been to respect cultural diversity, moving with fellow students from diverse culture - understanding the differences and still respecting them as they are, sharing great relationships, being able to independently manage ourselves and above all being cheerful & happy !!

The climb to becoming a CEO did not happen just like that. In today’s world it is survival is for the fittest. The harder you press, the higher you bounce and it is many hours at work and Vivek has the virtue of going to the root cause & thinking differently. Not that he did not have have failures, he had a number of them. Winners never quit and quitters never win. A leader has to trust himself, embrace change, keep learning and set an example, act congruent w.r.t the commitments and convictions – integrity, setting goals and practice.

Stress at work did have its toll with Vivek losing sleep some years back and that’s when he decided to start running to tire his body for a good sleep !! Vivek runs every day in Chennai at 5 AM and the hormone endorphins are pumped in to the blood stream when you do physical activity and promotes wellness.This is an other change, getting up in the morning at 4.30 and going to bed by 9.30 pm. By doing this he feels he has become more responsible by respecting time in one’s life. Life is all about prioritizing & he sets aside an hour as “think time”. This gives the cutting edge to think about various alternatives and pick out the best solutions. He also introspects every day before going to bed – a mental march past of the list of things that has happened every day as feedback mechnism to ascertain if he is going on in the right path. Many people spend hours an year planning to go on a holiday but do not spend even 1 quality hour about their life and work !!