Embrace digital or perish: Harsh Goenka

RPG Enterprises Chairman Harsh Goenka in an exclusive interview talks to mlmonlineads.com about the group’s new policies to transform into a workplace of the new generation. In a conversation with Rica Bhattacharyya, Goenka NSE 0.00 % talks about how the group is preparing to face the digital boom in the world around and how automation is changing the workplace. “Embrace digital or perish,” he warns. According to Goenka there will be lot more jobs for people from humanities and arts rather than from engineering and science. Edited excerpts:

You take a lot of interest in HR activities and culture building? What is the culture change that you are envisioning?

It is an important pivot on which I drive the group. For greater productivity you need a good environment and the quality of the workplace is crucial to retain and attract top talent. The younger generations, especially the millennials, are not looking for what is it in there for me but how can I make a difference. They want respect and a culture of open communication apart from career growth. We have introduced flexible working policies in all our group companies where we now have flexi working hours. In Ceat, for instance there is no attendance recoding system now and employees can work from any location. There is no pressure to work on a Saturday or Sunday. We encourage people to go on holidays. We have introduced 5 day work week for our managers and white collar staff in factories. We are focusing on creative workspaces as we feel it is integrally linked to better productivity.

What was the idea behind your open offices and creative workspaces?

We have broken our office from a cabin system to an open system making it look almost like an art gallery with breakout spaces, open air areas, lot of conference rooms. The whole idea was facilitating people to start communicating with each other. It was a part of the cultural shift. The feel is more of an ad agency creative hot shop rather than a typical office. We took this a level further at Raychem RPG, an old style manufacturing company and went into an open office concept, where even the CEO has no cabin. It is aesthetically designed with lot of art work, wooden bookcases, quaint wooden corner couches and lot of bright colours. The idea was to have a fun layout with a homely feel. It reflects the changing mindset, better transparency, giving the employees a workspace where they can think more creatively.

Do you see technology overtaking humans in terms of jobs? How do you see bots transforming the workplace?

Every company will have to get in for robotic process automation and many of the mundane and repetitive tasks will be taken over by automation. But the new age industry will throw up a lot of jobs which require human brain, creativity, imagination. Lot of people think with robots jobs will disappear but according to me people will have to reskill themselves. So the challenge will be how do you change mindsets, how do you reskill. There will be much more new jobs that will be created. For example the whole ecommerce business and the way the whole logistic business has boomed it will soon be one of the biggest job creating avenues in India after perhaps construction. There will be a change of the mix and automation will happen but it will give many further jobs.

What is the level of preparedness of Indian companies to cope with the rapid pace of technology disruption? It is mixed. This digital boom that is happening we, as a group, are fairly well prepared. We have now in all our main companies a chief digital officer – a function that is totally different position from the chief information officer. In KEC, we have started through drones putting the wires on the transmission towers in difficult areas. They have connected our factories. In Nagpur, we have automated our factory into one of the few digitally enabled factories in India. Your scarp levels will come down, your down times will come down with automation that is happening. On the other hand, the cost of labour is also going up in India. What we have done is in all our new factories the whole layer of supervisors are gone and we have all self-managed teams (SMT) who are class XII pass and these workers themselves are the supervisors – whether it is in Halol, Ceat factory, Raychem, Nagpur. We are giving employment to more trained, thinking people. We ensure their education to the next level, hold special courses.

Where will the next batch of job creation happen?

Information technology (IT) will produce a lot more jobs but reskilling will be required. Second place is in the whole creative area. With machines taking over, creativity will be much more important. The whole creative services business. Third, ecommerce will be a very big play and with that the whole delivery and logistics space will create a lot of jobs. Then there will be a whole construction boom taking place. Warehousing will become very big business. The other big business I see is leisure. More than 90% of Indian firms are family businesses, while there are parallel studies that say that rarely family businesses survive beyond the third generation. Against that backdrop what do you see about the longevity of Indian companies? Generations go but companies don’t go. Many of the people in the younger generation are not motivated. They are too concerned about showing off their worldly pursuits. They feel a sense of entitlement. So in the younger generation a lot of them are frittering away wealth rather than creating it. So it all depends on each family and what kind of grooming they have done.