One year ago, Tejpreet Singh (“T.P.”) Chopra took the reins as General Electric’s CEO in India. At the time, India Knowledge at Wharton interviewed Chopra at the company’s office in New Delhi about his top priorities for GE India and the changing role of the Indian division in GE’s global operations. On the eve of his first anniversary as CEO, India Knowledge at Wharton caught up with Chopra again — this time at the Wharton India Economic Forum in Philadelphia. According to Chopra, GE has seen a lot of changes over the past year, particularly in terms of its efforts to tailor its products to the Indian market.
An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
Knowledge at Wharton: It’s good to see you again. I remember the first time you spoke to our readers at Knowledge at Wharton, it was soon after you became the CEO of GE in India. How is your first year shaping up?
Chopra: The first year has been great. I’ve seen a lot of changes happen in the market place and a lot of changes in our own company. I think that we’ve done a lot of work on, I would say, localizing our company. This is because at the end of the day, our ability to win this market is going to depend upon our ability to localize. Think about it: We have 15,000 employees roughly in India. We really have very, very few — I’d say about 10 — folks with non-Indian passports.
And so, really for all practical purposes, we are an Indian company, and it’s been great fun — the whole game of coming up with new products for the Indian market … to get more focused on our whole organization, to develop new products in our market, to develop new technologies — not only for India, but for the world. And that’s what the big focus has been.
Knowledge at Wharton:I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about that. I’ve heard that GE does a lot of R&D in India catering to the world market. Can you tell us about what you are doing?
Chopra: We have a facility in Bangalore and a couple of other cities as well. But the big research facility is in Bangalore, where we now have well over 5,000 technologists, engineers and PhDs doing pure research — not only for the Indian market, but for the global market. A few of the innovations that have come out are, for example, work on the GEnx Aircraft Engine, in terms of blade design and in terms of compressor work; they’ve done work on the EVO locomotive; they’ve done work in terms of medical diagnostics and imaging. So, a lot of the cutting edge technology that you are seeing around the world is actually being done in the labs down in India. But, what excites me the most is the fact that they are actually developing these products, not only for the global market, but for the Indian market as well.
A classic example is that we now have this ECG (electrocardiogram) device, which is about the size of an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper and has actually been made for a fraction of the cost of what a normal ECG device costs and is purely for the rural market of our country. So, today we can actually provide ECGs for a few dollars which would normally cost a hundred dollars for the larger devices. That is what we are really trying to do: to reinvent the game and change the way that we make products and really serve a completely different market than we ever have before.
Knowledge at Wharton: That’s really fascinating. In fact, having heard you speak on this before, you refer to some Indian companies as “game changers” in the way they’ve transformed different industries through innovation. I think one example that I’ve heard you give is the Tata Nano. Could you tell us a little bit about the work that you did with the Tatas on that project?
Chopra: At the initial part of the program, our plastics division actually worked with them to try to help them to become a supplier to the program. So we worked with them in terms of coming up with products that work with the car. But, what I tell folks is, I call it “frugal manufacturing.” The Tatas have reinvented the business model in manufacturing; to be able to produce a product at half of the cost and for it to be one of the cheapest cars in the world — and to come up with a good product — that is quite a feat.
It is this kind of thinking that is really “thinking out of the box” in terms of redefining a price point, and that’s changing the way Indian corporations are doing business. The Nano is a great example of a company that has innovated to win in the local marketplace.
Knowledge at Wharton: In GE’s own manufacturing operations, can you think of any examples where that kind of frugal manufacturing technique might provide value?
Chopra: I think that if you go across a lot of our business lines, again, given the fact that we have such a wide variety of products … this may not be applicable in everything. But, the ECG device is a classic example. We started off from a clean sheet of paper and started off with trying to meet a price point that just didn’t exist in our product range today. So, that’s a classic example. We will continue to look at all of the products that we have that are required for the Indian market, to see if we can actually use what I call “frugal manufacturing” to make it work for this market.
Knowledge at Wharton: Soon after becoming the CEO of GE India, you had identified three priority areas: infrastructure, health care and financial services. Can you tell us a little bit about the year or so that you have been in your job, and give us an update on what you are doing in each of these areas?
Chopra: The focus remains the same. It is very much an infrastructure that includes energy, oil and gas, water, aviation and rail. For example, we are looking at and evaluating putting up a locomotive plant in India. We are actually looking at the potential for setting up more manufacturing facilities in most of these infrastructure businesses, in some of our product ranges. So, infrastructure continues to be a big focus area for us in the country and we’ve had a lot of wins. We worked on a couple of pipeline projects. We’ve been working with a couple of refinery projects in the steel industry and in the water field. So, we have been actively focusing on the infrastructure side.
Health care is another big area of focus for us. Not only are we trying to, first of all, redesign our products and bring them down to a price point that works in our country; but also, we are working with a lot of the big hospital chains to actually help them and provide a more packaged solution for them as well, in terms of the financing and products, etc. So, that too is a big area of focus for us.
And, financial services, the third area that you mentioned — both in the corporate area and lending side and on the retail side — we continue to make a lot of positive improvements in everything that we do. We have actually grown dramatically our book on the financial services side in the last year.
Knowledge at Wharton: Considering everything that is happening in the U.S. financial markets, have you seen any impact in India?
Chopra: There is an impact — you see an impact of that in our growth rates. Our GDP growth rate — again, it’s still at 8.5% to 9% — is still a phenomenal GDP growth rate. But, one does see an impact of that in the stock markets. When you bring it down a few notches, for us, as a company, sure there has been a difference. You know, liquidity is tight in this market and that impacts all of us.
Lending norms have been tightened given what is happening in this market. But again, you know I think that it is all relative. The impact that it is having in India is far less than what one is seeing in the U.S. So, I’d say that there has been an impact, but not as big an impact as you’d see out here. We’re still seeing a huge positive momentum in growth in the Indian market.
Knowledge at Wharton: One of the things that I’ve heard you speak about is how critical winning the war for talent is in India. What is GE doing to win the war for talent in India?
Chopra: I think that it boils down to a few things. One is the value, the GE value system. I think that is important, not only for our company, but it’s important for all of the stakeholders that work with us: our suppliers, our customers, the government, the regulators. And so, everybody that we touch, it’s important that they understand what we stand for. Now, that has a big and strong impact on the employees we hire. We like to bring in employees that share our value system to help us grow; so, that’s one.
Two is that we are constantly trying to provide employees with the challenges and the opportunities to grow in this company. A person being recruited in India for a few years has the opportunity to go and work in one of our other facilities around the world. The folks in our R&D center are able to work on projects that are literally on the cutting edge of technology. We produce one of the highest numbers of patents in our labs in India versus some of the other facilities around the world.
And so, I think that a combination of providing, obviously, the right environment, the right job challenges, the right training, the right opportunities to grow and the right value systems helps us to attract, train and retain the best talent out there in the market.
Knowledge at Wharton: One last question: Since you are coming up to your first year anniversary in June, what has been the biggest surprise — either pleasant or unpleasant — in the job that you have been doing?
Chopra: The biggest surprise, in my view, has been a good surprise: It is this growing sense of confidence that is coming out of our country in India. I tell folks that there is a strong nationalistic pride developing, when I see all of this growth that is happening in India. And, I’m proud to say that it is a great thing to see the kind of confidence that is developing in the country to compete with the best in the world — and I enjoy that. I see the passion that is coming from our employees and from our suppliers and from everybody around us. It is fantastic. I think that the next five to 10 years will be an incredible period in the history of the country.