Suvarna Raju steps into HAL cockpit, says he loves challenges

Written by: Dr Anantha Krishnan M
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Bengaluru, Jan 31: Fifty-six-year-old Talari Suvarna Raju stepped into the cockpit of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) as its 17th Chairman on Saturday. Raju, who is currently the Director (Design) of HAL succeeds Dr R K Tyagi, who superannuated on January 31.

As reported by OneIndia on January 30 (‘Additional charge' syndrome grips Modi govt: RK Mathur for DRDO, Suvarna Raju for HAL), the Appointments Committee of Cabinet has given the ‘additional charge' (three months) to Raju now, which is expected to get regularised soon. Raju will have a total tenure of three years and nine months to propel the dreams and the fortunes of HAL.

new HAL Chairman

Task cut out for the taskmaster

Widely believed as a taskmaster, Raju takes control of HAL at a time when the Company is gearing up to take the disinvestment route as mandated by the government. In addition to dealing with a set of independent and government-appointed Directors, Raju will have to spearhead the Company through a new set of rules that will eventually fall in place, thanks to the disinvestment.

On a daily basis, he will have to handle an unpredictable government at the Centre, which is capable of springing surprises, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat. However, his saving grace could be Defence Minister in Manohar Parrikar, who can understand the complexities of military technology, as against the babudom-driven, super-slow predecessor in A K Antony.

Projects galore; speed should be the mantra

While Raju's leadership traits will right away fall on the radar of HAL's biggest customer - the Indian Air Force - his biggest task will have to complete all pending projects. Series production of Tejas, thrashing out nagging issues of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) naval variant, reviving the near-dead Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) project, Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) of Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), first flight and subsequent trials of Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) are some of the key projects that will need his immediate attention.

The IAF is sure to keep HAL, along with the Aeronautical Development Agency, on their toes so that Tejas gets the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) by December 2015, without any further extension.

Raju's convincing abilities will be put to test by the IAF when HAL's pride-project HTT-40 comes up for serious deliberations. Raju will also have to ensure that some of the pro-active HR measures initiated in the Company will have to go the distance, so that the workforce stay inspired.

Strong shop-floor management fundamentals

While an official HAL release proudly credited Raju for having the distinction of being granted the first patent in HAL in January 2002, it will be worth watching the fate of over 1000 patents filed by the Company in the last couple of years.

Having played a key role in drafting HAL's first R & D policy, Raju is widely seen as a man who has a clear vision on the shop-floor management fundamentals, which will be a huge advantage.

HAL release also credited Raju with contributing towards the success of Jaguar production and setting up its overhaul facilities. He is said to have played a lead role in establishing a world-class production line for Hawk Mk 132 aircraft, in addition to maintaining a record delivery schedule - a first in HAL by many miles. For the maintenance of Mirage 2000 aircraft and its on-time deliveries, Raju is said to have had a visible role.

Talari Suvarna Raju

HAL as a tech powerhouse his dream

Speaking to OneIndia soon after taking charge, Raju said he is ‘not a man in a hurry.'

"I have not taken this responsibility with any magic wand in hand. I have come up the ranks seeing the pluses and minuses of this Company. My primary mission is to ensure that the Services get what they want. I also need to ensure that my people (workforce) stay as a focused family, keeping the HAL flag flying high," Raju said.

When asked about his long-term vision for HAL, Raju, hailing from P Vemavaram of Tanuku (West Godavari) district in Andhra Pradesh, said: "Eventually I have a dream to make HAL into a technology powerhouse in aerospace and defence. Operational excellence is what I am aiming for."

‘Make in India' mandate an opportunity for HAL

He said the center's ‘Make in India' pitch has given HAL more impetus. "It's a huge opportunity for us to brand our strengths. I am also keen to take the industry alongside to achieve the mandate given by the government," he added.

Repeating his earlier stand made known to this Correspondent last year, Raju said HAL will have to be change with the demanding times. "We have a tradition that's inspiring. I am keen to bring in gen-next technology into HAL hangars. It's a challenging task, but I am ready for it," he added.

With a 34,000-strong workforce looking up to him with hope as their new leader in command, Raju's immediate priority will be to brand HAL during the upcoming Aero India 2015.

The ‘Plane Carnival' will also be the first opportunity for international aerospace and defence fraternity to get an upclose with Raju, the new poster-boy of HAL.

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)

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