In pursuit of excellence

In pursuit of excellence

As an employee of  Glaxo in Bombay in the 1960s, I was looking for an opportunity to relocate to Bangalore, my hometown. A newspaper headline that MICO (now Bosch), was the second-most profitable company in India, led me to send an unsolicited application. Among the samples of my work I had sent were the company’s public issue literature and brochures which prominently featured a photo showing me about to give a baby an injection. In the interview, I explained that the Medical Officer had refused to pose for the photo, and therefore I had to masquerade as a doctor. After I briefly outlined a plan to disseminate information about the company devoted to employee welfare and the public interest, I was offered a job on the spot. 

Working for the Company would bring me in close touch with Germans fostering an achievement-oriented culture in Bangalore. One of the two directors who interviewed me was Karl Heinz Martin, who I learnt played a key role in developing the manufacturing facilities of the Company with devotion. On the day I reported for work, I saw him standing at the reception at 7.45 am. “All employees should be ready for work in their seats at 7.45 am, and not just walk in at this time.”

 That was quite something I had to get used to. Whenever a VIP visit was scheduled, he would discuss the exact route we had to take for the factory visit and marked on a blue-print. The innate traits which Martin so strongly applied to work during his stint in Bangalore were what had enabled Germans of his generation to rebuild their country into a much admired industrial and economic power soon after the utter devastation in the World War. 

 Martin was succeeded by Gerhard Schoeffler. When Schoeffler got the idea to make a film on the Company, he asked me to work out a script. He said he would do the filming himself on his Super 8mm camera. My script was centered on an important customer who is taken on a tour of the company’s sales office in Bombay, the new factory being built in Nasik and the main factory in Bangalore.

 When the question came up on who the customer should be, he suddenly said, “You be the customer!” We flew to Bombay and checked into the most expensive hotel in the city. Next morning, as I emerged from the lobby dressed immaculately, my boss was filming me getting into a swanky Mercedes in which we were to travel to Nasik. 

A pilot plant had been set up in Nasik to train employees and establish procedures. The General Manager in charge was Franz Prussakowsky, a workaholic. Schoeffler was highly impressed that the pilot plant was spick and span and everything was in perfect order. On the way back to Bombay, he told me, “You may think we Germans are 100 percent efficient. But these Prussians are 150 percent efficient.”

Prussakowsky came from Danzig in the former Prussian area in East Germany, which after the war was lost to Poland, following the expulsion of the German inhabitants and resettlement of Poles. Whenever he came to Bangalore he would tell me, “Your factory here is a pig sty!” This was a bit hard to take, as it had a reputation as the best factory in India. 

I had long been mulling about a new type of rotary internal combustion engine ever since I wrote an article on the rotary Wankel engine. I worked out a basic design of a rotary engine with just two moving parts creating expansion and compression in a cam-controlled rotary movement. A friend in the IISc worked out the output of the engine. Another friend made detailed drawings. I took a pressure cooker separator vessel from home and asked an apprentice in the Training Centre to make the rotors and fit these into the vessel to make a demo model of the engine. With a spring instead of fuel to actuate movement, it seemed to work. I showed this to Schoeffler.  He sent my note about the engine to the patents department of Bosch. After some investigation, they wrote back saying that such an engine had been designed during World War II by a German engineer and was called a cat and mouse engine in German. This revelation put an end to my fantasies of being a pioneer. 

The house journal which I edited was repeatedly awarded the first prize in the ‘Best House Journal’ contest. Many other awards came my way. Once I showed a copper plaque given to me by the President of India for the best calendar to Schoeffler’s successor, Hubert Zimmerer. I said, “We have received awards for our publications from two Presidents of India.” He quipped, “Don’t they have anything better to do?” 

It was during the tenure of Dr Helmut Kubeth, an intellectual and renowned expert in electro-chemical and thermal deburring, that these and other new technologies were introduced in the Company.

After I became a consultant to MICO, a former General Manager of the Company roped me in as a consultant also to handle communication tasks and produce calendars for a Calcutta-based company of which he had become the Managing Director. In one of the subsequent years, he selected a transparency of a film star which I picked up from a photographer in Bombay along with good alternatives.

Though the pose was excellent, it had some scratches. The MD was however insistent on using only this picture. The printer said the only way was to go to Germany and get the scratches removed using new technology. The MD told me, “Go to Germany and get it done.” “Going all the way to Germany just have the scratches removed?” I wondered. 

 I spent a couple of days in Kiel on the Baltic coast waiting for our turn to process the transparency on a scanner. The technician sitting on the other side of the glass partition removed the scratches in a jiffy. After this, as a guest of Bosch in Stuttgart I renewed my old contacts. When Prussakowsky, now retired, heard that I was in Stuttgart, he took me home, where his wife had prepared a delicious Indian dinner for me.  

A few years later, I was assigned to write a history of MICO, a project which again brought me in touch with the old-timers I had known in Germany, and who had contributed to the fostering of a positive work culture in Bangalore, an example to the rest of India.
(The author can be contacted on sumasesh@gmail.com or 9448049318)

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