India is an agrarian country. No one knows the importance of our farmers and the need to support them than Shailendra Jagtap, Managing Director & Country Manager at John Deere India Pvt Ltd. John Deere is a global leader in agricultural machinery and heavy equipment manufacturing. But being a price sensitive market, operating in India is vastly different from anywhere else. Shailendra chats with Corporate Citizen about his global career journey, the challenges of operating in a market like India, and his advice to youngsters who are starting their career in the midst of a pandemic.
"When we look at the UPI usage in India, I believe that rural area may have less resources or less money in hand, but they are not backward. They are extremely forward looking, and they are willing to adopt technology if they feel that it is beneficial"
John Deere India
Corporate Citizen: Take us through your education.
I am a mechanical engineer. I started my career journey with Kirloskar Brothers at their Dewas facility, Madhya Pradesh. I was a tool design engineer. I worked there for less than a year. At that time, there were a lot of joint ventures that were coming up in the area of automotives. I got the opportunity to work for a joint venture called Hindustan Motors - iSuzu. This was joint venture with an aim to bring Japanese technology to India. This was in 1984-85. I got a job there and I moved to Kolkata. Now, there I got an opportunity to really learn the Japanese style of management. I got an opportunity to go to Japan and learn their technology and management practices. This was an Isuzu production system, which we learnt and when we came back, our job was to deploy that in India, as we were setting up a management facility here. This was my job at that point of time. It was more of a process layout, facility planning, and deploying that in India. I worked there for a couple of years, rose through the ranks and then moved to another joint venture, which was Tata Cummins. During the Hindustan Motors - Isuzu collaboration, we set up a Greenfield project in Pritampur, which is close to Indore. It was a great learning to work in a Greenfield project, right from acquiring the land to constructing a building, deploying the Isuzu production system and then getting the plant up and running. Tata Cummins was another Greenfield project, but this was in the area of making engines for commercial vehicles. This was in Jamshedpur, and I worked there. This was an American style of working. This is where I learnt a lot about the business side of things and how to make business decisions. That was the key aspect there. I then briefly worked for Mahindra and then I joined John Deere.
CC: Tell us about your current role
I started at John Deere, heading their operations in India. This was a tractor manufacturing process. I did this for a couple of years, and then I got the opportunity to set up another Greenfield project. This was in Indore, near Dewas. Then I got an opportunity in John Deere to work in the US, in global supply management in crop care, and then a couple of years in Singapore for a global manufacturing operation. I worked in the area of agriculture and understood the needs of the farmer and how to bring in a technology to meet that requirement. That was the key learning for me in John Deere. Currently, I am working as the MD and CEO of John Deere in India.
CC: You worked in the USA, where the farmers are very technologically savvy. India is a country where most of the farmers rely on subsistence farming, and they are very technology averse. How do you appeal to the farmers here?
My learning has been that, when you look at the smartphone penetration in the rural areas, when we look at the UPI usage in India, I believe that rural area may have less resources or less money in hand, but they are not backward. They are extremely forward looking, and they are willing to adopt technology if they feel that it is beneficial for them. So, the challenge there is how we bring in a technology, which is easy to use, and at the same time it meets their price point. If we as manufacturers are willing to innovate to meet their criteria, they are more than willing to adopt that technology. John Deere was the first to bring in a lot of technology in India, whether it is power steering or a power reverser, or a permanent clutch. And, farmers adopted these technologies, because it was beneficial for them. If you reduce the cost for the farmers, and improve the productivity of the farm, then they are willing to adopt. It is important to give the right technology at the right price point.
CC: Internationally, John Deere has started implementing self-driving tractors. Do you think that technology is still far from being implemented here in India?
There is still a long way to go before this particular technology can be implemented in India. John Deere has a lot of technologies globally such as precision farming, which Deere is willing to bring to India, but there will be a certain price point for this, and an eco-system will need to first develop. There needs to be some favorable rules and regulations by the government for this kind of technology to be adopted in India. If these things fall into place, John Deere is more than willing to bring these technologies here.
"John Deere has a lot of technologies globally such as precision farming, which Deere is willing to bring to India, but there will be a certain price point for this, and an eco-system will need to first develop"
CC: Does John Deere manufacture in India or do you import?
We in fact manufacture tractors in India for local sales as well as for export, to more than a hundred countries.
CC: You’ve had a long and storied career. Could you take us through some of the initiatives which you are most proud of?
For any organisation, developing an open trust and transparent culture is very important-where employees feel that there is psychological safety. Also, creating an inclusive environment for a diverse workforce is extremely important. While I cannot claim credit for achieving it all at John Deere, we have been working at it consistently for the last several years.
CC: The Covid-19 was an unprecedented crisis that no one saw coming. Several industries transitioned to Work-From-Home to adapt to the challenges. But as a manufacturer, how did you manage these challenges posed by the pandemic?
While we were not a part of the essential industries, which were allowed to continue working as they were, we did get a favorable response from the government. When the pandemic started, it was harvest season, and it was important that farmers stay in the fields, run their machines, and do harvesting. The government supported us a lot in terms of giving us the permission to provide the service and the support to the farmers. This we did through our employees and dealer channels, and we cannot thank them enough for what the dealer channels and also our employees did. They did a phenomenal job of supporting our farmers during the lockdowns induced by the pandemic. We could support our farmers and our employees trusted us because we undertook all the Covid appropriate protocols, and we did a lot of vaccination for not just our employees, but also for the nearby villages. We extended all the support possible to all of our stakeholders.
This is a continuous journey. The industry is on a journey, and the rate of change of technology is very fast. The regulatory environment is also fast changing. Institutes are trying to catch up with that. All parties are moving in the right direction, albeit at a different speed. More industry-educational institution engagement will help us fill the gap and move forward together. The steps are being taken in that direction, but more still needs to be done in that regard.
CC: We are seeing ‘the Great Resignation’ happening in many industries. Do you see something of this sort happening in your industry as well?
One must understand that one formula is not going to suit all areas and all functions. There are some jobs which are to be done in the workplace or out in the field. They cannot be done from home. Those employees will have to come in to work, and that is unavoidable. There are certain areas and certain functions which can be done remotely. There is going to be a hybrid type of working and there is going to be more flexibility in the way we are going to work in the future. I believe there will be a change in the normal way of working. Whatever we want to deliver, we have to deliver as a team. Human interaction, team work and collaboration is going to be an extremely important aspect, because if you lose out on the human interaction, you will lose out on the learning opportunities. A mix of that has to be there and that is how things are moving.
CC: How do you manage to strike a work-life balance?
I don’t think that nowadays you have a work-life balance as such, what I would call it is work-life blending. Work, especially in a global situation, will have some roles which are local in nature, some which are extremely global in nature and some which are a mix of both. How do you really blend work with your personal life is extremely important. You need to work through that. There is no single formula you can apply to find a solution to this issue. Each person will really have to figure out how they will manage this aspect. That is why I say, blending is going to be more important. Some days, if you have a lot of work in the evening, spend the afternoons with your family on those days. If you have work in the afternoon, spend the evenings with your family. This blending needs to be very important, and we need to be flexible in our own minds to be able to do this.
"Wherever there is a repetitive nature of a job, based on the business case, there will be automation. There is no set rule about this. Whether or not automation will happen depends on what type of work you are doing and how much is the customer willing to pay"
CC: John Deere in India manufactures and exports to over a hundred different countries. Even before the pandemic, there has been a concern that automation is taking away a lot of jobs. Do you see this to be a real concern or do you think that this is not that big of a threat to existing jobs?
Wherever there is a repetitive nature of a job, based on the business case, there will be automation. There is no set rule about this. Whether or not automation will happen depends on what type of work you are doing and how much is the customer willing to pay. Each industry will have to figure out what that balance will be. There are more and more jobs getting created because of the way we are deploying technology. So going forward, it is going to be a balance between automation and job creation. Both can happen simultaneously.
CC: What is your idea of relaxation?
My idea of relaxation is spending time with the family. When you spend time with family, whether you stay at home or whether you go on vacation or on a tour, all this is relaxation to me.
CC: What is your philosophy of life?
I never gave this much thought, but I think one should be happy and create a happy environment around you. Keep everyone meaningfully engaged, because if they are meaningfully engaged, they will have satisfaction in their lives and they will be able to meet their own aspiration. How do you really support the people close to you and in your surroundings to fulfill their dreams is the way to sustain us and take us forward in life.
CC: The youth now is starting their careers at a very volatile time, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is also an unemployment crisis in the country. What advise would you give to these youngsters who are about to embark on their first jobs?
I believe that the economy is moving in the right direction. India is on a growth trajectory. Students have to work hard on getting knowledge, and on developing the right attitude. If they are able to do this, the industry is going to provide them the opportunity to deploy that knowledge and develop their skill, develop themselves as professionals and human beings, and that in turn will help them meet their own aspirations. That is the advise I would give them.
CC: Manufacturing as an industry, as compared to IT, Aviation, and other industries, is often perceived as less appealing as a career by the youth. Do you think that perception has changed in recent times?
I cannot state conclusively without having any data to back it, but I think that each person will have to define their own way of doing things. If you look at the Indian economy, 50 per cent of the contribution to our GDP is through services. Around 20-24 per cent is through the manufacturing sector. The manufacturing sector requires a lot of discipline, to go to the factory and work. It also provides a little less flexibility than the service industry. From that point of view, students are free to make their own choices. When we look at the way things are moving, students are making the choice to go in the service industry presently.