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K.L. Dhingra, Chairman and Managing Director, ITI Limited

August 13, 2014
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Resuscitating a patient that has been on the ventilator for 12 years is a delicate task because the system and morale have been weakened, but K.L. Dhingra, chairman and managing director (CMD) of the patient in question – state-owned telecom company ITI Limited – is like a doctor who never gives up. His immediate challenge is to ensure that the cocktail of drugs approved by the cabinet as part of a revival package earlier this year is administered effectively.

“ITI has been chronically sick for 12 years,” he says. “With the National Telecom Policy, 2012 and the National Policy on Electronics, 2012 unfurling many opportunities in the field of electronics in general and telecom in particular, and with the upgraded, refurbished electronics manufacturing infrastructure post-implementation of the revival package, the prospects look bright in the coming years. We have set quarterly targets for turning around ITI in the next two years.”

Dhingra’s tasks at ITI’s Bengaluru head office are multiple – steer the company towards profitability, create a road map for the future by anticipating telecom trends, and align the company’s workforce and infrastructure to deal with a rapidly changing scenario.

It’s not that Dhingra has only been waiting for the revival package to be approved. He has been pruning costs to reduce losses, and has seen results. In 2013-14, ITI reported its lowest-ever losses and its highest-ever MoU score in the past 12 years.

ITI is now known only by its initials but it was earlier known as Indian Telephone Industries Limited. It was established in 1948 and later converted into the country’s first post-Independence PSU to assist the government in the field of telecommunications. The company offers a complete range of telecom products and solutions, covering switching, transmission, access and customer premises equipment.

The government holds a majority equity stake in ITI. In 2004, it was declared a “sick” company. But earlier this year, the government decided to inject Rs 40 billion into the company to upgrade its manufacturing infrastructure and help it manufacture new technology products so that it could compete better in the marketplace and increase its market share.

Dhingra says that, as the country’s first PSU, it carries a lot of social overheads which have become detrimental. “Apart from improving manufacturing, we need to bring fresh talent into an aging manpower – the average age is 53. We still have some skilled manpower and are capable of supplying equipment and executing turnkey projects,” he says.

In fact, he commends his staff for being able to absorb new technologies. Thanks to its own R&D, the company occupies a leading position in the field of security solutions for defence communications. ITI has supplied more than 75 per cent of the defence requirements for encryption products.

Prior to joining ITI, Dhingra was CMD of HUDCO from September 2007 to April 2010. During Dhingra’s tenure, HUDCO - the country’s first development financial institution for financing housing and urban infrastructure - achieved its highest ever loan sanctions, profits and credit rating on a stand-alone basis, and had the lowest non-performing assets ever since the company was set up in 1970.

From 2000 to 2004, Dhingra was director, finance, at Indian Rare Earths, a PSU under the Department of Atomic Energy. His main achievement there was turning around the struggling PSU to the point where its MoU rating reached “excellent”.

“This was the period when Indian Rare Earths started paying a dividend to the government after a gap of about 15 years. The company also won an award for its ‘special turnaround’. I received the award from the then vice-president, Krishna Kant, along with the CMD of the company in 2002. That was a memorable assignment for me,” he says.

According to Dhingra, the personal attributes that have helped him achieve his goals are a go-getter attitude, good relations with his colleagues, good contacts, regular follow-ups and being as “alert as an eagle”.

“In the office, I believe in ‘professional relationships’ with subordinates rather than ‘emotional relationships’. I expect everyone to work with the speed at which I work,” he says.

His wife Neelam is the source of his inspiration. He met her when he was working as a stenographer in the English Department of Kurukshetra University 39 years ago. Neelam joined as an M.A. (English) student, and the mutual attraction was instant.

Dhingra was perfectly contented with his job and had never thought of a life beyond the university or the town or his modest background. It was Neelam who inspired him to think bigger and give his life a totally new direction.

He went on to do a master’s in commerce; obtain a law degree, and an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies at Delhi University, and pass the ACIB (Associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers) from the Chartered Institute of Bankers, UK, in addition to completing numerous courses in finance and banking. He is one of the few bankers in the country who is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Banking and Finance, Mumbai; of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Scotland; and also of the Financial Services Institute of Australasia.

“From the time I joined Dena Bank as a probationary officer in 1981, I nurtured the ambition to head a public sector bank or enterprise, a wish that has been fulfilled,” he says.

If Dhingra had limited ambitions when he first met his wife, one reason was that a large part of his childhood was spent in a village in Haryana, working in the fields as a casual labourer, harvesting crops and doing odd jobs. He went to the local school at Nilokheri in Karnal district. All of his post-school education was carried out through correspondence courses – a feat of incredible self-discipline and will. Even his MBA at Delhi University was completed as a part-time student, attending classes after finishing work at IFCI and latter at ICRA.

While he worked and studied in Delhi, his family lived in Faridabad. Once his evening classes were over, he would reach home by around 11 p.m. or later. It was tiring but Dhingra coped, with the support and commitment of his wife.

Even now, he packs a lot into a day. He has been vice-chairman of the Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE, an apex organisation for Indian PSUs) for the past five years. He has been elected to the post for the past three consecutive terms, contesting against many CMDs of much larger PSUs. He is also vice-chairman of the Finance Committee of SCOPE.

His day, typically, begins at 7 a.m. with five newspapers and going through urgent documents and files. It then progresses to meetings and discussions on reviving ITI till about 8 p.m. By the time he gets home, Neelam has usually also returned from her job as assistant general manager at the Oriental Bank of Commerce.

Dhingra spends most of his spare time with his family. He is fond of reading, watching movies and listening to music. Whenever his sons, Ankur and Ankit, are at home in Bengaluru, he likes to go swimming with them.

While travelling, he is constantly on the phone, getting updates or talking to senior officers in the government as well as in BSNL, MTNL and defence organisations, and to existing and potential customers of ITI.

Dhingra expects the next telecom revolution to take place in rural India and is pushing the company to look at every opportunity to add value in building the network for the nation.

Commenting on the future trends, he says, “Broadband for rural panchayats is expected to take off in a big way. For another, indigenous manufacturing of electronics and telecommunication equipment will get a boost from the new policies. Also, 4G broadband wireless technology is expected to gain subscribers, and cloud-based offerings from telecom operators and ICT providers will be a game-changer.”

Earlier this month, Dhingra confirmed that ITI had won an order worth almost Rs 30 billion from BSNL, for a project called Network for Spectrum, a defence project to establish an optical fibre network throughout the country. ITI is also expecting another order of Rs 2 billion in the next one month or so. So, the company could end this year with a turnover of close to double that of last year, in the range of about Rs 15 billion to Rs 16 billion. In other words, exactly what the doctor ordered.

“Once I have turned this company around and made it profitable, I will hang up my boots,” he says.

 
 
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