Sanjeev Agarwa

“With great power comes great responsibility, so think twice before you act”

In conversation with Sanjeev Agarwal, Executive Director - International (Transmission & Distribution, Solar), KEC International

“Professional life can bring a lot of stress every day if you don’t have defined goals to work towards.”

1. Tell us a bit about your background, where are you from?

I grew up in a nuclear family in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. My father is a chemical engineer from BHU Varanasi, my mother is a housewife and my elder sister holds a postgraduate degree in Economics. I live with my wife and two daughters. Aparna, my wife, started her career as a fashion designer but eventually moved on to work as a Montessori teacher and has been shaping young minds for the better half of the past two decades. My elder daughter, Tanya, recently graduated as a Computer Science engineer and is working for GE in Bangalore. Trisha, my younger daughter, is in class XI, studying Commerce.

“My father taught me that shortcuts don't help in the long run, and that one should respect time throughout one’s professional life.”

2. Tell us about your early years and education.

My schooling was at St Mary’s Academy, a co-ed school in Saharanpur, during a time when early rooted respect and equality were taking shape in India. I went on to pursue a BE in Mechanical Engineering from Roorkee, and finally completed my part-time Diploma and Masters’ degree from Symbiosis, Pune. Apart from academics and spending most of my spare time leading my team in the Badminton courts, my four years at Roorkee taught me the importance of respect and compassion. It also gave me the opportunity to learn from and build long-lasting relationships with people from diverse religions, cultures, and backgrounds.

3. Have you always worked in the power sector? What attracted you to this industry?

Except for my first two years, I have been in the power sector for the past 26 years. I have delved into an array of domains – from marketing and sales to execution and running P&L accounts. From small industrial power plants (2-3MW) to the biggest power plants (1200MW), from private companies to central utilities (NTPC, BHEL, NLC, etc.), from sub-critical to super and now through ultra super-critical technology, it has been a very satisfying journey.

I have been fortunate to have great learning platforms to acquire and build upon skills such as selling hardcore technology, working as an EPC (Engineering, Procurement & Construction) professional, overcoming challenges on-ground in terms of land allocation, working with several vendors, and on TOP integrating all components. From playing a key role in upgrading the industry’s technology over the years, making advancements in approach to build, competing with international players, and ultimately the fact that I have been a key player in producing the most efficient, reliable, and economical power for India – all of this has been my motivation to serve this industry for as long as I have.

4. You were amongst the seven CXOs hired remotely during the pandemic, and in a sense were among the first to experience end-to-end digital onboarding at RPG. How has the entire experience been for you?

While my meetings with stakeholders at RPG Group took place in person in the last week of February, all other collaborations and team meetings have happened seamlessly via technology such as smartphones, video conferencing over MS Teams, etc. COVID-19 prevailed as my joining date knocked on the door. I spent the first two weeks of June tossing and turning at night, sleepless, strategising around the new norm of ‘remote working’ and how to gain the most out of it.

My first discussion on June 16th with my manager, Vimal Kejriwal (MD & CEO, KEC), lasted an hour and put all my worries to rest as he patiently listened to my queries, encouraged me to take my time and adjust to the new environment and bank on him any time for anything and everything. Over a video call, he welcomed me, threw light on the business, its several stakeholders, priorities, serving regions, and most importantly the human capital in great detail.

On the same day, I was welcomed by the Excom members with the warmth and assurance of support, making me feel at ease. In addition to these said courtesies, a subsequent call from S Venkatesh (President, Group HR) was refreshing. The cherry on the cake was a call from the Chairman, Harsh Goenka, to welcome me to the Group, marking the beginning of my journey at this organisation.

Honestly, other than a physical handshake or holding discussions around a table in a meeting room, I don’t see any difference in everyday work. We are fortunate enough to be living in a time where we can connect with our colleagues remotely, knowing that we can leverage their expertise, years of experience and leadership for the progress of the business from the safety of our homes, only a webcam away. Every day we meet, discuss issues, come to resolutions, deep dive into tenders, and share a hearty laugh.

5. What makes you happy at RPG?

Professional life can bring a lot of stress every day if you don’t have defined goals to work towards. Moreover, these goals must be aligned with one’s personal growth as well as the growth of the business. I am extremely fortunate that I work at RPG, where there is more work and less talk. This helps in keeping me aligned towards the goals I have set out for myself. At the end of a long day, I sleep with satiation, raring to break barriers all over again the next day.

6. What were your first thoughts on hearing about RPG's new Remote Working Policy?

Two words: Path breaking.

The elimination of ambiguity from this concept, being the pioneering company to execute it, reassures my faith in RPG’s brand promise: Hello Happiness. I believe it is the responsibility of managers to ensure camaraderie and empathy within the team while making sure functions continue to grow. Even as keeping up the spirits of existing employees is vital one must not forget to take into account the raw young minds who have just started in their careers. This remote handshake between freshers and their managers should be one of give and take, where superiors leverage their expertise to give enough time and opportunities for the freshers to adapt, while in turn benefitting from the insights and ideas from these fresh minds, and together reaping the rewards of hard work and success.

7. Has there been a pivotal moment in your career that has shaped you or left a lasting impression?

There have been two pivotal moments that have left a lasting impression on me.

The first time, nearly 7-8 years ago, when I took up the role of Global P&L Head for a product in Alstom, I had the opportunity to work with global teams and customers, all of whom hailed from different cultures and backgrounds. Not only did this experience leave a profound impression on my approach and mannerisms towards others but also taught me to respect time – others’ as well as my own.

The other pivotal moment was three years ago when I was promoted to the board of General Electric (GE) as a Whole Time Director. It was then that I felt the magnitude of a responsibility bestowed on me by the external shareholders.

8. What is your mantra? What drives you?

My workday starts very early – typically at 8 am. In the first hour, I decide the priority for the day as well as pending tasks to be completed.

My mantras are simple:

  • With great power comes great responsibility, so think twice before you act.
  • The outcome of any decision can be termed as good or bad, based on how things evolve, but it is essential to make the decision in the pivotal moments.
  • People drive change, and policies act as catalysts.
  • What drives me are new learnings, new environments and the possibilities to bring some change every day.

9. Who has been a source of inspiration for you?

My father, who taught me that shortcuts don't help in the long run and to respect time throughout my professional life.

10. What is the first thing you'd like to do once the lockdown has been lifted?

After the release of the vaccination, I hope to go on a vacation to the mountains and spend some peaceful time.