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Mashelakar says : I was the Director of National Chemical
Laboratory from 1989 to 1995.
It is a great Laboratory and is one of the finest in
chemistry. We were supposed to do research and development,
develop technologies and transfer them to industry, partner
with them, make commercial production happen in Indian
industry based on new indigenously developed technology and so
so many great achievements that National Chemical Laboratory
has had in catalysis, in polymers and whole range of other
areas. I had a very interesting challenge, when I took over
the Directorship of National Chemical Laboratory in 1989. Any
time we at NCL had done something ahead of the rest of the
world and I went to Indian Industry, they would always ask me,
“but have they done
it” That was the Indian Industry’s mindset. Have they
done it means- has Japan done it?
done it? Has Europe done it?
If they have not done it, how can we do it?
had a very interesting challenge.I asked myself a
simple question. What was I selling? The answer was that I
was selling knowledge. Then I asked myself what is my
market? My market is global. So, in 1989 I made a statement
that National Chemical Laboratory would be “International
Chemical Laboratory”. What did it mean? It meant that my
market would not be limited to India. It would be U.S., Europe,
all over the globe.
audacious. I was almost saying that I would develop something
and sell it to Pfizer in U.S., sell it
to General Electric in US and so on. There were many doubting
Thomases, who told me that the size of the budgets of Pfizer
and General Electric, were bigger than India’s R&D
budget. I remember
telling them that it was not the size of the budget but the
size of the idea that mattered.
the idea- thinking big is what matters.The beauty of
the flight of imagination is that it has no limit to the
height you can reach, there is no limit on the fuel that you
can load, and there is no limit to the distance that you can
land, excepting the limit that you set for yourself.Limitless –that is
the key word. And we said we would pick on some
challenges and we picked on General Electric. They were
leaders in polycarbonate plastics and had 40% world market
share. I said let us create something, which they had not
thought of. Their
budgets were bigger than India’s
R&D Budgets, by the way. But I was trying to prove a
theory that it was not the size of the budget but the size of
the idea that mattered.
a breakthrough on what is called as solid state
poly-condensation of polycarbonates. I am not going into the
technical details, the important thing was that we had changed
the paradigm by doing a reaction that was conventionally done
in the molten phase to a solid phase, with lot of attendant
advantages on the quality, cost, etc. Normally, if it had a
breakthrough like this, we could have published – and then it
would have been common knowledge. In the new paradigm, we
didn’t say publish or
perish but patent,
publish and prosper. Why patent? Because if I am selling
something to General Electric, I cannot go to them and say I
have copied it from you. They will kick me out. I have to be
ahead of them. Not only that, it has to be protected by the
patent in their country, otherwise they will not buy it for
the fear of infringement.
time it was a paradigm shift because we did not have a single
patent in National Chemical Laboratory in 39 years after its
establishment in 1950. We
went in for aggressive patenting because it became a
compulsion and without patenting we could not be able to sell
knowledge to multinationals.
got a breakthrough in solid-state polycondensation of
polycarbonate, we filed a US patent. And we were all
delighted, when it was granted.
That breakthrough was actually like putting a stake on
General Electric’s territory.
Impressed by this, the General Electric shook hands
with us – became our knowledge partners. It was an incredible
Jack Welch the CEO of General Electric said, “If they are so
good then why are we not there?” And they set up the Jack
Welch R&D centre in Bangalore and once they
set it up, there were several others who came. And today we talk about
India as a Global R&D hub with more than 300 companies
having set up their R&D centres, and not small, by the
way, but with 2000, 3000, 4000 scientists working in them
making India a knowledge production hub.
all began with that little spark at the National Chemical
Laboratory. What did
The same young Indians who were only doing
copying-and glorious word for that was “reverse
engineering”, by the way, started doing “forward
engineering”. And the same set of people were able to
actually deliver something which was ahead of the rest of
the world. What is
the central point I am trying to make? It is that by changing
your mindset, you can do it. The basic mind is the same, the
intellect is the same. it’s
the positive mindset that has changed. This mindset now says
“I can do it – I will do it” -
and that makes a difference.