We come across many stories of ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary success, in spite of a humble background and limited resources and opportunities. I have been thinking for some time that these personalities need to be interviewed and their stories documented so that they inspire others to reach great heights. Such stories break the myth that people do well in life only if they are from a privileged background in terms of wealth, influence or both.
It was when I attended the evening meeting of Indian society for training and development (ISTD) at Bangalore in October 2016 that I met Mr C.M. Aswathappa, who was a faculty with the Vemana Institute of technology, Bangalore after his retirement as DGM (Training and Development from Bosch in June 2016. As I interacted with him, I realized that his achievements were remarkable. He had served the same company (originally known by the name MICO) for 41 years and in the same department of vocational centre for 33 years.
His first tryst with the company was as a three year Machinist trainee in February 1975. He successfully completed the trade apprenticeship training winning the silver medal. All the subsequent qualifications were acquired while serving in the company. This included Diploma in mechanical engineering, BE(Mechanical), MS (Manufacturing) from BITS, Pilani and two scores of certificate courses!
Later when I met Mr Aswathappa once again for the interview, the scale of his achievement was even more evident. He was featured in the special issue of the India Today magazine dated 19th October 2009 as one of the 40 drivers of the Indian growth machine. The feature which covered diverse fields like steel, infrastructure, IT and shipyards/ ports etc. also interviewed among others Mr E, Sridharan of DMRC, Mr Krish Gopalakrishnan of Infosys, Mr Madhavan Nair of ISRO,Mr Manish Satharval of Team Lease and others identified as the drivers of growth machine.
Some of the prized possessions of Mr Aswathappa include pictures with the former president of India, Dr Abdul Kalam. As HOD of the training centre, he had the privilege of explaining the skill development activities to him when Dr Kalam visited the Bosch Vocational centre on 1st June 2011. However, one document closest to his heart is a certificate jointly signed by his teachers/ Gurus over the years at the vocational centre who have described him therein as " a jolly person, cheerful personality, great teacher and simple human being,"
These are the responses to the simple questions that I, Rajeev Moothedath (RM) put to C.M.Aswathappa (CMA).
RM: Could you tell us something about your early childhood and background?
CMA: My father was a farmer. I was born in a small village Cheemanahalli, Sidlaghatta taluk,in Chickballapura district of Karnataka. The initial schooling up to class 4, was in the Government school in my village which was followed by middle and high school at the taluk headquarters. For my ITI, I moved to Bangalore.
RM: Coming from a village to the city, what were your early challenges?
CMA: Not being able to speak English or comprehend the language fully, was a big problem for me. I used to avoid associating with or being part of a group of fellow students who were convent educated and used to speak in English! Some classmates used to tease me “You have got cent percent marks in Maths and Drawing; yet don’t know where MG road and Brigade road is in Bangalore…
RM: So how did you address this challenge?
CMA: I began to feel the pressure and limitation of not knowing English when I started working as instructor at the vocational training centre. I enrolled myself for a 60 hour English learning program with two hours’ class in a day.
RM: What were the other challenges during the period?
CMA: Preparation of lesson plans and taking classes continuously for two and half hours was a major challenge. I used to stand in front of a mirror and practice for hours.
RM: You owe a lot to your organization MICO- BOSCH?
CMA: Yes, a lot! When I joined after completing apprentice training I was posted to the maintenance department as operator. It was my good fortune that my first supervisor saw potential in me. “You are very good in design and drawing. Why are you wasting your time here?”, he asked. He commended me to higher levels and I was awaiting a vacancy in design & drawing department. In the meanwhile, an internal recruitment vacancy was announced for an instructor in the vocational training centre. I applied, got the job and did not look back ever since.
At the Vocational centre also, I had supervisors and colleagues who taught me from the scratch and helped me to acclimatize to the new role. One trainer took me under his wings like a younger brother while another treated me as his son.
RM: What other support did your company give you?
CMA: I have grown from the level of an operator to that of a DGM in the company. All my qualifications after joining the company, be it diploma, BE, MS (Manufacturing management) and certificate courses were done with the financial support from the company.
RM: You have served in the same department of the same organization for over three decades. What is your feeling about the landmark?
CMA: I am happy that a lot of developmental activities could be done in the training centre. Our quality training assured medals every year in the All India Skill competitions. At our Bosch centre we run 7 out of the 15 trades that are eligible for being awarded gold medals. It is a matter of pride that we won gold medals for all the 7 trades twice during my tenure at the centre.
I have the satisfaction of having trained young technicians who are today serving not only in Bangalore (most), but also in Orrisa, Rajasthan, Sydney, Melbourne, UK and Sanfrancisco.
RM: Do you keep in touch with your apprentices?
CMA: Yes, with a few of them and this has been possible because of the initiative from their side. Many trainees are working in Bosch itself. Few others working in Bangalore keep in touch as also does a person working in Sydney. I received a surprise letter after many years from a trainee working for Capgemini in USA.
RM: In your long tenure in the department, how many generations of employees would you have trained?
CMA: I have the satisfaction of having trained two generations of employees, both father and son.
RM: Finally, could you tell us about your family?
CMA: we have one son, Ashwin who also started his career as an apprentice at the Bosch training centre. He is married and I am now a grandfather.
RM: I am a little surprised to hear that. One would have thought that as a son of a person who has achieved a lot in spite of difficult circumstances, you would have given a better education to your son.
CMA: Well, he studied in a convent school. After schooling I was prepared to put him in any course and support him up to any level of higher studies. But he was very clear in the mind that he wanted to do ITI. He is quite intelligent and competent in his work. In fact, initially I even had him meet a career counselor who after a long discussion with him, advised me to leave him alone and let him follow a path that he is interested and passionate about.
When I suggested to my son that he take up engineering, he said "Daddy, if everyone became engineers, who will do the work on the shop floor?"
Well, I had no more questions to ask this achiever who has lived a life of continuous improvement. He is as much proud of his humble background as he is of his achievements. Interestingly he did not take a rigid stand when it came to his son's freedom to choose his own vocation and is also proud of his technical competence. It is my hope that stories like these will inspire many more Aswathappas to have dreams and chase them till they succeed....