For Renault, getting its talent pool back is top priority

Murali Gopalan Mumbai | Updated on June 10, 2020 Published on June 10, 2020

Venkatram Mamillapalle, Country CEO and MD, Renault India   -  Bijoy Ghosh

Thousands of engineers who left Chennai during the lockdown are due to return with Covid-19 on the rampage

Venkatram Mamillapalle believes that the return of Renault’s talent pool to Chennai remains one of its biggest challenges going forward.

According to the Country CEO & Managing Director, Renault India Operations, this pool comprises employees who returned to their hometowns during the long lock-down which began on March 24. They are from different parts of the country who will now need to cope with transport challenges and rising Covid-19 infections while heading back to Chennai.

“Our talent pool migration is going to have a bigger impact than labour migration for future programmes,” says Mamillapalle. While they will “return for sure”, Renault faces other constraints in terms of being allowed only 33 per cent of manpower in offices which is the norm for all companies.

How long this will continue is the million dollar question given that infections are rapidly increasing in Chennai. “We have to see how quickly we bring these people back and re-establish our engineering activity for the new programmes moving forward,” says Mamillapalle.

This is especially critical from the viewpoint of getting restarted and generating income for future investments. “How profitable we will be is important because I can no longer go to Paris and ask for money,” he explains.

The Covid-19 spread has affected every region around the world and Renault headquarters in France has been “equally strained”. As Mamillapalle says, everyone has “their own problems” with the result that “nobody can be dependent on the other” for money.

This is where the presence of the India talent pool is important to be able to get things back on track. Yet, even after they return, there will be further challenges to reckon with. “When we bring them back, we need to have social distancing. Do we have enough space for this?” wonders Mamillapalle.

Near impossible task

Clearly, this is a near impossible task if it means accommodating thousands of engineers at one go. “How efficiently we stagger this number and assemble these people back before getting back into full-fledged operations is a big question. Will it take 3-6 months? I don’t have a clue since social distancing is the new normal to prevent spread of infections,” admits the Renault India chief.

By the end of the day, even asymptomatic people can create a problem in the Covid-19 scourge and these realities have to be factored in before these engineers are brought back into the office. As a result, there is only limited manpower present now within the Renault ecosystem keeping in line with the government’s norms.

“How do we then run operations like this? We need everyone back. More importantly, I have to give them the freedom of choice since this is a health issue,” continues Mamillapalle.

Work from home

Even while there are functions where “work from home is doable”, this cannot be extended to others such as engineering, testing and design. “A testing or design engineer needs to be at the workplace,” he says. There is a lot of “human-to-human” interaction in these functions which makes it social distancing an unrealistic objective.

Yet, says Mamillapalle, it is not as if this is the end of the world for the company. “Nothing changes at Renault except that there may be a delay at best,” he adds. If business does not move properly in the next three to six months, there will be a deferment of investment.

Way forward

“However, that does not mean the plan will go away,” reiterates Mamillapalle. The French carmaker had fixed 2022 as a goalpost to double its market share in India but with the pandemic, the pendulum could swing the other way. There will now be other challenges to deal with additionally.

“After all, total volumes as well as customer perception and behavioural patterns need to be understood and revisited before we plan all over again,” explains Mamillapalle. The time lost during the lock-down in terms of engineering and developing with suppliers cannot be made up which could cause a “cascading effect” of almost six months.

Given the pressure on the auto industry, the Renault India MD believes it makes more sense to defer the CAFE norms which are due in 2022. These pertain to increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles on Indian roads. Meeting this deadline will involve huge investments which is difficult at this point in time when overall business in the automotive ecosystem has taken a nosedive, says Mamillapalle.

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Published on June 10, 2020
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