Finding energy for the top job

RICHA MISHRA | Updated on October 14, 2011

Mr Sudhir Vasudeva, Chairman and Managing Director of ONGC. - Kamal Narang.

The new head of ONGC is equally passionate about scouting for precious fuel as for life's little joys.

The folk at ONGC consider him a “home-grown hero”, but the public sector oil and gas major's newly-anointed Chairman and Managing Director sees himself as a “late bloomer” in his professional life.

“I was happy being where I was,” says Sudhir Vasudeva, a native of Raigarh (now in Chhattisgarh), who was amongst the chosen first-generation of engineers entrusted with creating infrastructure to produce oil and gas from offshore fields.

“Being on offshore fields in my dungarees gives a spring to my feet. I don't know what it is... Am born under the sign of Pisces, so maybe water just draws me…”

Today, this out-and-out exploration and production technician is equally comfortable in his role as a top-notch executive. Along the way, he also handled his organisation's corporate communications for a year.

Multi-tasking team man

His colleagues admire Vasudeva for his multi-tasking and multi-prioritising skills. However, his 35 years in ONGC have not always been a smooth ride. In fact, in the past year Vasudeva has been in the public glare more than ever, as he emerged the chosen one to lead the exploration and production giant. With him at the helm, Vasudeva is quite clear that the company will focus on its core activity, namely exploration. His priority is to ensure energy security by improving production from ageing fields and fast-track development of deepwater and small and marginal fields.

The PSU has been constantly criticised for its declining output or failure to meet projections. ONGC's cash-cows are its gas fields and the company will invest Rs 26,000 crore to increase output at its marginal fields, he says.

He concedes that finding and retaining qualified manpower is a challenge for ONGC. In the next five years, 7,000-odd employees will retire. Though attrition is at 0.25 per cent, it takes a minimum of five years to create an ‘oil man', he points out. The company recruits 1,000 people annually.

Finding inspiration from illustrious colleagues such as N.B. Prasad, Subir Raha and R.S. Sharma, he says he has learnt a lot from their contribution to the company.

As a field person his colleagues consider him a team person. “Not an armchair intellectual,” is how one employee describes him.

Small-town origins

Amidst all the recognition and achievements, Vasudeva insists he “still remains a small-town boy from Raigarh, who adopted the urban life” while retaining his passion for music and books.

Describing his modest background, Vasudeva says his parents came to India after Partition. His early years were spent in the then sleepy Raigarh town, which today interestingly boasts big corporate names such as Jindal Steel & Power and Monnet Ispat.

The fourth among five siblings, Vasudeva recalls being the most pampered of them all. “ Pita ji Sudhir ke liye sone ka mahal bhi bana denge (father would make even a gold palace for Sudhir), is what my siblings used to say about me.” He is thankful to his elder brother for introducing him to the joys of science. Alongside, he developed a love for Hindi and English literature — from classics right down to pulp fiction, from Munshi Premchand to Harold Robbins, and from Indrajal and Baital to Mandrake comics, he devours them all.

In fact, he remembers reading Harold Robbins' Carpetbaggers in the middle of listening to lectures.

Family matters

Alongside books, music ruled his heart. Growing up in the era of Binaca Geet Mala, Vasudeva recalls with pleasure how his Wednesdays were “booked” for the soft romantic songs that ruled the airwaves.

So, did cupid strike in his college days? “Well, no. There were no girls in our batch. So…,” he trails off with a smile.

He had always aspired to work abroad, he says, but was kept grounded first by his father and later by his wife, who was chosen by his parents.

But he is not complaining. “My wife has played the role of a sheet anchor in my life. My two girls are my biggest critics,” he says with fondness. Known for his love for stylish clothes, he laughingly admits, “My girls think I look like Ganesha — because of my size.”

A self-confessed foodie, Vasudeva says he loves to experiment with tastes. But his cooking skills are limited to making tea and omelette, he says.

The small-town boy from Raigarh who enthusiastically embraced every opportunity that came his way, describes his life's journey so far as “a series of pleasant incidents”.

Published on October 13, 2011

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