Pathbreakers 2
“I want to explain to the people how India can add to the world’s wealth through innovation”

Villoo Patell’s Avesthagen is advancing knowledge in cutting-edge fields like genomics, proteomics and metabolics

Villoo Morawala Patell’s youthful looks and exuberant personality hides formidable learning in complex and cutting-edge fields such as genomics, proteomics, sequencing and metabolics. From a five-person academic start-up working from a university laboratory in 1998, Avestha Gengraine Technologies Pvt Ltd (Avesthagen) is now 500-people strong, has spawned several affiliates and forged formidable research alliances in India and abroad. Patell calls Avesthagen a fully-integrated biotechnology and  bio-informatics company focusing on the convergence between food, pharmaceuticals and clinical genomics. Its partners include Bio Mérieux of France, Sequenom Inc of the US, Cipla, Godrej Agrovet, Nestle of Switzerland and IFU of Denmark. It has a portfolio of 55 patent applications and is working on a unique project called Avesthagenome to build a complete genetic database of the Parsis (a community which has a relatively pristine genetic structure due to inter-marriages) which will help establish the linkage between genes, disease and environmental factors and help predict diseases and develop new therapies and diagnostics

ML: Shall we start with where you were born and the early influences that shaped you?

I was born in Navsari, a small town in Gujarat where the Parsis first settled on arriving from Iran; it is also known as the place where Jamshetji Tata was born. The name Morawala comes from a village called Mora. My paternal grandparents, Dinshaw Morawala and Meherbai, came from Surat, but migrated along with several Parsi families when invited by the then Nizam of Hyderabad. My grandfather was the tax collector for Bidar district, now in Karnataka. The Morawala family is academically inclined and is into writing, art, sculpting and poetry.

My mother Daulat’s family is well known as the Borkhadi Kasads - a farming family for hundreds of years. My grandfather, Sohrabji Kasad, headed a joint family of seven brothers and two sisters. They continue to farm as a joint family operation at Borkhadi, a village near Navsari and grow mangoes,  tur daal and titoli. I feel proud that I have such a strong connection to our soil and roots in Navsari. It keeps me grounded. Starting this company was considered such a hare-brained idea that I had to find someone who believed in me to sign the documents as the second director. I could only think of my mother, so I said, “Come on mama, you have to help me start this company”. So she is the co-founder of Avesthagen. She was the first child and the only girl in a family of three brothers -- a largely male household. She was bright, elegant, spirited, rebellious and also a woman of principles. She has been a strong influence in my life as well as in the lives of my brother Mahiyar, a technical writer and my sister Baktawar who runs a small school. She taught us to respect all races, religions and the environment. We blended into the local cultures of Nizamabad and Navsari and yet kept our identity. At the age of six, I was sent off to St Ann’s High School, a boarding school in Secunderabad.

We came back home for holidays - to Nizamabad for Christmas and to Navsari during Diwali or summer. During the holidays at Nizamabad, we visited a lot of families who were in different businesses and I saw them very closely. We got on to our family-owned trucks and went for jatras around temples and Urs around dargahs of Sufi saints. What more could you want to imbibe of the real India!

ML: Nizamabad to Navsari… how did your parents meet?

It was an arranged marriage. Once she was married off, her uncles said she couldn’t study further. She was always an extremely well-dressed woman and always got what she wanted. When she married my father, who was 10 years older and came from Navsari, she found herself in a state where the purdah system was at its height. There were some tough moments; but my father has always treated her like a princess.

My father, Dara Morawala, was a businessman with a political bent of mind and also advised his friends on the stock market. After his father died at 33, my grandmother moved back to Surat with her five children. She brought them up with her three sisters who remained unmarried. At 18, my father went off to Bina in Madhya Pradesh and returned only when he was 32. His mother then sent him to Nizamabad to help his engineer uncle, Jehangir Nalawala who was into building movie houses, canals and cotton ginning mills. My father started as his assistant and later became a partner. My father, who is now 85, was always liberal in his thoughts and always encouraged me to go after my wildest dreams.

I am telling you all this because this mixed heritage, places and their influences have all gone into creating this emotion-driven company called Avesthagen. I live in the past, the present and the future and pull together all these factors - history, geography, science and cultures - in running Avesthagen. We stand for building a strong India whose people stand on their own feet in technology and new food, feed, pharma and fuel.

ML: Where does your interest in science and research come from?

I was a mischievous child, but I read a lot… I kept reading instead of cramming and had varied interests. I was a topper until class 7 after which my interests were so wide that, although I was a good student, I was not the kind who score 90% these days.

ML: Did you plan on doing research at that stage?

Not really. Between arts and science, I opted for science. What was the choice then? You went into arts, science or medicine. I wanted to study at the Armed Forces Medical College at Pune and I tried, but didn’t get in. So I went into the BSc stream. I was good at chemistry in which I won the general proficiency prize. I was also good at languages and writing. Then Hyderabad was getting too small for me and so I decided to do my masters at Sophia College in Mumbai in medical biochemistry. I had finished my BSc at 19 and my Masters by 22. I had fallen in love with Zareer Minoo Patell and got married within six months of doing my Masters at the age of 22. He was in Hyderabad; we used to write to each other everyday and he used to visit me in Mumbai. Zareer is a fitness instructor and a talented pianist, besides being extra-ordinarily good looking, liberal and giving me the freedom to be myself. I have been married for 29 years.

ML: You look very young to be married for 29 years.

: Yes. I look younger than what I am; it has been good socially; but at work it sometimes becomes a handicap. People tend to slot scientists into a certain phenotype and I break that perception.  Looking too young and behaving unconventionally in science is sometimes a problem; being unconventionally dressed is a problem; being a woman is a problem and thinking unconventionally is a problem. It has been quite a ride. There have been plenty of travails and it wasn’t easy at all, at times.   

ML: But you haven’t let any of that hold you back.

My family was a big supporter. My mother-in-law was Rashida Reporter; she is one of the first Indian women to get a PhD in inorganic chemistry in 1947, on a Nizam of Hyderabad scholarship at University College, London. At the same time, she was a staunch Parsi and came from a family of high priests (Dasturs). She encouraged me -- as did my parents and husband -- in all I did. I am very outgoing. I love to reach out to people and used to love to go out every single day. Then the girls were born. I had my first child at 25 and my second child at 27.

Soon after my marriage, I got a job at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (Icrisat) at Hyderabad. That was a good institution and I learnt a lot. My first boss was a Japanese, Dr Tetsuo Matsumoto, and he taught me the rigour of research. He taught me how to write notebooks and he used to say, “Viroo, learn to have discipline. No talking while working”. I worked with him for three years.

ML: Which year was this?

This was in the years 1979-81. Then I worked with an Australian scientist, Dr Peter Dart, during 1982-84 and then with a British scientist, Dr John Peacock and also with Dr Sivaramakrishnan. I worked with a lot of international scientists with enormous interest and passion. I did 10 years of research on drought tolerance in pigeonpea and groundnut, sorghum and millet. At around that time, I wanted to do molecular biology, but found no takers at Icrisat. And it is then that I realised that I needed to get a PhD if I had to make the next move. I also knew that I wanted to create something in the country and to make a difference to the world. But in order to do that, I needed that additional degree and I decided; that’s it, I must do it. When I announced it to my family, it became quite a topic because I had two kids aged six and eight years.  My mother-in-law said, “If you are going, remember that you are making a sacrifice and you must always aim for the top of the tree and no half measures”. So all four of us went together to France to University Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg.  

ML: Why France?

As I told you, I am a political creature. I read that the French system is always pro-mother and child. I needed a place that would protect my children and provide additional support. That was the time when the Berlin Wall was coming down. I reached France on October 1, 1989. I knew a smattering of French. I could read better than I could speak. But I learnt very fast. I also had a French scholarship and got admission into University Louis Pasteur. I was clear that my PhD topic had to be cutting-edge stuff. So I chose a subject that was so difficult that I didn’t realise what I had got myself into. It was fundamental science and not applied science, that had taken a huge leap and gone into the study of genomes in the 10 years that I had been working. My professor did not know I was married and a mother of two kids; when he got to know it, he was very apprehensive. However, we were able to dispel his misgivings.  

I took the family with me to France in January 1990 and it was a hard winter, a new subject, a new language. The girls had a tough time initially and got into arguments with their classmates because the French kids thought that all Indians were poor; they had to constantly defend themselves. But they also learnt a lot -- organisation, minimalism and focused learning. The PhD study was very difficult initially, because I was grappling with the next wave of research.

My Professor, Geraldine Bonard, was very tough; but when I look back, I am grateful that she turned me into a machine of scientific rigour and organisation. My husband Zareer returned to India after six months because his parents were old and needed him. My family offered to take the girls back, but I said, no, let them be with me, we will manage.  Since then, we three function like a trio.  

ML: When did you finish your PhD?

In 1993. But what happened was that, in 1992, I fell ill. The stress was showing up - managing two kids and my studies. I had a great set of friends who helped and the school also took care of the girls for a couple of hours after school. But I sent the girls back to Hyderabad six months before I finished. That was a big shock to them and for me too. But I had no option. I had to concentrate and finish my PhD. I presented my thesis in March 1993 which got a good rating. I returned in June 1993 and coming back was really tough. Everything had changed in India.  For a while I wondered what I was doing, because I had just come out of such an intensive PhD programme and was so academic by then. I went to meet Dr Anji Reddy (of  Dr Reddy’s Laboratories), then went to Icrisat, CCMB (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology) and so on, for assignments. I went to various companies and told them “you have to get into biotechnology”. The industry people told me that they didn’t understand biotech and asked me to write a project for them. So I wrote two projects. One was called ‘Making Money with Biology’ for a seeds project for VST Industries. The other one was ‘From DNA to Drugs’ for Dr Reddy’s. It took me six months to write the projects, understand the environment, learn about India and get acclimatised. Luckily, Anil Epur of VST gave me a nice grant to run around the country and find out the status of agriculture and science.

ML: A lot of companies at that time were paying lip service to seeds, right?

Yes, that’s true. Anyway, I visited many institutes and companies and found that there was no real, breakthrough research going on anywhere. I also found that academics were fossilised and simply repeating the work they had done as post-doctoral research nearly 20 years ago. They were brilliant, but were unlikely to produce anything that was going to revolutionise or change the country. And industry did not want to do any R&D. I saw myself as the bridge between academia and industry. I can take academic research and put it into models that can be commercialised. With that in mind, I went back to VST for more research. I wanted to build an innovation lab. Anil Epur, who was more receptive, suggested we talk to Technology Development and Investment Corporation of India (TDICI). Anil came with me to TDICI. They asked, “where is the revenue in this?” I said, “there is going to be no revenue for three to five years. We are very clear about it.” We were saying, let us take technology, put an idea to it, do more science and put out genetically modified products that are, say, drought-tolerant, etc. By March 1994, I was a wreck. I had to get back into academia or decide that I didn’t want anything to do with it.

If you are an academic, you have to be in the stream of things. So I contacted Marc Van Montagu of University of Ghent, Belgium and asked, “do you have a scholarship for me for six to nine months?” He said, yes. I had a good PhD, so he gave me a fellowship and, in March 1994, I decided that Hyderabad was really not the place for me. I explained to my family that I needed to go to Bangalore. Meanwhile, Anji Reddy had put me in touch with the Tatas, mainly Freddie Mehta, Vijay Rai and others of Rallis. They gave me a project to help set up a biotech lab. I was interested but I had accepted Marc Van Montagu’s offer. He is the godfather of every new technology, winner of the Japan prize, inventor of GMO technology, etc. The first BT gene was from his lab, the agrobacterium GM technology was from his lab. So I said I have to go to his lab. So, while I agreed to set up the Rallis biotech lab, I said I would do it after doing this stint in Belgium for six months. They and my family again understood; and I put my girls in a boarding school (Bishop Cotton School) in Bangalore for the time I was away. They had fun there.

Now, I must tell you the difference between the two labs I worked in, abroad. Strasbourg was a fundamental research lab - very deep and profound. Marc’s lab was a fundamental-applied lab, which invented and converted the inventions into companies. The first company he spun out was based on the BT gene and agrobacterium transformation technology, which was called Plant Genetic Systems. It got sold for $800 million after making losses for 18 years! This was in 1994. Hoechst paid that kind of money to buy it and fold it into AgrEvo. This got merged with Rhone Poulenc’s Agro to become Aventis CropScience, which was later sold to Bayer. The second company being formed before my eyes was Keygene, which was exploring how you separate one genome from another, based on asymmetric fragment length polymorphism. There were 200 post-doctoral researchers like me in Ghent from all over the world.  

ML: A cauldron of ideas and processes…

Yes. That was a good turning point. That is where I got this model - that you have to first build an array of technologies, mix them continuously in a cauldron and when something matures, spin it off into companies.

ML: Isn’t it interesting that all this was happening in Europe and not in the US?

Yes. If you look back over all these years, the US model of science is really single-molecule dominated. There are only three big labs - there is Craig Venter’s lab that sequenced the whole human genome in three years; then there are a few others run by Leroy Hood and Lee Hartwell. Otherwise, there is no big lab in the US. There are great professors with students who work on single area projects.  

I felt you need the multiplicity that Marc’s lab had, to be innovative. So I came back to India in December 1994 and set up the lab for Rallis in three months flat for Rs one crore. It was essentially to put the BT gene into cauliflower.  But I was a misfit among the rest of the people there, because I was the only one who had worked out for myself what seemed like a fancy salary -- all of Rs30,000 -- in comparison. I found the environment too oppressive and left in three months. Anyway, I decided that as a biologist I don’t fit with the pesticide lobby. (Laughs heartily).

I had requested the Rallis management to give me semi-independence; and Freddie Mehta, who was the chairman, said, “Villoo, be patient, you are too young”, and I said I was not. I was 40 then. And besides, in science, there is nothing like young or old.  Rallis management sent a stern note to me saying either I stay with what I was doing or I could leave. We mutually decided to part ways. However, the Tatas didn’t really let me down; they have always been around for me.  

Several people, including Dr Richard Jefferson, told me that the right place for me was the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore where there are people who have come back from all around the world and were building a new institution with new thought processes. It was founded by Dr Obaid Siddiqui who had moved the Biological Sciences group away from TIFR. They were housed in the laboratories at Indian Institute of Science (IISc). I went and asked them, “do you have some space for me?” By then, it was becoming very clear what I wanted to do.

ML: Which is…

Act as a bridge between academia and industry, a Marc Van Montagu type-cauldron of research ideas.  

ML: Did you have ideas of specific products?

No. My degrees were in medical biochemistry for my MSc and molecular biology and genomics for my PhD. I had worked in agriculture - my education, work at Icrisat and also the work at Rallis. So, I wanted to do application of genomics to agriculture. I went to the NCBS and asked for some space and Dr K Vijay Raghavan, director of the institute was kind enough to give me two bench spots and said, “But we don’t have any funding for you”. I said, “I don’t want any funding”. I will write my projects and get grants.

Richard Jefferson and Dr Vijay Raghavan introduced me to folks at the Rockefeller Foundation and while I wrote for the grant, NCBS supported me with a Rs6,000 stipend as visiting scientists were being paid those days, for which I shall be eternally grateful.

ML: Amazing. In 1995, even journalists were being paid more than that...

Scientists are always underpaid. It’s reverse snobbery, we tend to look down on the overpaid. Anyway, I applied for the Rockefeller Foundation grant. They said what you are trying to do is ‘blue-sky research’, which they were initially reluctant to fund. I said you are trying to get scientists to return and so should support someone like me. They funded me around $300,000 in a total of four grants over four years - that supported my own salary, my team, some equipment and consumables, etc. Then they gave me an additional grant to go back to Montagu’s lab for three months every year. That was very helpful.  

The Rockefeller project started in October 1995. The space at NCBS was cramped but very exciting. I loved those four years and I cherish some great memories and have my best friends there. But it also meant that, in the same room, different people were working on fly genetics, human genetics, plant genetics and neurobiology. That was another insight for me - that you can create a biology lab working on multiple organisms. Montagu’s lab was a cauldron of technologies but was plant-based. Here, a gene found in a plant could be transferred to a rabbit. So finally, it was dawning on me how all organisms, whether bacteria or human being, were a permutation and combination of the same four basic nucleotides and 22 amino acids.  In fact, we were capable of cross-talk and reinventing each other for better or worse. By 1998, I had a group of 10 people working and NCBS said that they could not provide me additional space. They suggested that I find space at the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS).  

I went to see the vice-chancellor, Prof GK Veeresh, with an unripe pomegranate, plucked from the tree at the IISc campus. I gave it to him and told him “I have brought you this gift. I am like the unripe pomegranate. I need a place to be nurtured and grown, to become a multi-seeded fruit; and for that I need your help. Please give me some space”. He said, “It would be difficult because all decisions are deeply politicised; but I have an idea. We will make you Professor Emeritus, which is within my authority; and that will give you a lot of leeway”. So, I became a Professor Emeritus at 43 and got four rooms at the Crop Physiology Department, thanks to the efforts of Prof Uday Kumar. Sometime in 1998, I decided to start my own lab - a quasi-commercial, public-private type of venture.

ML: How did you get the idea?

I remember Monsanto had made a big presentation at IISc and offered Rs10 lakh each to the scientists to work on projects. I was present there. While I was listening to them, at some point I felt I could not swallow it any more. I felt it was somehow not right. I came back and told my colleague Sudhir that I think I am going to start my own company. He said, “you are on a grant which will soon run out. I think you should apply to them for a job.” I said “if you think I am going to go to Monsanto for a job, you don’t know me”. I used to go to Hyderabad every few months and on my next trip spoke to an auditor friend of mine, Percy Italia, about registering a company by the name of Gengraine Technologies - combination of genetics and grain on which I was researching. My work with Rockefeller was engineering a drought-tolerant grain of rice. I had filed a patent for that product. I wanted to register a ‘not-for-profit’ company and a ‘for-profit’ company; I was not sure which model would work. The clerk at the registrar’s office would not register Gengraine Technologies. He said what is this name, Genie grainie. I explained to him. He was not convinced. He told us to add a name before that, helpfully suggesting something like Sri Venkateswara. I impulsively said, “OK, add Avestha.” That’s how the company got its name. In short, Avesthagen. I incorporated the private limited company and the ‘not-for-profit’ foundation at the same time. My idea was to channel public grants into the foundation, develop technologies and commercialise them through the commercial company. But, in 1999, I knew it was too early for this idea. I was still at the University as an academic. When I approached various people for money and grants with my project ideas, the two-company model was trashed. The venture capitalists said, “what is this foundation attached here? we don’t fund such things”; while the research funding organisations said, “why do you have a commercial venture added here?”

I realised that this was not working out. In the meantime, by March 2000, I had raised about Rs1.5 crore from my relatives and friends from all over the world. My 33 original investors were an amazing mix of races and nationalities. There were four major investors - Koen Wentink, SR Gopalan, Khushroo Rustomji and Robert Mitchell. All of them advised to make it a pure private play. I resisted, saying that the foundation was part of my commitment to change. Meanwhile, something happened to push me to take that decision. I had managed to bring the Rice Genome Sequencing project from Japan with my efforts, but the Delhi academic politics took it over. I was very disappointed, but understood the issue. I was not perceived by research-funding agencies and research institutions as one of them. I was a misfit. So, I decided to change the two-company, private-public model in September 1999. I also decided to move out of the institutional framework of doing my work at NCBS and at UAS. I hired a small bungalow for Rs5,000 and made it my office. The finance controller of NCBS,  Mr Nair, retired and joined me. When Homi Bhaba started TIFR, he was an accountant with him. When TIFR started its balloon facility at Hyderabad, he was sent there. When NCBS was started, he went to Bangalore to set up the accounting systems. He put   Rs one lakh of his provident fund money into Avesthagen. When Godrej came in as investor, I arranged to buy him out for about Rs30 lakh. He is old but he is still with me.

So anyway, the labs remained in the two institutes and Mr Nair was the only occupant of the office because we would come and go. I then wrote a business plan with the core idea of using Indian bio-diversity to drive innovation through genomics and partnering with others to bring products to the market. The metaphor was a boat/yacht with three sails. The sails being food for medicine, seed for food and R&D partnering. Partnering for R&D and products was the idea from day one. Everybody found the model too ambitious. A few people helped me with the plan - a youngster called Hans Kapadia who was from MIT and  SR Gopalan, President, Wipro Finance, who helped me do the financial model. Everybody wanted me to create a service model - superimposition of IT on biotech. {break} 

ML: Bio-informatics was a hot thing in 1999-2000.

That, combined with wet lab R&D, was my model. I also made it clear that the service model in biotech will not be sustainable. It was against my grain. I will do products and long-term collaborations. It was difficult to get that across. I needed Rs2 crore to set up my own lab. By then, I was being wooed by private equity firms like ICICI Ventures, Indocean Chase and also Tata Industries. I used to hang out a lot with the fund managers; they all became my buddies and I learnt a lot from them about the financial markets and structuring.

In 2000, IL&FS Venture Capital offered a valuation of Rs150 a share and we were all very excited. But then the dotcom bust happened and the private equity guys were unnerved. They wanted to know all kinds of things and put in various conditions. We did not know how to handle those questions. We were too raw. Gopalan tried his best to help. While all these term sheets of private equity guys were flying around and I was wondering what to do, I happened to meet Ramesh Gelli of Global Trust Bank in June 2000 in Hyderabad. He said he liked my model and told one of his managers to give me Rs2 crore as an advance.

ML: Just like that? Without a collateral?

Yes, without any collateral. I had the term sheets of the PE firms with me. I showed them to Gelli and told him “when I get the money from them, I will return your Rs2 crore”. He said, “Let them come in, we will also join them at the same valuation”. I paid GTB an interest of 14% on the loan on the condition that they would convert the loan into equity later. I started building the lab in International Technology Park. By October 2000, IL&FS chickened out. I called Freddie Mehta and said “I have started the lab; now help me to get ahead”. He said, “Send me every paper under the sun for me to review”. We were talking to ICICI Ventures too at that time. The Tatas took just too long to decide and time was slipping away; so we took in ICICI Ventures as the lead and GTB and Tatas joined in to close the first round of financing of $1.8 million. Avesthagen began commercial operations on March 21, 2001 and the company was inaugurated by Dr  SM Krishna, then Chief Minister of Karnataka.

ML: Do you think Avesthagen is now on track to achieving your dreams?

The company is on track to achieve all expectations. It has four robust strategic business units, bio-pharmaceuticals, bio-agriculture, bio-nutrition and scientific innovation. The company has grown from strength to strength, has attracted financial investors of great credibility like Fidelity and New York Life,  strategic investors like BioMereiux, Danone and Limagrain, business houses like the Tatas, Godrej Industries and Cipla. The company has raised a total of 35 million euros, with the last round of 26 million euros raised at a great valuation, and has established Avesthagen as the global R&D biotech model of India. It has been a great success for a company that is only six years old. We have deep R&D roots that can spin out a continuous stream of products; we have many products in the pipeline for all the four business units. The strategic alliances with multi-billion dollar global leaders have given us confidence in our model and global credibility for what we do. We have attracted top global management to head our four units. For instance, Samaresh Parida, from Pepsi headquarters, US is joining as the president and CFO of the company and Russell Stamets is joining as the senior VP (Legal), IP and corporate affairs to prepare the company for the IPO. I believe by 2015, Avesthagen will be a 3 to 5 billion euro company.

ML: What changes do you foresee when you get listed?

I see good things. From day one, Avesthagen has been an over-audited company with its stellar board of the who’s who in the country and the world. For my listing, besides the mandatory FIIs, I will go to the public in small and mid-sized towns and educate the people on R&D platform companies and on the attractiveness of buying into them and investing in a new India of innovation. I want to explain to them  what makes companies like ours tick and how we will provide sustainable solutions to the world. And how India can add to the world’s wealth through innovation. I see a more public role for myself. I have very good managers and they will run the company on a day-to-day basis. As the vice-chairman and managing director, I will play a strategic role and bring new science projects like the recently initiated “The Avesthagenome Project” which will build a genealogical and medical database of the Parsis who are an inbred community, in order to establish linkage between genes, diseases and environmental factors, leading to predicting of diseases and help in the development of new therapies and diagnostics. I will also be involved in making new deals to help Avesthagen integrate worldwide and make it a global corporation.

ML: What next for you and the group?

: Now it is the push to get the products on to the market. We have almost seven subsidiaries and JVs, which are all product-led. We are also actively looking to acquire control over companies that add to creating full verticals in our four pipelines in manufacturing and product space. This is to accelerate our products to the market in the next couple of years.

We have just completed full hiring at the top level and we have acquired four companies since January 2007 - two seed companies, Swaghat and Ceekay, with our partner Limagrain and one 100% acquisition of a bionutritional manufacturing company Dhanvantari in Bangalore and a marketing company, Renaissance Herbals in the US. With these acquisitions, Avesthagen has 500 employees today, out of which 300 are in R&D. You will continue to hear from us. You have to work towards the tipping point and then growth explodes. My daughters Farah (25) and Sanaya (23) have registered for PhD at Cambridge in the same area of cell biology and biochemistry. We have long been a trio and, InshaAllah, there is scope in that for succession.


Good monsoon may cool inflation: RBI

The central bank’s projection for wholesale price-based inflation is 5.5% for this fiscal

A good monsoon may help cool wholesale price-based inflation that rose to nearly 10% in March, a top Reserve Bank of India (RBI) official has said, reports PTI.

“The optimistic forecast of a normal monsoon may help ease inflation. The RBI has already given this projection,” RBI’s deputy governor KC Chakrabarty told reporters on the sidelines of an event today. The RBI’s projection for wholesale price-based inflation for this fiscal is 5.5%.

The wholesale price-based inflation has risen from 1.5% in October 2009 to 9.9% in March this year due to poor rainfall coupled with shortages of essential food items.

Speaking at the event, the deputy governor also stressed on the need for banks to implement reasonable security practices to protect sensitive information and address cyber-threats effectively.


Lack of skilled manpower can hurt Indian auto industry: E&Y

The slow pace of infrastructure development can also stymie the industry’s growth plans, says the consultancy

India may have become the second-fastest growing auto market in the world, but the country’s automotive industry is up against the problem of lack of skilled manpower that can hamper its growth, according to consultancy firm Ernst & Young (E&Y).

Besides, slow pace of infrastructure development can become a roadblock to the industry’s drive to achieve a total turnover of $145 billion and provide an additional employment to 25 million people by 2016 under the Automotive Mission Plan (AMP), reports PTI.

“Skilled labour and infrastructure are the biggest challenges in front of the auto industry. A shortage of 5 million people is there at present only in the manufacturing field of the industry,” said E&Y national leader (Automotive Sector) Rakesh Batra.

Manufacturing accounts for about 30% of the entire automotive sector, he added.

“The industry provides direct and indirect employment to over 13 million people. Though India produces the highest number of engineers in the world, it is expected that only 20%-30% of them are employable,” Mr Batra said.

As per E&Y, the Indian industry will need an additional 30 million personnel by 2022 to meet growing requirements of the market, which became the second fastest growing last fiscal in the world with 26% increase, next to China's 42%.

On the infrastructure front, Mr Batra said: “Since auto production hubs are scattered unevenly in India, there is a vast movement of auto products across the country, which is very inefficient because of infrastructural and policy challenges.”

Indian ports are also not adequately equipped for exports with electronic information exchange, he added.

“Compared to other nations, the current pace of development is a matter of concern,” he said.

Mr Batra also said that India lacks in expert R&D capabilities such as prototyping of a product.

“Domestic players spend less than 1% of their turnover on R&D compared to the global average of 5%-8%,” he said, adding that the centres set up here by international firms are confined only to localisation of imported parts and data services.

Mr Batra said that despite all these lacunae, the domestic passenger vehicle market is expected to reach 3 million units by FY15 from the current level of about 1.9 million units.

“Exports of passenger vehicles are also likely to cross 1 million units by FY15. Last fiscal it was about 0.4 million units,” he added.

Mr Batra said that the domestic two-wheeler industry is also expected to grow to 16 million units from the current 10 million units.

He said that India is likely to retain the position of the second-fastest growing auto market after China in this fiscal.



Shadi Katyal

6 years ago

This problem is not only in the auto industry but every industry in India lacks trained personals. This is a cultural phenomena as no one wants to get his hands dirty and thus even an engineer does not know to change tire or check a battery..
Well infrastructure is another story and we have been talking since 60's while Govt has failed due to lack of investments as most of the funds go in the pockets of politicians.
While on one side NRI are not allowed to invest more than 17% in industry but GOI wants NRI to invest 100%. Due to lack of capable and trained engineer in this field also creates problems.
Quality is not our motto

We are listening!

Solve the equation and enter in the Captcha field.

To continue

Sign Up or Sign In


To continue

Sign Up or Sign In



The Scam
24 Year Of The Scam: The Perennial Bestseller, reads like a Thriller!
Moneylife Magazine
Fiercely independent and pro-consumer information on personal finance
Stockletters in 3 Flavours
Outstanding research that beats mutual funds year after year
MAS: Complete Online Financial Advisory
(Includes Moneylife Magazine and Lion Stockletter)