Nitin Kunkolienker’s accession to the Presidency of MAIT is a culmination of two decades of work as an industry captain. From being the founder-President of Verna Industries Association to being the youngest and longest serving President of GCCI, his is a journey spent batting for the industry, writes HARSHVARDHAN BHATKULY
While at work, Nitin Kunkolienker is a study in contrast of his otherwise ebullient, networking self. With neatly handwritten to-do lists on his table, he goes about scratching tasks off as he goes through the day – confirming a certain quality of this high performer – the ability to multi-task, and to remain focused – without breaking into a sweat.
Connecting the dots of his now two-decade journey as a consummate ‘Organisations Man’, Nitin has been, and continues to bat for the industry. Notwithstanding that some of his campaigns have been mired in controversy, he is completely clear headed about his stance as an industry insider. The man has had a string of successful and memorable associations with various industry bodies starting off with Verna Industries Association (VIA), he has headed diverse industry and social organizations like Goa Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GCCI), Vidya Vikas Mandal (VVM), Goa Management Association (GMA) and is now all set to head the very influential national organization, Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology (MAIT).
Birth of a Performer
Starting off with Zenith Computers as a commercial executive in 1989, Nitin took to the corporate ladder quickly. He joined D’Link in 1994, just as the company was getting poised to achieve greater heights. “When I joined D’Link, we were manufacturing 16-bit Ethernet cards and 8-port hubs. By 1997, we were making passive products like patch cords. All this was happening at our plant at Verna. The industrial estate that is the toast of Goa today, was a far cry of its present self, back then,” says Nitin.
The Verna Warrior
With 11 people holed up in his cabin at D’Link, Nitin became the founder-President of the Verna Industries Association. “Our agenda and mission was to make Verna the best industrial estate in the state. We demanded better infrastructure – roads, electricity and connectivity. We even got a subway, a clock tower and bus stops built, with proper vehicular movements managed. There was a massive tree plantation drive that we carried out in Verna. I must place on record that the then Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane and Industries Minister Luizinho Faleiro were a big support to us. Even Aleixo Sequeiro, with whom we had continuous confrontations then, still remains a great personal friend. People saw the sincerity of our purpose. It is not easy for such a large set of industrial stakeholders to come together. We remained focused on bringing the best for Verna. And we delivered.”
One of the milestones achieved as President of VIA for Nitin was that the telecom issue of Goa was streamlined, for the benefit of the entire state. “The person responsible for the connectivity that Goa enjoys today is Mr Jagmohan. As Minister for Telecom, I had petitioned him to streamline the telephone exchange at Verna. He spent the entire day with me, and solved within two weeks the nightmarish telecom issues that were plaguing the state. Goa then had two state codes – 0832 and 0834. That was rationalized to one code. There were five short distance charging areas, which meant a person making a call from Canacona to Panaji would be billed at the rate that he would be billed for making a call to Pune. A dedicated internet dial-up server was set up in Goa, and the trouble of dialing-up to the Mumbai-based server became a thing of the past. Goa doesn’t know and doesn’t acknowledge the contribution of Shri Jagmonhan in turning around the telecom issues to the state’s benefit,” says Nitin, who incidentally had to choose between attending a GCCI function addressed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, or take the Telecom Minister through the issues that he had agitated for. He chose the latter.
The Chamber Mate
Nitin Kunkolienker’s introduction to Goa’s oldest trade and industry body was because of the work that he was doing as President of Verna Industries Association.
“In 1997, we got a really high tech website done for the VIA. This was through Sandeep Verenkar of Anant Infotech. We had all member information and VIA activities up on the web, which was a rare thing in the early days of internet in the state. Dattaraj Salgaocar, then President of GCCI, was looking for a youngster to join his Managing Committee at the Chamber. My name was suggested by a common friend, Parag Joshi. In 1997, I was invited to the Managing Committee of GCCI and was made to co-chair the Industries Committee under Kabir Gama Roy of Titanor Components (later De Nora India),” says Nitin about his first brush with the trade and industries body, which he would later lead for eight-long years.
“The Managing Committee of GCCI was a galaxy of talent and experience. Former Army Chief, Gen. Sunith Rodrigues headed the Free Trade Zone which would advocate for the setting up of the SEZ in the state. Shrinivas Dempo chaired the Foreign Trade Committee. Former legislator Jeetendra Deshprabhu was a key architect of the Mopa airport plan. The Chamber was a visionary organization, always two-steps ahead of the needs of the state. In 1999, President’s Rule was imposed in Goa. Then Finance Minister Yeshwant Sinha presented Goa’s Budget in the Parliament and announced the setting up of SEZ in the state.
“Today, although the SEZ policy is locked in litigation, it was a well planned and well thought out decision. Pricewaterhouse Coopers, a leading consulting firm was appointed by the Government of Goa to create the economic blueprint for the state. One of the findings that emerged was the emphasis to create a new SEZ,” says Nitin.
The Chamber had been a champion of the cause of foreign trade and the second airport. Almost two decades ago, the think tank at GCCI could envision the need for a second airport. Two sites were chosen – Quitol in South and Mopa at North. The Chamber pursued the matter with then Chief Secretary G C Shrivastava and got the nod for the second airport. The visionary leadership of Dattaraj Salgaocar was instrumental in pushing Goa’s industrial growth ahead,” adds Nitin.
Nitin worked closely with Salgaocar, especially to prepare the pre-Budget memorandum, which received compliments from the then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar.
In 2001, Salgaocar chose to step down and canvassed for Nitin’s investiture as President of GCCI. This move caused great heartburn and consternation among old-timers who detested the idea of a professional manager (Nitin was then General Manager of D’Link) take over the reins of a body that had always been in the hands of industrialists and owners of their companies. Some of them voiced their displeasure to Salgaocar, who stood by Nitin like a rock. He also took into confidence other key members of the Managing Committee, and Nitin Kunkolienker, at 32, became the youngest President of Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“When I took over GCCI, I had to build on the rich legacy left behind by the previous industry captains. The idea was to create a future-ready institution,” says Nitin. Dattaraj Salgaocar, then brought in the Commodore Pinto, an ex-serviceman as Director General to help Nitin to take his plans forward.
Top on his mind as Chamber President was to bring in new people on board. Sandeep Verenkar, an IT wiz; Manguirish Pai Raikar, an industrialist with a penchant for social service; Sandip Bhandare, a leading Chartered Accountant; and Blaise Costabir, a raring-to-go entrepreneur/industrialist joined Nitin’s core team. “We had a clear cut task – improve the finances of the Chamber and create a series of activities. And we had to act for the interest of the industry,” explains Nitin.
GCCI, then got cracking on various industry related events – the ‘Goa IT Agenda’ and ‘Goa Agenda’ which became the signature event of the Chamber. “Seven days before the event, we were yet to bring in sponsorship. Eventually, blessed by the support of Manohar Parrikar and other corporates, GCCI went on to add a surplus to its kitty. The Goa Agenda would see participation of over 250 delegates including corporate bigwigs like Saurabh Srivastava and the legendary F C Kohli,” says Nitin about his early days as GCCI President. The tourism sector was added to GCCI’s focus and ‘Goa Tourism Agenda’ was initiated under the leadership of travel entrepreneur Ralph de Sousa.
One of the key focus areas of the Chamber was infrastructure. Gen. Rodrigues, who was made Governor of Punjab in 2005, had to vacate his chairmanship of the Infrastructure Committee. The same was filled by his son Mark, who mapped Goa’s infrastructural needs in the years to come.
The Chamber presented many research documents on infrastructure, information technology, tourism and investments. Nitin and his team would be in continuous dialogue with the government and its agencies like Industrial Development Corporation and EDC Goa.
“When I took over as GCCI President, we had a corpus of Rs. 2.5 lakh; when I demitted office in 2009, we had Rs.2.5 crore in the bank. Besides, the Chamber had totally corporatized the Panjim building and created a state-of-the-art building at Verna. I must thank Luizinho Faleiro for extending his help to the Chamber by providing 1 acre land at Verna at a concessional rate,” says Nitin while adding “In 2008, GCCI celebrated its centenary. A book was commissioned on Goa’s trade history. Written by noted historian Dr. Pratima Kamat, the book remains a definitive document on trade and business in the state.”
In 2004, the tax regime in the state migrated from Sales Tax to VAT. The Chamber, under Nitin’s leadership campaigned continuously across the state to sensitize traders about the new tax regime. “Lots of awareness-related programs were undertaken by the Chamber. We also worked on rationalization of the power tariff and water management. The Chamber also engaged with academicians from Goa institute of Management and created a mechanism to provide subsidies to industries,” exclaims Nitin proudly.
Nitin also created a strong anti-monopolistic platform to make the import of goods a simpler and cost-effective practice by setting up of Container Freight Station. He also pushed hard for the air cargo to be carried by private airlines, when the practice was for the state carrier to render this function. He met with great success, thus enabling the early morning cargo flight to Goa – which reduced cargo time substantially.
I started D’Link with full support from Goa-IDC and EDC in 1993; and was lucky to get Nitin to lead our day-to-day management. He is hard working and excellent in building relations with all kinds of people. While working in our company, he got involved with GCCI and has done an excellent job there. It is only his attitude that has made him what he is today. I am sure that he will continue to be an asset to our business today and tomorrow
Kamlaksh R naik
Economic Progress at EDC
Nitin Kunkolienker was invited to join EDC Goa as a Director in 2001. In 2005, under the Chief Ministership of Pratapsingh Rane, he was made the Vice Chairman of the state funding agency. He remained at the position till 2012.
“EDC was a sleeping giant. Even today, the organization has the best and most qualified professionals working for it. The entire organization was migrated onto ERP software. Decision making became speedy. A loss-making state-run agency was turned around into a profitable entity,” states Nitin.
One of the highlights of EDC is the revitalization project of the Patto Plaza. “It was Datta Damodar Naik, who had joined as Director of EDC, who put this plan into action. Along with architect-engineer, Rahul Deshpande’s design, Patto is today, a model business district in the state,” says Nitin.
Core Sector Calling
By virtue of his being the head of the Chamber, Nitin was invited to the managing committee of ASSOCHAM – the largest and oldest conglomeration of chambers of commerce in the country. From 2005 till 2011, Nitin served on the ASSOCHAM board.
All through his career, Nitin has played a stellar role at his own organization D’Link (now known as Smartlink Network Systems Ltd). “I owe my entire public profile to my mentor and founder of D’Link K R Naik. Had he not encouraged me with the work I was doing for various organizations, I would not have the gumption to do what I have done. All the work that I have put in for various organizations has been done with the support of the company. It requires a boss with a large heart to allow his team member to devote time to public and industry good,” says Nitin about Naik.
K R Naik, whom we asked what made him allow Nitin to spend time outside the organization said, “I started my unit with full support from Goa-IDC and EDC in 1993; and was lucky to get Nitin to lead our day-to-day management. He is hard working and excellent in building relations with all kinds of people. While working in our company, he got involved with GCCI and has done an excellent job there. It is only his attitude that has made him what he is today. I am sure that he will continue to be an asset to our business today and tomorrow.”
So it is not surprising that Nitin represented his company at Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology (MAIT). Established in 1982 for purposes of scientific, educational and IT Industry promotion, MAIT has emerged as an effective, influential and dynamic organization. In fact, NASSCOM took its birth at MAIT.
At MAIT, Nitin began working with other industry captains like Amar Babu, ASEAN Regional General Manager and Chairman of Lenovo India; and Debjani Ghosh, Managing Director of Intel, India.
The thrust areas of MAIT are to push the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ by creating demand for IT products across the nation. MAIT has been a relentless advocate in pushing the IT agenda and digitization of processes across the country.
Nitin, who has been in several leadership positions at MAIT for six years now says “Digital India will have a far reaching impact on the economy and society in the country. In ten years, the whole of India will benefit on the vision of the Prime Minister. It is heartening and challenging that I am going to lead MAIT at a watershed moment of India’s digital history in the making.”
MAIT works closely with the Ministry of Electronics and InfoTech headed by Ravi Shankar Prasad. The organization provides key inputs to state agencies like Niti Aayog and envisions creating a strong ecosystem for manufacturing IT products across the nation.
Nitin’s elevation to MAIT is a significant leap for Goa. He hopes to pass on the derived benefits of IT leadership back to the state, where he sees great potential for IT development.
Back to School
One of Nitin’s passions is education. In 2014, he was invited by Ramnath Kare to lead the Margao-based Vidya Vikas Mandal which has educational institutions from KG to Post Graduate level. Nitin is the Chairman of the G R Kare College of Law. In the two years, at the helm of affairs, Nitin has put in a campus management system that tracks the entire 6000 student network. “I am driven to make this institution one of the best in the country,” he says.
Nitin considers his deep understanding of Goan businesses his forte. “I have a deep connect with Goa’s businesses and business persons. I think it is a great strength to enjoy such a connect,” he says.
Over the years, he has also served on various other organizations like the GIDC, Goa State Pollution Control Board, Goa Institute of Management, Customs & Excise Regional Board; and he is also currently the President of Goa Management Association.
So how does Nitin Kunkolienker manage to lead a life of a high performer, always available for the needs of the industry and society? “I am thoroughly honest to myself. I don’t fear anything or anybody, except the Almighty. I have a strong support system of my wife and family. I must add here that my wife has been my friend, philosopher, guide and mentor. I give great importance to her opinions and that has been an advantage, over the years. It’s actually very simple,” he says with a casual smile that is now his trademark expression.