Goutam Raj, General Manager and Plant Head at MRF Goa, elaborates on his leadership style and his greatest strengths that help him to take various projects ahead
I hail from Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana – a place known for arts, education and culture. I completed my upper primary and higher secondary schooling from Vijayawada. I graduated with a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from Gulbarga University, Karnataka and earned a degree in M.Tech in Industrial Engineering and Management from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University Hyderabad, with distinction. I have also done a Management Development Program at Xavier School of Management (XLRI), Jamshedpur.
I started off my career with Kera Sinter Ltd, a ceramic tile manufacturing company where I worked for a brief period as a Project Engineer. The ceramic tile manufacturing industry has just begun taking off in the late 80s and I always wanted to be a part of emerging markets. The industry then was a part of the Green Field project, where I learned a lot in terms of industrial exposure. Though there were technological advances taking place in the floor tile industry, the market growth rate was moderate and I decided to move on to be part of industries that were growing at a fast pace.
What made you decide to pursue a career in the auto sector and more specifically the tyre industry?
My goal and dream was to make a career in emerging markets and back then the automobile sector along with allied industries were growing rapidly. The tyre industry is an important part of the automobile industry and its growth is directly related to automobile production, which contributes to 2-3% of the total manufacturing GDP.
MRF started their Green Field project way back in 1990 at Medak, close to Hyderabad. I joined MRF as a Graduate Engineer Trainee (GET) that year, in order to reboot my career; and today I can say that being part of this industry I am completely satisfied as an engineer, as it encompasses both science and core engineering. I feel that the tyre industry is the best place where one can prove their mettle as you have an option of working in diverse functional departments.
You are the General Manager and Plant Head at MRF Tyres Pvt. Ltd. (Goa). Did you always want to be a GM? What motivated you to reach the position?
Ever since I joined MRF’s Green Field project, the growth of the company as well as the plant I was working at, has been phenomenal.
The MDK plant had new SKUs in its stable and it grew from a mere 60ton/day capacity at its inception, to a whopping 500 tons per day capacity in a 25 year span. The Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of MRF is 19% in 2023. MRF is the only Indian tyre manufacturer that makes tyres for India’s fighter jets, the Sukhoi SU30. I have been fortunate enough to get plenty of exposure and be a part of this prestigious state-of-the-art project, during my stint at the MDK plant of MRF. The enriching journey from a GET to General Manager and Plant Head has been one filled with challenges that needed solving, lessons that had to be learnt; and most of all, experiences that I absolutely enjoyed. The hunger in my belly to explore newer areas and up-skill myself with bigger responsibilities helped me with exposure on wider functional aspects of the business and ultimately made me don the mantle of Plant Head at the Goa Unit of MRF in 2019.
As a management leader, what is your leadership style?
I feel that leadership styles of any leader are a mix of innate and one that is cultivated over a period of time. As you go up the ladder what matters more is how you deal with your team and drive them towards their goal. As Plant Head, my innate style is to empathise with my team to understand their view points and use my leadership abilities that demand accurate information regarding our work. I think that no management style is inherently always good or bad. The tyre industry is a labour intensive business and the people working with us are our strength.
Your own ethically accepted leadership style should ultimately steer through the challenges of competition.
What are your greatest strengths and how could they contribute to a managerial position?
I think that my greatest strength lies in using common sense. In my career, I have seen too many fail as they do not apply their common sense when they encounter any challenge. The collective wisdom of a team helps in tiding over any challenge, be it big or small and that helps in achieving success. For every problem and challenge that we encounter, I feel that our teams have to emerge autonomously to face them head on. The success of a leader lies in creating the right team spirit in the organisation. My strength lies in fostering the culture and infusing team spirit into the organisation.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Corporations have an important duty to contribute or give back to society. Having worked for over 35 years in the corporate world, I would like to contribute to the industry and business by way of capacity building for human resources in the areas of contemporary management tools and organisational behaviour aspects. I would like to play an active role in industry bodies which are relevant to the progress of those industries and businesses.
What advice would you offer to those who aspire to become a GM in their respective fields someday?
A good leader is attuned to the needs of their team and project. In order to become a good leader one must nurture the ability to inspire, embrace adversity and innovation, so that the whole team looks at you to lead and you become the chosen one to head the team and project. A leader should also be a visionary. When I say visionary it is not just to pro-actively anticipate the challenges in order to have a plan of action in place; But one must also be able to dream big for themselves and the organisation and tread on unexplored paths.
With the perseverance to excel and fire in the belly it is not difficult to lead any team as a Head or General Manager.