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Print Edition: May 27, 2012

Playing with Fire
The first time she saw a rocket was during a school visit to the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station in Thiruvananthapuram, when she was in Class VII. Tessy Thomas, 49, Project Director Mission at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and a key figure behind the successful launch of Agni-V, India's latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), knew little about missiles and rockets till then. The indigenously built Agni-V, named after the Hindu god of fire, has a range of 5,000 km - longer than any developed by India in the past - and puts the country on par with China in missile capability. Indeed, Thomas has been involved in all the Agni programmes so far.

Hailing from Alappuzha, Kerala, Thomas holds a Masters in Technology from the Defence Institute of Armament Technology, Pune. She is also an MBA in Operations Management from the Indira Gandhi National Open University. On her success in a field that draws few women and has fewer still reaching the top, Thomas has maintained: "Science knows no gender." When she joined the DRDO in 1988, women comprised just three per cent of the workforce, which has since risen to 15 to 20 per cent. .

Thomas considers herself lucky to have had a chance to work with her role model Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, India's 'missile man' and former president, early in her career. Kalam was the director of DRDO when she joined. Those were also the days when work on the Agni missile programme had just started. "I was very junior then, but it was the beginning stage and we had the opportunity to be present at all the reviews and that is how the interaction started," she says. It was Kalam who placed her in the group carrying out the navigation and guidance work for the Agni missile programme.

She calls her job a "techno-managerial" one. "I have a very committed team of scientists," she says. "My job is to make them understand the magnitude and the responsibility of their task. Once they are aware of it, the thrill of doing it gives them satisfaction."

Like many successful women, she is a multitasker, at ease both in the kitchen and in the laboratory, She likes to cook, and carries her lunch with her to work. Typically, her day starts between 5 and 6 a.m. She puts in long hours in the office: 10 to 12 most days, sometimes more. She says she is lucky to have a family which is supportive and understands her work compulsions. To relax, she watches television, enjoying the family serials.

She is currently working on the next stage of the Agni mission, that of technology development in the area of Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVS). She also has a long-pending personal goal. "I have just not been able to complete my Ph.D and in the next one year want to do so," she says. Asked for advice to young women keen to enter the same field, she notes it is no picnic. "This is a very challenging field. There is a lot of knowledge around and you have to be willing to learn and stay dedicated to the job," she says. Indeed, she attributes her own success to her "willingness to learn".
 
-E. Kumar Sharma

Patu Keswani, CMD, Lemon Tree Hotels
Patu Keswani, CMD, Lemon Tree Hotels Photo: Vivan Mehra
Expanding the Middle
"There are no big-brand midmarket hotel companies in India," says Patu Keswani, Chairman and Managing Director of the Lemon Tree chain of hotels. Isn't Lemon Tree itself one? Even if it is not, the Rs 650 crore deal Keswani recently swung with global pension fund managers APG to build 35 hotels across the country, will surely make it so. Keswani, who started with a single hotel in Gurgaon 10 years ago, currently runs 16. Apart from the APG deal, he has another eight in the pipeline. "The focus over the next four years will be to create supply and build brand, then customers will come on their own," he says. "We want to replicate the low-cost airlines' model in hospitality."

-Manu Kaushik

David A. Wilson, President/CEO, GMAC
David A. Wilson, President/CEO, GMAC Photo: Shekhar Ghosh
Pass Muster
If you want to study at a business school overseas, you have to appear for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Your GMAT score will determine the admission opportunities you get. David A. Wilson, president and CEO of Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the body that administers the GMAT, was in India recently to announce some major changes in the format of the exam, which will now include a section on integrated reasoning. Wilson also revealed that the official GMAT guide will soon be printed and published from India bringing down its price to Rs 1,499 from Rs 12,500 earlier.

-Shamni Pande

Abheek Anand, Co-founder, Tagtile
Abheek Anand, Co-founder, Tagtile Photo: Aditya Kapoor
Facing the Future
Having sold his San Francisco-based start-up, the customer loyalty service Tagtile, to Facebook recently, Abheek Anand, 32, is returning to the US as Product Manager for the social networking giant. "When I launched my start-up in March last year, I had never dreamed that an acquisition would come in a year," he says. "No start-up would." Does it bother him to have given up control? "If it weren't a networking giant like Facebook, I wouldn't have considered selling," says the IIT Delhi and Stanford University alumnus. Having also acquired Instagram, another mobile application start-up valued at $1 billion, Facebook, perhaps, wanted to cash in on Tagtile's popularity with brands. Asked to compare his start-up's worth with that of Instagram, Anand bursts out laughing.

-Taslima Khan

Jim Clifton, Chairman/CEO, Gallup
Jim Clifton, Chairman/CEO, Gallup Photo: Shekhar Ghosh
Poll Star
If he had not found his métier, polling people, Jim Clifton would probably have been happy being a cowboy. The Chairman and CEO of Gallup, the company that is a byword for public opinion research, has had a varied career, to put it mildly. "I did a whole bunch of things, including being a lifeguard, stacking books at a store, working in construction and in a youth prison," he says. Clifton was in India recently to unveil Gallup's global Wellbeing Index, which showed 31 per cent of Indians felt they were 'suffering'. Clifton also worried about the finding that showed only eight per cent of Indians were 'engaged' with their jobs. "I am not sure Mother Nature made enough good managers to manage the world. There is such a scarcity of the resource," he adds.

-Shamni Pande

Kishore Jayaraman, President, Rolls-Royce India
Kishore Jayaraman, President, Rolls-Royce India Photo: Aditya Kapoor
Energetic High-flier
After 23 years at GE, which culminated in his stint as CEO of GE's energy business in India, Kishore Jayaraman moves to Rolls-Royce India as President, where he will help develop the aero engines maker's manufacturing and engineering service presence in the country. Last year, Rolls-Royce India entered into a joint venture with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to make components of civil aero engines, marine, and energy gas turbines. "This is an exciting time for Rolls-Royce and its partner in India," says Jayaraman.

-Manu Kaushik

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