Tata Power managing director Anil Sardana was the first chief executive of North Delhi Power [now Tata Power Delhi Distribution (TPDDL)]. Talking with Sujata Agrawal, he recalls the experience of taking over a government utility and transforming it into a profit-making role model.
The challenges we faced were many and overwhelming. Seeing the need for a structured approach, we identified four principal areas of concern: customer relations; strengthening internal processes; growth and learning; and fiscal changes.
In a typical organisation, you would start by focusing on a few key issues, resolving these before addressing the next set of issues. But at TPDDL [then North Delhi Power] we decided that we would have to work on all issues simultaneously; only then would we be able to succeed. We really had to hit the ground running and keep up the pace.
The people factor
People made for the critical element in the transformation. When NDPL was set up, it acquired close to 5,600 people from the Delhi Vidyut Board [DVB]. And they came from a culture that was very different from that which prevails in the Tata group.
In the first meeting some of the erstwhile DVB employees introduced themselves with their designation and the statement, “I am self-disbursing authority”, which meant that they had the authority to sign and finalise matters at their level; it was a typical government mindset. Nearly 80 percent of the former DVB employees did not have qualifications beyond the fifth grade and most had not even crossed the borders of Delhi. They had no exposure to the world outside. There was no leadership input given to them, no training and development, no knowledge about best practices. They had been left to fend for themselves.
Looking at all of this I developed a hypothesis: that it was the lack of education and leadership training that had created a culture of gratification and manipulation; therefore, we had to address the issue of organisational culture and governance urgently.
I remember that the board members were initially wary of such thinking; they wanted me to bring in more executives from Tata Power to run the company. My response was that everything vests in the people at TPDDL, especially as nothing is documented. We have to respect them and work with them; if they don’t accept us and our governance, there is a possibility of the whole venture failing. Fortunately, the board soon agreed with my assessment.
It was hard work but every quarter showed perceptible improvements. To give you an idea of the state of things, we inherited two computers from DVB, which used to be covered with plastic sheets all the time. I set a six-month goal for all supervisors to facilitate decision-making with the aid of computers. For the first two months such meetings involved only continuous monologues from me. In the next two months there was participation and discussion; and, exactly after six months, they were making PowerPoint presentations. Within a year the organisation had 2,000 computers, and they were being used extensively.
Dealing with customer issues was akin to drawing up a battle plan. We developed a strategy to attack them step by step; each step had to show results so that there was a tangible impact. Consumer care centres — which were earlier built with asbestos or tin-sheet roofs with bamboo supports — became proper structures with air conditioning, world-class processes and prompt, friendly services.
Among various innovative processes initiated to build customer relations was the introduction of Sanchar Vans (communication vans), which were driven across our area of operation to inform people about shutdowns for technical reasons. If people had any specific reason for not wanting it on a particular day or time (for example, a cricket match or a ceremony), we would accommodate them and have the shutdown on another date. We began to be seen as a caring organisation.
Our focus on automation helped ensure there was no wrongful billing. An innovative scheme of home delivery was adopted for new connections: the day a customer called, a field officer would visit his or her house, get a form filled and the meter would be provided the very next day. There is no utility in the world that does that.
Information technology was one of the two main pillars of the transformation. And it was something I was very passionate about. Our interventions in this area are the reason for our sustainable performance and for our good score in the Tata Business Excellence Model [TBEM]. TPDDL, after five years, was far more advanced in terms of the use of information technology in processes than any Tata company at that time.
Before I left TPDDL in 2007, I asked for a TBEM external assessment; it was our first assessment and we were pleasantly surprised at our score of 516; it broke records in the Tata group. At the end of the day, the bottom line is what matters. And our results gave satisfaction — to the government, the regulators, our shareholders and, more importantly, motivated the employees to do better. We had launched a five-year plan in 2002. By 2007 we had excelled on all targeted points.
A sound partnership
The support given by the Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, was tremendous. She did not interfere in our working; on the other hand, she supported us in the face of political opposition. She was sensitive to our work in the slums, with schools and resident-welfare bodies. She encouraged us because she saw we were doing good work.
It was a difficult assignment; I would get threatening calls and had to be given police protection. But what motivated me was the challenge of bringing about change; the country needed a change and we needed to show people that it was possible.
I had a great team; I give full credit to them for bringing about the transformation of TPDDL. I may have been the leader but it is they who were the change managers.