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A Journey in Energy: From BITS Pilani to Managing Director of Praj Industries Ltd.

A Journey in Energy: From BITS Pilani to Managing Director of Praj Industries Ltd.

Shishir Joshipura, an alumnus of BITS (Pilani, ’83), holds a B.E. (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering and an Advanced Management Program from Harvard Business School (2007), is the Managing Director and CEO of Praj Industries Ltd. He is a global leader in industrial biotechnology, known for its expertise in 1G and 2G ethanol production and biorefinery solutions.

How has your life been, and what is the story behind your journey to becoming Managing Director of Praj Industries Ltd.?

BITS provided a solid foundation for my career. Energy is an essential pillar of human growth and sustainability. I chose to build my career exploring different dimensions of Energy. I consider myself blessed to have the opportunity to work with different organizations, each of them a leader in their field - thermal energy, mechanical energy, and bioenergy. Starting as a trainee engineer in 1983 and working up the corporate ladder - I also had an opportunity to attend Harvard Business School for an Advanced Management Program. An innovative, customer-centric, and nurturing environment bound by a set of Values were common factors across three different organizations I have worked with. Across my career of 40+ years, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with world-class people and teams.

Can you share some of your most memorable experiences at BITS Pilani?

We were 11 from the same school, and three more like-minded people were found to make a gang of 14. All of us are like a band of brothers even today. BITS environment is so enriching that I am perhaps spoilt for choice! BITS is a process and not a project in one’s life. Learning to deal with the given situation and making the best of it (PR number and clamor for classes of certain professors!), making decisions in ambiguous conditions (make-ups and rush to Dr. Bisht), sharing and caring (GB Thomas book to be shared between three!), there is no free lunch (staying in June on campus post-strike in sweltering heat!) lessons and experiences abound every day. Opening Skylab, understanding the power and reach of true democracy (through student elections), and striking lifetime friendships with so many people from different walks of life (our 78 Batch is still extremely closely connected). During the entire experience of campus interviews with no internet, laptops, or smartphones, we had only one phone on campus in the Post Office! – yet we never felt that BITS was disconnected from the rest of the world (Kudos to the BITS faculty, staff, and alumni for this). Getting a license for glider flying at a gliding club, OASIS – a cauldron of culture and energy. Kapoor Ji exemplified customer service, and Blue Moon is a high-quality product. Jain Sahib’s boundless energy is at the newspaper stall in Connaught, and the list is never-ending.

What motivated you to pursue an Advanced Management Program at Harvard University, and how has it influenced your professional journey?

As I worked through different functions, I realized the need for formal input on understanding vision, strategy, the interconnectedness of different actions, and its impact on the organization’s journey. The Advanced Management Program (AMP) at Harvard Business School allowed me to develop a 360-degree view of leadership. I will remain indebted to Thermax for sending me to this program and contributing significantly to my development journey.

Looking back, what were the key lessons you learned during your early career that have stayed with you throughout your professional life?

Three things have helped and stayed with me.

  1. Active listening – Not just hearing, but in a true sense participating to understand not only the What but also the Why.
  2. Be a student for life – In my book, it is okay not to know; however, it is not okay not wanting to know. A childlike curiosity to enquire, understand, and expand knowledge is key to continuous growth.
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail – It is important to try and continue trying … allowing a fear psychosis to govern your actions will only lead to decay. Learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them, but try till you succeed.

Praj Industries is known for its work in sustainable solutions and biofuels. How do you see the future of renewable energy and biofuels evolving in India and globally?

We are at an exciting point in mankind's journey. As we understand the impact of our actions today on future generations’ right to live better, we realize that growth cannot come at any cost. We cannot borrow our today from the future of our grandchildren. Growth must be built on sustainable dimensions. Biofuels are a great solution to contribute to this journey of responsible and sustainable growth. We have grown as a society heavily dependent on hydrocarbons; how about carbohydrate-driven growth? At an elemental level, they are still the same molecules! Agrarian economies across the world, including India, can drive sustainable growth in their economies – farmers get paid for residues, industry and supply chains create employment, energy independence goes up, forex spending goes down, we return carbon to the soil and altogether avoid carbon dioxide emissions enhancing our chance to combat climate change! Biofuels are a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels that do not call for any change at the individual level- we still produce the same energy, drive the same vehicles, and use the same infrastructure while saving our grandchildren's future. Governments globally are realizing the potential of Biofuels as a sustainable solution for mobility -at Praj; we have coined the term BioMobility R to represent all sustainable fuel solutions across all modes of transportation. India has taken the lead by establishing the Global Biofuel Alliance (GBA) along with the USA, Brazil, and 22 other countries and multilateral institutions to enhance the production and use of Biofuels. We see an ever-increasing role for Biofuels across all modes of transportation – the globe is committed, and so are we at Praj.

Can you share some insights on effectively navigating the challenges of transitioning between different roles?

Any transition is essentially a change process. Recognizing the degrees of change you as an individual will be going through is the first step in the process. It is essential to articulate and understand any changes that may happen in “values”. If you are uncomfortable with this aspect of change, pause, reexamine, and don’t move forward unless you have articulated this change and are in absolute comfort internally. We often get carried away by the “positives” and the possibilities; however, the risks (usually hidden in the negatives) always create a barrier to success. Understanding the risks and having a mitigation plan and an implementation discipline is helpful. Harnessing your team's energy in the right direction is often half the battle won. Almost always, the glory is in “boring details” (read detailed work!)

What advice would you give current students and recent graduates of BITS Pilani who aspire to reach leadership positions in their careers?

India is waking up to a tomorrow full of promise – our position in global packing order is also moving in the right direction. BITS has given all of us such a wonderful platform to start with. All I will say is this- there is no

  • shortcut to success
  • substitute for great execution
  • limit to what you can achieve