Prakash Chandran, the first Asian to head Siemens Malayasia, a 104-year-old multinational corporation, still speaks fluent Malayalam without a ‘phoren’ accent. A music buff and foodie who tunes in to Carnatic music to relax and cooks on weekends for his friends and family, Prakash says it is muti-tasking and the competitive education in India that have taken him places. A man of many talents, Prakash, directs, acts and scripts plays for the All Malaysian Malayali Association in Malayasia. Not a difficult task for a person who used to bag prizes for Ottanthullal, mridangam and ghatam during his student days in Thiruvananthapuram. In fact, these activities, he says, help him think out of the box to tackle problems and projects at the workplace.
“Foucssing on the same thing for hours together could reduce productivity and become montonous. Nurturing different interests you are passionate about is a way to move away from an issue and take a look at it from a different perspective, and at the same time, imbue each solution with my identity,” he says during a short visit to the city.
The word identity crops up frequently in Prakash’s conversation. “Even when you work in a team, you must be able to give it an identity! Otherwise, there is always the danger of it losing or lacking a soul,” says Prakash. Taking up music, he illustrates his point: “One of the things that has always intrigued me is the identity of a singer. Each raga has the same spread of swaras and each has its place in the raga scale. Yet, the bhavam, which creates an impact on the listener, depends on what the singer has conveyed, it is his understanding of what the raga is about. Thus it has an identity of the singer.”
Prakash believes that irrespective of the work or the process that is followed, it is necessary to create that identity and that happens when there is a passion within you for your work. “The best organisations are those that have the most number of people with that passion,” he adds.
In his case, it is his father, G. Madhusoodanan Nair, an electrical engineer, who instilled in him a passion for engineering and music. His father used to take Prakash to his workplace – the Kerala Electricals and Allied Engineering Company at Mamala, near Tripunithura. “At the age of eight, I could tell the parts of a transformer and was quite captivated by machinery,” he recalls.
Although he flirted with the idea of becoming a chartered accountant, the decision was made for him by his father when Prakash was vacationing at his aunt’s house in Malaysia. Thus he joined CET as a student of electrical engineering. Multi-tasking became second nature to him during his college days when he began learning Ottanthullal in addition to ghatam. “I used to do a bit of mono-act and mimicry and so I decided to learn Ottanthullal as well because I learnt that items in dance gave you more points during the youth festivals,” he says with a smile.
After graduating in 1985, he joined Crompton and Greaves. Later he was posted in Delhi. “Remember my knowledge of Hindi was rudimentary but even then I volunteered to head a project in Bareilly where we were racing against time to complete it. I managed to communicate and motivate the many contractors and workers on the project and met the deadline. That really convinced me that it is always people who can make or mar anything.”
Since then it has been a steady climb for the technocrat who believes that it is people who can make a difference. “Thus, we have initiated changes such as ‘Chawan Time,’ which means ‘tea time’. Twenty-five employees are chosen at random and they get the opportunity to interact with me or a leader. That is one way of engaging with employees and letting them know what the company’s vision is and also inviting their thoughts and ideas on how to reach a common goal.”
It sounds simple but Prakash believes that “simplicity is the highest level of sophistication”.
Foodie in the kitchen
Prakash Chandran is a foodie who enjoys cooking. His son Vishnu’s favourite is the chicken biriyani his father makes. But Prakash says although he cooks Chinese and Indian dishes, his favourite is ‘naadan food’, especially curries like Thiyal. “Both my grandmother and my mother, Sukumari, who are no more, were expert cooks. But my mother never used to permit my brother and me to enter the kitchen. She was not too happy with my attempts to cook even then but when I used to get stuck in the middle of cooking something or when something went awry, I used to telephone her from Malaysia and she used to tell me, sometimes a little reluctantly, how to make it palatable again,” says Prakash with a broad smile. He does not like sticking to a recipe, because “there is no fun in it. I enjoy experimenting.”
“No matter where in the world I go, I make a beeline for music stores to buy the best of world music and native music. I have a collection of more than 1,000 CDs that I tune in to during my leisure. In my college years, I was not much into light music or film music. But now I am a keen listener and I am bowled over by the sheer variety and range of film music. I must be the biggest fan of my younger brother, M. Jayachandran.” Prakash remembers how he used to ferry around his kid brother to music classes and all the concerts in Thiruvananthapuram. While his brother learnt vocal Carnatic music, he was trained on the mridangam and then switched over to the ghatam. “I won several prizes during the school and youth festivals. But I never wanted to make it my profession, like my brother. However, now I would like to take up vocal music and study it seriously.” About his brother’s award-winning work in the film Celluloid, Prakash says: “I really liked the song when he showed me the video. It is a song with a difference and I am happy that he has got the state award. That said, I still feel his best is yet to come.”
He is a former student of Mannam memorial High School, Government Arts College and College of Engineering, Trivandrum. He has been CEO and president of Siemens Malaysia since 2009. Prakash is married to Shaila and they have a son, Vishnu, a student in Australia. Shaila works as an online lecturer for the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom.