‘Foundry man’, ardent engineer passes on

K. Mahesh felt that his place was ‘in the shop floor, not an air-conditioned room’

In the passing away of K. Mahesh, the Indian industry has lost a passionate engineer who was obsessed with quality and perfection. Sundaram Brake Linings, of which he was chairman, was only the second Indian company and the first friction materials manufacturer in the world to win the coveted Deming Application Award from the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers.

The company won the award, which is given for the highest levels of total quality management, in 2001 under Mr. Mahesh’s leadership.

“I’m a foundry man. My place is in the shop floor not in the air-conditioned room,” he once told this writer. Mr. Mahesh was an unabashed admirer of the Japanese quality movement and of Toyota Motor Company. However, he took equal pride in how Tata Motors drove out a slew of Japanese light commercial vehicles (LCVs) that invaded India in the eighties.

He would fondly refer to the Tata 407 LCV as “Jap Killer” for capturing the LCV market in competition with well-known Japanese brands.

Fan of Tata Nano

Mr. Mahesh was a big fan of the Tata Nano as well. He would drive around Chennai in a Nano, and always felt that the Tatas had a winner in their hands but lost the plot in marketing the car. His faith in the Nano was so high that he would even drive his customised car up the ghat road to his hill-top home in Kodaikanal, and he would proudly talk about it.

He took great pride in keeping the Sundaram Brake Linings factory in Padi spotlessly clean and green. You could not return from visiting him at Padi without having the customary glass of tender coconut water from a tree in the factory premises!

For such an accomplished man with the pedigree of one of the most respected and well-known industrial houses in India, Mr. Mahesh was self-effacing and extremely modest. He would often call me on the phone even when I was a rookie journalist.

Exactly a year ago, he called and we spoke in length about his illness. When I told him that I would like to visit him, his question was: “Why do you want to meet me? What will you get out of meeting me, I’m not such an important person.”

I met him sometime in April last for the last time. We spoke just a couple of months ago when he told me about how they were trying a new line treatment on him and it was working well. I told him I would visit him soon. Alas, that will never happen now!

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 2:28:28 AM |

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