Chairman, Indian Oil Corporation
Born: ca. 1944, in India.
Education: College of Engineering, Guindy (India).
Family: Married Vasundhara (maiden name unknown); children: two.
Career: Indian Oil Corporation, 1969–?, management trainee; 2001–2002, director of planning and business development; 2002–, chairman; government of India, Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, executive director of Oil Coordination Committee; IBP Company and Chennai Petroleum Corporation, chairman; Indian Oiltanking, head.
Address: Indian Oil Corporation, Core–2, SCOPE Complex, 7, Institutional Area, Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110003; http://www.iocl.com.
■ During his stint as head of India's only Fortune 500 company, M. S. Ramachandran managed one of the world's largest petroleum development industries. The India Oil Corporation (IOC) moved up quickly in the Fortune 500 rankings during his tenure. The 17th-largest oil company in the world during Ramachandran's time in office, India Oil met half of all the nation's petroleum requirements, ranked first in oil commodities trading in the Asia-Pacific region, and also ranked 325th in Forbes magazine's Global 500 listing and 191st in the Fortune 500 listing. Ramachandran also helped to launch the company's transformation from a government-held public utility to a private-sector, publicly traded corporation after India had completed the deregulation of its petroleum industry in 2002. Under Ramachandran's watch India Oil won many awards for its management and its business acumen, being ranked India's number one company in the business magazines Businessworld and Business India . Ramachandran's leadership and devotion to nurturing talented management and a healthy corporate culture led Business Today to list IOC among India's top 10 employers for 2003.
One change that Ramachandran introduced to IOC was, in the words of Shyamal Majumdar, a contributor to the Business Standard (February 16, 2004), to "make the entire organisation take marketing as a religion." Ramachandran articulated his theory of management in his convocation address to the Nirma Institute of Management in March 2003. He encapsulated the basics of management in what he termed "the five mantras of success." These mantras included a clear vision of the future, a sense of social responsibility and the need to return value to society, the need for continual education, the abandonment of cynicism and apathy, and the belief in one person's ability to make a difference in both government and society. Ramachandran also based these management mantras on Indian ideas and concepts rather than on Western ones. "Ancient wisdom," he told the graduates at the Nirma Institute of Management, "teaches us to believe in ourselves…. The fundamental truth is 'Ahm Brahma Asmi,' which means, I am the Brahman—the supreme power."
Ramachandran began his career on the fast track to management success. He received his degree in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering, Guindy, in Chennai. Soon after graduation he was recruited to become part of a management trainee program at the India Oil Corporation. The trainees were placed on fast tracks to advancement; for instance, explained Shyamal Majumdar in the Business Standard (New Delhi), all seven members of the original trainee group were promoted within two years—a process that, in the hierarchical world that was Indian management at the time, normally took 10 years. Although the program was later axed, over half the members of the first group went on to hold significant positions in the country's major publicly traded firms.
During the first Gulf War (1990–1991), Ramachandran won praise from the IOC board for the steps he put in place to protect India's oil and gas industry from the threat of attack. He left the IOC briefly to become executive director of the Oil Coordination Committee of India's Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. The position gave the budding young manager both prestige and power. Ramachandran helped oversee the deregulation of India's petroleum and natural gas industry in the years during which he occupied the government office. In 2001, partly as recognition of his accomplishments, he was named a member of IOC's board and director of planning and business development. The following year he was made chairman of the company. He announced his intention to retire from the chairmanship in 2005.
The transformation that Ramachandran made in the company he headed was significant. The India Oil Corporation was a political creature from its creation in 1964 through the merger of S. Nijalingappa's Indian Oil Company Ltd. and Firoz Gandhi's Indian Refineries. Nijalingappa was a significant member of India's governing congress. In 1965 Dr. Radhakrishnan, then president of India, opened the corporation's first oil refinery. Eight years later Prime Minister Indira Gandhi broke ground for the corporation's new Mathura refinery. In 1976 the oil industry in India was nationalized and brought under the control of the federal government. The IOC would remain under the guidance of political figures for about two decades.
In fact, Ramachandran's stint as executive director of the Oil Coordination Committee was a stepping stone to his appointment to the IOC board. Majumdar declared in the Business Standard (New Delhi) that during the 1990s Ramachandran had been approached by Prabir Sengupta, then serving as petroleum secretary for the Indian government, about a possible position with the governmental committee. The executive director's position was of huge importance at the time because of the deregulation and dismantling of government oversight that was scheduled for the petroleum industry's companies. Although the executive director's job was a "hot seat," as Ramachandran told Majumdar in the Business Standard (February 16, 2004), if it was well handled, it could become an opportunity for further advancement. Indeed, shortly after leaving government service, Ramachandran was named to the IOC board, and in 2002 he became the corporation's chairman.
Although Ramachandran introduced many important changes to the IOC's corporate culture, he maintained aspects of work life that had been important characteristics of the corporation since its founding. Some of them dated back as far as 1966, when the corporation signed an agreement with its employees to ensure stable relations between them. In 1971, as a result of a war with Pakistan, the corporation extended dealership privileges to women who had been widowed in the war and to disabled veterans. In particular, Ramachandran maintained policies that rewarded employee loyalty and retarded attrition and employee turnover. When the new chairman arrived in 2002, IOC already had planned "retention strategies" in place to encourage talented and experienced employees to stay with the company. These strategies included distributing shares to employees, offering bonuses linked to performance, and creating fast-track positions for its most talented executives. Housing, transportation, and welfare-related programs—including medical care following retirement—were also part of the corporation's package. The IOC even had in place a plan to help defer expenses for an employee's funeral. Under Ramachandran the corporation expanded its employee rewards program to acknowledge exceptional group and individual performances.
Ramachandran also oversaw the expansion of IOC's business interests into areas as geographically distinct as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Algeria, Kuwait, Mauritius, and Iran. The corporation served as a distributor for petroleum products in Sri Lanka and invested in oil exploration in Middle Eastern oil fields in Kuwait and Iran. There were also suggestions that IOC might also be employed as a consultant and in pipeline maintenance and repair in rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure following Iraq's war with the United States in 2003. Most of IOC's supplies of petroleum come from domestic sources—in Business India Ramachandran declared that in 2003 the corporation was pursuing development of about 14 different potential sites, all of them either in India or just offshore—but markets for the products it made from petroleum expanded rapidly overseas, ranging from Sri Lanka to West Africa.
India Oil Corporation's major customer, however, remained the people of India. In 2004 IOC owned about 42 percent of the nation's entire refining capacity, owned 67 percent of pipeline throughput capacity, and supplied over 50 percent of all petroleum products sold in India. Its SERVO brand lubricant accounted for more than 42 percent of the market in India alone, but it was also sold in many other markets, including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, and Bahrain. In a nod toward traditional Indian retailing methods, India Oil incorporated a process by means of which SERVO lubricants could be sold through bazaars and thereby be placed in the hands of millions who could not get them through retail outlets. It was that kind of function, said Ramachandran in an address to employees on Indian Oil day in 2003, placing affordable petroleum and energy products into the hands of common people in India, that defined the corporation's future. "The trust that our customers have bestowed on us," he explained, "will be our biggest accolade."
See also entry on Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. in International Directory of Company Histories .
"Convocation Address of Mr. M. S. Ramachandran—Chairman, Indian Oil, at the Nirma Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India on March 24, 2003," http://www.iocl.com/downloads/Chairman_Speech_%20Nirma_IM_Mar23%20.doc .
Hille, Alfred, "Indian Oil Taps Burnett, Starcom for Rebranding," Media (Hong Kong), July 25, 2003, p. 3.
"Indian Oil Corporation Limited," Indian Oil , http://www.iocl.com/ourcompany_profile.asp .
"Indian Oil—Reinventing the Future," Business Today , September 14, 2003.
"IOC Chairman's Message On Indian Oil Day," Indian Oil , September 1, 2003, http://www.iocl.com/displayit.asp?pathit=/releases/rel71.txt .
Majumdar, Shyamal, "An Escalator to 'Eighth Heaven,'" Business Standard (New Delhi), February 16, 2004.
"Making the Elephant Dance," Business Standard (New Delhi), May 1, 2004.
"Our Company: Corporate History," Indian Oil , http://www.iocl.com/ourcompany_cohistory.asp .
"Our Company: Overview," http://www.iocl.com/ourcompany_overview.asp .
Seli, Yeshi, "A Result of Focused Initiatives," Business India (New Delhi), June 13, 2003.
Tan, Clara, "IOC Aims to Start C2 Work in Apr '04," Asian Chemical News , October 13–19, 2003, p. 24.
"Time to Shine in Oil Industry," Hindu (Chennai), January 15, 2004.
—Kenneth R. Shepherd
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