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Vijay Kumar is a mining engineer from our institute. He has extensive technical expertise in mining of traditional minerals such as coal/copper/iron ore as well as exotic minerals such as Platinum, Gold and Diamond. Currently he is employed as Mineral Resource Manager with Anglo Platinum, South Africa.
Vijay Kumar obtained MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur and completed Advanced Course in Mining Engineering at University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. He worked with Tata Steel for coal mining projects. For past two years, he is working with Anglo-American plc in South Africa for development of Iron ore, Platinum, Gold and Diamond mines. His experience includes design and development of mining deposits, mining technology, project management, mining safety and risk assessment, etc.
For Chronicle Yogesh K Upadhyaya discusses with Vijay about his high-profile career. His technical paper on mining of diamonds is also published at the end of this interview.
We hope this will inspire our fellow mining engineers to take up challenging assignments within mining industry.
Education of Vijay Kumar
*B. Tech. Mining Engineering from Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University (IT-BHU), Varanasi in 1995
*MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur in 1999
*Advanced Course in Mining Engineering from University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia in 2004.
Q-1: Welcome, Vijay. Please tell us about yourself.
Thanks a lot for this opportunity to share something about me with the fellow alumni of IT –BHU.
I was born in a small village in Bihar but grew up in the mining towns close to Ranchi as my father was working for Coal India limited. I studied in a Kendriya Vidyalaya in the region. For my 10+2 study, I went to St. Columba’s college in Hazaribagh and thereafter I got into IT-BHU.
In terms of planning my career to tell you very frankly, was the fact that I came from a very small town, and the only career I saw flying was that of a mining engineer who used to have lots of social, political financial powers. That obviously had an influence on me but to until 3rd year of my engineering I never thought seriously over what I want to be.
Based on my on assessment of my capabilities and also the optimism put in my batch-mates that I will be flag bearer of my department I decided to embrace mining engineering as a career.
Q-2: Please tell us about your career at Tata Steel
I must start with a comment that if you want to start a career it must start with Tata. Having seen many organizations around the world, there are very few organizations which really develop an individual to his/her right potential.
My batch-mates would certainly remember me as a typical “desi” boy who I feel was gradually transformed to survive in the corporate world. This is mainly because of the climate that I got during my stay with Tata Steel.
I got a job in Tata steel from campus and was placed in their coal mines close to Dhanbad in Jharkhand. Out of a batch of 5 graduates I was the only one from our college. Added to the fact was that there were very few alumni in the organization. I did struggle during the 1st year certainly, but adjusted gradually.
I worked in different roles starting with hardcore underground mining to strategic planning early in my career and eventually became the youngest Mine manager there. Then I was give charge for acquisition of raw material assets globally which was really challenging, given the fact that I had no global experience.
I was lucky to get a good mentor early enough in my career who guided me through especially keeping me motivated and challenged during the tough times.
There is critical learning especially from what I consider some of my failures during my career at Tata Steel, that I would like share which may help the younger alumni’s in their career.
* If you are growing too fast in your organization then you need to work hard in maintaining your relationships. Just remember it’s the relationships help creating a perception around you especially in a large organization.
* You must maintain a balance between work and personal life. If I reflect back today I realize how much did I lose during certain period of my life due to the imbalance.
Q-3: You are currently working at Anglo American plc, South Africa
This opportunity actually came to be through my contacts within the industry.
The basic reason to make a move was actually because of the fact that mining sector especially in India was not growing. The resistance against the true liberalization of the industry was high, so I didn’t see any good opportunity in the near term.
Why South Africa? Obviously South Africa has a long history of mining and a wide range of commodities are being mined here. The other natural choice could have been Australia, but unfortunately majority of mining towns in Australia are far off from civilization. Back here I am in a mining town still only 2 hrs drive from Johannesburg.
Other factor was obviously a large Indian community in south Africa, so the move was quite easy, you don’t really feel out of place.
Q-4: What is life of a mining engineer working for a mine?
Mining is unique in many ways, depends on what you like. If you really like the city life then it is going to be difficult at least in the initial years. As you gain experience you can actually move to cities in consultancy jobs.
However having spent time in small mining towns I seem to have developed a liking for them. The community is very close, and you have a nice identity.
In terms of the working conditions Mining is considered a hazardous industry, but over the years safety performance of the industry has improved a lot. Other than the Gold mining industry majority of other mines safety is not a big concern
In terms of frequent travel, only if you are working in business development you need to travel a lot. Most of these travels will be to remote locations.
The mining industry in majority of the economies is considered on of the top pay masters. Unfortunately it is not the case in India, primarily due to the fact that mining has never been allowed to flourish as a standalone industry. Most of the mines in the private sector exist as a captive unit to either steel or power company.
On new techniques, I must say that the speed of change in the industry has been slow, so you are not exposed to fast changes. The industry somehow seems to be maturing in techniques with the only change now a days being the move to bigger and bigger equipments.
I must not forget to tell you one thing if anyone wants to succeed in the industry he must be prepared to handle human interface.
Q-5: Many of the mining graduates prefer to work in area other than mining. What is your advice to them?
My comment for these guys is simple; if you don’t want to be a mining engineer, why waste four years studying it. I saw it with many of my batch-mates; they got into mining to get an engineering degree.
I would simply say start with the “end game” in picture. Most of the time, our choice of career develops gradually. I can’t say it’s bad but surely if you start with a clear picture may be you will end up doing better.
There are certainly challenges associated with the mining industry in terms of attractiveness mainly due to current legislative environment in India. Overseas also majority of the mining companies rely on local talent. During the recent commodity boom I did see lot of movement of talent from India to Australia. However, because of high level of safety risks associated with the industry most of the times the regulatory certificates obtained from one country are not valid elsewhere, which restricts the movement quite a lot.
Q-6: Please describe your college days
Out of all the places I studied I must say IT-BHU was certainly the best. It had a huge impact on me. It transformed me into a completely new person. I may end up writing a novel like “five point someone” but I will never forget three of my friends (Janoo, Nigam and Jhaji). Nigam is the only one other than me left in mining, Janoo is a doing his bit to the environment as an IFS and Jhaji, I don’t know is lost somewhere.
I got involved in the university politics. Politics has its positives but the real problem that had on our class was that it clearly divided the class along cast lines quite a lot. This was not a real problem in the initial years but as the politics in the campus grew the fabric of our branch as well as the college certainly started weakening.
Q-7: Please tell us about your personal life
I have a loving wife and two kids. On the hobbies front I must say nothing significant.
On the personal side I help with studies of some kids in my village in an informal way. I want to change that to a more formal approach in the coming years so that I can return something back to the society.
The biggest influence in my life has been my father whom I have seen giving me the direction whenever I needed.
Vijay, it was nice talking to you.
Thanks Yogesh, I must say it’s a privilege to get this opportunity. i look forward to help our alumni in whatever way its possible.