New Age Technologies like Renewable Energy require big picture thinking that spans the entire value chain of the business, including power generation, transmission and distribution!
Pathik Kapadia, our next pathbreaker, works at Jinko Power Technology, a leading clean energy developer, as a part of the Project Development team for MEA and APAC.
Pathik talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about opting for a non-traditional specialization of Power Electronics for his engineering and doing an MBA in the niche but relevant field of Energy and Environment !
For students, a management degree has never been as relevant as it is today, because the clean energy sector requires professionals who can balance their technical knowledge with business skills !
Pathik, Can you tell us about your background?
I grew up in a small town called Vadodara in Gujarat. I did my schooling in a vernacular school. My Father is a civil engineer and has a private job while my mother is a teacher. I was bright in my studies. If I share a piece of my parents’ stories about my childhood, I was always a good boy and never cried to go to school. From my early days in school, my mother used to encourage me to participate in each and every competition. Irrespective of the results, my parents always taught me to extract learning from each competition. In a way, I was conditioned by my parents to face all the challenges before giving up. I was never interested in sports but I always liked reading. Science and the General Knowledge magazine – Safari were my favourite magazines for more than 7-8 years. At a very early age, I read the books of well-known Gujarati writers including Kanaiyalal Munshi and Zaverchand Meghani. I also represented my school in multiple essay writing and debate competitions. As I grew up, I developed an interest in Astronomy and Physics. As a result of my offbeat upbringing, I decided to leave my hometown after 12th and take a lesser known course for my engineering.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
Although I secured a good engineering rank through the state entrance test in 12th standard, I chose a relatively new course, Power Electronics Engineering, offered by Gujarat Technological University in Ahmedabad.
For my post-graduation, I decided to pursue my MBA in Energy and Environment from Symbiosis International University.
What were some of the influences that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
During my childhood, I was heavily influenced by Stephen Hawking and his theories on cosmology, the origin of time and energy. At the very young age of 15-16 years, I had subconsciously made up my mind to pursue a career either in physics or in power engineering. People around me used to lightheartedly tease me that I should become a cosmologist (which never happened). When I look back today, I was fortunate enough to meet the right people and get the right opportunity at the right time which eventually shaped my career.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Tell us about your career path
My first job as a Project Engineer in the Automation industry gave me the opportunity to engineer processes and machines. However, I realized the significance of a management degree during my interactions with the decision makers (usually from our client’s side, head of departments of large companies or founders/CEOs of SMEs). I felt the importance of a management degree and started my research on MBA/PGDM. In the meantime, one of my friends from engineering had joined a full time MBA in “Energy and Environment”. I evaluated it in detail and decided to pursue it, as this specialization was more or less in sync with my interests and career path. I appeared for SNAP (entrance exam for Symbiosis), secured a decent score, appeared for the admission process and secured admission. Two years of my MBA was a transition period for me. The course, in nutshell, was a balanced amalgamation of core management subjects and technical subjects related to primary and secondary energy sources and their equation with the environment and climate change. I received guidance from some of the best professors especially, Professor Gandhe and Nagarkar, on various subjects. This course helped me to understand the need for sustainable energy sources, emission reduction standards and techniques, commercial and financial aspects of solar power projects.
I secured a pre-placement offer from L&T Infrastructure Finance Company during my summer internship. I joined L&T Infrastructure Debt Fund (group company of L&T Finance) as a Transaction Manager in their project financing business for renewable energy projects. I worked on commercial due diligence, credit appraisal and debt structuring to sanction and disburse project financing for solar and wind power projects. My job also included monitoring the plant performance and financial covenants of these projects viz a vis the base case. I learned about the business models and investment strategies of the RE project developers and investors in India. I got multiple opportunities to visit the solar and wind projects along with the technical teams. I was fortunate enough to have a group of colleagues who always encouraged me to excel in my career. I met with my mentor here who pushed my boundaries and encouraged me to take up challenging roles and supported me throughout my stint here.
At one point, my subconscious desires called for widening my wings further and exploring the wider power sector. I started looking for options and secured 2 offers within 3 months, one in the RE investor platform and the other in consulting. It was very tough to choose, one as both the opportunities were good and suitable in terms of career progression. My mentor again guided me and helped me clear my clouded mind and choose the wisest option. Eventually, I decided to move with the Management consulting role with PwC.
I joined as a Consultant in the Energy, Power and Utilities vertical of the management consulting practice at PwC. During my stint here, I got opportunities to work across the entire energy value chain including power generation, transmission and distribution, sustainable infrastructure, green finance etc. I got promoted to Senior Consultant within a year of my joining. Just to mention a few of my assignments here: I supported my manager on commercial due diligence for a debt resolution plan for a thermal power plant. I worked on a revival strategy for a solar power developer firm. One of my assignments was on advising an investor to explore the DISCOM (power distributor companies) privatisation market in India.
Also, I was a part of the team working for the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and FCDO. I met with a handful of intelligent and ambitious colleagues. I was happy with my career graph and the nature of my work here.
But the time had arrived for me to move ahead as my mentor approached me with an opportunity in Project Development team of an International Project Developer. I decided to give it a chance, as he had recommended my profile for the role. My previous experience as a lender and consultant helped me during the interviews and I landed an opportunity that I could not refuse. For the last 6 months, I am reinventing myself and relearning the skills with the objective of excelling in my current role with Jinko Power.
How did you get your first break?
I was fortunate enough to get interesting first breaks twice in my career. After my graduation, I was applying for jobs and visiting various engineering and industrial exhibitions. In one of such expos, I met with a father- son duo of entrepreneurs who had a manufacturing facility for machine parts and wanted to build a fully automatic pouch filling and packing machine. We had a great conversation on ways to do it, I shared my little knowledge on microcontrollers and PLC. We resonated on our passion and eventually decided to collaborate. Over the period of next few months, we jointly worked on our sachet packing machine. Meanwhile, this hands-on experience of PLC programming helped me to get a job in the only channel partner of SIEMENS Automation in my city. They were an authorized solution provider of SIEMENS Automation products like PLC, SCADA, Control Panels, DC Drives etc.
The second break came in the form of the campus interview for my MBA internships. As I was working in the Automation industry previously, I had developed my own connection with electricity and the overall power sector. My reading and experience on real issues like power losses, theft, capacity utilization of conventional power plants, impact of thermal power on environment came handy in the interview. I landed with an offer to join L&T Infra Finance Co Ltd for the summer internship. I was the only student from the “Energy and Environment” specialization from my college to get it.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
My domain is quite a niche and needs full dedication. There were times when I had second thoughts, and doubted my decision of opting for Power Electronics for my Engineering. But my parents, my brother and my best buddies always had my back. They always encouraged me to not lose trust in the process.
My strength to address the challenges comes from 2 schools of thought: “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached” by Swami Vivekanand and “Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana” from Bhagwad Geeta.
Where do you work now? Can you tell us about your current role?
I am currently working with Jinko Power as a part of the Project Development team for MEA and APAC regions. Jinko Power is in the business of developing large utility scale solar PV projects. My role is fairly volatile, because I don’t have predefined roles and responsibilities. If I can think of one line JD, ensure the smooth progress of all the activities related to the project, identify risks to the returns on the developer’s investment and mobilize to eliminate/address them in a timely manner.
What’s a typical day like?
In a day, I typically coordinate across the finance, legal, engineering and construction, and project development work streams internally as well as externally to keep a tab on overall progress. It’s my responsibility to understand the big picture beyond the tasks of individual work streams and predict any risks which might affect the project milestones and thereby the return on investment.
What are the skills required for your role? How did you acquire them?
The job demands a detailed understanding of all the workstreams. On some days, I am involved in contract negotiations along with lawyers and legal advisors, while on some days I need to engage with my project finance team and financial advisors to understand the financial implications of any change in project timelines/milestones. Here, my previous experience as a lender and consultant comes to my rescue. I try to apply my consulting mindset to solve the real-time challenges. In my stint of 6-7 months in this role, I have realized that technical knowledge alone is not enough and one should also have people management skills.
How does your work benefit society?
I advocate clean energy for a sustainable future. In all of my jobs, I have always worked in a role that promotes and accelerates the adoption of clean energy sources. I feel proud of my little contribution to creating a planet where alternative energy sources prevail over their fossil counterparts in every aspect including commercial viability.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
One thing is very clear to me now, we should keep our minds and arms open and not restrict ourselves to specifics. Career and for that matter, life as a whole is a continual process. Plans will change and we should also adapt accordingly. All you want in your life is just outside of your comfort zone, so don’t be afraid to face challenges. Learn to take up calculative risks and be prepared for the outcomes – positives or negatives.
As mentioned already, plans always change. Currently, I am focusing on absorbing everything I can, improving my knowledge and skills in terms of international RE project development. I wish to mark my name in the history of clean energy as a noticeable pioneer.