Interview with Gopinath Govindan, Director HR of CLP India

By October 31, 2015 CXO Interviews

Interview: Gopinath Govindan, CLP India

Gopinath Govindan is Director – Human Resources of CLP India, a key player in India’s Power Sector with investments in wind power, supercritical coal-fired and gas-fired generation.

With over 27 years’ experience in building human resources for organisations like Hindustan Petroleum, Hindustan Unilever, Oracle Financial Services (formerly i-flex Solutions) and CLP India, Mr Govindan has facilitated CLP India’s journey towards being an ‘Employer of Choice’ in the Power Sector.

Passionately interested in raising the best practices in Human Resources as a function, Mr Govindan is known for his progressive approach and his ability to translate organisational business principles, values and ethics into a value framework that defines the DNA of the organisation, and ultimately leads to its success.

In this interview, Mr Govindan talks about CLP India’s value framework, its commitment to building human resources, and the code of conduct that is respected throughout the organisation.

Could you quickly give us the highlights of the company, so we know a little bit about CLP India. And then let’s talk about your role here.

CLP India is a wholly owned subsidiary of CLP Group which is headquartered in Hong Kong with a presence across HK, mainland China, Australia, India and South East Asia. CLP has been in existence for over 100 years but the India innings started in 2002 with the acquisition of a stake in the 655 MW gas fired combined cycle power plant at Paguthan in Bharuch, Gujarat in 2002. We operated as a single asset company in the initial years.  Since then, the portfolio has expanded to include close to 1000 MWs of wind energy projects and a 1320 MW super-critical coal-fired plant at Jhajjar, Haryana which the company built and commissioned in the middle of 2012 after signing the PPA in 2008. Today, CLP is one of the largest foreign private power players and the biggest investor in the wind power sector in India.


I came on board in the year 2008 and am responsible for the HR and Admin functions for CLP India entities. In the initial years, besides getting the team in place for construction and operations of the Jhajjar plant, we also strengthened the corporate office set-up besides streamlining HR systems and processes.

What kind of manpower strength are we talking about? We’re talking about two huge power projects. And we’re talking about a dozen wind power projects. I’m sure your corporate office staff strength is nothing compared to the projects.

Power plants are highly automated and run by a set of competent engineers along with other business enabling functions. The non-core functions are outsourced. We have close to 400 employees on rolls and over a 1000 contract staff, with the majority of them at our plants.

When you joined, it was the company’s imperative to set up systems. If you were to say that, “this is how I began, and this is what it is now,” in these seven years, how has it evolved?

To be fair, we are still an organisation which is evolving… which is being formed. It’s work in progress. While the physical construction of the plant at Jhajjar is complete, we’re working on strengthening the CLP India work culture. Within our diversified portfolio across gas, coal and wind, we have tried to create opportunities for our people. The quality of our people and the stability or low turnover are significant pluses, particularly considering our long-term outlook to business…

How is this happening? What’s the magic?

Belief in our three core values: operational excellence, sustainability, and respect for people. These are the three core values of CLP India that we live by.

It’s not lip service…

Beginning with the leadership team, it is important that we walk the talk… which is also corroborated by feedback from people who have left us. We continue to focus efforts on prevention of silos, accessibility of leaders and breaking hierarchical boundaries. In fact, ‘Building Leaders at all levels’ was the theme of a presentation that I made at one of the ASTD annual conferences based on our experience at Paguthan. Building collaborations across teams and empowering young managers irrespective of hierarchy levels requires on-going efforts particularly when, as a country, we’re part of a hierarchy-conscious culture…

Yes, it is. So, how did you achieve this? It’s a success story, right?

It is something that you have to work on day in and day out. One really cannot say that “we’ve arrived and now we can let go.” It has to be seen and experienced in everything that you do and like I said earlier its ‘work in progress’. It starts with the Managing Director himself. At the end of the day, its belief in our people – our engineers are technically sound with a strong value framework, which resonates with the organisation’s philosophy.  As an organisation, our role is to ensure that we provide a conducive environment and facilitate growth.

So, how do you make this happen? What are two or three things you have done or which have worked in your favour?

There are many things that worked for us. First and foremost is of course, our association with the parent company in Hong Kong. This gives our employees the opportunity to work with a multi-cultural team… whether in Hong Kong, Australia or Mainland China. The focus on operational excellence, a strong value framework and the way we treat our people are certainly differentiators. Besides a strong core team, we’ve had the benefit of putting together a great team from all over the country.

Overall, it starts with selection – the basic quality and capability of people needs to be good. Thereafter, nurture and help people to grow – and get out of the way. One needs to be tolerant of mistakes, while having a strong process framework. We don’t operate on a hire-and-fire mode.

The approach of the company has to be consistent across all levels and functions. A feedback I received from an employee in Jhajjar was, “If the company can be so open to government authorities, I’m sure the company will be open with its employees.” You couldn’t ask for a better endorsement. Being candid with the staff; not taking short-cuts…

You talked about selection… the quality that has to be looked at. Is there anything special that you’re doing that ensures good people come to you?

Depending on the level of selection, you have to tailor your approach. At senior levels, the intellectual capital is sort of taken for granted. We don’t have a dearth of brain power. At that level, we look for someone who is aligned with our values and the executive presence to effectively deal with a multi-national team….

If I were to take this in a literal sense, does this happen at a face-to-face interview stage? Or, do you pick things out from a person’s résumé?

Résumés unfortunately don’t say much. We’ve had to let people go, particularly at junior levels, after doing background verification. Interviews do have limitations. It depends on what you’re looking for. You get what you ask for… We are clear in our mind that when we look at people, we take for granted that they will bring the understanding of their field. Much more important is if they’re aligned to the way we look at doing business… And those you cannot change. For instance, respect for people is not something that you can put on for an interview. Safety, for instance, is something we feel very deeply about. We want our new recruits to share the concern for safety, community and environment that we do. I think the starting point is what we’re looking for.

That’s a fantastic management input. Thank you for sharing it with us. You talked about the kind of people and how you treat them… that there’s no difference with respect to hierarchy or which plant they’re working in or where they are geographically located in the country. Is there a single English word that you could use to describe this philosophy? What is this value that goes beyond good that is making a lot of difference in your company?

For us, we’ve chosen the word ‘respect’. That’s the key word. However, more important is for values to be practiced and reinforced on an on-going basis. It’s far more important than what you articulate.

We’ve invested a lot of time to ensure a clear understanding of our code of conduct … every year, we take our people through a Business Process Review (BPR) session. Besides reinforcing our values, we provide examples where these values have been breached … to understand what is not acceptable… to deal with conflicts of interest… to explain what is right.

These sessions are not designed to be a one-way dissemination – it is more of a discussion, an open forum where we discuss if there is anything that we do which is not in alignment with what we claim to be doing. We do have aberrations once in a while, but when it comes to violations of our values, we follow a zero-tolerance policy.

At the end of the day, as we put it – “we do what is right – with pride”.

From the perspective of the kind of people that your organisation has, you would have a variety of people performing different kind of tasks in CLP India. Is it difficult for the values to percolate down the hierarchy from the leadership team to the lowest member? Or, because you’re so conscious of the selection procedure, half the job is done and the percolation of values is easier?

No, you have to work on the culture day in and day out. At every level, there’s a responsibility to imbibe the values, practise it and pass it on. Even at the contract staff level, at our plant in Gujarat where people have been working for years, they like working at CLP, because they are assured that ours is a safer place to work in… that, they are taken care of…

… And you don’t lose sight of it. So, it’s a 24/7 thing!


And your organisation feels that nothing will move without that!

True, true. There’s constant energy going into it.

If we were to look at, roughly, two layers: the managers and the workers… if there were two such distinct layers… what kind of inputs do you give to the base and to the top of the pyramid to ensure this alignment remains in its pure form? Is there a monitoring system? Does it come up in annual appraisals? Do you have on-the-spot checks?

In our minds we have not segregated people as managers and workers. For example, when we have those BPR sessions I spoke of, what we tell our team members is that “you are the custodian of these values.” Even as a senior, if I make an inadvertent mistake, it’s my secretary’s job to point it out and ensure I am corrected. Essentially, the communication and expectations from employees is uniform across levels, as well as geographies.

I know much of it is coming from Hong Kong, but you talked about a lot of systems have had to be put into place. Without divulging trade secrets, what can you tell us about these systems so that others can learn from them?

We have generally kept a low profile and let our work speak for itself. To my mind, India has no dearth of talent. Putting together a good team and running a professional organisation focussed on operational excellence and grounded on a strong value framework is no rocket science. However, it does require a long-term approach and 24/7 attention. And one needs to do it because you believe in it, not because it’s an organisational mandate. As I’ve said, it’s work in progress.

It’s something that you live by every day. It’s not an appearance. It’s not to show something off. It doesn’t matter if it’s showcased or not.

Yes, the moment you think about ‘appearances’, you’re no longer driven by the right priorities.

During the selection process, when you’re looking for talent and you’re looking for people for CLP India, how do you spot the talent? Is it a gut feel?

No. The interview is important. But it’s not fool-proof. We spend a lot of time in understanding the person’s orientation, particularly at senior levels… to understand the person as a whole. There’s no magic formula to it.

Neither are there any tests that can be indicators.

It’s the person’s orientation. Discussions on how the person has dealt with situations in the past does help.

Thank you for this enlightening interview.

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