Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on the visionary Dr Vikram Sarabhai
Read words of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on his first meeting with and the leadership style of Dr Vikram Sarabhai as part of the Centenary Celebrations.
Today is the 5th Death anniversary of President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Remembering both Vikram Sarabhai and Abdul Kalam, it felt justifying to publish this article. Read Dr Kalam's words on the leadership of Dr Vikram Sarabhai as part of the Centenary Celebrations.
The First Meeting of Vikram Sarabhai and Abdul Kalam
Professor MGK Menon of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) saw Dr Kalam's work on the Nandi hovercraft in Bangalore. He subsequently invited him for an interview for the position of rocket engineer at INCOSPAR. It was during this interview that Dr Kalam met 'a heroic figure', Dr Vikram Sarabhai.
As the meeting had come his way quite unexpectedly, Abdul Kalam was not able to prepare. But Dr Sarabhai, Professor Menon and Mr Saraf (deputy secretary of the Atomic Energy Commission) made him feel 'warmth and graciousness' in the room. Vikram Sarabhai probed into Kalam's thought processes to gauge the potential for his growth rather than his current storehouse of knowledge.
"In my professional life this was the first time that I had come across someone of his stature who seemed ready to envelop my thoughts and dreams into his larger vision for the country's space programme."
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Quotes on his first meeting with Dr Vikram Sarabhai
Dr Sarabhai's four Leadership Qualities as listed by Dr Kalam
APJ Abdul Kalam has listed four leadership qualities of Dr Vikram Sarabhai. According to him, these could 'inspire even the junior-most person in an organisation with a sense of purpose'.
Ready to Listen
As opposed to the general trend in the Indian institutions where leadership borderlines with bullying, Dr Sarabhai placed a considerable amount of trust in a bunch of young, inexperienced engineers.
"He harnessed this youthful spirit by giving us a vision and by also making us feel that we were part of a larger whole. He groomed us to become leaders in our own rights."
Ability to Think Creatively
Vikram Sarabhai was a great visionary. Dr Kalam describes how Dr Sarabhai could interconnect two seemingly random thoughts. He conceived the idea of India building its Satellite Launch Vehicle and at the same time creating a Rocket-Assisted Take-Off System (RATO). RATO would enable military aircraft to take off even from the most hostile terrain. It was due to his vision that the Indian Space Programme never tried to be one among an elite group of nations or played catch-up with other countries. We have always been focused on applying 'advanced technologies to alleviate real-life problems.'
Ability to Build Teams
We saw earlier in the Vikram Sarabhai Series that he had a particular knack for picking up just the right person for the job. Even Dr APJ Abdul Kalam noticed this trait of Dr Sarabhai. He added that 'he (Dr Sarabhai) had his own ways raising morale. When required he could make the bleakest scenario appear not so dark, he would praise us even if we had not completely reached our goal if he felt that it was justified, and he never stinted on using humour to alleviate the tensions inherent in our field.'
To Look Beyond Failure
APJ Abdul Kalam recollects a particular incidence where he and his colleague Pramod Kale failed to demonstrate a jettison system for the SLV to Dr Sarabhai. Later Dr Sarabhai conducted a meeting with Kalam. Sarabhai contemplated the more profound issues to find the reason behind the failure. They realised the need for an integrated space for system integration of all rocket stages. Dr Sarabhai then stayed up late in the night and created a new department- The Rocket Engineering Section at Thumba.
"My relationship with Vikram Sarabhai was a deeply emotional and intellectual one. Sarabhai took the young rocket engineer sitting before him, answering his questions with honesty and clarity, into his fold and shared his own dream of building rockets and missiles with him. He stood by me in moments of crisis and doubt, of failure and success, guiding me, pointing me on the right path when necessary or showing me where the path lay when I was confused. He was a giant among men, and I was fortunate that I could grow in his shadow."
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Quotes on his relationship with Dr Vikram Sarabhai
Vikram Sarabhai and Abdul Kalam both were visionary scientists and leaders who took India to great heights. We salute both Vikram Sarabhai and Abdul Kalam and hope many generations will remember their teachings and contributions to India.
Based on the chapter My Mentor: Dr Vikram Sarabhai from APJ Abdul Kalam's book My Journey: Transforming Dreams into Actions.