Exclusive Interview with Dr. Sujatha Narayan, Sr. VP & Regional Leader India, Wabtec Corporation

Vinod Shah Posted on: 2024-03-08 06:30:00 Viewer: 8,166 Comments: 0 Country: India City: Bengaluru

Exclusive Interview with Dr. Sujatha Narayan, Sr. VP & Regional Leader India, Wabtec Corporation

In a recent exclusive interview with Metro Rail Today, we had the privilege of engaging with Dr. Sujatha Narayan, the Senior Vice President and Regional Leader of Wabtec Corporation for the India region. With an extensive background in Polymer Science & Engineering, Dr. Narayan is at the helm of Wabtec's operations in India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, overseeing a remarkable portfolio that spans freight business, transit solutions, and a global engineering center of excellence. Responsible for driving nearly $600 million in revenue, she plays a pivotal role in shaping Wabtec's impact on India's dynamic rail industry.

Dr. Narayan's leadership extends beyond corporate success, as she has garnered numerous accolades both within Wabtec and the broader rail community. Recognized as one of the Icons of India Inc. in "The Star List 2021," she further solidified her standing among the Top 50 CXOs in the Indian Manufacturing Industry. Her international acclaim reached new heights in June '23 when she was honored with the Women in Rail Award by the International Railway Journal (IRJ), acknowledging her significant contributions to the railway sector globally.

Notably, Dr. Sujatha Narayan stands out in an industry where gender diversity remains a challenge. As one of the few female industry leaders, her influence extends beyond boardrooms, earning her respect from customers, suppliers, and employees alike. Dr. Narayan's journey serves as an inspiration to women across India, reflecting her dedication to breaking barriers and making lasting impacts in the realm of rail technology and innovation.

Can you please share with us your journey in the Rail and Transportation industry, leading up to your current role as Sr. Vice President & Regional Leader at Wabtec Corporation?

I am relatively new to the Railway industry but have developed a strong passion for it given that it is the most sustainable form of transporting people and goods as well and the fact that it forms the backbone of India in its past and its future. I joined the Railway industry in 2017 when Faiveley Transport, a Wabtec company dealing with the Transit (Passenger) side of Wabtec, hired me as Managing Director of this business in India. In 2019 February, after the merger with GE Transportation, I was given the additional responsibility of being the General Manager of the region. In September 2021, with the full integration completed worldwide, I was given the dedicated role of managing the India region as India Region leader and Senior Vice President of the Corporation.

Wabtec Corporation has a rich history of over 150 years. How do you see the company's legacy influencing its present and future endeavors, especially in the context of sustainability, safety, and innovation?

Today, Wabtec stands on the shoulders of three great innovators – George Westinghouse, Louis Faiveley and Thomas Edison. Our deep root in innovation drives the company today in being leaders in the sustainability and safety of rolling stock. Our history is littered with many examples such as the story of George Westinghouse solving the problem of rolling stock accidents by inventing the air brakes or Louis Faiveley enabling rolling stock to run on electricity by inventing the pantograph. Our legacy drives our innovation engine which allows us today to be the most valuable rail technology company in the world.

As the leader of Wabtec's India region, what are the unique challenges and opportunities you have encountered in the rapidly evolving rail technology landscape in the country?

The Indian Railways is going through a fantastic modernization transformation covering speed, safety, security, and comfort as we look at the freight and passenger segments. The National Rail Plan published in 2020 by the Ministry of Railways was an amazing repository of data about the rail network and a strong treatise on the vision of the railways to reduce logistics costs and play a key role in the development of the country. Similarly, the National Metro Rail Policy published in 2017 attempted in its vision to solve urbanization-related problems. The primary challenge has been the ability of the Ministry of Railways and the Ministry of Urban Development to convert this strong vision and strategy to reality. Whether you talk about Metro projects that are constantly getting delayed or platforms like Vande Bharat or Wayside monitoring, the deployment is significantly delayed due to a range of issues from continuous ‘re-thinking” of strategy or challenges with approvals or supply chain issues, etc. One unique challenge I can highlight is Indian Railway’s strategy of digitalization. When they desire to bring modern and complex technology to significantly improve their operations, their traditional approach to procurement has to be reconsidered. The traditional approach to “material” procurement has to be very different from onboarding technology which requires a partnership between the technology provider and the approval body of the railways to provide the optimum solution. A traditional and rigid approach to procurement can derail key projects that can significantly benefit the railways.

Wabtec has undergone transformative mergers, notably with Faiveley Transport in 2016 and GE Transportation in 2019. How have these mergers shaped Wabtec's global position and impacted its operations in India?

The integration with Faiveley Transport and GE Transportation has been tremendously synergistic in many ways. We are the only company in the rail industry that offers solutions for every type of rolling stock whether they are any kind of locomotive, wagons or passenger coaches. The integration with the components business has helped the locomotive business become more vertically integrated which has helped drive the performance of our locomotives to greater heights. Similarly, the integration of the companies has created the best and widest portfolio of Rail Digital intelligence products. The synergies go beyond just products, however. We have become a truly global company with a strong presence in every geography. Engineering has been a great source of synergy. A great example of this is where our freight engineering groups that were entrenched for a long time in India have made tremendous progress in driving design and validation engineering for the components side of our business. Our Mechanical and propulsion labs in Bangalore today is the largest in the Wabtec world with testing equipment and personnel supporting every product line. We see similar synergies in the supply chain, manufacturing operations, logistics, etc… Our performance as a company in the last 4 years is a testament to the synergistic nature of this integration.

Can you please elaborate on Wabtec India's significant role in the rail transport industry, from manufacturing locomotives to developing critical sub-systems and components?

Wabtec today is one of the largest rail technology providers in the rail transport market in India. Our Diesel Locomotive project which includes producing 1000 Diesel locomotives over 10 years and servicing them in different sheds around the country has been the first major success of the PPP model in the Railways in India. These state-of-the-art locomotives with Remote Monitoring and Diagnostics capability, have provided support to the freight ambitions of IR with great technology and outstanding service. We are very proud of what we have accomplished here. On the transit side of the IR business, we have a very long legacy of being a leading brake system provider to Indian railways for LHB coaches, Electric Locomotives and more recently, the Vande Bharat trainsets

Wabtec India achieved several milestones in the past, including the successful homologation of brake and door systems for Vande Bharat trains. Could you share more details about these achievements and their significance?

Vande Bharat trainsets represent the future platform of Indian Railways’ passenger transportation. Our team in India, working with our global centers of competence has developed the brakes, doors, couplers and pantographs for Vande Bharat. These have been approved and are currently deployed on Vande Bharat trains. Development, validation and approval of a new brake system is a technologically complex and critical activity given that it is the most important safety system on a rolling stock. I am proud of what the Wabtec team has accomplished on this. Additionally, in 2023, we homologated and moved to serial high-volume production, the new “high Reach Pantographs” that Indian railways needed in large quantities to accommodate high speeds and double stack containers under high reach OHEs in Dedicated Freight Corridors. Also, we are proud to be the brake system, pantograph and other components supplier to India’s first Region Rapid Transport Systems (RRTS) trains built by Alstom for the Delhi-Meerut RRTS corridor. In 2023, we won the prestigious order for brakes, pantographs and other systems for the WAG10 9000 HP Electric locomotive with Siemens. We have so much to offer from our global technology kitty including products that go into modern wagons, Digital Intelligence products that are used for Automatic train protection and Condition based monitoring, and many more technologies to this exciting transformational market.

The Wabtec India Engineering and Technology Centre (WITEC) is described as the single largest engineering center in the Wabtec world. How does WITEC contribute to Wabtec's global operations and innovation efforts?

The Wabtec India Technology and Engineering Center (WITEC) is indeed the single largest engineering center in the world for Wabtec. It is our crown jewel. This center located in Bangalore with a small satellite center in Hyderabad, hosts close to 1500 engineers who support both India and the globe for all our product lines. I am always so proud that all international locomotives for Wabtec are designed, developed and commissioned by Indian engineers. This includes the India locomotive as well. This brilliant team is now adding to their repertoire the realm of truly new technology development and taking the lead on technologies like Hydrogen and other sustainable locomotives. The Wabtec Bangalore Lab is very unique with consolidated Freight & Transit test setups under a single roof supporting every P&L in driving testing and validation. A large part of the engineering work for Digital Intelligence solutions is being done in India and India has the leadership in several key product lines. This center also hosts a large portion of our global IT teams. Critical software to support locomotive services shops across the globe is developed and operated out of India. Digital Operations center monitors 24 x7 IT Infrastructure across all offices of Wabtec. A large part of the Data & Analytics team is in India supporting requirements across all functions and businesses for analysis of any kind. All in all, WITEC is a critical part of the innovation and competitiveness engine of Wabtec.

With a focus on sustainability, how is Wabtec aligning its goals with the National Rail Plan's vision for a Net Zero Carbon Footprint by 2070?

The National Rail plan calls for a Net Zero Carbon Footprint by 2030 actually. At the moment, Indian Railways' strategy is to focus on 24X7 Renewable energy purchases. We are eagerly awaiting their framework to achieve a Net Zero Carbon footprint by 2030 as related to rolling stock, components and other technology. Wabtec’s focus on sustainability is clear in our vision statement - Revolutionize the way the world moves for future generations. It encompasses our sustainability principles – Innovating with Purpose; Driving Responsible Operations; Empowering People and Communities. We are today and aim to always be upfront and center in the Decarbonization of Railways. Our fleet of more than 23,000 locomotives globally traveled over 1.8 billion miles and helped end customers eliminate over 138 million metric tons of GHG emissions by choosing rail over truck transportation. Our Transit Green Friction product line reduces fine particulate matter (PM) emissions during metropolitan rail station braking by up to 90%. Remanufacturing brought approximately 336 million pounds of end-of-life material back to global remanufacturing facilities, with 82% being reused or remanufactured and 18% recycled, leaving less than 1% waste. We are eager to partner with the Indian Rail Transport segment to help India achieve its sustainability goals.

In your opinion, how does Wabtec's commitment to innovating with purpose, driving responsible operations, and empowering people align with the company's sustainability goals in the Indian context?

Innovating with Purpose – In India, we are supporting the Modernization of locos which will result in 15% fuel efficiency, ~40% reliability improvements; We are working in our India design center on design, verification and validation of mechanical, controls & software sub-systems for global customers which reduce emissions & carbon footprint by up to 30%​; Initial concept for a Hydrogen-locomotive is being developed to reduce carbon emissions by 100%; Digital Intelligence team has worked extensively on design of products leading to Overall fuel saving ~10% & carbon footprint reduction.

Driving Responsible Operations - The factories Wabtec runs in India are leading the world in running Responsible Operations. We have demonstrated 40% reduction in GHG (Tons) vs 2020 baseline (Scope 1 and 2), 22% reduction on energy consumption (KWH) from 2022 baseline​ and generated 27,75,000 kWh of electricity through on-site solar installations in our factories in India. In addition, all our factories have ETP and STP setups to manage and recycle waste water and manage solid waste responsibly, have rain water harvesting, LED bulbs and proactively measure and manage energy consumption

Empowering People – Focus on people, their safety, health and empowerment is the highest priority at Wabtec in India. Our safety track record is excellent with never dwindling focus on engineering controls, people training and all other tools in our arsenal to keep our teams safe in our factories and customer and supplier sites. We support our team members with physical and mental health training as well as counseling and have strong benefits to support our employees and their families during times of poor health. We are proud of the compliance program we run covering all aspects of compliance, ethics and integrity. The crown jewel for us is our CSR program where we spend more than a million dollars on our CSR theme called “Caring for our Communities’” which addresses education, environment and health- related projects around our factories and offices.

As a leader, what advice or message do you have for young women engineers and leaders in the rail and transportation industry, especially in the context of the upcoming International Women's Day?

For young women and leaders in the rail transportation industry, I say that you should be proud of the sector you are a part of. It may not be as glamorous as the Tech industry, or as visible as the automotive sector, but you have every opportunity to innovate and grow your career and your financial strength within this sector while still enabling an industry that is good for the planet and humanity and is part of nation building. Focus on learning and demonstrating your competence and building your expertise. Be an expert at something. Look around you and you will find inspiration from many women around you in all walks of life. Have the confidence and courage to raise your hands and take on opportunities that come your way. Focus on the effort and not the results and success will follow.

As a woman leader in a historically male-dominated industry, how do you navigate and encourage diversity and inclusion within Wabtec and the broader rail and transportation sector?

One of Wabtec’s values is to “Embrace Diversity”. Gender diversity is a very high priority for Wabtec globally as well as in India. While our engineering center boasts of the highest diversity, all our factories have pioneered hiring women in traditionally male-dominated roles. For example, in Marhowra, where we make our diesel locomotives, we hired 75 diploma-graduate women right when we started the factory. Within a year, these women were playing a critical role in building locomotives. They were doing all kinds of jobs such as welding, top side assembly, bottom side assembly and many such work that is considered typically difficult for women. Similarly, we have created a concept of “Pink Lines” in our transit factory in Hosur where women manage the entire assembly line for various products. This has been an award winning program for us and it has driven women empowerment. Essentially, we don’t believe in any borders and we encourage women employees from the production and non-production staff to aspire to do any role that interests them. We have a very active and thriving program which is called Women of Wabtec or WOW!! The attempt is to build a support system for women employees at all levels of the organization and educate them on various topics from the basics of finance to technical areas to health awareness, etc. We create a fraternity of women who can lean on each other while they work at Wabtec. The focus is not only on women but on men as well to change their mindset about working women in the midst of their workspace.

In closing, what is your vision for Wabtec Corporation's future, and what key principles do you believe will continue to drive its success in the rail technology landscape globally?

Wabtec has consistently been at the forefront of transforming the transportation sector for over 150 years. The world we live in today is confronted by significant environmental challenges, and, through our commitment to revolutionizing global mobility for the benefit of future generations is more pertinent than ever. This is in essence as an organization defines us today and our actions taken today define us in the near future. We are looking at a Sustainable future by establishing a strong framework anchored in environmental, social, and governance principles that align with our broader growth strategies. These principles will guide us as we navigate towards a cleaner, safer, and more inclusive future that not only propels our business forward, but also ensures the well-being of our customers, our employees, and the communities we proudly serve.

As a technology company, we are creating purpose-built offerings that help enhance productivity, improve safety, and advance sustainability in our customers’ operations. Our global and local portfolio is aligned for far-reaching impact beyond the industry-leading products, upgrade choices, and digital solutions we offer, our people are on a quest to improve every facet of Wabtec’s own operations with the intent to reduce waste, local air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Our global vision is a future where the global rail network is decarbonized. Through advancements in rail utilization, alternative fuels, and cutting-edge locomotive technologies, we are steering the rail industry toward a cleaner future, with Wabtec leading the way.


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