Executive Director, DIL
BEME ’99, College of Engineering-Pune, India
MSMSE ’01, PhDIE ’05, UW-Madison
Each year, the College of Engineering recognizes outstanding alumni during Engineers’ Day—a celebration of engineers, held on Homecoming weekend. Rahul Shinde is among the engineers we will honor in 2018 at an Oct. 19 banquet.
In leadership roles with such businesses as KFC, JC Penney and others, Rahul Shinde has developed strategy for marketing products ranging from clothing and chicken to a variety of consumer companies. And not only has his work led to greater operational excellence, it has provided him opportunities to develop programs through which he has helped to improve the lives of disadvantaged and specially abled people in India.
We are honoring Rahul as inspiring industrial dngineer and pragmatic leader who has successfully demonstrated how systems thinking and technology can transform business, upgrade customer experience and help improve lives within communities.
Recently, we chatted with him about everything from his memories as a student at UW-Madison to his career and hobbies. Here are his responses to some of our questions.
How did you choose to attend UW-Madison?
My undergrad is in mechanical engineering, and I had an opportunity to pursue what we used to call a “sandwich” course here in India. Out of the four years, we could spend two semesters working in the industry as full-time employees. I worked in an automobile company called Bajaj Auto, which is India’s largest manufacturer of two-wheelers. While I was working there, we got a chance to learn about the Toyota production system, and how Six Sigma and Kaizen actually revolutionized mass production. These techniques were deployed to manufacture thousands of scooters a day across the facility. Then, while I was applying for graduate study, I came across the work of Professor Suri at UW-Madison. He had a very interesting perspective that the Toyota Manufacturing system worked fine in mass manufacturing, it could create issues in custom manufacturing and small-scale industry. That’s when I got very intrigued about pursuing this specific theme around Quick Response Manufacturing. It was a time when the “customized for every customer” revolution was beginning. Prof. Suri was on sabbatical in my senior year, the year I had applied to UW-Madison, but I kept hounding him for six or seven months until he finally relented and then offered me a scholarship for my master’s and for my PhD.
What was your favorite engineering class?
We had a cross between the industrial engineering department and the operations management program, and there was a class on change management. I think it was OIM 758, managing organizational change, taught by Professor. Wemmerlov. And I think that was quite captivating. So, it wasn’t necessarily an engineering program, but a shared program with the business school. And it has been very handy, because once I got into the industry, so much has been around managing large scale change. And I still carry the learnings with me.
How did your experience in the College of Engineering shape your career?
The analytical rigor has been one thing that has stood out for me all though this journey. I think it’s by far the most important learning that I always carry with me. The second piece is the ability to take a piece of paper or on a whiteboard and just model something out. We look at our businesses or communities every day and are faced with challenging questions. The answers often come with tradeoffs. And being able to structure the question to find options—now that was a habit learned on campus.
Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?
I am in a position now where I feel like I can influence people’s lives’ positively. I was fortunate to get good coaches in my early professional years. And I feel like I’m able to pay that forward. Regardless of what I do, what business I’m in, I think the ability to do that is probably the most important accomplishment. Whether this is through employment to individuals or mentoring folks to become better versions of themselves or at times just help them find themselves—it is all very fulfilling. Additionally, as part of large organisations, one gets to sit on senior committees which work on influencing societal change. As an example, development of food safety standards in India. Such opportunities and ability to participate in these is immensely satisfying.
Who has played the greatest role in your achievements?
The individuals who have influenced me have been different as I’ve gone along my life journey. As a child, my maternal grandfather was the strongest influence that I had in my life because of the honesty and the determination that he demonstrated to support a family in the post-independence era in India. In the teenage years, as well as in my early graduate years, my father was a huge influence because he was going through a period of struggle in his business and I learned how to deal with adversity from him. When I was at McKinsey, my first project manager was tremendous, and I’m still in touch with him. He taught me how to be patient; things can go wrong and do wrong. A leader’s fortitude is in how you deal with these mishaps. In subsequent years I learned from leaders about how to build teams and develop people.
I’ve just been fortunate to have good mentors, or good coaches at different periods, and I can very easily call and have a chat with them and they give me advice of how I can become a better version of myself.
What are your hobbies?
I like running quite a bit. So, whenever I have a chance, I will go out and run. In recent years I have found a way to use the running for fund-raising as well. While at KFC India, I used to run to raise money to raise child hunger awareness as well as collect contributions to support mid-day meal programs in government schools for the underprivileged. I like traveling quite a bit; I actually travel a lot for my work, but also, when I have a chance, I do it with the family. And I just love watching movies.