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Breathe easy! An Indian American rises to the top!

An interview with Dr. Haren S Gandhi, Henry Ford Technical Fellow, Catalysts & Emissions and Manager, Chemical Engineering Department, Ford Motor Company.

Anupama Gopalakrishnan interviews Dr. Gandhi who won the 2002 National Medal of Technology for research, development and commercialization of automotive exhaust catalyst technology.

The hottest topic of discussion, lately, is global warming and the deterioration in the environment throughout the world. Recently a scientist from our community has won the highest technology award for his contribution toward improving automotive emissions. Let us celebrate the success of Dr. Harendra S Gandhi, Technical Fellow and Head, Global Core Emission & Fuel Economy Team, Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Michigan.

Meeting one of the greatest scientists was no mean thing. I thought I had to prepare strenuously to confront the man with some intelligent questions. But not quite! Mr. Gandhi's disarmingly great smile put me at ease and thus began his tale of success...
Life has not been one of scheduled execution, said Mr. Gandhi. "Things happened and everything fell in place. Not quite the way I wanted it to, but at least it happened at the right time."

Born in Calcutta, Mr. Haren S. Gandhi was raised in Bombay (now Mumbai). Gandhi received his B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Bombay in 1963, and his M.Sc. and doctorate degrees in Chemical Engineering from the University of Detroit in 1967 and 1971, respectively. Dr. Haren Gandhi today commands all of Ford’s global emissions and catalytic programs, as he is responsible for catalyst interface worldwide, which includes Mazda, Volvo, Landrover, and Jaguar.

He attributed his choice of education as an accident. "Opting for chemical engineering was an accident. My best friend's father in India called me one day and said, "I really think you need to go to United States". Gandhi was 18 when he entered the engineering school. "I did not have that much coaching. Engineering has always fascinated me. Something you apply. Once I became a chemical engineer- I continued on', mentioned Gandhi.

"Just like most Indians "I had an interest in returning back to India in some capacity and expanding my family's business, continued Dr. Gandhi. At the age of 13, I learned to drive my family's Mercury (a Ford product). I was pretty averse to driving at that age but my chauffeur soon became my good friend."

Gandhi was one of the youngest from a large family. "I am proud of a few things that happened according to my liking” he opined. "Dreams have been fulfilled and automobiles was my passion along with music. 

Ford Motor Company did not realize then that they had struck a goldmine in 1967 when they hired Gandhi on a campus interview as a research engineer. Gandhi took the offer as Ford allowed him to work while studying. He exclaimed " I have been completely indebted and committed to Ford for 37 years. Gandhi joined Ford Motor Company on 15 Feb 1967. Since then, he has distinguished himself in leading-edge research, development, and implementation of automotive exhaust catalysts at Ford's Scientific Research Laboratories. 

Gandhi mentioned that he completely enjoyed his growth within the company- "my progress and my contributions to the company have provided me an insight on delivering commitments within specific deadlines that were crucial and important on a daily basis". "The new breed of engineers are very committed, responsible and dedicated”. "I have absolutely enjoyed my 37 years and have been associated with a lot of people. I have enjoyed my relationships - my growth, and application of my knowledge during this growth by delivering what i have learned to the company", stated Dr. Gandhi. 

There were several people who have motivated and influenced Gandhi in his road to success. Sadly he pointed out that "Many of them are not here". Speaking about his strengths, Gandhi placed emphasis on his "excellent upbringing, a very good strong education that helped a great deal in building a strong foundation". He emphatically said that parents should at any cost provide that strong foundation called education to every child.

Presently Dr. Haren Gandhi carries the title of Ford Technical Fellow - the highest rank of scientist or engineer in Ford Motor Company. His responsibilities include overseeing virtually all of Ford's research and development efforts in the area of automotive exhaust catalysis.

What made Dr. Haren Gandhi a force to reckon with? Why are we making such a big deal on this engineer? 
Dr. Gandhi's invention may not be as glamorous as a pace maker or instant photography, but it sure does clean the air. The National Medal of Technology is the highest honor bestowed by the President of the United States to America's leading innovators. The primary purpose of the National Medal of Technology is to recognize technological innovators who have made lasting contributions to enhancing America's competitiveness and standard of living. The Medal highlights the national importance of fostering technological innovation based upon solid science, resulting in commercially successful products and services.

Dr. Haren Gandhi won the 2002 National Medal of Technology in research, development and commercialization of automotive exhaust catalyst technology. This marks the first time a researcher for Ford Motor Company, or any automotive manufacturer, has won this prestigious award. Past winners include Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak of Apple Computer; Edwin Land, the inventor of instant photography; Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the cardiac pacemaker; and Bill Gates the founder of Microsoft. President Bush presented the 2002 National Medals of Technology and Science at a White House ceremony on November 6, 2003.
"I am absolutely fascinated and still shocked", said Dr. Gandhi. "This dream to receive the highest technology award in the nation- took a few days to digest and realize it. I told my children about this achievement as we are all so family oriented (I had to take someone to white house but I wanted my whole family there as they were all part of this success). Surprisingly all my 7 family members were invited. They did a lot of security and background check, said Dr. Gandhi.

Reliving the event, Dr. Gandhi was truly amazed by the President. "Mr. Bush was very engaging and he discussed with each of us very relevant topics. He saw my grand daughter and winked at her. The young girl was really enjoying it.". "When I received the award from him, President Bush held my hand and came close and uttered: "Sir, you have a very respectable surname". I admired Mahatma Gandhi".

A down to earth, simple at heart engineer he is, Dr. Haren S Gandhi is a true symbol of hard work and perseverance. Gandhi has also worked closely with Ford’s expansion into India and the company’s plant in Chennai, which manufactures the Ikon model. "I have played a role in making its catalyst system very cost-effective."

President George W. Bush stands with the 2002 National Medal of Technology Laureates in the Blue Room Nov. 6, 2003. 2002 Technology Laureates are (left to right): Calvin H. Carter, Haren S. Gandhi, Nick Holonyak, Jr., M. George Craford, Russell Dean Dupuis, Charles O. Holliday for Du Pont, Carl. D. Keith, John J. Mooney, Carver A. Mead.

You are awfully mistaken if you equate engineering to Dr. Gandhi. An additional power, a not so hidden talent is his passion for music. Dr. Gandhi has assisted in organizing concerts for the Indian melody queen Lata Mangeshkar in North America, Caribbean Islands and Fiji. Organizing concerts with his dear friend Mohan Deora, his association with the music world satisfied his musical thirst with musical giants like Manna de, Mukesh and "Lata didi", mentioned a delighted Gandhi.

Questioned about the Michigan Indian community - then and now - Dr. Haren Gandhi elaborated that “when we came - there was hardly any Indian grocery store. I am strictly vegetarian. You would not believe the complexity and difficulty of catering Indian food. Due to weather problems, getting groceries and going to restaurants was very hard. For weeks and months there was a strong desire to go back for comfort and for love". Another interesting point he noted was the close networking of individuals within the community. All individuals adjusted, as there was no choice. he also commended for its efforts to provide the community with an information portal. 

What made Dr. Haren S. Gandhi a successful icon in the automotive research field? 
Dr. Gandhi maintained that luck plays a strong role. " I owe my success to quality education". He further stressed that " Indian people who enter United States are all educated. This places us in a different league of people than immigrants in other parts of the world".

According to Dr. Gandhi who has complete confidence about the quality of people in the United States, "the Indian Engineering community has absolutely top-notch professionals. We have the necessary education and the drive to succeed. We have the ingredients to make our lives a success-education, dedication, motivation of family and hard work - this is the success formula of an Asian Indian which will help us down the road."
And what about his connections in India? - No prizes for guessing that! His family members own 2 Ford dealerships in Ahmedabad and in Rajkot - as he chirpily remarks, " see, a little bit of me is still in India". 

Dr. Haren S. Gandhi is an avid admirer of Indian cinema. His favorites are Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan while Madhubala, Sadhana and Aishwarya Rai top his list of actresses. Dr. Gandhi was also a member of an organizing team (with Mohan Deora and Raj Sheth) that was instrumental in putting together the first visit of Amitabh Bachchan to the United States at the Madison Square Garden. His favorite Ford car is the jaguar-he owns one too! Dr. Gandhi is married to Yellow and lives in West Bloomfield. He has a daughter Sangeeta who is married to Sanjiv and a son Anand, who is married to Mili. His granddaughter Sarika gets to rule this researcher's world!

Interviewed and written by Anupama Gopalakrishnan. 
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