Michael Halse: My Guru by RK Nagar
RK Nagar pays tributes to his Guru …Dr Michael Halse…It is a long piece but worth a read particularly for those who wish to know more about the unsung heroes who under Dr Kurien’s leadership made the “White Revolution “ a reality in India.
Mike was a born Englishman but as many of us would say he was more Indian than many Indians. He will be known for his strategic inputs for development of dairying in the cooperative sector and employment generation in India. He was a great man and should remain so – untarnished by the prejudices of others, which is so common in India in particular.
Dr Michael Halse — or Mike as I knew him — was not only a wonderful, kind-hearted soul but also a great teacher. We worked together in NDDB during a period that is now but a memory. All my real learning, post university degrees, was with him.
I first met Mike on 8th July 1969 at the NDDB office in Anand. He was then not only the FAO advisor, but also a member of the Board of NDDB — and incidentally, probably one of the only foreign nationals, if not the only one, ever to be on the ‘Board’ of an institution formed by the Government of India. He was also the head of the Management & Manpower Development division (MMD) — one of NDDB’s two service-providing divisions (the other one was Engineering).
NDDB was then in its formative years and Mike was in the process of building a core team of professionals to lead various functions as the organisation grew. He, therefore, had the responsibility to pick the key start-up staff. It was in this context that I first met him when I was interviewed by him and three others (all Indians) for the position of ‘Apprentice Executive- Economics’. I was pitted against three gold medalists from well-known universities, whereas my academic credentials were just ordinary.
During the interview process I had a heated argument with Mike on the utilisation of PL-480 food aid funds. I thought he was an American who was trying to justify use of funds generated through sale of PL-480 food aid on unproductive research, and was trying to throw out of the window my argument that the funds generated should be deployed to produce more food within India. The interview ended with my, somewhat arrogant and bitter remark: “Sir, you are free to keep your views, I will keep mine”. I could see Mike turning red in the face, I presumed out of anger.
No one, especially an Indian interviewer, would have hired me for this kind of an arrogant and uncivilised behavior. But to my utter surprise, he picked me over others. I was taken aback when my name was announced as the selected candidate, especially because after the written test that had preceded the interview, I had, in my own judgment performed very poorly.
Mike never held my uncivilised behavior against me but even praised my performance in the interview a couple of weeks after I joined. I instantly knew I had come to the right person to learn what university education had not taught me.
I later came to know that using food aid as an investment to produce more milk in India was the project Mike was working on. This project later came to be known as “Operation Flood”. I did not know at the time of the job interview that my answer, though delivered in the most uncharitable and arrogant fashion, was bang on. I believe that more than the right answer, it was my conviction and Mike’s magnanimity behind my selection.
My learning begins: Baroda project
(Supply model: My learning begins): Mike told me that he was attaching me to a consultancy project that NDDB was currently doing for Baroda dairy and that I should ‘help’ with the supply analysis. Thinking that I had only to assist someone, I thought the pressure was off my head. I was wrong. By “assisting”, what Mike meant was that I had to not only analyse rural survey data already collected from rural Baroda but also make sense out of it and then develop a milk procurement and production enhancement model by integrating into it a production enhancement inputs delivery system.
For me this was a tall order as I had never done something like this before. So, when I told Mike that I would need some expert guidance on it, he came back to me with a very cool answer, “RK, you have university degrees in Agriculture, Dairy Science and Agricultural Economics. You are the only one with this comprehensive subject knowledge here — you are the expert. I don’t know who else in NDDB can guide you?” With this Mike initiated the process of teaching me how to put academic learning into practice.
My learning, in the true sense of the word, had begun. Fortunately, after a lot of hard work, I could develop a satisfactory model. But I came to know about Mike’s satisfaction with my work only when he used the model as a case study in a teaching session in IIM, Ahmedabad where he was a guest lecturer. In the classroom Mike credited me, by name, and fortunately for me two of my classmates from Agriculture College who were in that batch brought this news to me with the rather funny remark: “Now are we to study through case studies written by you?”
I believe it is still rare for a senior academician or officer to openly acknowledge someone’s work especially if he happens to be a beginner and a nobody.
(Lesson in human resource management; concept of state grid and feeder, feeder-balancing)
By the time I had finished working on the Baroda supply model, I had been in NDDB for barely six weeks. At this point I was suddenly asked to proceed to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, where Mike was to undertake a consultancy project to study the working of Jaipur Dairy and evolve a plan for its economic viability.
The Jaipur Milk Scheme (JMS), a Government of Rajasthan enterprise, was managed by two senior Rajasthan Administrative Service (RAS) officers. With a handling capacity of 25,000 litres per day, JMS was losing money and the government was not able to figure out how to get the unit out of the red.
In the very first meeting with the General Manager and Deputy General Manager — RAS officers — Mike introduced me as follows: “Meet my colleague R K Nagar. He is NDDB’s Economist”. He indirectly signaled to me to not use my official designation while I was in Jaipur in any meeting with any official of the JMS. I followed Mike’s unspoken advice.
Mike gave me my first and very important lesson in HR management — “if you respect your colleagues and treat them as equals on the team, others will respect them too”.
I never forgot this lesson. In fact this single most important teaching of Mike in my start up days in NDDB helped me throughout my career to earn full and unqualified cooperation and support of my colleagues, from the time I began to head teams in 1974 through my leaving in January 1999. I attribute my success in various senior positions from 1982 onwards, where I was leading multi-disciplinary teams of highly qualified and experienced professionals, to this particular lesson in HRM.
Doing a little more:
Mike always believed in ‘doing a little more for the client then what was asked for’ for a simple reason: winning the confidence of the client. It was also a good marketing strategy.
In a study on the Jaipur Milk Scheme (JMS), ‘doing a little more’ meant doing something that was unthinkable even for the JMS and state government officials. Mike suggested that we create a grid of state dairies (all except JMS were non-existent) and link them together as ‘feeder/feeder-balancing dairies’.
The concept itself was simple. A feeder dairy was one whose milk procurement exceeds its marketing requirement for most parts of the year and therefore, rather than refusing to accept milk, it would transfer the surplus to the dairy that needed it to meet its marketing requirements. A feeder-balancing dairy was one that had milk drying facilities so that in the flush season it would convert all the surplus milk into milk powder and butter and conserve them for recombination into liquid milk during the lean season. All these dairies were to focus on a simple product mix of fluid milk (two to three varieties) to suit the purchasing power of various market segments.
I am convinced that, prompted by this particular recommendation, the Government of Rajasthan approached the World Bank to finance a dairy development project for the state as under Operation Flood phase I only one milkshed — Bikaner (being an existing hinterland milkshed of Delhi) was included. Eventually three states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka — obtained World Bank finance to develop dairying on the Amul model and later all three became part of the second phase of Operation Flood.
Bangalore Project: Two Axis Pricing
Most milksheds in India have a fairly good proportion of both cows and buffaloes and therefore procurement of milk of both the species is important. Moreover in milksheds where there is higher proportion of cows, say near two-third of all milch animals, the seasonal supply variations are not very severe.
Although I was not a part of the field team for this project, Mike involved me with an analysis that can be rightly termed as the genesis of the ‘two-axis pricing system’ in India that revolutionized primary dairy cooperative organization and milk procurement.
Prior to introduction of two-axis pricing, dairies bought milk from producers either on the basis of fat content or on a volume basis. Milk testing was followed mainly by dairies in Gujarat which bought milk on fat basis. Fat based buying discouraged cow milk production whereas purchase on a volume basis encouraged adulteration of buffalo milk with water or skimming of excess fat.
To overcome this problem, the Bangalore dairy introduced a purchase formula that was intended to encourage cow milk production through a premium price. This was the undoing of its procurement operation which was through a network of contractors.
What actually happened was that at a particular fat content, cow milk commanded a higher price than buffalo milk. As a result contractors started adulterating buffalo milk or skimmed excess fat and adjusted it to a level where it would pass off as cow milk and earn a premium. The formula had boomeranged and the Bangalore dairy was losing heavily.
In response to this problem, Mike offered a brilliant proposition — why not base buying milk on both the fat and non-fat-solids (SNF) content. Since variation in SNF content of cow and buffalo milk was only marginal — barely 0.5 per cent, bringing in SNF in price calculation would greatly reduce the disparity. If such a formula was evolved and if we were able to find a way to implement it by economically testing milk for both fat and SNF content, a major challenge in developing a reliable supply chain would get addressed.
The elaborate exercise (in which mike involved me) that followed thereafter was to find a ratio that reflected the ways in which the consumer market individually valued fat and SNF and to apply it in a formula for milk procurement. It worked and in years to follow became the basic principle of milk procurement pricing under OF.
In fact this one single discovery solved a seemingly unsolvable problem of creating price parity between cow and buffalo milk and has resulted in setting in stone the growth cycle in milk production in India. It also set in motion research to find accurate and economical ways to test milk for its Fat and SNF content in villages. This is how the first indigenous electronic milk analyser was developed jointly by the NDDB and Rajasthan Electronics Corporation, following which electronic milk testing came to India in a big way for testing milk at the society level. Today, there are hundreds of companies supplying a wide range of economical indigenous milk analysers, but few know who and what was behind it. Two axis pricing and electronic milk testing together can be said to have stimulated the demand for milk production enhancement inputs and triggered a growth pattern unprecedented in the history of Indian dairying.
Madras Milk Market study: Before I joined Mike, he had guided two other consultancies. One of these was the Madras (now Chennai) Milk Market study. One of the most significant findings of this study, which later became a very important part of the marketing strategy in the metros cities under OF, was that the poorest paid the highest price for milk although apparently it seemed otherwise. In other words, for the price the poor were paying they bought the most expensive milk solids thanks to rampant dilution with water. For them milk was only a white liquid to whiten their coffee.
Barauni Dairy operations study: A study, carried out in Barauni in Bihar state, highlighted the importance of branding and promotion. This was the first study where a new brand name —Sudha — was suggested and ever since it has been the brand name of all dairy products marketed by the Bihar State Cooperative Dairy Federation.
Gujarat Agro Industries Corporation (GAIC) Cattle feed plants: The GAIC, a Government of Gujarat enterprise, wanted to build three cattle feed manufacturing plants — one each in Mehsana, Surat and Rajkot — similar to the one owned and operated by AMUL near Anand. Each of these plants was to manufacture 100 tonnes of compounded cattle feed concentrate every day for marketing within the district. These were the first three turnkey projects that were to be implemented by NDDB.
At this point NDDB did not have its own pool of experienced engineers to plan and execute projects on turnkey basis. The cattle feed plant projects were, therefore, executed under the guidance of Mr. V H Shah and his team of engineers from Amul. Mr. Shah was on the NDDB Board and was responsible for building NDDB’s engineering capabilities in much the same way as Mike was doing with Management and Manpower Development. NDDB recruited fresh engineering graduates as trainees and placed them as site engineers as understudy to Shah’s team.
Mike knew that unless operating systems and key managers were in position well before the factories were to be commissioned, there would
Mike’s idea of recruiting the marketing guys well ahead of commissioning the plant was to start a seeding programme and create a demand for the feed so that when the plant was commissioned it would begin to operate at least at the break-even capacity. At the same time he helped Amul utilise their recently expanded capacity where they manufactured feed and packed it in the brand name of the three client organisations. The feed marketed under the seeding programme enabled the Gujarat Agro Industries plants to firmly establish their respective brand names. Mike also knew that eventually NDDB would succeed in getting these plants transferred to the cooperative unions of the respective districts and therefore selected brand names that closely aligned with the brand name of the cooperatives. This was indeed a clever forward thinking.
A close look at Mikes approach to all these studies and project indicates that, through these consultancies Mike was in fact evolving operating principles that were to later became key strategy elements in implementing OF and in the process training us in strategic planning. The strategy came in full view when he introduced the concept of composite spearhead teams under OF-II.
OF Proposal and FAO-WFP Mission Visit Preparation
1969 was the year when NDDB was developing a project to fulfill its mandate of ‘replicating ‘Anand’ in other parts of India. An ‘Anand’ meant creating an institutional structure — a farmers’ cooperative led by an elected board and managed by professional managers — that owned and operated the infrastructure to procure, process and market milk produced by its members. The cooperative also provides its members with a package of technical inputs to increase members’ dairy animal productivity. In other words, under the cooperative umbrella, all the four functions — production, procurement, processing, marketing — are integrated.
Replication of Anands meant massive investments, simultaneously in infrastructure, systems and institution building.
To find funds, Mike evolved a project titled “Milk Marketing in the four metro cities and linking them to their hinterland milksheds”. The project was based on a thorough study of the Amul Dairy in Anand and its linkages with the Bombay (now Mumbai) milk market as well as its linkage with the neighboring Baroda (now Vadodara) dairy, where the concepts of feeder/balancing were in operation. Mike carried out these studies when he was still the Ford Foundation representative with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA).
Mike, beautifully translated Dr. V Kurien’s vision and evolved the above mentioned project that later became globally known as “Operation Flood”. The core idea was to obtain food aid — milk powder and butter oil — from the European community and generate rupee funds for investment to create the cooperative dairy sector in India. The EEC was finding it difficult to deal with massive surpluses of milk powder and butter oil and was willing to dump these as gifts to developing nations, especially India where milk forms the main source of protein for a predominantly vegetarian population.
Dr Kurien and Mike sensed the danger that if the EEC succeeded in convincing the Government of India to accept the surplus as a free gift and in turn give it free to urban consumers in major cities, it would spell the doom for the cooperative sector and would kill small scale milk production in rural India. This would, in turn, deprive millions of small rural producers of the milk income that sustained them, and would push them further down into poverty. There was little time and NDDB had to act quickly with a proposal that would save rural milk producers from the catastrophe looming on the horizon.
The proposal, “Milk Marketing in the four metro cities and linking them to their hinterland milksheds”, was the direct outcome of Dr Kurien and Mike’s brainstorming. Only two of them were involved. For them, as Dr Kurien later said “converting a threat into an opportunity” was of paramount importance. And they succeeded in this as the Government of India formally moved a proposal to obtain food aid of milk powder and butter oil from the EEC through the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The project aimed at linking 57 of India’s most promising milksheds spread over 10 states with the dairies of the four metros — Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.
I think no one other than Dr Kurien and Mike had much of an idea as to what was going on. I sometimes wonder if they themselves were at all sure of a positive response from the EEC. Therefore, there was hardly any visible activity in NDDB that would indicate that the project proposal was on the way to approval. Then suddenly there was the formal information from the Government of India that FAO was sending a joint FAO-WFP mission to NDDB’s headquarters in Anand for a field visit to consider the proposal. Some tentative dates for the mission’s visit were indicated and we all thought we would have enough time to prepare for the forthcoming visit.
We were wrong. The mission not only preponed the visit but also asked for massive data (that we did not have) and other supporting documents. They wanted to make sure that the project was indeed workable as even FAO had seen this kind of a proposal — using food aid as investment for increasing local food production — for the first time. On our part we had to ensure that there were enough ‘attractives’ for the mission to agree to the proposal. The mission gave us only two days to keep all the supporting documentation ready.
But Mike was a genius. He was calm and cool as a cucumber. I am sure he was well prepared for this sudden assault and had enough ammunition in his armor. He knew that we simply could not let go of this opportunity.
On Mike’s team, we were a handful — barely ten to twelve people. Mike collected us all and set us to work on the tasks to keep all that was needed ready for the mission’s visit. His strategy was to overwhelm the team with reading material, so much of it that they would have no choice but to listen to what we said and read what we provided at leisure when they were back in Rome.
Excepting the Madras Milk Market study and the Barauni report, all the other consultancy reports were in the early draft stage. Mike then planned to complete other reports like Jaipur, Bangalore etc as the first draft. He wanted them to look as good as the final draft, so he himself got on with writing them. But in order not to make us feel small, he gave us the responsibility to work on the first draft. To complete the task, he divided us into three teams.
The first team was to write the draft report and as they completed a section of the report, it was to be promptly handed to him for ‘editing’. The second team was to take the ‘edited text’ and have it stenciled (the only technology available to us in those days), check the stencil and make corrections where needed, and the third team was to have it polycopied and arrange it in right order. Over the next 48 hours, some eight reports were written and polycopied. Mike had simultaneously written the main project document titled “Operation Flood I” and edited “Operation Flood II” the statistical document to support “OF I”.
Early the next morning Mike took the arranged sets of all the reports with him to Ahmedabad and dropped them off for binding on the way to airport where he was to receive the FAO-WFP team. On his way back, he collected the bound reports and carried them with him. While he dropped the team at the Amul guest house for breakfast, the bound volumes of the reports were brought to the office for us to make into sets for each member of the team. As soon as they were finished we sent them back to Mike in the guest house before the team finished the breakfast. The strategy was to ‘attack’ the team with the ‘reading material’ before they came to the meeting about half an hour after breakfast.
Mike added three more documents to this pack of NDDB reports to emphasise the importance of the project. They were: two research papers Mike had done while he was with IIM Ahmedabad — titled ‘Agco 1’ and ‘Agco 2’ — and the proceedings of the seminar of the Protein Food Association of India. These proceedings, published under the title of ‘Protein Emergency’, highlighted the need to urgently augment both calories and protein in Indian diet as the limited intake of calories was causing the dietary protein to be used to provide energy. The Agco papers had dealt with the current situation in Indian agriculture and the delicate interrelationship of the Indian farm and dairy sub-sectors. The argument, as I recollect it, was that the development of agriculture, especially the food sector (that also provides the bulk of feed resources — as crop residues — for the livestock sector) was vital for the growth of the livestock, especially the small scale dairy sector.
Mike then explained to the FAO-WFP team in great detail the concept of the project, the key elements of the operating strategy and that the basis of the evolved project was grounded in a number of studies where the concepts had been successfully tested.
The FAO-WFP mission was so mesmerised with the presentation, its visit to Amul dairy and to the village societies that it could not find any reason to disapprove the project. The mission however cleared the project with a rider. Having found that the database was not strong enough to support the projections, the mission desired that detailed supply studies be carried out in 57 hinterland milksheds and detailed demand studies in the four metros to determine if the processing capacity that we planned to build in both the milksheds and in the metros were justified. They also wanted to know if the number of primary village cooperatives that were projected to be organised over seven years was feasible and that the cooperatives would be viable.
All of this was to be done in the next 12 months after which the FAO-WFP planned to send another review mission to recommend continuation or otherwise of the project.
The first mission’s visit was an amazing experience for the entire group. What an extraordinary show of organizing and leadership skills it was and on the top of it, Mike did not show any sign of fatigue and irritation any time. It seemed that his energy level had quadrupled in this situation of urgency.
In the process, he taught us that however small or insignificant a project may appear, it does have a place in larger scheme of things. And we must meaningfully use every learning experience.
Operation Flood document
The visiting mission was presented with two documents titled Operation Flood-I and II respectively. Whereas OF II document contained all the statistics — to the extent they were available to justify the project — the OF I document contained the project details as to how the funds generated from the sale of donated commodities would be used. This was the most clever piece of Mike’s work. No one in the MMD was even remotely aware of what was being done until it appeared for production as typed version. The funny part is that much of it was produced on the night when we were all busy reproducing copies of the consultancy reports. The OF I document was in fact done in between editing of these half-a- dozen consultancy reports. And that made the achievement all the more spectacular.
The entire investment was divided into 10 action items that were again grouped in three categories: investments for the cooperatives, investments common for all the cooperatives and central investments with NDDB. He not only clearly specified what these action items meant and how they were to be implemented, Mike made a clever fund allocation for each action item to indicate how the funds generated would be fully utilised over a seven-year project period. His genius lay in the fact that there were no parameters that could be considered reliable enough to make these projections. Yet when the project implementation began, most of these parameters were very close to real parameters.
Was it a sheer coincidence or his sharp observations during those seemingly insignificant consultancy projects that enabled him to develop parameters close to real ones? The lesson for me was to be ever watchful, observe closely if planning has to be made meaningful.
Building Database for Planning: Forward Planning for OF II and III
Since we had only one year at our disposal and that we were still a handful, doing detailed market study of the four metros and milk supply potential studies in 57 milksheds was a tall order. The responsibility for these studies fell on four of us — Shailendra Kumar and Nandi Naithani, both statisticians; PV Mathew, the marketing expert; and me the economist with qualifications in dairying and agriculture. Whereas Mathew was to define deliverables from the demand study, I was to do it for the supply study. Shailendra and Nandi were to work on the survey design. We outsourced the services of a senior statistician — Mani from Operations Research Group (ORG), Baroda — to help us with data analysis as we had planned to use ORG’s computer centre for data analysis (ORG was a company of a well-known industrial house, Sarabhai, with whom Mike had excellent personal relations). When it came to actual field work though, much of the responsibility fell on Shailendra, Nandi Naithani and me.
It was a marathon exercise. Field work for data collection lasted a full ten months. The three of us collectively did field work in the northern region (Delhi metro and its hinterland milksheds). Then each one of us got one region each to independently organize and manage the field work. I got the South, Shailendra the West and Nandi the East. The ‘Rural Household Survey’ (RHS) and ‘Urban Household Survey’ (UHS) were collectively termed as the “MIS series”.
During this process, thanks to Mike’s continued guidance, we developed our expertise in survey design and field team management to such an extent that when the GOI initiated Small and Marginal farmers’ centric development projects- it chose to depute its senior officers to train with us in Anand.
Operation Flood implementation officially began in 1971. Much of 1972-73 was spent on working on acquiring the computer and finalizing requirements for systems development. OF had still not gathered momentum and there were considerable difficulties especially in developing the milk procurement side. Many new issues were emerging — from quality assessment to adulteration to producers’ loyalty shifting during the lean season and so on.
The onetime data gathered from the milksheds in 1971 was not adequate to do any meaningful long term planning for procurement operation. Mike especially felt that unless we captured milkshed-wise seasonal variation in production, retention by the producer household and marketable surplus on a continuous basis for three to four years, we would not have a credible basis to develop the National Milk Grid, as seasonal variation in supply and demand was crucial for its management.
This meant that we had to redesign the entire survey, prepare new and more elaborate investigator training manuals (making sure that no question is open to multiple interpretations by the investigator), rework the analysis methodology and rewrite the computer programmes.
The survey program was then extended for 3 years (termed CIS) to capture seasonal variations in supply and demand in all OF I milksheds and 4 metros. At the same time there were demands for surveys to be carried out in Rajasthan, MP and Karnataka, 3 states covered under World Bank assisted dairy development programs and scores of independent feasibility studies from other states. Perhaps unintentionally, a strong database was getting created for planning OFII.
Computer for NDDB
While Mike guided us on completion of the rural household surveys in 57 districts and urban demand surveys in four metros, he had already identified other work that must logically follow. Since the data processing for these large scale surveys was done at ORG, Baroda at a considerable cost, Mike felt that it was time that NDDB had its own computer centre since MIS and monitoring functions were going to be very important during the project implementation phase and timely analysis of data was going to be vital for the success of the project.
Mike started toying with the idea of NDDB having its own computer centre well before OF was formally approved by the FAO. I think it was in early 1970. One fine day an American expert landed in the office with the brief to assess computerisation needs of NDDB and recommend a configuration. He spent a good two weeks in Anand, and since no one in NDDB at that time had any idea of the volume of data that we would handle under the project, the expert recommended a HP table top calculator with some memory.
It was a disappointing beginning. But Mike had other ideas. He waited for the FAO to formally approve the project and then roped in the British government to agree to gift a computer to NDDB. In between in early 1972 there was an expert — Wally Saunders from a British consulting firm (Urwick, Lugg and Gould consulting in agriculture and agri-business) — who suggested that it would be best to develop in-house expertise in systems analysis-systems design and put this team to work with experts to assess the actual computerisation needs.
Mike convinced Dr Kurien to send two officers from MMD to UK for a three-month customised training in Systems Analysis/Design with ICL, UK and, in Computer Applications in Agriculture with ULG and arranged a FAO fellowship for Shailendra Kumar and me. Following this training we were to coordinate with the experts deputed by the donor agency — British ODA in this case.
Following our return from the UK, and following an elaborate year-long exercise, the British government gifted to NDDB an ICL 1904 series computer. At the time, this configuration was one of the most powerful in India and certainly in Gujarat. With the arrival of this computer, the culture of computerisation of dairy sector data took birth in India.
There are many other notables in Mike’s contribution. For example, a direct outcome of the demand studies was the urgent need for research in developing automated processes for hygienically manufacturing indigenous dairy products (milk sweets) by cooperatives since, after fluid milk and Ghee, milk sweets formed the third largest group in terms of value, far ahead of butter and milk powder (including baby food); setting up of IRMA to meet in the growing need of managers to professionally manage rural enterprises; the project he did for the Tribhuvandas Foundation to take cooperative dairies beyond collecting and processing milk and touch other aspects of rural life (women’s health, child nutrition, income generating activities for village women, use of common village property for income generation and its use for common village services etc.) for all round welfare of the members of the cooperatives; the vegetable oil project that he viewed as a vital link with Operation Flood to secure growing needs of animal nutrition; fruit and vegetables, Electricity cooperatives, cotton cooperatives etc. since he rightly believed that the guiding principles that empower the rural poor remain the same while the strategies and operating systems can be specific according to the nature of the commodity/service. And by involving us in these projects, He taught us how to paint a broader canvas.
Through all of this work, Mike challenged us to take on tasks that seemed impossible, encouraged and guided us, and in the end gave us all the credit. In doing so, he taught us lessons we have never forgotten and left us with a debt to him that we never repay.
Mike was a great thinker, extremely passionate about his work and maintained a low profile. His approach was clear, unambiguous and aimed at empowering the rural poor. Given the foundation that had been created under operation flood- the pool of trained manpower in NDDB, he shared Dr. Kurien’s vision that NDDB must work in other sub sectors of the rural economy and transform the rural scene. I had the good fortune to learn a lot more about these ‘other’ non-dairy projects during long post dinner brain storming sessions when I was with him for nearly 2 months in Pakistan and Washington DC as a member of the World Bank’s Pakistan Dairy Sector Review project team led by Dr. Kurien himself.
Everyone knew that he and Dr. Kurien had a great bond. They shared a common vision; both had a mission- to raise the level of the rural poor for they both believed that the true sign of development of a society is development of its rural population.
Truly speaking, Dr. Kurien was the architect of India’s white revolution and Mike was his structural engineer’ who gave the architect’s vision the right expression. That in my eyes, for me was Mike, my Guru with whom learning was such an enriching experience.