Q&A with Rajesh Rathi


Rajesh Rathi is a highly accomplished industrial automation company founder and operator.  Rathi owns and operates two control system integration companies, one in North Carolina and one in Bangalore, India; and runs a factory automation company in Bangalore. Along with some other entrepreneurs, he is close to launching two additional start-up companies.  As an ISA Senior Member, Rathi has been involved with ISA for decades and most recently served as president of ISA's Bangalore Section.

Could you provide some background on your education (degree/s received) and academic areas of emphasis? 

In 1982, I received a bachelor’s of technology degree in electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Madras. I then secured a master of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Houston in 1984. My major was in computer engineering and control theory, with an emphasis on industrial controls and auto tuning of PID loops.

What initially attracted you to the field of automation (and specifically your selected field)...and when was it? Was there any specific thing that triggered your interest?

I was from a smaller town in India with limited exposure during my school years when I got admitted in 1977 to IIT Madras, a prestigious university in India located in the southern part of the country. During my time at IIT Madras, my local guardians were a family who ran a successful business in the area of industrial instrumentation. However, they were primarily importing these advanced products from abroad and only selling them locally.

Through this exposure I got interested in such instruments and integrating complete solutions around them locally with minimum dependence on imported technology and products. Soon after receiving my bachelors I got admitted to the University of Houston for my master’s degree. Houston was and is the oil city of the USA and it gave me ample opportunity to come in contact with process control businesses and academicians. These experiences furthered my interest and I decided on industrial automation as a career.

In 1982, in my second year of my master’s degree studies, when most other students were focusing on semiconductor technologies and computer science, I chose to pursue my passion and worked on auto tuning of PID control loops. Following graduation, when most others traveled to the Silicon Valley for lucrative jobs in large semiconductor companies, I chose to go to Pittsburgh and work for a small company that made process data logging and recording instruments.

Please tell us about your current career responsibilities (specific position, company) and background, and area of specialty in automation.

After three years of work I returned to India. Initially, I worked in India as a project engineer with M/s. Yokogawa of Japan. But after spending three years in the position, I took up entrepreneurship in the area of system integration for industrial automation. That has been my focused occupation since that date.

I own and operate Control Infotech, Inc. in Morrisville, North Carolina, USA and Control Infotech Pvt. Limited in Bangalore, India. Both the companies are in the control system integration space. We focus on plant automation mainly for continuous and batch type processes and material handling. In addition, since 2005, we have also ventured into the Smart Grid and substation automation domains. In addition, I also operate another firm named Control Products in Bangalore, India that works in the area of factory automation.

In the near future, I have plans to launch—along with some other co-founders—two start-up companies named GridNext and GasTech. While GridNext shall focus on asset monitoring for power distribution networks, micro grids, Distributed Energy Resources (DER) and renewables integration, GasTech will dwell into use of natural gas as a clean fuel for captive power generation and transportation.

How did you initially get involved in ISA?

My move to the US in 1982 suddenly opened the gates on free-flowing information. I could pick up the phone and dial any toll free 800 number and get loads of information within just a few days completely free! I started voraciously consuming this data.

It was during this period that ISA had an expo in Houston and I learned about it by reading a copy of InTech magazine. At that time, I decided to become a student member and attended the expo. It also gave me the chance to explore employment opportunities in my chosen domain.

Please explain your current level/degree of involvement in ISA (leader positions, section involvement, etc.). Any info/detail on your role as section president or other levels of involvement would be great.

Beginning in my days in Houston, I remained connected to ISA. This was true both during my work in the US and after my move back to India. In 1998, I established my operations in the USA and, at that point, my relationship with ISA was rejuvenated. At the beginning of this century, ISA started spreading its reach in District 14 and the ties were further strengthened. While my work pressures prevented me from assuming leadership positions, I remained involved with the ISA.

It was not until I became a Senior Member of ISA and moved by the dedication of ISA Bangalore Section volunteers, did I decide to get more highly engaged. I became a Society Delegate and then section president. My term just ended on 3 June.

Last year, I received the best entrepreneur award by ISA’s District 14. I also attended the Fall Leader’s Meeting, representing the Bangalore section. Both experiences were highly motivating. Since the beginning of my term as section president in June 2016, I have tried to focus on modernizing communications to our members; improving administrative operations and the quality and substance of event and training program content; and expanding student activities and student participation and integration into the global network of the ISA.

Last week I was informed that I have been chosen to receive ISA’s Members’ Choice Best Section Leader award at the Fall Leader’s Meeting, which will be held during October of this year in Tampa, Florida.

I have also tried to play a role in District 14 by actively participating in the ongoing deliberations about the formal structure of ISA’s continuing presence in this region. I have also helped launch a district-wide online webinar program.

Going forward, the regions and the markets that we dwell in are likely to face huge shortages of skilled workers and I am committed to doing what I can do to reduce this growing skills gap.

What ways would you say ISA has benefited you?

ISA has provided me with a proud identity as an automation professional with highly specialized skills and capabilities. It has provided leadership opportunities to me so that I can give back to the profession that serves as the basis of my self-esteem.

ISA has also provided me with networking opportunities with other professionals in my area of expertise and enabled me to stay current on emerging new technologies and trends.

Do you have any advice or suggestions to young automation professionals entering the profession? Are there things that you have learned that you might pass on…to help them better develop their careers?

While computer sciences, IT solutions for commercial applications, telecom, and the Internet has dominated job markets in the last few decades, with the growing interest in IoT, IIoT and Industry 4.0, the automation profession is back in demand with a bang. Plant-floor level measurement and control are key to completing the loop all the way up to and back from cloud-level, real-time analytics. It is thus time to stay focused on enhancing automation career skills and serve as an indispensable link in this chain.

Thanks to the unimaginable proliferation of the information age, it is no longer required to be a huge corporation with deep pockets to introduce innovations on a global scale. The initial capital requirement for such innovations is more easily available than ever before. If you have an idea you want to bring to life, time has never been more conducive. So keep entrepreneurship as a definite choice when you make your career decision. It’s not a bed of roses for sure, but the rewards are great for your self-esteem and also financial independence and well-being.

While doing any or all of above, do not forget the human touch and make sure you choose platforms like the ISA to give back to the community.