The man responsible for overseeing the health of Cummins Inc.’s Engine Business nearly pursued a career as a doctor. But instead, Srikanth Padmanabhan operates the company’s largest business unit at a time when it and the company as a whole have been affected by sickly economic markets.

Padmanabhan, 52, took over the Engine Business on April 1 in his 25th year with the company.

He’s worked in a variety of capacities with Cummins, gaining experience across its range of core segments and sub-units: Engine, Power Generation, Emissions Solutions, and Filtration, for example. However, had it not been for rejection notices from two medical schools decades ago, Padmanabhan’s career path would have been much different.

Padmanabhan was born in India, the sixth of seven children in a family he said wasn’t wealthy.

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A brother had a great influence on him and suggested he pursue a career as an engineer. Padmanabhan was admitted to engineering school when he was about 18, but he also was interested in medicine and had applied to medical schools. Padmanabhan said he decided that if he were accepted into at least one of his top two choices of medical schools, he would change paths. However, he was accepted to his third choice and — true to his word — remained in engineering school.

How Padmanabhan ended up at Cummins also involved a what-if story. When he was finishing his doctorate degree and searching for a job, he had offers from a Detroit-based company and Cummins.

The deciding factor was that Cummins would sponsor him for his work visa and lawful permanent residency, while the other company wouldn’t, Padmanabhan said.

Later, Padmanabhan said he learned about the influence of former Cummins Chairman and CEO J. Irwin Miller and the importance the company placed on diversity.

“That core value of diversity, of doing things much, much ahead, not because it was required of you to do, but it was the right thing to do, is what I think makes Cummins a special place. It keeps people like us still there. It makes me loyal to the company,” Padmanabhan said.

Ready to lead

That loyalty has been reflected in him taking on many roles, including assignments in the United Kingdom and Mexico.

Most recently he served as vice president of the Engine Business, a role in which he oversaw the heavy-duty, mid-range and light-duty markets that use engines ranging from 50 to 650 horsepower.

Padmanabhan learned about leading the business by working with Dave Crompton, previous president of the Engine Business. When the company merged its Power Generation segment with its High Horsepower unit — the latter previously part of the Engine Business — in December to create the Power Systems business, Crompton became its president. That move allowed Padmanabhan to step into his current role.

“It’s an enormous privilege and a huge responsibility as well,” Padmanabhan said of leading the largest business unit of the 97-year-old company.

Creating a positive legacy at Cummins is important, and begins with the work done today, Padmanabhan said.

Padmanabhan reminds himself of that every time he’s in his office. Mounted on the wall are five large, framed posters with each of the company’s current and past logos, and an appropriate historical photo for the time period represented. Posted on the wall above the posters is this: “2016 and beyond: What will your legacy be?”

Large responsibility

His legacy will depend in part on how well the Engine Business performs. For more than a year, slumping sales in international and domestic markets have caused a drop in revenue from the prior year, forcing Cummins to adjust its earnings forecasts.

When Cummins released its second-quarter results in early August, they showed a 9.7 percent drop in sales from the same period in 2015. First-quarter sales were down 10 percent from the prior year. Reduced production in the North American heavy-duty truck market, and weaker demand in industrial markets such as marine, mining and oil and gas were cited as factors by the company.

Markets are generally volatile and cyclical, with some up at times when others are down, Padmanabhan said.

For example, while the truck market in Brazil is faring poorly, the same market in India is on a tear, North America and Europe are reasonably good, and the company has been a winning market in China despite a stagnant market, he said.

“What is important, whether in good times or bad times, is that our products do well in terms of quality, our products perform better than the competition for our customers,” Padmanabhan said.

That enables Cummins to succeed, he said.

“The way we win in the marketplace is by seeing the future first and beating the competition to it. This is what we internally call as innovation you can depend on,” Padmanabhan said.

In July, Cummins introduced three new engines to meet new greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards being implemented next year. The X series has three heavy-duty engine platforms, with two versions of the X15 being offered next year, followed by the X12 version in full production by 2018.

Cummins also is a partner with Nissan on an engine for the Titan XD full-size pickup truck. The 5-liter V8 Cummins Turbo Diesel engine is produced at Columbus Engine Plant.

The first engines were available for the 2016 model. In May, prior to Cummins’ annual shareholders meeting, Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger said the plan was to make about 25,000 of the engines this year. Those will begin going toward a 2017 version of the Titan that will feature more cab configurations and trim levels.

Padmanabhan said the engine has been doing well, but is deliberately on a slow ramp-up to align with Nissan’s production schedule.

“I’m pleased in terms of what has happened both from the quality we provide and how the trucks have shown up on dealer lots,” he said.

In Padmanabhan’s opinion, the future of the Engine Business is bright.

Cummins has done well the past 15 years, meeting increasingly stringent emissions standards with its products, and integrating its engines with components such as turbochargers and fuel systems and emissions products. In doing so, the company has laid a successful foundation for what’s to come, he said.

Srikanth Padmanabhan

WHAT: Engine Business president for Cummins Inc.

AGE: 52

EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology in Trichy, India; doctorate in mechanical engineering from Iowa State University; graduate of the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.

BACKGROUND: Previous positions with Cummins Inc.

  • Joined Cummins in 1991
  • Engine Business vice president
  • Emissions Solutions president
  • Cummins Generator Technologies managing director, Stamford, England
  • Cummins Filtration country manager in Mexico
  • Cummins Filtration plant manager
  • Cummins Fuel Systems, various leadership roles

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Community Education Coalition board member; IUPUC board of advisers.

RESIDES: Columbus

FAMILY: Wife, Usha; daughter, Megna.

Coming Tuesday

In the second of two stories on new leaders for Cummins Inc. business units, meet Norbert Nusterer, president the Power Systems Business.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.