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Women Of Influence - Radha Jalan

Nirmala Garimella

Dr. Radha Jalan is the President and CEO of ElectroChem Inc., in Woburn, MA.  ElectroChem is a world renowned, leading fuel cell company for the development and commercialization of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.  ElectroChem (www.fuelcell.com)  has more than 300 product offerings, many of them manufactured with the company’s proprietary technologies.  ElectroChem has been developing technologies since 1986, mainly funded by government agencies, such as NASA, DOE, DOD, NSF, and also with some private corporations.  

Dr. Jalan has co-founded numerous organizations, and contributes regularly to many more. She has received numerous awards and Citations like the Mountain States Hydrogen Business Council Award for Lifetime Contribution to Hydrogen Energy, 2009,Mass High Tech All-Star Award in the field of Energy in 2004 and Cited as “Woman to Watch” in Woman’s Business Magazine in 2002 and the Asian Business Woman of the Year Award in 1997

She has been featured and interviewed by many international and local newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV stations regarding fuel cells, entrepreneurship, women in business, diversity, etc. Radha is the subject of a recent case study: Radha Jalan and ElectroChem,Inc.: Energy for a Clean Planet published in Entrepreneurship, Theory and Practice.Dr. Jalan holds a Ph. D. and M.Ed. from University of Florida, Gainesville, in Education.  She also has a M.A. in Hindi language and Literature from University of Calcutta, India.  

At the company itself, she has been instrumental in changing the strategic direction of ElectroChem from a totally R & D company to a balanced mixture of R&D and product sales. Her strategy was rewarded by getting highly competitive funding from NASA for the development of a fuel cell power system for its new reusable launch vehicles. 

You defied all odds to run Elector Chem., What skills came in handy in this challenge?

My journey has been unusual. I used my good old common sense to run the business. My non profit background helped me expand my network and get involved. So when I had this tragedy, I got tremendous support from my connections. Human resources management is very vital in business. I talked personally to all my employees and discussed their goals and our targets. It was understood that the technical aspect of the business would be taken care off and my job was to hold the team together. Although I faced many uphill battles, with legal and management issues, it was still worth it because finally the company still thrives. I had a make a few bold decisions but that was the right thing to do at that time

 Along your journey what are the lessons that you learnt?

I have a few essentials that go a long way. Network among your own community but also make it a point to meet people from the mainstream. Have clear convictions of what you want to do and believe in it. At the same time know your limits. In my case, I prioritized spending time with my two daughters even if that meant sacrificing ambition or bigger business. Total commitment to what you work for is essential .Have a long term goal but keep in mind the short term goals. Stay focused and practise  patience. 

This is a relatively new field and full of possibilities. How do you see the company’s future?

 I feel I am contributing in my own way to the environment. The company is in an area for looking into alternate fuels. I truly believe in the value that fuel cell/hydrogen Energy Company brings to creating a clean energy and protects the environment. My company has become my cause to benefiting the world we live in. It is what keeps me going despite any challenges I encounter along the way.

 Why did you chose to pursue your particular career path?

I took over as President and CEO of ElectroChem Inc., after my husband’s sudden death in 1997.  It was up to me to make the choice of taking its reins or giving it up. I chose the former and never regrets the decision. “I have always been a fighter, whether it is for a social cause or for my own survival and it always paid off in the long run”.

What are the personal /environmental attributes that have helped you succeed in your career? 

I think you have to always think of never holding back on your own potential. I was fortunate to grow up in a family where  girls were valued and respected.  I grew up in a modest Marwari home in Calcutta and my parents were very different. My mom and grandmother paid emphasis on reading newspapers and imbibing a love for Literature. I remember as an eleven year old, I had the record of reading a book a week which was made available to us through a Sahitya Mandal..

What advice would you give women trying to follow your career path?

Value yourself and what you can do and teach the same to your daughters and sons.

What activities outside of work are you involved ?

In the 60’s I was involved with the Adult Literacy movement. After I came here  I have served in a variety of roles for a number of nonprofit organizations: as a board member of the Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, part of The Commonwealth Institute Ethnic Diversity Initiative Advisory Board, and an active member of The Commonwealth Institute's CEO forum, and The Commonwealth Institute’s Women of Ethnic Diversity Initiative. I am not as active as earlier but do help whenever possible.

What do you do for fun? 

Spend time with my family and friends

What is your personal philosophy of living life?

I like to live by the motto that  is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

Do you have favorite book/author –--     Do you have a favorite song/ musician?

I enjoy a lot of authors. One of my favorites is Nelson Mandela. I do listen to devotional music early in the morning. It is when the mind is most active and sets me up for the mood for the day.

Any special words of advice for women?  Any piece of information you wish you had known growing up?

Always let reason influence your thinking and live a life helping in any way you can. 

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