India 1997-2001

Most of my time in India was on the Dabhol Power Plant construction site which was a multi-level joint venture between Enron, GE and my company. Enron was the lead in the owner/operator (and local relations) and our focus was on building the plant and supporting the financing requirements of the largest project financing of the time. The project consisted of an LNG import terminal and most advanced gas turbine systems of the time. I had started working on the project in 1995 in the USA when the project was suspended with a change in government and ultimately restarted in 1996. I started spending time at the site in 1997 when construction started until the bankruptcy of Enron in late 2001. Initially, I was working directly on the project and after 1999 I was based in London supporting the project. Overall I spent about 3 months in the country, mostly living in a camp adjacent to the construction site.

The project ended up being the undoing of Enron – the second phase of the project needed to buy imported fuel with US Dollars to start operations and this was the first clue that Enron had no US Dollars and the unraveling began. Became a Harvard Business Case Study….in what not to do. Part of problem of using imported fuel instead of indigenous coal was the exposure to global markets, but 95% cleaner on traditional emissions than a coal plant in India and less that 50% CO2 (no one cared then).

The trip from the USA was quite the journey – about 30 hours if you took the helicopter, closer to 40 hours if you drove the last part.

  • 7 hour Flight to London with a 6 hour layover
  • 8 hour Flight to Mumbai landing about midnight
  • Fight the millions of people and find your driver
  • 1 hour drive to guest house
  • Eggs & toast for breakfast
  • 10am helicopter to site (or 10 hr drive) – arrival about noon
A couple of co-workers on the chopper

Pictures from Site

The site was about 5 miles by 5 miles – with a river on one side with a port and a jetty on a beautiful beach. The helicopter would land near the beach and you arrived for your 2 to 6 week business trip or 8 week rotation.

Living Quarters

The accommodations were pretty spartan, but clean and most of the time you had your own mini-trailer. The craft workers lived in dorms and not great conditions – but a significant improvement to their former circumstances. Most all were completely unskilled labor and this was their first non-farming job. Many brought their families, which was a bit of a surprise and while the workers lived in the dorms, their families lived outside the site and over time we came up with paid work programs for them. Pictures of the dorms and the families working and our quarters.

No picture available of the bar, the most frequented place in the with $0.20 Kingfisher beer and trivia. Over the years the accommodation improved and by the end we had a pool and other large companies had camps where we could visit for a change of pace.

Too many stories to tell – and even better ones from my colleagues – a couple of memorable ones;

  • Fastest trip ever – Called home (on a landline) to find out that my 3 year old daughter Alexandra needed to undergo emergency surgery. So with a lot of support from all the companies, I made it back in about 24 hrs:
    • I was table to get on the Enron helicopter out (first one – and nicer than ours)
    • Got on a 9 hr flight to London with NO assigned seat (this was pre-9/11), got lucky that a person who checked in didn’t make it to the plane. I would have sat in spare jump seat. Our travel person had a great relationship with BA.
    • Arrived in London and rebooked on a flight to NYC then to Washington (which arrived 6 hours earlier than a direct flight because of a shorter layover in London)
    • Detained in customs in NYC – suspicious to return from a 4 week trip with only a briefcase as I left my stuff at site.
    • Arrived at Johns Hopkins about 10 minutes after we found out Alexandra didn’t need to have the surgery. She was smiling jumping on the bed.
    • No cell phone – all calls made by pay phone once I left the site.
  • The importation – Before one trip, a transformer blew up in testing and needed replacement parts, so on the layover in London I had to go through customs to get a big box of parts which I then checked and went back through security. I also obtained the invoices and got £300 (and I had $300 to start with) cash to pay customs duties. Upon arrival in India at midnight local time, I converted both the £ and $ to rupees to pay the import fees and headed to the red lane where it then turned for the worse.
    • When they opened the boxes, there were 9 parts and I had only 8 invoices. Problem.
    • After couple of hours of waiting, I was brought to a room where I filled out several forms that went into binders with actual red tape (thanks Britannia) with a wax seal.
    • The box and I were then taken by a soldier with a large elephant gun to another room with the sign “24 hour customs detention room”. Severe jetlag at this time and I decided that I was not going to be locked in the “24 hour customs detention room”, so I had a plan to whack the guy in the head, grab the gun, run down the hall and out into the crowd (thousands of people hang out at the airport arrival at midnight). But my passport was back at the main desk, so if I got away I would have a hard time getting out of the country….decisions.
    • Luckily I was slow in making a decision and they put the box in the room – not me, so no escape required.
    • Back to the desk where the super supervisor came out – was told the problem and looked at the 8 invoices. He asked, with a leading smile, one of these invoices must be for 2 parts. No problem.
    • So I got my box, which btw was the size of an old 25″ TV box that I was pushing around on a cart, and went to pay the customs bill. Based on the invoices (which were in £), they said I owned them about $300. I said I didn’t have $, but here was the equivalent in rupees. Problem. They only accepted US $.
    • The sun was now coming up and the only way to get US $ was to go back airside to the currency exchange place. Since I wasn’t flying, I couldn’t get through security and exit customs….so they said walk onto the baggage claim belt and I’d eventually get airside. I did with really no issues – pretty scary.
    • When I got to the currency exchange place, they would not exchange the rupees for dollars because the rupees looked suspect. I lost my mind – it was the same place that gave them to me. Surprisingly losing my mind didn’t help and I never got any US $.
    • Back through the baggage belt and to baggage claim (I didn’t want to go back to customs because I didn’t have my passport back). When I arrived, the poor guy who was there from about 12 hours before to pick me up was there with our procurement manager. He was extremely concerned – about the box.
    • So I said let me go to my office and get US $, I’ll leave all my rupees and the box as collateral – and it was like “now the dumbass gets it” as they thought I was bribing them.
    • Our procurement manager then insisted we don’t pay bribes they could keep me a collateral and he would take the box and send US $ to pay the customs sometime that day.
    • I vetoed that plan and left with the driver and said procurement manager could finish the job. By this time, the helicopter had left so I said just take me to the guest house and I pretty much slept 24 hrs before taking the helicopter the next day.

But the most memorable part of the project was hiring 10 local college hires and watch them progress through the job. Many of them ended up staying with my company for years and worked with us all over the world and now a couple hold senior roles in the company – 20 plus years later and still working with them.

(This was written during the Great Shutdown of 2020. My memory isn’t this good, used internet searches to fill in a lot of holes. If there’s huge fat foot below me, it not my fault – that an advertisement I can’t control).


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