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My name:
ANIL VERMA

 

My qualifications: B.Tech. (Electronics Engg.), MBA (IIM Ahmedabad), Executive Course - MIT Sloan, USA.
I head: The Furniture Business.
I deal with: Desks, Chairs, Open Plan Office Systems, Imported furniture (from Steelcase Inc. USA) and Imported Carpet tiles (from Milliken Inc. USA).
My Division's marketing techniques: Who are my customers? What do they want? How can I satisfy them? How do I get ‘lifetime?business from them?
Its sales turnover: Approx. Rs.200 crores, inclusive of all taxes.
The export turnover: Not much to write about.
We export our products to: Middle East, SAARC countries.
Our competitors: National Level: Blow Plast, Jassani, Featherlite, Methodex...
Imports: Bristol, Technigroup, U.B., Lamex...
My Division's goals for 2002-03: Grow the incremental Economic Value Add (DEVA) by 25%.
My personal goals for 2002-03: ? Institutionalise EVA thinking within my Division.
?“Leading Change?Programme for all workmen.
?Bring in Newness and Innovation in all major business approaches.
?Spend time with the family.
My strengths: Patience, team player, courage of conviction, don’t get easily ruffled?br> My weaknesses: Time management, “emotion?driven at times, far too outspoken?and many more I guess.
My family background: Dad’s a retired Senior Central Govt. official. Mom’s a housewife. Sister, a hot-shot banker. Brother, a Research Scientist in the USA.
My first crush: Let it be. Let it be…….(with apologies to the Beatles).
My hobbies: Reading and music. Sports was my first love………….but don't find time for it now.
My pets: Had German Shepherds in the past. None at the moment.
My favourite books: The Little Prince, Catch-22, Illusions, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
My most embarrassing moments: Having my cheeks pinched by my juniors (the prettier ones) at the Business School?!
I am content with: Life and thank God for continually helping me live up to my parents' dream.
I am jealous of: Envious of people who are able to switch off from office when they reach home.
I get upset when: People get petty, selfish, display double standards?br> I fear: For the well-being of my parents all the time.
I am proud of: Being an Indian. Being a Godrejite. My family, of my friends…people whom I grew up with.
My retirement plans: Long way to go…maybe work for an NGO.
The future of Godrej: Absolutely great. We have the wherewithal to create and script our future. Backed by enduring values.
I love India because: It’s mine and it’s here that I belong!

 

As Good As,
If Not Better...

He cares about the Company, is genuinely concerned. He is committed to its future and convinced that it can be made a bright one. He carries this air of conviction like an aura about him. Anil Verma reminds me strongly of Phiroze Lam, Executive Director, whose right hand he is. In a strange way, interviewing Verma is like interviewing a younger, rawer version of Lam all over again. The same flair, the same determination. We find too that Verma and I share the same interests, outside of our work, that is. Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 is one of his favourite works of fiction, so is it mine, at least one of my favourites. He likes Western music as much as I do. Both of us have had dogs as pets. He asks me, in view of my long connection with Godrej going back several years, what I think of the future of the Company. He’s turning the tables on me, interviewer made interviewee. I tell him we’d come to that later. We find ourselves on the same side of the table. We decide on a chat instead of a formal interview, an informal exchange of views.

In response to the questionnaire sent to him earlier, Verma wrote with justifiable pride about the first annual awards function organised by him on a mega scale for his field personnel at the Leela Hotel. Naval Godrej was then alive and they got his permission to fly down personnel from all over India for the occasion. Costs never counted with Naval, achievements did. The theme song, the audio-visuals specially shot on the theme of Congratulations and Celebrations made for a morale-building, exhilarating, unforgettable experience.

It was again Verma’s idea ?he modestly attributes it to teamwork ?to initiate the extensive use of sub-branding in the furniture business ?Aura, Mozaic, Reflex, Accolade, Finesse, Renaissance, Riviera, and other such exotic names ?which facilitated a proper positioning of products for different levels and price points. Another initiative was to arm the frontline sales force with the necessary technological facilities like cellphones and laptops. Most rewarding for Verma was the adoption as G&B’s mission statement of his suggestion of “Enriching Quality of Life Every Day, Everywhere?

Two points in his reply puzzled me. One was the concept of External Designations for frontline sales personnel and the other, building the Health Platform. He explains: “There are many customers who are status-conscious. When our frontline salesmen met such customers, they were expected to have a business card with a fancy designation. If they said they were just salesmen, nobody would give them due respect! In those days the designation of an Officer had some value, so I thought of giving them the designation of Sales Officer. Besides, the organisation would not lose anything in giving them a designation, no increments were involved. As a result the sales people showed greater confidence, acquired a positive attitude and came out looking good, feeling good.?/font>

Healthy image
The second concept was that our chairs were specially designed to provide maximum comfort and avoid any strain on the back: “How do we differentiate our products vis-a-vis the competition? By building a certain healthy image of our products. When we say that Godrej products are of better quality and are more durable, it doesn’t cut much ice because our competitors, too, have caught up with technology. How do we differentiate ourselves in the marketplace? We make it a selling-point that Godrej chairs are actually a piece of ‘medical equipment? Fundamentally, people spend a lot of time sitting on chairs. So a bad chair can affect their posture. Godrej chairs take care of back problems.?/font>

I recall Jamshyd’s words during the Godrej Centenary year that his dream was to make Godrej a world-class organisation. How, I ask Verma, would the Company go about it? “Firstly, it would be in terms of having a geographical presence all over the world, its products available under the Godrej brand everywhere. We need good product quality. We need to invest some amount in brand building. We need to have a distribution set-up backed by a very strong design and manufacturing infrastructure in our factories.?/font>

Would he link exports with being world class? Verma replies: “Our products should be available all over the world. Exports would certainly be the avenue for the organisation to be world class in that sense.?/font>

I quote the example of Bajaj. Ever since he joined Bajaj Auto, Rahul Bajaj dreamt of making the Indian company the world’s leading manufacturer of two-wheelers. In every interview he gave, according to management guru Sumantra Ghoshal, he would talk about internationalisation, about the need to become world class, and so on. Asked once to spell out what he meant by world class, he said: “The day 20 per cent of my production is exported, I will say I am world class.?/font>

Actually, Bajaj exports amount today to 5 per cent, which, according to Verma, would be about the same as Godrej’s. Verma finds two reasons for this low figure: “Firstly, the degree of customer expectations in developing countries is far lower than in developed countries. Local industries are not very competitive. Secondly, everything is an issue of brand. Advanced countries in the West are particularly brand conscious. If the brand is not very well known, it takes some time to get a market share. The problem for us is that we need to establish a brand if we want to export significantly or route it through the self-market chains. The degree of competition is then lower.?/font>

I mention the complaint one often hears that targets given to salesmen are unrealistic (read, unattainable). Verma doesn’t quite agree: “The point, Mr. Karanjia, is that we really go for a super-stretch. By stretch I mean that each sales officer is continuously being pushed or is pushing himself to do more, to do better. The whole idea is that there are opportunities to be seized. It begins with me. I set my target. And I commit to Mr. Lam that business will grow by 35 per cent, that too at a time when the market is not growing! But I believe this can be done. Mind you, we believe in this as a team. Backed by good products, quick delivery, excellent quality, there are a lot of things which are controllable and therefore can be achieved.?/font>

Integrated design
We talk about the measures that are being taken by the Furniture Division to improve product design and quality. “First, let us talk about design,?Verma says. “We have now institutionalised a new process called Integrated Design for Manufacturing and Market ing. It fundamentally goes to the customer to validate whatever we are designing, the customer’s voice is taken into consideration. Second, our Manufacturing and Marketing Departments work together so that there are few hiccups when we roll out the products. Third, we have to understand what kind of tools we need to invest in, so that the products turn out good. We have a good design process in place. Finally, and most importantly, we become more and more demanding of our own employees. We make sure the factory people go to customers, talk to them and acquire a sympathetic understanding of their requirements. We have a Japanese Consultant, Takao Kasahara, who has more to do with manufacturing than quality.?/font>

I recall how some years ago, on a visit to Kuwait, Lam felt reassured to learn that during President Saddam Hussain’s invasion, the only things his rampaging soldiers couldn’t break open and plunder were Godrej safes. At the same time, at an exhibition in New York, it was pointed out to Lam that the painting of Godrej safes was 20 years behind the times. Today everything requires to be powder-painted. This is now being done.

It is only in recent years that global competition has alerted the hitherto protected Indian manager’s mindset. India claims to have the second-largest number of scientific and technological personnel involved in Research and Development, but the total is only 17 lakhs, which is considerably lower than the reported numbers for Japan and U.S. Verma agrees that the development of indigenous technology brooks no delay and is indeed vital for industry to acquire manoeuvrability and to build a strong technology base.

I express my concern about the growing “meeting culture?in Godrej whereby heads of departments and others are constantly at meetings, making themselves almost totally inaccessible. I had expressed my concern about this to consultant Marc Fourcade and he agreed that something should be done to control this trend. Verma too agrees: “Too many people involved in frequent meetings result in poor work performance and poor results.?In fact on one occasion my efforts to contact three senior vice-presidents on the same day failed. All the three secretaries could tell me was that “Mr. so-and-so is in a meeting,??sounding almost like a recorded message! I had a funny dream that night which I wanted to recount to Mr. Verma. But glancing at my watch I realised we had already exceeded the time given for the interview.

Massaging Egos
So I may as well recount the dream here. I dreamt I was the manager of a large company. There was to be an important meeting that very morning. So I packed my briefcase with my Ego properly inflated. In the Conference Room there were the company’s other managers holding tight their precious burden of Ego-heavy briefcases. When the Chairman called the meeting to order, all the briefcases were opened with a simultaneous snap. According to the meeting’s agenda, the Egos were first placed on the table, then they were massaged for a while and, finally, they were given a proper airing, all of which took quite a long time. Finally, we packed our Egos and the meeting was declared over.

Next I found myself in my dream (transport is never a problem in dreams) in an immense graveyard. I was shocked to see my name on one of the graves and bent down to read the inscription: “Born _________ Died __________?and the epitaph: “He met. He talked. He died.? Looking around, I was shocked to find the graves of all the other managers bearing the same epitaph: “He met. He talked. He died.?Now, you may wonder how, being dead, I could read my epitaph. But then in dreams one can be dead and alive at the same time, as Alice discovered long ago. In my consternation I asked myself: Have all the managers died? God, what about the company? And, worse still, what about my job? The shock awakened me.

But this is no time for idle dreams. The need today for all of us in Godrej is to add value to the great Ardeshir’s legacy. At the height of the freedom movement, in those pre-freedom days when Swadeshi was the breath of Swaraj, several Indian leaders, Ranade and Gokhale to mention only two, pleaded that to show their patriotism Indians should purchase Indian goods even if these were inferior in quality to the British ones. But Ardeshir scoffed at the very idea. He was angered by this defeatist, humiliating attitude. Patriotism should never be made an excuse for shoddy goods, it would make Indians lose respect in their own eyes and in the eyes of fellow Indians. A passionate believer in Self-Respect Through Self-Reliance, Ardeshir believed that Indian goods should be as good as, if not better than the British variety. And he made them better. Today, in a global world with the demanding global consumer at its centre, we have the opportunity to build on Ardeshir’s legacy ?goods as good as, if not better than the competitors?

With his usual grace Verma accompanied me the long distance in Plant-4 to the staircase. This was our first meeting and both of us hoped we would meet again soon.

B.K.