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Today, SSG has evolved into a
full-fledged business division comprising manufacturing, marketing, designing, accounting and finance; all activities that make it an independent
business unit.

 

 

 

 

Our strategy has now changed to reduction in finished goods and maintenance of raw material, since our confidence in our manufacturing process and throughput capability is very high. As a result, we are 97 per cent
on time. But we still have a
long way to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My name:
A.M. Visvanathan
(known as “Vish?to my friends)

 

My qualifications: Mechanical Engineer from College of Engineering, Guindy with a Post-graduate Diploma in Business Management from XLRI, Jamshedpur.

I head: The Storage Solutions business group.

I deal with (products):

  • Warehousing solutions that enhance the efficiency of material storage and handling in warehouses, factories, etc.

  • Bulk paper and document storage solutions.

  • Shop floor storage and handling solutions.

  • Warehousing efficiency improvement solutions (consultancy).

My Division’s marketing techniques: Being an industrial product and a capital expenditure item, our marketing techniques revolve around direct customer contact and relationship building, apart from brand building through advertising, participation in trade fairs, etc. We actively participate in customer meets, some organised by us, and some conducted by relevant coordinating bodies like the CII and the Indian Institute of Materials Management.

Its sales turnover: Expected to cross Rs. 5,500 lakhs in the year 2004-2005 (with Rs. 1,000 lakhs coming from the export market).

The export turnover: An ambitious Rs. 1,000 lakhs plus.

We export our products to:

  • The Middle East, especially the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, etc.

  • SAARC, especially Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal.

  • A small value to Europe and Australia.

Our competitors: Vinar, Kompress, etc. in India; and all the world majors in our export markets.

My Division’s goals for 2004-2005:

  • To build on our performance of the current year.

  • To become profitable and stable.

  • To become a significant player in the identified export market.

  • To firmly establish our consultancy activity.

My personal goals for 2004-2005: To establish SSG as a stable, profitable and growing business unit of Godrej.

My strengths and weaknesses:
Strengths

  • Analytical.

  • Operate in a solution-seeking mode at all times.

  • Cool in a crisis.

  • Carry a team through difficult times (I think so!).

  • Get the team to stretch.

Weaknesses

  • Too democratic.

  • Allow people to learn through mistakes.

  • Delay decisions, if I think they are better delayed.

  • Take on “too much?of a stretched goal even if it is doomed for failure! Sometimes demotivating for the team.

My family background: One of four children. Father ____ a retired banker, mother ____ a housewife, wife ____ a Chartered Accountant and Company Secretary, elder son ____ Final year Engineering student, and younger son ____ studying in Standard X.

My first crush: Honestly do not remember, it happened too long ago!

My hobbies:

  • At the moment, work.

  • Otherwise, am interested in photography, music and physical exercise.

My pets: Dogs, when I was young.

My favourite books: My current favourite author is Hiroyuki Hirano since my current area of interest is 5S and its implementation.

My most embarrassing moment: Too embarrassing to note.

I am content with: A job well done.

I am jealous of: Any team that performs better than my own.

I get upset when: People do a superficial job.

I fear: The loss of my team members who are so critical to the success of my business!

I am proud of: My team.

My retirement plans: Will let you know when I start thinking about them.

The future of Godrej:

  • It is up to us to shape the future of our Company. The future is what we want it to be. I certainly want our Company to be a successful and respected organisation, not only in India but the entire world.

  • Successful, known for its technological capability, its customer-oriented policies and work ethic, and a Company that is respected by all.

I love India because: I’m an Indian!

 

___________________________

 

Talks were under way to establish a manufacturing Plant in Chennai. Following in the footsteps of his forefathers, Chairman and Managing Director Jamshyd Godrej insisted that his employees should work not only among heavy machines, but also among the green, serene surroundings of Mother Nature. As a result, one of the first tasks undertaken in Chennai was large-scale planting of trees. Today, the Godrej premises have turned lush green, and have transformed Godrej Chennai into an industrial garden township.

Yes, it is Godrej Chennai, not the Chennai Branch. For A.M. Visvanathan and his team, Godrej Chennai is now a separate entity, "a Head Office of the Godrej business located outside Mumbai".

___________________________

 

Aiming For The Moon

A.M. Visvanathan, Vice President, Storage Solutions Group
Interviewed by Rashna Ardesher
 

he Company had decided to invest Rs. 20 crores in shifting the base of the Storage Solutions Group (SSG) from Mumbai to Chennai. The turnover of SSG was only Rs. 24 crores. Nevertheless, Jamshyd Godrej approved the business proposal of investing Rs. 20 crores,knowing fully well that SSG would need at least two years to stabilise.

Visvanathan recalls: “SSG was supposed to have become a joint venture operation. The new product range and technology was coming from the foreign partner. When I moved into SSG from Appliances, the first joint venture effort was just breaking off. We tried a second partner, without success. We decided to go ahead on our own.?Except for a core team of five or six people who moved from Mumbai to Chennai, a brand new, dynamic team was created.

Visvanathan had left Chennai way back in 1977. He returned to Chennai after a gap of nearly 24 years. Setting up a unit out of Pirojshanagar, Mumbai, was a different experience altogether. It required establishing a Greenfield venture, while at the same time getting the new team to understand Pirojshanagar and its culture, and giving the team a feeling of belonging.


A.M. Visvanathan, Vice President and Business Head, Storage Solutions Group, at the CII logistics meet at Kolkata in December 2003.

But was there really a need to change the manufacturing base? As Visvanathan points out: “Chennai is a major automotive base in the country and an important market for us. It has a skilled and disciplined workforce, and it is the best upcoming port (after Mumbai). Our Group was looking at exports in a big way because the future of this business lies in exports. We have made it our goal that 50 per cent of our turnover should come from exports. We are placing our sales people in the overseas markets in Dubai, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia. This is expensive in the short term, but we are developing the market for the long term and we will reap the benefits over time. To be successful in this market, every element of cost has to be looked into and controlled, and operating from Pirojshanagar was proving quite expensive.?/font>

Three years ago SSG was merely a Marketing Department. The manufacturing of all SSG products was taken care of by the erstwhile Storwel Division. Today, SSG has evolved into a full-fledged business division comprising manufacturing, marketing, designing, accounting and finance; all activities that make it an independent business unit.

Basically, the business of storage solutions is a project business. It does not manufacture a particular product and then sell it. It provides solutions to the storage problems and needs of the customer. Visvanathan explains: “Customers approach us with their problems in material storage and handling. They do not know the exact solution to their problem. It could be the largest manufacturer of notebooks and textbooks in India who manufactures throughout the year but sells only twice a year. It could be an ice-cream manufacturer who needs to store material at minus 34 degrees C. Yet another customer who could have a problem of storing videotapes, but cannot use steel. There’s Food World in Mulund, Metro in Bangalore, all international chains who want to store and display their products effectively. Whatever be the problem of the customer, we design the appropriate solution. Therefore, racking as a product may appear to be made of simple standard components to the layman’s eyes, but, in reality, every solution we offer is unique.?The customer is not aware of the number of components he/she needs. SSG understands the customer’s requirement, converts it into a system, manufactures it as components, which are then installed to provide the solution required by the customer.

The pricing of a system or project has to be done very carefully. Moreover, the product tends to become commoditised, and therefore the focus of the technical design team has to be not only on solution efficiency, but also on technical development to make the product more cost competitive. There’s always a price list, but every project has to be optimised in design and priced accordingly. SSG therefore has to be aggressive on pricing and at the same time keep a close watch on its costs.

One part of SSG was spun off into a joint venture called Godrej Efacec Automation and Robotics Ltd., a very small unit, “but with the potential to grow? It operates in the topmost segment of the material storage and handling industry offering automated solutions with high throughput efficiency. Godrej Efacec operates out of Mumbai while the other part of the SSG business shifted into the new Plant at Chennai.

In order to remain competitive and maintain its leadership status, SSG embarked on a major change in its product portfolio. This exercise was done jointly with IIT, Mumbai and today its racking systems compare favourably with the best in the world. This product portfolio has given SSG the confidence to progress aggressively in the export market.

Teething Problems

Why, the Storage Solutions Group (SSG) has brought about a change even in the way it manufactures its products. The metal forming process has changed from traditional press forming to roll forming, and the finishing process from liquid painting to powder coating. Now, its eyes are on welding automation. Says Visvanathan: “There are a lot of efficiencies to be achieved on the shop floor and low-cost automation is one method of doing so.?/font>

Like any other business, SSG Chennai too had teething problems. Quality management processes were not in place for vendors in Mumbai who directly sent their products to customers while the rest of the products were supplied from Chennai. But things have changed for the better:

“Earlier, our tooling used to be with the Mumbai vendors. Now, we are devendorising. Even ‘C?class components like fasteners are now being procured from reputed vendors like Sundaram Fasteners. There is a very strong quality improvement programme and vendor inspection programme being instituted so that even products which are still vendored will meet the Company’s quality standards.?/font>

SSG is a survivor. There was a time when it used to regularly fail to honour its delivery commitments, sometimes by eight to ten weeks! The weakness was in production planning and control. Says Visvanathan: “After devendorising, with proper raw material planning and the manufacturing machinery now in place, we have dramatically improved our delivery schedules. If the raw material is available, we are now capable of deliveries within days against the earlier requirements of weeks. Our strategy has now changed to reduction in finished goods and maintenance of raw material, since our confidence in our manufacturing process and throughput capability is very high. As a result, we are 97 per cent on time. But we still have a long way to go.?/font>

There was also a time when the Project Management Cell, which is the key coordinating body between the customer, the field force and the internal departments, could not adhere to the dates committed for delivery. As far as material and other information was concerned, the Group’s sales officers were not in a position to get comprehensive details and customer commitments were slipping. Visvanathan confirms: “Yes, we went through a difficult period during the changeover from Mumbai to Chennai. We lost the manufacturing facility at Mumbai, converted to the use of vendors as an intermediate solution and relocated to Chennai, all at the same time. However, I am proud of the manner in which the team handled this difficult period, and we have firmly put the past behind us. The Project Management Cell was a concept we started when we relocated and I believe it is the right structure for a project-oriented business like ours.?/font>

International Standards

SSG still has a long way to go in meeting international standards on quality, technical design excellence, project execution, etc. One of the recent initiatives taken up by SSG is working with the CII Institute of Quality to improve the quality of products and processes. It will take at least two years for the Group to achieve its desired level.

Making presentations on the Company, on its product range and capability, is part of the job. As a Group, SSG has good presentation skills, but Visvanathan is the type who demands perfection: “I want all my team members formally trained on presentation skills. We’re talking to external agencies for training. This training process will ensure that every member making a presentation will be videotaped and improvements discussed on an individual basis.? Visvanathan himself is particularly good at making presentations. “I believe in making my own presentations irrespective of the effort and time involved. I know what I’m going to say and every slide has to gel with what I’m going to present. If it’s an important presentation, I mentally practice a lot. The flow comes only with that.?/font>

Visvanathan has realised that even after making the best of presentations, selling the best of rackings and controlling costs to the maximum, there could still be a limit to the growth of the Group. This is one of the reasons why SSG has branched out into warehouse consultancy, where the future looks bright. Says Visvanathan: “Customers no longer want more and more warehousing to be erected. They now seek efficiency in warehousing operations. SSG therefore had to realign its focus and its activities in line with changing customer trends. While we continue to be the largest hardware racking supplier, we are today growing in the direction of offering comprehensive warehousing solutions to our customers. Our foray into warehouse consultancy has been successful to date, and gives us the confidence that our change in direction is correct. Moreover, the Indian market will witness the influx of international competition in the coming years, and if Godrej has to retain its position as the undisputed market leader, not only should we achieve operational excellence in project execution, we should also broaden our portfolio of products and services.?/font>

Visvanathan would like SSG to be at the number two position, if not number one, in all the markets that it chooses to operate in over the next five years and become a recognised brand name in Africa, the Middle East, Australia and the SAARC countries. SSG always has stretched targets, even if considered unrealistic, for the head of the Group believes in the saying: “Aim for the moon and you will possibly reach the stars.?/font>