Manish Bharati has worked in the fashion and textiles business since the early 1990s. But when he was approached to run the international business and garmenting vertical of Indian apparel manufacturing giant Raymond in 2020, he could see immediately that it would be his biggest ever challenge.
Not only was its bottom line being pummeled from all sides by fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, but a tragedy had added to its woes.
“When I was first contacted about this opportunity, I realized it was a tough situation,” he tells The CEO Magazine from his Bengaluru office. “My predecessor had just passed away in New York, and I’d known him as he was my junior at the fashion institute where we studied.
“It meant I already had a sense of the scale of the problems. And, as I went through the recruitment process, I realized the company definitely needed someone to steer the company to greater heights.”
The company began in 1925 as the Raymond Woollen Mill near the shores of Thane Creek, Kailashpat, in the south of Mumbai.
After a successful couple of decades, it was taken over by Gautam Singhania and soon became famous across the entire region for the quality and elegance of its garments. This reputation is still intact as it approaches its centenary as the largest integrated textile company in the world, and still one of the fastest-growing.
Its range of Indo-Western couture shirts, suits, trousers and more for men are produced in cotton, wool, linen and denim for some of the world’s top fashion houses in more than 60 countries.
Its own multi-award-winning brands include Park Avenue, Raymond Ready To Wear, ColorPlus and Parx Ethnix and are sold through 1,500 dedicated outlets and more than 20,000 points of sale in 600 towns throughout India.
For Bharati, taking on the role was a return to his roots in setting up and running fabric and apparel factories.
“That’s why I knew I could lead them out of this situation to deliver stability and growth,” he says proudly.
He has held senior positions in the textile trade for 30 years in Europe and Asia, after studying at India’s National Institute of Fashion Technology and later at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
Following his student days, he spent six years in managerial positions at New Delhi-based fashion and textile companies before being appointed Vice President and Head of Manufacturing and Outsourcing at the Busana Apparel Group in Jakarta, Indonesia – where he grew exports to more than US$50 million in six years.
A series of executive roles in clothing firms in Milan and New Delhi followed before he was snapped up by Raymond.
“I’m very happy that in the last two years, we’ve had a massive turnaround and massive growth. In fact, just to give a sense of our achievement, this year we’ll be clocking more than US$200 million in export revenues, which is the highest in our 98-year history, and double what it was before,” Bharati reveals.
“It’s been a hugely satisfying journey, having arrived during the pandemic in the middle of a leadership crisis to fill a vacuum. We’ve got the morale of the people up, reset the operations and brought in a pipeline of new customers.”
Very robust growth plans are now in place that have board approval and will build on the astonishing recent rises in exports.
In fact, the board has approved a substantial capital expenditure, which means Raymond will be able to expand capacity over the next three years through measures such as the acquisition of a state-of-the-art facility in Andhra Pradesh, 100 kilometers from Bangalore.
One factor that has boosted business is the global trend of China Plus One, where global retailers seek to broaden their manufacturing base across other Asian countries.
“When we speak to a lot of these companies, some of which are marquee brands, they’re clearly looking at a roadmap of getting out of China in the next few years, or at least reducing their dependence,” he says.
“And they’re looking at India as a very strategic country that will play a very important role in that. It’s a theme that’s gaining traction, and we’re finding more and more customers anxious to join the India bandwagon.”
Meanwhile Raymond itself has also diversified for similar, future-proofing reasons.
“Three or four years ago, we were very US-centric, and we’ve since moved a fair share of business to Europe, the United Kingdom and Japan. Broadening our market mix will help cushion us from any challenges in regional demand as we’re very much living in a VUCA [volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity] world, and that will only continue.”
But Bharati has proved adept at embracing such disruption and readying his organization for sustained growth, and such skills are set to stay very much in fashion.
A huge challenge for labor-intensive companies like Raymond across the sub-continent is a shortage of trained people-power and potential managers, a situation exacerbated by economic growth, changes due to sustainability and the increasing need for skilled digital operatives as AI and automation become widespread.
“I think the talent crunch will play at the executive and senior middle management level,” Bharati says. “So we are rolling out a program where a coach is assigned to every leader to work on their strengths and weaknesses. It’s going to be absolutely crucial over the next 18 months.”