This year marks Rupak Sarkar’s 42nd at ITD Cementation India, but ever since he first walked through the doors of the Mumbai-headquartered construction business, it has been owned by a series of globally renowned and reputed parent companies. And, in many ways, that’s given him the sense of having spent his career working for businesses around the world.
“I joined this company immediately after graduating from engineering college,” he tells The CEO Magazine. Back in 1981, owned by Britain’s Cementation Company, the company was known as Cemindia.
“Our presence was very limited in Indian infrastructure and now we have a foothold in almost every sector.”
Over the years, it changed hands four times, most recently in 2004 when Italian-Thai Development (ITD) took ownership from Cementation Skanska, an ownership structure still in place today.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many international organizations as our parent, and I’ve learned so much from them. That’s why I love this company and why I’m still here,” Sarkar explains.
Back at the beginning of his ITD Cementation journey, as a small construction business it was only active in limited sectors, he recalls. The company’s primary activity was in concrete piling, and the annual turnover was around US$2 million.
Coming into the fold of Bangkok-headquartered ITD, one of South–East Asia’s leading civil engineering contractors, triggered the start of an impressive growth spurt. Today, ITD Cementation Cementation offers design, engineering, procurement and construction services across private and public-sector projects in markets such as airports, highways and bridges, hydroelectric projects, industrial and maritime structures and mass rapid transit systems.
For Sarkar, this diversification has been the most significant change he’s seen during his time at the business.
“Our presence was very limited in Indian infrastructure and now we have a foothold in almost every sector, except for nuclear and oil and gas,” he says.
Of course, such an impressive transformation in core business activity has also driven bottom-line growth with a turnover now of around US$491 million.
It may have taken four decades to grow from US$2 million to US$481 million, but Sarkar and his colleagues are ambitiously targeting a figure more than double that in the short-term. It’s this potential that was behind his decision to step into the role of Executive Vice President and COO.
“We’re expecting to reach 9,000 crores [US$1.1 billion] in the next two years because there are a lot of opportunities in the market,” he says.
“I see huge opportunities in infrastructure.”
Much of this projected growth is driven by government policy and the investments it is making, the funding of up to US$1.4 trillion of infrastructure projects across the country between 2019 and 2025, and the Maritime India Vision 2030, a blueprint to grow its maritime sector.
Beyond that, there are the airports slated for construction or flagged for modernization, railway networks planned for expansion and mass rapid transit systems on the cusp of being commissioned.
“There will be no dearth of work in the coming period, especially since, as the country looks to continue to develop, these infrastructure projects have to continue,” he says. “There’s no doubt that plenty of jobs will be coming. I see huge opportunities in infrastructure.”
The team has plenty of work to keep them busy. Current jobs include the Chennai Metro, Bangalore Metro, Kolkata Metro and two major greenfield airport projects in Trichy, Pune and a renovation project in Ahmedabad.
If the last four decades with ITD Cementation have taught Sarkar anything, it’s that what’s most important for a business in the construction industry is liquidity.
“You can have the profit in the books, but if you don’t have the liquid cash with you, running a business in this market is very difficult,” he says.
It’s definitely a period of bountiful business opportunities. At the same time, however, Sarkar is aware that there is no shortage of competition vying with ITD Cementation for its share of the domestic pie.
To offset that challenge, Sarkar explains that a strategic decision has been made to increase its footprint overseas, especially in cases where the project is funded by the Indian government or the EXIM Bank.
There is also a concerted effort being made to “strategically tie up” with all the big conglomerates, such as Reliance Industries, PSA Singapore, DP World, ArcelorMittal and the Adani Group, to name a few, and become their preferred contractor.
ITD Cementation is already seeing results.
“Recently, we completed a port project in Myanmar under the Adani Group,” he says. “It was our first international exposure.”
The successful completion of this project has given the team the confidence they needed to go after further opportunities abroad, and now others are in the pipeline.
“We have also recently secured a port job in Sri Lanka and, following that, a project in Bangladesh and the Maldives,” he syas.
“That we could complete that job successfully, with a high standard of safety, quality and customer satisfaction, as well as profit, has shown us that we can compete overseas and that’s why we are now venturing to nearby countries,” he says. “We will be trying for similar hydro projects in Nepal and Bhutan. First, our neighbors, and then, slowly, we want to go further.”
“That we could complete that job successfully, with a high standard of safety, quality and customer satisfaction, as well as profit, has shown us that we can compete overseas and that’s why we are now venturing to nearby countries.”
Beyond expansion into new markets, Sarkar adds that ITD Cementation is also eying entry into markets where there are fewer competitors, such as defense, offshore construction, high-speed rail tracks and prefabricated housing structures.
“We are also planning to reinforce our piling business by venturing into new segments such as very large diameter marine piles,” he says.
Looking to the future, ITD Cementation has made its intentions clear.
“We want to be the market leader in all infrastructure with a high standard of safety and quality,” Sarkar concludes. “We will do whatever is possible to achieve this.”