When Sachit Jain arrived on the scene it was the catalyst for a dramatic turnaround of Indian textile juggernaut Vardhman Group’s steel offshoot. At a time when textile growth was front of mind for the entire company, Sachit accepted his charge and applied a lifetime’s worth of lessons to the struggling Vardhman Special Steels, eventually leveraging a turnover of US$56.7 million into US$180.2 million.
“I brought in a growth mentality,” he says. “We didn’t just want to be India’s number-one special steel company, we wanted to become a world-class company. When I came in, I started spending a lot of time on the ground. Motivation levels grew, communication improved; suddenly the entire team could see that yes, there was a future for us.”
“When I came in, I started spending a lot of time on the ground. Motivation levels grew, communication improved; suddenly the entire team could see that yes, there was a future for us.”
Where you go once you’ve revived an ailing business is a quandary faced by rehabilitative leaders all over the world, and there’s no easy answer. Unlike a doctor, who simply moves on to the next patient, a CEO’s role post-renewal is one of constant aftercare and future planning.
For some, this is beyond their scope. It’s not what they signed up for, and they quickly begin looking for the next opportunity. For Sachit, it was when the fun began.
“To be a world-class steel company, you have to make proper investments in rolling and non-destructive testing lines,” he says. “You also have to export.”
If the former was a risk (and it was: “We invested US$23.3 million at the time, and for a company whose net loss was US$1.57 million, that was huge”), the latter seemed like downright madness. “We started exports and everybody said we were crazy,” Sachit recalls. “From Ludhiana, we were sending all our goods all the way to the port, and then exporting them. People told us it was unviable, but I was determined to figure out how to make money out of it. We started small, but we got there.”
The third decision Sachit made once the company was on its feet was finding a world-class partner to share the spoils. “We felt we needed a Japanese partner because India’s auto industry is dominated by Japanese companies,” he says.
“I told them to start looking at productivity engineering. Dream about anything, put all your dreams on paper – and then work towards achieving those dreams.”
Eventually, Vardhman Special Steels partnered with Aichi Steel Corporation (ASC), which is part of Toyota Group, in 2019. “They’re not just a partner, but an automotive quality specialist that in our opinion is probably the best company in the world in our area of business,” he shares.
At the same time, Sachit encouraged his team to increase production beyond what Vardhman Special Steels had accomplished before. “I told them to start looking at productivity engineering,” he says. “Dream about anything, put all your dreams on paper – and then work towards achieving those dreams.”
It was a case of leading by example for the Vice-Chair and Managing Director. “Taking this role was a chance to implement my style of management in the company, and my way of management was a bit different from that of our Chair,” Sachit says. “He and I had discussed things, and he’d given me complete freedom to run the company the way I felt was right. To be able to implement my views, my philosophy and my vision without any interference from head office was big.”
And it has paid off. “We have achieved all the things I set out for us,” Sachit says. “We’re on a growth path. We’ve changed much of the culture in the company and will soon be exporting to several destinations, including Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, the Middle East and the US.”
But past is prologue, and Sachit believes the next three years will be the most crucial in Vardhman Special Steels’ history. “We’ve grown a lot in our current location,” he says. “We’ve taken sales from 60,000 tonnes when I took charge in 2010 to about 170,000 tonnes now, and we’ve invested to further increase sales to 260,000 tonnes in the next three years. We have to exploit this location to its fullest potential.”
Once Vardhman is able to get its steel approved by Toyota, Sachit expects exports to surge. “Currently, exports make up five-to-six per cent of sales,” he says. “Once we have approval from Toyota, any Japanese company will completely accept our products. We want to increase that share to about 20 per cent of sales, and for that we have to upgrade our quality to meet the requirements of the Japanese market.”
Sachit’s plan to achieve that quality boost is to complement Vardhman’s existing plant with a new facility that will take production to 800,000 tonnes. “Once we reach our desired level of quality, there’s nothing stopping us. It’s not going to be an easy task, but then I’ve never looked for those.”
That’s what success looks like for Sachit; but what it feels like is something entirely different. “It’s a feeling of contentment, of peace. You sleep well, you can enjoy life. You can spread happiness beyond yourself, you can add to people’s lives or alleviate their unhappiness. That’s success for me.”
“Once we reach our desired level of quality, there’s nothing stopping us. It’s not going to be an easy task, but then I’ve never looked for those.”
It’s a philosophy that trickles down to how Vardhman Special Steels treats both its customers and its staff. “Yes, we have fast service and a product that’s always improving in quality, but we take the time to listen to our customers and understand their problems,” he says. “It’s similar to our employee engagement, we listen and adjust accordingly.”
After a lightning decade at the top, Sachit has galvanised the fortunes of Vardhman Special Steels, but he believes the next 20 years will be even more important.
“We have the world’s best company as a partner. That’s a killer clincher; no other company in our sector can touch us now,” he says. “It’s going to be a good time for Indian manufacturing overall, but for us it’s going to be something very special.”