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Before ADAMA India was first established in 2009, its management’s plan was to carve out a place in the crop protection market by acquiring another company. However, the acquisition did not materialise, forcing the agrichemical firm to pivot to a new, and far more innovative, plan.
The traditional model of selling the products to distributors, who would then sell to the end customer after their margin, did not suit the aggressive business plan of ADAMA. Its management needed an innovative model to achieve their goal of becoming number one in the industry.
So ADAMA (which entered the market as Makhteshim-Agan India, named after its Israeli parent company), decided to approach the Indian growers directly by nurturing thousands of close, personal relationships with farmers across the country.
The strategy was enormously successful; today ADAMA India has more than 13,000 customers and is ranked among the top three in the Indian agrichemical landscape.
“We started from scratch,” Shalabh Jain, the company’s Director of Operations, explains. “We’ve had quite a journey at ADAMA India. We are an 11-year-old company that started with nothing on the ground – it was a total greenfield project where a distribution company was established with a handful of people. Today, we have almost 670 people in our company, and a few thousand people on third-party payrolls.”
When Shalabh joined the company in 2014, ADAMA was already a reputable name in the industry. “Since then, the company has moved into a rapid growth phase and revenues have more than doubled,” he says.
ADAMA India is part of ADAMA Agricultural Solutions, whose parent company is now the Switzerland-based Syngenta Group. Syngenta is among the world’s largest suppliers of seeds and crop protection products, and is owned by ChemChina, a Chinese state-owned chemicals company.
What has been brought to our attention in the last 12–18 months is that China cannot be the single point of sourcing supplies for all our needs, and we need to have a better plan.
Over the years, ADAMA India’s strong global and Indian management have embarked on rapid expansion plans and have introduced a wide range of products across crops. The company’s customer base and partner network has also grown.
“When I got an offer from this company, I understood that it operates on a very lean structure, and the responsibility on each individual is for end-to-end delivery,” he says. “I manage the operations, except for sales, which means that I take ownership and responsibility of delivering the product to the customer, which includes last mile delivery.
“In terms of the product line, our basket of products is pretty large. We sell almost 140 product lines in different SKU units, and we are proud of it. When you have this kind of bandwidth, the flexibility to operate is enormous. This is something that most companies, if I may say, do not provide. I saw this as a big opportunity in ADAMA and have been able to successfully deliver on it and meet expectations, often even going beyond expectations.”
Over the next five to six years, ADAMA India sees itself doubling its revenue, with just organic growth. The company sees even more growth in acquisitions that will give it greater exposure to biochemicals.
“In today’s world, biological is being talked about in a very big way, and a lot of companies are looking at this option,” Shalabh says. “At ADAMA we are looking not only within India, but also globally, at expanding our portfolio to focus more on biological. This also helps us with our sustainability promise and protects the environment, which is one of our key focus areas. We see a huge potential in this space, outside of organic growth.”
Work–life balance is a very critical factor, because that gives a person the strength to be ready for any unforeseen situation. Every once in a while you can be under stress and deliver, but you cannot have that kind of life where you are working under stress every day.
In the near term, one of Shalabh’s key concerns is to deal with the global supply chain disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a profound impact on ADAMA India’s business. The company has traditionally sourced a large amount of its raw materials from China and it suffered serious difficulties after the outbreak of the virus.
“Our operations have been completely disrupted,” Shalabh says. “The current challenge is to meet the demand from customers while mitigating any risks that can be visualised today or in the long-term.
“What has been brought to our attention in the last 12–18 months is that China cannot be the single point of sourcing supplies for all our needs, and we need to have a better plan, and look at other geographies, including India.”
ADAMA India has established its state-of-the-art formulation and packaging plant in the state of Gujarat. The company is evaluating opportunities around increasing its asset footprint in the AI synthesis area which will reduce its dependency on external partners.
“Eighty per cent of our raw materials or active ingredients come from China, and that is where we see a lot of pressure and a lot of pain, which is what we want to mitigate in the medium- to long-term,” Shalabh says.
Much of Shalabh’s daily routine involves building and fostering contacts within the agrichemicals space. When he’s not networking, he devotes his time to thinking strategically about the future of the industry and the company. This, he says, is a far more valuable way to spend his time as a leader than trying to be involved with every decision his team makes. He firmly believes in the value of establishing what needs to be done and then trusting his team to find the best path to achieving it. His job is to provide the framework for his managers and then leave it to them to execute accordingly to the best of their abilities.
“I strongly believe in fostering a culture of delegation and trust,” he says. “I have a very strong and focused team under me who can sense what the needs are and what I intend to do and are able to deliver as per my expectations. I avoid micromanaging them as much as possible. That is the reason I get a large portion of my time to devote to strategy and networking.”
At the same time, Shalabh encourages his team to maintain a healthy work–life balance.
Whatever task is on hand, the endpoint has to be achieved, you cannot come with a philosophy of, ‘I am responsible for only a certain part of the work’, and then the rest is left to the other person.
“Work–life balance is a very critical factor, because that gives a person the strength to be ready for any unforeseen situation. Every once in a while you can be under stress and deliver, but you cannot have that kind of life where you are working under stress every day.” In this vein, Shalabh has a very strict rule for himself: he is never allowed to disturb his colleagues on weekends. “I take this very seriously in my role as a leader,” he says. “I might be doing my own work, but I do not like to disturb them.”
Shalabh started his career as a head of procurement, which taught him early on to always have an eye on the numbers. Three decades later, that lesson is still embedded in his mind as he runs a low-margin operation with ambitious expansion plans.
“When you’re working in a professional organisation, you must have control over your numbers,” he says. “You cannot sit in a meeting without control of numbers. This is of paramount importance and that has helped me get into the details, and to look at the numbers from a different point of view.”
One of ADAMA India’s core values, which comes from the company’s global leadership, rests on the idea of seeing a task through until the end or, as Shalabh puts it: “Getting it done.” That means never being satisfied to simply do your part and then leave the remainder of a project to be finished by colleagues on your team, or by another department.
“This is one of the values that form the backbone of how we have grown over these last few years, and how we have enriched our people in the organisation,” Shalabh explains. “In whatever work we do, we believe in the philosophy of getting it done. Every employee of the company should enrich themselves with this value. Whatever task is on hand, the endpoint has to be achieved, you cannot come with a philosophy of, ‘I am responsible for only a certain part of the work’, and the rest is left to the other person.”
It is also key for each and every team member to create simplicity in whatever work they do. “We believe work can be done in a very simplified manner; you don’t need to have very complex equations or complex processes around your work,” Shalabh says. “In fact, this can derail you, and that’s why we say that creating simplicity in your work is one of the most important factors at this company.”
I don’t consider even the smallest supplier a non-critical supplier.
Above all though, fostering success depends on empowering people throughout the organisation. Just as Shalabh avoids micromanaging his own team, leaders throughout the company are encouraged to empower their people with the skills needed to succeed, and to trust them to deliver based on the agreed framework.
“We see the potential, we draw the same framework for everyone, and then we empower them to deliver,” Shalabh says. “When we onboard people in the company, when we interview people, we explain this very extensively.”
The final ingredient that has helped create a winning corporate culture at ADAMA India is passion. “Whatever we do, we do it with full passion,” Shalabh says. “Any work, any function we perform, there has to be a passion that can lead to getting it done. We feel that globally, these basic values in the organisation give ADAMA an edge.”
While the pandemic has led ADAMA India to pursue greater autonomy in its supply chain, the company has deep and enduring ties with a large number of other companies upon which its success depends.
“In ADAMA, we don’t use the word suppliers; we use the word partners,” Shalabh says. “They are one of the drivers for our business, and until you consider them a part of your organisation, or part of your overall organisational process, you will never be able to succeed. So obviously they are one of the most important parts of our business.”
For that reason, the company has a policy against blacklisting suppliers unless there is a clear integrity issue. Instead, ADAMA carries out thorough checks on all external companies during the onboarding process to ensure that they are a good fit, and that the partnership is therefore likely to endure and be mutually beneficial.
“We have a thorough mechanism in place, and we go through a very strong process, which includes our finance team, our legal team, our operations team and our cross-functional team when we are onboarding a partner,” he says. “We make absolutely sure that we have the right people along with us in our journey to success.”
Over the course of the pandemic, these partnerships have benefited ADAMA India greatly, Shalabh says. “I believe that these partners have played a very significant role in today’s growth, irrespective of what has happened worldwide and all the setbacks. Had it not been for these partnerships, we probably would not have been able to succeed and be where we are today.”
All the ideas are coming from the field. They do not come from the boardroom.
Because of the reliable relationships they have with manufacturers, procurement companies and a host of other service suppliers, the company was able to continue its operations throughout the pandemic without having to shut down – the only exception being a few days at the end of March 2020, when India went into a hard national lockdown.
“Apart from those four days, we continuously ran our operations,” Shalabh says. “I actually sent out a thankyou letter to all these partners who have supported us throughout this journey.”
It is for this and other reasons that Shalabh refrains from categorising ADAMA’s partners in terms of their importance. In his view, they are all essential in their own way.
“I don’t consider even the smallest supplier a non-critical supplier,” he says. “For me, each one is a critical supplier because they could be supplying a very small component, or be handling a very small portion of the overall business, but without their work in the organisation, our operations could get disrupted. We consider all the thousands of our suppliers who are on board as being on an equal plane.”
ADAMA India’s relationships with its customers are just as vital. The company draws the bulk of its ideas for products and services from the farmers it serves, and follows the motto “Listen. Learn. Deliver.” in doing so.
“All the ideas are coming from the field. They do not come from the boardroom. This is what we strongly believe in. We listen to the farmers, to the customers, to the partners; we learn from them, understand the challenges and then deliver solutions,” Shalabh says. “This is the whole concept that the organisation works around.”
ADAMA traces its roots back to the founding of two companies: Agan in 1945 and Makhteshim in 1952. Both companies played a pivotal role in shaping Israel’s chemical and agricultural industries. In 1997, the two companies merged and became a global powerhouse named Makhteshim-Agan. In 2014, the company changed its name to ADAMA. It is now owned by Syngenta Group, which in turn is held by the Chinese state-owned company ChemChina.
ADAMA’s Indian operations began in 2009. Under the leadership of CEO Yossi Goldshmidt, Makhteshim-Agan India, as it was first known, started operations from a small hotel room with just a handful of employees. But it grew rapidly, and within just five years was ranked among the top three companies in its sector in the country.
The company’s mission was to get as close as possible to farmers in order to understand their needs, so it could offer them the best possible crop protection solutions. In order to achieve this, the company adopted an innovative strategy of cutting out the middleman, bypassing distributors and sending its own representatives to work directly with the thousands of farmers who now make up its customer base. This involved building a dynamic and highly engaged sales team that was ready to go out into the field and meet farmers on a daily basis.
The strategy helped generate enormous interest in ADAMA India, firmly establishing it as a major player in the country’s agricultural landscape as farmers began to see the benefits of working directly with the company that helps them to project their crops.
In 2010, the company established new headquarters in Hyderabad’s IKP Knowledge Park, where it also set up a state-of-the-art research and development facility – a first for ADAMA outside Israel. The centre is staffed with highly qualified scientists, researchers and doctorate holders devoted to finding innovative solutions to the problems facing India’s farmers.