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Fondly nicknamed ‘Man of Steel’ by his industry colleagues, Srikanth Chakravarthy has been with steel wire transformation and coating specialist Bekaert’s Indian operation for 25 years.
In fact, he and a colleague were the very first employees and tasked with building up the company from scratch in the city of Pune, a three-hour drive south-east of Mumbai.
The daunting challenge taught him skills that he has harnessed over the years to turn Bekaert into a thriving business that is taking an increasingly central role in the Belgian company’s global operations.
“I don’t think I’ve had the same job for more than three years. It’s been a privilege to experience such a variety of responsibilities within the same company.”
“For me, it was a bit of a startup experience because, before us, there was no footprint,” he recalls. “It was incredibly exciting to start from the ground up, build the brand, the sales and the top line. We were also building the manufacturing footprint and infrastructure.”
Bekaert is a world leader with 27,000 employees serving customers in over 130 countries and bringing in US$5.7 billion in annual revenue.
Nearly a third of all tires worldwide are reinforced with Bekaert products while 10 million cubic meters of concrete a year is strengthened using the firm’s Dramix steel fibers. Its products can also be found in everything from cars and trucks to elevators, mines and bridges. As its website states: “If it drives, ascends, hoists, filters, reinforces or fastens, there is a good chance Bekaert is inside”.
“We grew the team here over the years and I had a number of roles along the way,” Srikanth tells The CEO Magazine. “I don’t think I’ve had the same job for more than three years. It’s been a privilege to experience such a variety of responsibilities within the same company.”
Bekaert, too, has evolved but its core business has remained largely the same, helping it to build a reputation for consistency and quality.
“Innovation is one of our core pillars, and something we do continually. The whole industry knows it can count on us to lead in that respect. In fact, we’ve always been at the forefront of devising improved manufacturing practices and finding market solutions.
“Our people practices and the way we look at safety have both evolved, but we’re still as customer-centric as ever. Although we’re a global player, we’ve remained local, too, so we’re always where our customers need us to be with a large global footprint, which served us well during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It also meant that, when the pandemic provoked so much uncertainty in the market, Bekaert was able to respond much faster than those who had long supply chain lines.
And then, when demand suddenly rebounded, it was ready to respond much faster than anybody else so its customers were well taken care of.
“A big opportunity for Bekaert is sustainability,” Srikanth says. “We need to build our value chain so that they can contribute towards our goals on becoming more green. That will involve using more recycled material and reducing emissions.
“If you look at steel in India, we generally create over two metric tons of CO2 per metric ton of steel produced, and Bekaert has an ambition to get that down to 1.1 metric tons of CO2 globally by 2030. To do this we’ll collaborate with the steelmakers and work through strategic partnerships to make sure we’re able to get the right material to stay on track.”
Its high quality, cost efficiency and agility are some of the reasons why Bekaert’s headquarters in Zwevegem, Belgium is transferring some key activities to India, thereby increasing the scope and impact of the Indian operations within Bekaert.
“Our engineering division here already supports the company’s needs worldwide. Meanwhile IT, finance, HR and a lot of services are coming here, too. We have shared service centers for several of these as well as innovation teams for our global activities. Today, India has exceeded revenue of 2,000 crores [US$242.1 million] and employs 1,500 people directly,” he says.
“India is one of the stronger markets and a large part of our business is aimed domestically.”
“Markets around the world are uncertain right now and some have slowed down. India, however, is very robust and we’ll make sure that we have the capacities when the market needs it.”
For Srikanth, it’s about staying very closely connected to his customers’ growth plans and aligning Bekaert’s own resources accordingly. People and customers are its primary focus, as is ensuring it has the right people in the right place to support plans both within India and globally.
“Frankly, I don’t see any major roadblocks. India is one of the stronger markets and a large part of our business is aimed domestically. Our building products division, however, is mainly for export so global recessions and inflation will impact us to an extent, but we have plans to grow significantly in India, too.”
He is anticipating significant capacity expansion of up to 50 percent in the next two years for Bekaert in the tire sector, which is the biggest market segment overall. Bekaert currently operates three manufacturing plants in the country and will look at adding others when they reach full capacity.