This year, Synthite Industries marks its 50th anniversary, a major milestone for the spice producer, and one that Managing Director Viju Jacob intends to fully celebrate.
“This whole year will be our golden jubilee,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “We are planning something a little different on the corporate social responsibility side and there are a lot of other things we are planning too.”
Founded by his father CV Jacob in 1972, Synthite has long been transforming pure plant spices into much sought-after flavor and fragrance ingredients, colorants and nutraceuticals, supplying them to a variety of industries. It prides itself on the modernity and eco-friendliness of its five locations across Southern India as well as the strength of its team. Now the US$63.9 million company is responsible for more than 50 percent of spice oleoresin exports from India.
Jacob joined the company in 1984, taking the helm over five years ago although the promotion had been on the cards for some time. “It had been pre-decided by the management that I should be the managing director from 2016 because I could control the organization in such a way to get everybody on the same wavelength,” he explains.
“When I took charge as Managing Director, I made it very clear that we should conduct an analysis on the entire business. This included controlling the finances to reduce the use of bank money and to instead use our own money to do business as well as controlling the inventory to help the company grow at a better pace.”
His strategy has certainly delivered, with the company’s performance since his appointment providing the proof. “The last five years have been the greatest five years for Synthite to date, we had higher turnover and better profit margins than any other years,” he says. “The basic reason for that is control of the inventory, control of the finances.”
The company is also fast expanding beyond its South Indian roots, opening up new facilities in China, Brazil and in Germany. Although it had to abandon a factory in China due to territorial issues, it set up a raw material purchasing facility in Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
“Now we are looking for acquisitions somewhere in Europe,” Jacob explains. “At the same time, we are looking for a smaller size blending unit in the US and setting up something bigger in Asia–Pacific – for example in Indonesia or in Thailand.”
Synthite’s strong presence across its five segments facilitates this ongoing expansion, according to Jacob. “We’ve got a well-rounded portfolio in our hands so it’s easy for us to enter any market without much of a problem.”
Expected to play a starring role in its international plans is Synthite’s nutraceutical consumer brand NatXtra which launched in 2020 and this year added four new products to its range, taking it to eight in total. Currently available in India and Dubai, distribution agreements have been signed for Qatar, Sri Lanka, the US, Canada and Saudi Arabia.
“We need to continually improve because every day there are a lot of challenges coming in front of us.”
With a real estate arm, and interests in wind energy and hospitality also in the conglomerate’s portfolio, Jacob certainly has a lot on his plate. But the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic added unprecedented challenges to the mix. It was a difficult period for all, but Jacob remains positive about the experience.
“Even though it was a very tough time during COVID-19 and, at the same time, we had to implement a lot of work from home policies,” he reflects. “There were a lot of things we had to create discipline around in the company, which we were not doing earlier. So we learned a lot of new things throughout the pandemic. It was a tough time for me, but I came away from it with better ways of doing things.”
Although a time of undeniable uncertainty, the pandemic also came with its opportunities. For example, increased demand for home-dining during lockdown prompted Synthite’s Symega Food Ingredients brand to expand its culinary division.
With fresh challenges never far away, Jacob is determined not to become complacent, even as the company soars. “We need to continually improve because, every day, there are a lot of challenges in front of us,” he acknowledges. “We have to make certain decisions around our system design to ensure we can face anything.”
Shifts in the maximum residue limits (MRLs) imposed by the European Union are one such issue. “Every day, there’s a challenge because the European Union makes a difference in its MRLs,” he notes. “That’s the biggest challenge because with Indian products, when the MRLs change, it brings up lots of issues for us, and we have to ensure we are on top of it all.”
But despite this, Jacob remains very optimistic about the outlook for Synthite, citing a number of factors that are driving the company towards further successes even after 50 years. “The key to our success is teamwork,” he stresses. “We manage the organization in such a way that everything is under control.
“We use the latest technology,” he says proudly. “And it’s because of that combined with our innovations, the new plant that we have and the quality system that we discipline ourselves in that we are ahead of the competition.”