'Take Your Decision and Stick to It'
Conflict is inevitable, but the determination to stand by one's decision and see it through is the key to success.
Bill Cosby, American actor, musician and stand-up comedian, once said, "In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure."
There will be a point in everyone's life when you look for a catalyst, the thing or the person that will change your life and put you right on top. All you need is the readiness to refuse to be trapped in mediocrity.
I distinctly remember the early '90s when India had just opened up to the world. The licence raj had come to an end. A lot of Indian players had no footing due to that move, and with a host of foreign players entering the country, these establishments had slowly started to vanish. It was only those companies with solid fundamentals that survived, and few of them grabbed this as an opportunity to scale higher. Bajaj Electricals was one of them.
Even as kids, we were always taught to be emotionally strong. My father helped me become a self-reliant adult with the confidence to follow my passion and back my decisions.
Through the years of my on-ground training, I was taught to deal ethically and win the trust of partners and consumers in this way. It was through these principles that we prospered.
However, after a point, doing well was not enough. We wanted to make a difference. About a decade ago, we realised that there was a growing breed of the millennial generation that perceived life differently. The traditional methods of selling were not applicable to them, and they changed their decisions frequently. To tap this segment, we needed to reach more outlets and have an arrangement where we could replenish the products on a regular basis to suit their needs. It was then that we started looking for a radically different solution.
Around the same time, the entire senior team of Bajaj Electricals attended an event by the famous Israeli management guru Eliyahu Goldratt. He spoke about the Theory of Constraints (ToC), a method which helps you identify the weakest link in your organisation and build strength around it. I knew the implementation of ToC would change Bajaj Electricals and increase its potential tremendously. While there was a short-term risk involved, the long-term success was assured. We decided to take the plunge.
As the first measure of this implementation, we had to replace the regular forecasting model with a replenishment model. Second, we had to cut out the wholesalers and offer our products to the retailers through our distributors only. What we were dealing with was about changing people's mindset, unlearning and learning, which comes with a resistance and the whole lot of it. As Dr (Raghunath Anant) Mashalkar says, it is a conflict between the mind and the mindset.
The first furore was internal. Some senior employees felt it was a crazy idea. However, we were adamant, and as every battle pays its price, we did it as well. We lost a lot of sales and market share. We absorbed a lot of backlash for this, but the decision was made, and there was no looking back. We only concentrated on what lay ahead.
Before the implementation of ToC, we received information on inventories with a time lag. Some products that were in demand could not be made available on time due to this, resulting in revenue losses. Also, there was a problem of dead inventories which were mounting up, leading to increased working capital. But ToC changed all that. The maintenance of inventory is now happening at the right level, and the dumping of products has stopped at the distributor or the retailer level.
The next thing we did was to eliminate sales targets for all salespersons, which was unheard of. The only way a salesperson would be judged would be on the basis of the outlets he would add and the SKUs he would increase. No targets meant no dumping and no dumping meant right sales and reach. This shift from primary sales to secondary sales eventually resulted in a strong distributor network along with a strong backend distribution support. We now cover over 1,20,000 retail outlets, which we service on a weekly basis - a phenomenon we could not think of earlier.
Internally, we named this process the Range and Reach Expansion Program (RREP). I always believe that conflict plays an important role in any company and RREP led to many. But in the end, it taught us all to maintain a good balance leading to improvement in margin and sales.
Now that the consumer business was slowly shaping up, implementation of ToC in EPC came as a surprise to all of us. The EPC business was in bad shape, and we were ready to do anything that held an iota of a chance to put us back on track.
With an attitude of nothing to lose, the EPC officials welcomed ToC wholeheartedly. What was touted as a tough business, succeeded within a year of implementation. Things started shaping up and orders started flowing in. It is a miracle what one can do with limited resources. The hunger for success was so high that we outperformed our expectations. It was a bold move and today, we are on the last leg of its implementation. But what helped us through the process is the determination to carry it till the end and the ability to stand by the decision we made. I must add that Anant Bajaj, our JMD, gave rock-solid support. I also feel that continuous review was very important as it helped us identify the gaps and improve upon them on a regular basis.
This decision also improved the organisation's happiness quotient. With no sales target, there was increased efficiency and reduced stress, something Bajaj Electricals never had the opportunity to see earlier. Everybody here understands and respects and values work-life balance. It is not just a term but a way of life at the company.
When I look back, I feel I have grown as a person too. I used to empower people even before, but today I am also able to give them more room to make mistakes and learn from them.
Moreover, I have now built a second life for myself. I have enough time on hand to play with my grandson Vanraj, who is two-and-a-half-years old and who is always playful with no worries. I also make sure that I am at the dining table at 8 p.m. to have dinner with the entire family whenever I am in town (which is almost 22-25 days a month).