rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » Business » Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Last updated on: June 7, 2011 12:18 IST

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

     Next

Next
Arijit Barman in Mumbai

For the peripatetic Tata executive, socially-relevant diversification is the touchstone of his company's growth.

For his daily fix, Ramakrishnan Mukundan loves to run at least 45 minutes every morning.

It can be ten laps at the Wankhede Stadium or on the treadmill. He has the same routine whether he is in Wyoming in Middle America or in Magadi in Kenya or even in Gabon or in any other of his international outposts.

He finds it exhilarating. "It clears your mind and sets the tempo for the day," he says.

Click NEXT to read more...


Image: R Mukundan, managing director, Tata Chemicals

     Next

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Mukundan's "short bursts of frantic travel" usually coincide with other commitments board meetings, quarterly results, global acquisitions, greenfield joint ventures and that means a wait of over a month for this lunch.

But finally, on a day when Mumbai decided to melt under the June sun, we meet at the lunch room of the Cricket Club of India (CCI) overlooking the historic venue of India's World Cup success.

"I witnessed history in the making right here! It was quite a comeback," recalls Mukundan.

CCI - one of the last bespoke lairs of the Bombay Brahmins - reminds me of the gentlemen's club culture of Calcutta.

But Mukundan chose it only because it is round the corner from the Tata headquarters at Bombay House.

Click NEXT to read more...


Image: Mithapur Plant
Photographs: Courtesy, Tata Chemicals
Prev     Next

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Mukundan has good reason for keeping me waiting for this appointment. Being the youngest managing director of the salt-to-fertiliser maker Tata Chemicals may be a prized designation, but it also means he has his mandate cut out for him to expand the business around the world and in India.

He surely has - to quote an advertising friend - made soda ash and Tata Salt sexy and added a lot of spunk to the company, but that's not enough to please him yet.

Mukundan is a quintessential Tata manager, working for its many varied businesses - shoe salesman, auto component marketer and executive with its hotel chain, Taj.

His entry into Tata Chemicals a decade ago was a result of a chance encounter with the group HR while enquiring for his son's school admission in Mumbai.

There is something inherently boyish about Mukundan. The exuberance is the same as it was three years ago when I had met him for the first time under the arc lights of a television studio.

Click NEXT to read more...


Image: R Mukundan at the launch of new Tata Salt Lite
Photographs: Courtesy, Tata Chemicals
Prev     Next

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

These were the heady days of 2008 and Tata Chemicals had just made a billion-dollar buyout of General Chemicals.

What struck me even then was his professional sangfroid and clarity of thought. It was clear then that this young executive vice-president of the chemical business was the obvious heir apparent.

But Mukundan doesn't like to wear his success on his sleeve. "We are big in maybe one or two segments [read: globally No 2 in soda ash and No 3 in bicarb]. But overall, we are still a small chemicals company. It's only the family we belong to that gives us that extra mind space. But that's disproportionate to our size."

The entrees are served. Mukundan has ordered Mulligatawny soup and I am guessing that's because he's a fitness terrorist. I take the cue and having vowed to shed some pounds, opt for the chicken clear soup.

Click NEXT to read more...



Prev     Next

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

It certainly helps to be in one company for more than a decade in multiple roles of strategy, business development and manufacturing and to also probably be a part of the gradual transformational journey that was started by Prasad Menon, managing director in 2002.

If the McKinsey-led Project Manthan was the starting point, then Swach, the low-cost water filter targeted at rural households, has been a big leap of faith.

Mukundan doesn't see it that way, though. For him, this evolution "echoes the "drumbeat of the group."

And he goes on to explain as we order our main course. I select Pomfret Gremblaise fillet with lemon butter, capers and croutons and he fish tikka, dahi and a tandoori roti.

Click NEXT to read more...


Image: Ratan Tata posing with Swach, the low-cost water filter

Prev     Next

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

"We have always been a commodity chemicals company. So we have been thinking for a while, can we be known for the effects of the products that we create?

Swach gave us the chance to be that much more intimate with the customer. And using the twin platforms of nano and biotech, we would now like to create a whole range of products and services," Mukundan outlines his vision.

"You need to be socially relevant yet commercially viable."

These are the initial touchstones but the stirrings have already begun. It's a strategy that draws inspiration from the trinity of the Hindu pantheon.

"We would like to offer a complete set of nutrients and be like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva."

Click NEXT to read more...


Image: Tata Salt, a product from Tata Chemicals

Prev     Next

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

If the seed is the creator, hugely relevant in the backdrop of food security; then fertiliser is the protector and pesticides are destroyers, just like Shiva.

This template is not exclusive for India but for most "tropical and sub tropical agro-climatic regions of south east Asia, Brazil and Africa," which Mukundan is eyeing.

Value-addition will equally be the operating construct for finding various solutions. So experiments like the launch of I-shakti pulses, to increase productivity of farmers, will only multiply.

It leverages Rallis' close connect with the farmers and blends that with the existing Tata Salt distribution network of kirana stores and modern retail formats.

Paani and dal have become big hits, so much so that Swach is being sold even in cities through Tata's electronic retail chain Croma. So will chawal (rice) be the obvious extension? Mukundan is very clear.

"We want to gradually step up our farm-to-fork model. We are doing 20,000 tonnes of pulses currently, which we plan to ramp up to around a half a million, and then explore newer products."

Click NEXT to read more...


Image: I-shakti pulses

Prev     Next

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Air pollution control is another new business model. Sodium bicarbonates (soda ash) act as air filters to power plants.

So Tata Chemicals is pursuing this venture with baby steps. "Nano has had a huge rub-off effect on all of us. We are continuously trying to evaluate new business opportunities, even for our existing verticals," he says.

The main meal ends and I readily agree to split a kulfi to buy more time. It turns out that there is more to Mukundan's life than jogging and Tata Chemicals. His office had told me he's a voracious reader and I ask him what's on his bedside table.

Having crossed the digital divide ages ago, he tells me, he's reading the e-version of the Rise and Fall of the Medici on his iPad, the result of a recent Italian holiday.

"I usually like to research a place before visiting it. But this time, I am doing it after I have come back from my holidays," he tells me.

Click NEXT to read more...



Prev     Next

Meet the man who gave Tata Chemicals a new look

Prev     More
Prev

More

For Mukundan, such breaks with his doctor wife Sheila and son Siddharth are vital, especially since his son is at an age to appreciate the different wonders of the world.

What's next, I ask him. Work takes him across continents and Kenya could be a combination of both. "Maybe Masai Mara, but when I am on leave, I prefer to avoid the Blackberry," he replies.

Since he likes to pack his day with as much as possible, his iPad does double duty as work kit and music system - a bit of jazz and pop or anything "that's light" is music to his ears.

Although he's clearly on a strong wicket, I ask him if the upcoming change in the top management of the group worries him. "Why should it? As long as the core values don't change, I don't think there's an issue."



Prev     More
Source: