Jamna Auto Industries was a drop in the ocean when Randeep Jauhar joined the company in 1988. “It was a single customer company selling a single product from a single location,” the Chair and Executive Director recalls. “Now it’s a multi-location, multi-product publicly traded company with multiple shareholders. Originally we weren’t in the top 20 or even top 50 automotive spring manufacturers in India. Now we’re top two in the world.”
The journey from a small-scale leaf spring outlet to the trusted manufacturer of commercial vehicle suspensions has been a good one for Randeep. “We always had a strategy to make it big, implement more technology, get into OEMs, start exporting, team up with a Japanese collaborator,” he says. “We knew what we had, we just had to make it big.”
Randeep’s ambition drove Jamna Auto Industries to the heights it enjoys today, but even that success hasn’t slowed him down. “We have very exciting plans, even with very disruptive times ahead,” he says. “From blockchain to self-driving cars, the kind of progress we experienced in the last 200 years I think will happen again in the next 20. But we’re ready. We have zero debt and a consistently high return on capital. Whatever we do, we won’t lose money.”
Jamna’s eight manufacturing facilities, strategically located around India, give it a footprint few of its competitors can match. “In fact, any expansion will be brownfield, so that helps us maintain profitability,” Randeep says. “And we will be expanding; we’ll be adding markets and products.”
Originally, we were a large exporter, but several years ago, we decided we’d rather be a gorilla in our own market and exports could wait.
While COVID-19 did have an impact on Jamna’s white-collar staff, forcing a 50 per cent reduction, exports remain a growth area. Although much of the world’s supply chain has been affected, Randeep says the company’s history of shrewd exporting has put it in a strong position.
“Originally, we were a large exporter, but several years ago, we decided we’d rather be a gorilla in our own market and exports could wait,” he says. “So yes, we are going to do exports because we have the capabilities, but they’re not our bread and butter.”
The disruptive force that is the electric vehicle (EV) movement will also have little effect on Jamna’s bottom line, he adds. “EVs need the same suspension as any other vehicle,” he says. “What’s more, we don’t even supply car suspensions anymore. We’re purely focused on commercial vehicles.”
That area of specialty has made business more challenging than it might otherwise be, Randeep admits. “The numbers are pretty disheartening,” he says. “Over the last 10 years, commercial vehicles have seen negative growth. The upside is we’re only working at 50 per cent capacity as a result, and we’re still making excellent profits.”
On the other side of the fence is a future of strong growth. “The Indian government is putting a lot of money into highways and roadways, an infrastructure boom that’s really taking off,” he says. “That means the commercial vehicle industry has to grow. Demand won’t be an issue and we’re a competitive player anyway.”
The lean times of late have made Jamna more determined than ever to survive and thrive, Randeep says. “Frankly, if we can survive what’s been a horrible 10 years, we’re ready for anything.”
I think you have to lead from the top, and when you do, they’re all watching you. That means you can’t give motivational lectures, then turn up late, or talk cost reduction if you drive a Mercedes.
That’s made easier by Randeep’s by-example style of leadership, which acts as a beacon for his team. “I think you have to lead from the top, and when you do, they’re all watching you,” he says. “That means you can’t give motivational lectures, then turn up late, or talk cost reduction if you drive a Mercedes. You lead from the front and by example, and if you can do that, you’ll have a motivated team.
“And once you’ve got a good team, then you need a good strategy, good controls, good technology and good products. Everyone knows that. But to have the best product or the lowest cost means having the people to help you do it.”
Loyalty means a lot in the Jamna family, whether it’s between employees or between external partners. “Most of our suppliers are 10 times bigger than us,” Randeep says. “But no matter the size, you need a human approach. You give and take.” Similarly, during the bumper year of 2019, Randeep personally handed out bonuses to every employee in every plant.
“That’s a strength,” he says. “And that’s how you build a company that will outlast you. Your company has to survive the next 100 years, so build a moat first and work on your strategies from there.”