When Sunil K Gupta read the bestselling business book In Search of Excellence, he noticed a similar thread in all the stories. “When the authors Robert H Waterman Jr and Tom Peters talked about any big company 35 or 40 years ago, they all had a superhuman behind them,” he says. It’s a familiar image – a powerful, influential figure who leads the company upwards and onwards through sheer strength of will.
Driving the vision
But now, Sunil believes “the era of the superhuman is over”. The business world of today features companies prioritising communication, interaction and collaboration. There’s no longer room for domineering leaders; instead, firm business relationships and mutual respect are integral to a company’s success.
Sunil is the CEO and Managing Director of KION India, a leading supplier of forklifts and warehouse technology in India. It was established by the KION Group (a German manufacturer of material handling equipment) in 2011, a joint venture with Voltas, and was then known as Voltas Material Handling. After the KION Group assumed sole ownership in 2012, it was renamed KION India, and today maintains a network of more than 40 channel-partners/branches and 100 customer touch-points. Sunil has led the company from the outset, and brought with him years of experience in presidential and managerial roles in various construction equipment manufacturers. Today, every third truck sold in the Indian MHE market is KION India’s.
From the beginning, Sunil believed the company had the potential to become the market leader in India, and his belief was vindicated by 2015. Sunil sees this as a natural progression, a result of KION India’s commitment to its vision. “Of course, we’re expected to do many product introductions and changes because that’s what markets want,” he says. “I was really happy with KION India becoming number one, but it happened naturally. When you’re driving your vision, then success follows automatically.”
“When you’re driving your vision, which is to become number one, then automatic success follows.”
Sunil is not, however, one to rest on his laurels. His vision sees KION India attaining an extra 5% market share by 2020. The way to do this, he believes, is through relentless innovation. “Being in a market leadership position, if you have a vision of adding another five per cent to the market share, then you have no option but to introduce newer technology and products. Otherwise, that 5% additional market share will forever remain a dream.”
Maintaining productive partnerships
It’s not only innovation that will drive this growth. Sunil’s collaborative, communication-based approach plays a sizable role in this success. KION India maintains healthy relationships with a number of suppliers, who Sunil regards as equals. Simpson & Co, for example, is the sole provider for KION India’s engine requirements and has been since business commenced in 2011. Sunil is confident that KION India will never need to seek out another supplier, such is the strength of their partnership.
“The treatment given to the dealer and supplier is crucial,” Sunil adds. “They are both partners of our business – not outsiders. We cannot be successful without them. If we want to earn a profit as a company, then both our suppliers and channel partners should feel very happy in dealing with us and be making a profit as well.”
Mutual dependence goes a long way towards maintaining productive partnerships, but openness is just as crucial to KION India. “We have very consistent, open communication with all our partners – informing them exactly what we want to do, why we are doing it, what our budget is, what’s in it for them and whether we would be able to work together on this particular project. The idea is to engage them and bring them on board with whatever we are actively sharing.”
“The idea is to engage them and bring them on board with whatever we’re sharing.”
These ideals are perhaps best condensed in what Sunil sees as KION Group’s four core values. The first is integrity, knowing the company’s pursued path is the right one to take. The second is collaboration, sharing ideas openly not just within the company, but also with partners. The third is the courage to innovate and change, encouraging diversity and not shying away from progress. Finally, excellence – as the market leaders, KION India drives industry evolution. Sometimes, a company’s self-described core values are vague and intangible. But in the case of KION India, the strategies Sunil describes exemplify a set of principles that have been efficiently and effectively put into practice.