In the ever-bustling journey of life, automotives and tyres have a significant role to play. Larsen & Toubro Rubber Processing Machinery (L&T RPM) has a very strong connection with the beautiful journey of life and travel. That’s because it equips the production lines of some of the world’s biggest tyre brands.
“Name 10 global tyre-makers and seven would be our customers,” General Manager and Business Head Kalyanaraman S declares confidently. L&T RPM’s international customer base spans across 46 countries and brings in around 40% of its revenue. In India, where the firm has its main plant and head office, its presence is even stronger.
“Every single tyre manufacturer here is a client of ours.” Kalyanaraman carries a huge responsibility on his shoulders to keep the world’s cars on the roads. “Our clients’ expectations are high and we have to live up to them,” he says.
Fortunately, he is a man who takes every challenge in his stride. After all, as a loyal 30-year employee of the company, he can be said to have gone through thick and thin with the business. Even COVID-19 had him unfazed.
“Life continues. We are already constantly dealing with the regular challenges any business faces in the marketplace,” he says. “Every industry goes through cycles. Before the pandemic, the automotive industry went through a global downturn and its effects were felt in the tyre industry. The coronavirus is an interim disruption that will pass and is not something that will affect our long-term growth in any way.”
Larsen & Toubro is an Indian multinational firm with interests mainly in construction engineering and manufacturing, although it also dabbles in IT, finance, real estate and technological services.
Kalyanaraman joined in 1991 in its Welding Products division, before moving into a leadership role as Head of National Sales in the Valves Business after seven years. He became a part of RPM in 2014 as the General Manager, Marketing.
In 2017, he took on his current role. Kalyanaraman says that L&T RPM is growing in all segments of the tyre industry, whether it is a scooter tyre, passenger car tyre or bus tyre, or even bigger off-road tyres on vehicles used in construction, mining, or agriculture.
“We are in all these areas and the challenge is to remain in them, grow in them, and keep our people involved in them. This has been the overall challenge.”
Pandemic or not, the plan is to continue on a pathway of uninterrupted horizontal expansion. L&T RPM was originally founded as a business specialising in tyre curing presses, which are used to give final shape and tread patterns to tyres.
In recent years, under Kalyanaraman’s leadership, the firm has ventured into manufacturing tyre building machines. This includes the Build to Print concept, which creates customised machines that are built to unique specifications as set out by the customers.
This solution has proven to be especially popular among the bigger customers, as global businesses often want to be able to manufacture tyres with strong branding.
“Whenever customers look for joint development for products that are not available or for support in adding adjacent capabilities to their existing plants, L&T RPM has been their preferred business partner,” Kalyanaraman reveals.
“Not only does it give the firm a larger product portfolio, it also gives our employees opportunities to work on new aspects of engineering, and on developing new products. It is a complementary effort that not only benefits the customers but also us.”
L&T RPM is keen to establish itself as an end to end solution provider for all machinery and systems, from raw material to the final finished goods required by a tyre plant. Employee development is always on Kalyanaraman’s mind, and he sees taking on new, interesting projects as an important strategy for doing this.
“We are a team of more than 350 people and keeping them engaged and upgrading their skills is an ongoing necessity.” Early this year, he conceived the ‘i20 in 2020’ project, which encourages employees to contribute ideas for, say, new products, auxiliary attachments for existing machines or new service and assembly approaches.
A team has been formed to evaluate all contributions and decide which ones get put into practice. “By December 2020, we should have at least 20 ideas that have been converted into additional business opportunities,” he says.
We don’t just want to deliver equipment. We want to deliver solutions that are truly valued by our customers.
During the coronavirus-related lockdown period, however, Kalyanaraman had to get creative with employee engagement. “I took advantage of technology to provide Anytime Learning modules for all employees. We were all required to complete 40–50 hours of training so that by the time operations were resumed in a phased manner since early May 2020, we had clocked a few thousand hours in re-skilling ourselves,” he describes.
Simultaneously, to remain close to its customers in a time of social distancing, L&T RPM launched a series of webinars that were customised to each individual client or company to encourage knowledge sharing.
It also took advantage of the downtime to revisit every single work process, updating or redeveloping them with the latest improvements and feedback from clients. Looking into the future, Kalyanaraman predicts that the Internet of Things will become increasingly important and is gearing up the firm to embrace it.
Kalyanaraman prides himself on being an equal opportunity employer, who makes a conscious effort to build a diversified team. “We have executives who are fresh out of university and have a lot of flair and ambition,” he says. “We have people who have a little experience and those who are highly experienced. What we try to do is to give the right assignments to people based on their profiles and their preferences.” Having hired a new generation of engineers earlier this year, the issue of employee retention is currently on his mind. The company has even gone the extra mile to address an issue that the employees didn’t even bring up – the provision of accommodation and food for those who are not from Kanchipuram, the city where its plant is.
Then, there are the efforts to improve gender diversity, which started a couple of years ago when Kalyanaraman ramped up the recruitment of women. “Today, we have an enviable number of female employees on the shop floor, so much so that there is an electrical panel shop that is 100% managed by women,” he says. “Our approach to employee satisfaction is multi-prong. First, by way of good communication, we share the business plans and needs while recognising our people’s expectations and how we can meet them. “Second, we provide challenges that fulfil our employees’ professional aspirations. “Third, we anticipate even the untold needs and wants of our staff.”
“We want our machines not just to undertake the operations the client has programmed it for, but to deliver value over expectations,” he says.
“IoT will really come into play in terms of measurement and control of various machine performance parameters including the consumption patterns of power, steam, water, nitrogen and others. It can also be used for predictive maintenance.
“These are all factors that will take the business in the direction we want – a higher number of offerings as well as better predictability, versatility and functionality of our machines. We don’t just want to deliver equipment. We want to deliver solutions that are truly valued by our customers.”
Kalyanaraman believes that by striving to provide the best solutions and services, L&T RPM will naturally carve out a spot for itself in the market.
“We are a firm in India competing with tyre machinery manufacturers in Europe and the Americas, which are technologically driven, as well as those in China and Taiwan that are cost-effective. Our position is clear: we are in the middle ground and positioned to deliver the best of both worlds. We need to create technologically sound products economically.
“We want to be a true value provider so that when our customers think about any machinery requirement, L&T RPM is the first name that comes to mind. This is the enviable position I want the firm to attain. If we take care of our customers, they will take care of our business.”
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