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“Innovation is our bread and butter.”: Kamal Taneja

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Often attributed to Confucius, this old saying sounds simple enough, yet it contains an important life lesson that Kamal Taneja carries with him every day, particularly in his role as Managing Director of Essentra Filters.

Kamal Taneja, Managing Director of Essentra Filters

“Many years ago, one of my former bosses told me that, instead of giving your direct reports food, you need to teach them how to fish, because that’s long-term versus short-term strategy,” he says. “Instead of giving people something, you teach them how to do it themselves. If you do that, they will learn from it and deliver forever.”

Describing his leadership style as “collaborative”, Kamal is a big believer in teamwork. “I’m very transparent with my team. I usually influence my direct reports rather than telling them what to do. I think giving them ownership is the key. So, when I work with them, I delegate work to them and I convince them to take ownership of the task or strategy. It gives them immense satisfaction to be empowered and to deliver on their promises. I think that’s the biggest motivation for anyone,”
Kamal says.

“This is how I keep my employees engaged, by giving them empowerment and learning experiences, and also working in a team environment. For me, teamwork is much more important than individual achievement.”

“I usually influence my direct reports rather than telling them what to do. I think giving them ownership is the key.”

Essentra Filters is the only global independent provider of filters and related solutions to the tobacco industry. Kamal joined the company two years ago, having previously spent nearly six years working in the tobacco packaging industry.

“It was a good fit,” he says of what attracted him to the role. “I was already familiar with the industry, so I had an understanding of our customers and their needs.”

Kamal acknowledges there have been some big cultural changes in the organisation over the past few years, particularly since Paul Forman became CEO in early 2017. “For me, culture is everything, and obviously with every leadership change you also have a cultural change. I’ve heard stories about how the culture has changed since Paul Forman came onboard in our company. It’s now more collaborative and engaging and there’s much more importance given to people as a resource,” he reflects.

Kamal Taneja, Managing Director of Essentra Filters

The dedicated team at Essentra Filters works hard to stay ahead of the curve in the filter industry. Interestingly, 90% of filters are manufactured in-house by tobacco companies and only 10% are outsourced. This is why Essentra Filters has such a huge focus on innovation.

“Typically, the products that our customers make themselves are simple and, therefore, easy for them to produce. The other 10% of the market that we work on for our customers is actually where all the new products, innovation and complexity comes from,” Kamal explains.

“Innovation is our bread and butter. Our customers will not come to us for any plain vanilla product. They will come to us because they know that we can supply them with highly complex and innovative products that are much better than they can make in-house, and that they will work with people who are very advanced in terms of knowledge and technology. So, innovation is our core value proposition to our customers.”

“Our customers will not come to us for any plain vanilla product. They will come to us because they know that we can supply them with highly complex and innovative products.”

In order to provide their customers with high-quality, complex and innovative products, the team at Essentra Filters works closely with key suppliers. “Collaboration with our suppliers is very important because, when we create new products, we need support fromour suppliers as well to deliver unique products to our customers,” Kamal notes, adding that the process for developing new products can be quite lengthy, requiring input from both suppliers and customers.

Essentra Filters often begins dealing with a customer long before it starts supplying products to them. “We work with their designers to develop new products,” Kamal says. “So we do designs, samples and testing for them, and finally we deliver the product they need from us. So, it’s a whole value chain that we work on with them.”

During the past couple of years, Kamal and his team have focused on improving the company’s operational excellence, including product quality, safety and on-time delivery. “We are very serious about safety. For more than a year now, we have had zero safety incidents at all of our sites – nothing,” Kamal says proudly.

“Also, we measure our quality by complaints, and in five billion cigarette sticks, we have only had two quality incidents. The other measure that we have is OTIF, or On Time In Full. We are currently running at 99% OTIF, which means that when we tell our customers we’re going to deliver this product on certain dates, we are 99% accurate.”

Although Kamal acknowledges that worldwide tobacco sales are declining, he believes there are plenty of opportunities for Essentra Filters to defy the trend and continue to grow.

Referring to these opportunities as “game-changers”, Kamal says these are focused on growing the business in China, increasing the outsourcing market and developing next generation products (NGP). “Our first game-changer is about getting a footprint in China,” he says.

“We have nine manufacturing sites across the world, but we do not have a local production site in China. Second, we only operate in 10% of the market, so we want to convince our customers that filters is not their core business and that we can help them to deliver better products at an effective price. The third game changer is NPGs and looking at how we can become a supplier of choice for e-cigarettes and the heat-not-burn market,” he explains.

“Essentra Filters is a very innovative company. We really work with our customers to help them deliver better-quality products and innovative products that differentiate them in the market, and we will continue to do so in the future.”

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