VA TECH WABAG’s operations are about more than just making a profit. The Indian-headquartered business is one of the world’s leading suppliers of water and wastewater treatment plant design, construction, and operational management, enhancing the quality of life for people in many parts of the world. For more than ninety years it has been delivering innovative technologies and sustainable solutions to utilise this highly valuable natural resource.
VA TECH WABAG is based in Chennai, India, but its origins date back to 1924 in Germany when it was founded as WABAG Wasserfilter-Bau. In 1999 there was a merger between the water technology segment of VA TECHNOLOGIE Group and Deutsche Babcock, which resulted in the foundation of the VA TECH WABAG that exists today. The European-based company experienced a monumental change in 2007 when its Indian subsidiary bought it out. This was one of the biggest reverse acquisitions ever to take place in the Indian marketplace.
“We made history, proving how a daughter company could successfully buy out its global parent company.” – Rajiv Mittal
Entering the market in South East Asia
Managing Director and Group CEO, Rajiv Mittal, played an integral role in that event. He has been with the company for more than two decades and has been involved in many stages of its evolution. “I joined VA TECH WABAG while I was living in the UK and then moved to its German headquarters,” Rajiv recalls. “I was with the Chairman one day, and he told me the company had a strategic plan to enter South East Asia in a big way. For the next six-to-eight months we worked on the plan and discussed what market we wanted to make our target. The first thing we decided was it had to be a local business, because water is local. The brand was there, the technology was there; we had everything we needed except for the local presence. With that in mind we thought about where we would send the team. Would it be China, Malaysia, Singapore, or India? India came out on top because of both the cost and the technical resources there.
“Once the decision was made that we would be based in India to handle the South East Asian market, the next decision was: who was going to lead it? My Chairman said to me: ‘Rajiv, you’re from India, you’ve helped develop the strategy for the region and the board has approved it. So now would you mind going and implementing it?’ I was delighted to return home, and that was the first part of my journey with VA TECH WABAG.”
India’s market leader
In no time the business grew to become a market leader in India, then in South East Asia, and then the world. Rajiv notes there were several key moments along this path to the top spot, for both the company and himself personally. The biggest was the aforementioned management buyout in 2005 when Rajiv had the opportunity to go from being an employee to an entrepreneur. “We made history, proving how a daughter company could successfully buy out its global parent company with ninety years of brand behind it — the references, technologies, patents, people, markets, everything,” he says with pride.
VA TECH WABAG has evolved considerably. It has built more than 6,000 plants; three R&D centres in India, Austria, and Switzerland; and is continuously developing its products and technologies.
Commitment to quality: India’s only pure play water company
And by shifting its headquarters from Europe to India, Rajiv says the company has become more competitive and is able to capture the market better without compromising any margins. “One of the biggest advantages of being in India is that you can use the resources as well as the technology,” he shares. “For instance we were able to reduce the cost of engineering without compromising the quality. We have the same software, the same systems and designs, but we are getting it done at a fraction of the cost to what we were paying in Europe. Clients are not interested in where the technology is coming from. They see the end product and that cannot be compromised. That is one of our biggest advantages in the market — our commitment to quality.”
VA TECH WABAG is the only pure play water company in India. It is 100-per-cent focused on water and this gives it a strong edge in the marketplace. Its overarching aim is to provide as many people as possible with access to clean drinking water and ecologically treated process water. To successfully do this it works with a variety of supply partners who help it to achieve its targets for profitability, growth, and sustainability. “We work on a partnership basis and we never do business for the short term,” Rajiv says. “One important partner is Endress+Hauser which has a shared mission with us, to help our customers enhance their processes, improve efficiencies, and reduce risk with best-in-class solutions and services. This has been demonstrated by working together on various projects including the domestic Ganga Action plan and various international activities in the Middle East and the Philippines.”
Entering the ‘one billion euro club’
The business sees many future opportunities in both its markets at home, and internationally, and Rajiv explains that his immediate focus is to build efficiencies within the organisation, to increase productivity, and to enter the ‘one billion euro club’. But he also recognises it won’t all be smooth sailing to achieve these goals.
“Water is becoming scarce,” he says. “It is a finite resource, not a financial source, and with the development of the emerging world people have been abusing water. We’ve always had water for free, so we think it is our right. We don’t have any responsibility, neither do we think it’s an economic good. We don’t care about it and we waste it. However, there is drought all over the country and everybody is talking about the reservoirs being low.
I think there is a concern about how to manage a limited resource like water. We still have development and fast urbanisation occurring, where the demand of water for consumer and industry needs is continuously rising. This is where VA TECH WABAG comes in as a technology partner.”
“With the development of the emerging world people have been abusing water. We have always got it for free so we think it is our right.” – Rajiv Mittal
The company has a positive mindset in place that water is too precious to be only used once. It has pioneered the concept for recycling water, including turning wastewater into potable drinking water.
Another solution has been the idea of desalination plants — facilities to turn seawater into fresh and usable water. “This needs to be our focus, coming up with alternative water sources to support economic development, and convincing the decision makers to use the resources around them,” Rajiv states. “We believe it is our obligation to plant the seeds in the leaders’ minds to help them to see these possibilities. Whether we get business out of it, or our competitors do, is not important. What is important, is that the country has these resources at their disposal, and that they use them responsibly.”