Since Nevil Patel joined the family business in 2004, the Ajanta-Orpat Group has come a long way. “Right from being known as a wall-clock brand or maybe a calculator brand, to home appliances today contributing almost 40% of the revenue, it has been a massive diversification journey,” recalls Patel, though diversification started much earlier in 1996-97. Until 1996, the company was known as Ajanta and primarily manufactured clocks. Then it started making telephones and calculators under a new brand, Orpat. The two brands together formed the Ajanta-Orpat Group, which has now forayed into consumer appliances in a big way, expanded its distributor network and seen the overall business expand.
Today, Patel’s eyes and ears are the company’s 50,000 retailers. “A lot of insights come to us from our retailers,” says Patel, who keeps travelling across the country, meeting people, sitting at distributors’ offices, visiting retailers and consumers, to understand what is happening. “The home appliances category in India is dominated by imported brands. That’s where, with the manufacturing capacity that we have, we’ve been able to come up with products at a price range and quality which others don’t offer,” explains Patel, adding that the only challenge he faces in keeping up the business model of supplying Indian products with good quality and design, globally, at such affordable prices, is the low import duties on home appliance products. “It is very easy for companies to just import with their brand name and create a brand over here. Competition from manufacturing hubs like China or Philippines becomes very difficult to compete with,” he says. The USP of the group remains ‘Affordable products, completely manufactured in India’, supported by its 37 factories, all located in Morbi, Gujarat.
Nevil Patel rates spending time with family highest among his off-work activities. On weekends, he heads out with his younger brother to a small aero-modelling station that he has built. “I have a couple of models that I and my younger brother fly over the weekends,” he says.
Employees like family
During lockdown, Patel took extra care of the entire staff strength of 5,700, and did not lay off a single person even though manufacturing was halted for two months. In fact, he took more care of them. “Our employees were scared as to what would happen to the company. They are like family to us. Just as I’m third generation of management in the company, we have third or even fourth generation people from the same families working for us. Right from taking care of their rations to providing medical help, then starting a yoga centre inside the factory – we have been pushing our employees to a healthier lifestyle,” he says.
Today, 95% of the company’s employees are women, and interestingly, it started off with Patel’s mother joining the factory at his father’s behest to inspire women to work. “In a place like Morbi, about 30 years back, women were not allowed to go out to work. So, my father requested my mother to start working and be an example to everybody else. He literally went from door to door, to convince people that it is safe for women to work. He arranged for their transport, made sure that they have a healthy working environment. Today, we have women in the highest levels of the company as well,” Patel says.
To stay ahead of the curve
To remain ahead of competitors, Patel’s single focus remains on affordable products. “We are doing our research, but we are still looking at innovative products that the masses can afford. Everyone talks about the Internet of Things, etc., but tech-driven products are limited to very niche audiences, rather a certain class of people. We are trying to bring that sort of product to everyone in the country,” he declares. Multiple product launches are planned for 2021, among them a power-saving fan series that can be controlled through an app.
Meanwhile, the company has been exporting its products to more than 45 countries. “During the lockdown, we added another seven countries. We are in talks with three more. That’s also because a lot of countries are ‘hesitant to work with certain countries’, which you are aware of. So, they are looking at manufacturing support from countries like India,” says Patel, who believes his company can offer high class manufacturing capability in the consumer electronics and home appliances sector. Global operations contribute about 16% to the overall revenue of the company, and this year, with the addition of seven countries, Patel expects it to go up to 20%. Patel, credited with taking the group’s total turnover from Rs 200 crore to Rs 1,200 crore, aims to double this to Rs 2,400 crore by FY 2025.
The Driving Factor
“From the business side, our ability to generate employment is what drives us as an organization,” says Patel. “Coming from a small town like Morbi, it gives me immense pleasure to see women being so empowered. At our factories, women actually run the show, and that truly motivates them. Beyond a point, money does not give that sort of motivation.” Outside the realm of work, it is meeting people and learning from them that drives the Ajanta-Orpat scion. “I keep travelling. That is what keeps me going,” he says.