Borosil Managing Director Shreevar Kheruka's gesture of declaring company support and two years of salary to families in case employees pass away due to COVID-19 has been winning the Internet. Here, Shreevar Kheruka recounts in his own words his journey of joining the family-owned business after studying in an Ivy League institution in the US, overcoming multiple challenges and steadying the ship with his focus on customer-centricity and empathy
When Shreevar Kheruka, Managing Director of Borosil Limited, declared company support and two years of salary to families in case employees pass away due to COVID-19, the news went viral. His heartfelt note on LinkedIn mourning the death of four employees and pledge to stand by their families has encouraged many others to follow suit, but his decision remains a path-breaker. “I try and keep my ear close to the ground,” says 39-year-old Kheruka. “What I sensed while talking to my team, was a dramatic decrease in enthusiasm between April 10 to 25, as they were all struggling to cope in this environment of negativity. I found out that while they had the fear of getting COVID, nobody had fear of dying. Instead, their worry was: ‘What will happen to my family?’ I figured that I had no power over COVID, but I could provide a solution for what would happen to families. We decided to give two years of salary to every employee’s family in the unfortunate instance of demise due to COVID. In addition to this, the education of the children of the employee will be paid for till graduation in India.” Kheruka had a town hall meeting over Zoom to convey the decision to employees, post which the news won the Internet. About 1,400 permanent employees of the company are covered under this policy, and it is being extended to seasonal contract labourers too on a case-to-case basis.
Here, Shreevar Kheruka recounts in his own words his journey so far.
JOINING THE BUSINESS
I went to school at Campion and then Cathedral in Mumbai. Then I went to the University of Pennsylvania, where I did a dual degree - Bachelor of Science in Economics, as well as Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. My aim was to understand the world, and also to understand people - what really motivates them, why people act differently when faced with the same situation. So, I learnt international relations with sociology as well as human behaviour, linked to psychology. I had started working at Monitor Group, a consulting firm in Boston, when I got a call from my father, saying that he wanted me to come back to work at Borosil, the family business. I was a bit reluctant, but I returned and joined Borosil in 2006. It was a much smaller company then, and it was very confusing for me as I had to figure it all out myself and learn on the job. Of course, I had grown up on dining table conversations around the business, and thus had a pretty decent understanding of it. So the business aspect was not difficult, but the people aspect had many challenges – how would senior employees address me, much younger in age, and with much less experience; should they report to me, and so on. I had no idea.
BOROSIL: THREE VERTICALS
Consumer products: Kitchen storage, tableware, kitchen appliances, cookware. Borosil is the glassware and steelware brand while Lara by Borosil offers dinnerware.
Scientific products: Laboratory glassware, laboratory instruments such as shakers, stirrers, centrifuges, etc., glass ampoules and vials for packaging medicines (currently being used for Remdesivir as well as COVID vaccines).
Solar products: India's only producer of glass for solar panels.
In the first 2-3 years, we were drifting sideways. By 2008, we had been hit with one crisis after another - electricity prices went up, customers complained, because we weren't able to ramp up production in time, and there were labour challenges. Because of the increase of input prices and higher competition, the margins were negative and it was a very stressful cash flow situation. Our site itself was in a very challenging location in Mumbai, and there was no permission to expand, so increasing production was difficult. For some time, debt was mounting and it was like an inflection point for me, both personally and professionally. By that time, I had understood the business even better, and understood the customers by visiting a lot of them. The Borosil brand was very strong, our distribution partners were loyal to us, and we had a very high emphasis on quality. It became clear to me that we needed to change our focus from being a production-centric company to a customer-centric company. From having much older people who were set in their ways, we got a whole bunch of younger people who were willing to question the status quo. Meanwhile, I travelled to many parts of the world to understand what our competitors were doing and the business model they were following. Finally, things fell into shape. We developed many new products, increasing our production. We started a new plant at Bharuch in Gujarat, and got into new product categories, spent more on research and development. We started looking at new channels of sale, including large format stores and later e-commerce. Then we started a marketing department to research customer behaviour and understand what they wanted. It started feeding into new product development. We used to start with production review earlier; now, we were starting with sales review. It changed everything in the organization around 2009-10 and became the starting point of what you see Borosil as today. Our scientific and industrial products as well as consumer products come under Borosil Limited, which is a listed company. Solar products come under Borosil Renewables. Back then, our revenues were Rs 70-75 crore for our consumer and scientific divisions; now we are at Rs 600 crore. Solar products add another Rs 500 crore today to take total revenue to roughly Rs 1,100 crore, compared to Rs 120 crore earlier. The growth potential of our brand is extremely strong within our three segments, so we are not looking to diversify to any new verticals.
THE ROAD AHEAD
While COVID has had an impact on all the three arms of the business, we have seen a bounce-back too, thanks to a diversified product portfolio. We lost on sale of lunchboxes, but we gained in appliances. We lost on general trade, but we gained on e-commerce. There’s actually a growth in Q3 of 2020 vs Q3 of 2019. Sale of COVID-related products such as Remdesivir and vaccine vials, have increased. So, our scientific division has actually seen growth over the previous year and is likely to see steady growth going forward. The solar division has grown too, as it has nothing to do with COVID, per se.
I think Borosil has the potential to be a multi-thousand crore company. Personally, I've been privileged to have good education and a great family. I should do what I can to give back, both to my company as well as to society. I talk to my grandmother every day and she always says one thing: “Wherever you go, leave it a better place after you visit it.” So that's something I have taken to heart.
Trying something new all the time drives me. Experimentation is part of my nature. When you experiment, you are open to failure. But I don't get too bogged down by it. So I can keep trying new things and if things keep failing, it doesn’t get me down. I'm happy to keep looking at new ways of doing things.
IN MY FREE TIME…
I love playing tennis and watching sports. I also ski. I went to Kashmir in February for skiing, and it was unbelievably beautiful! I have three kids, and being at home, I get to swim and play cricket with them. I've been reading a lot too. Right now, I am reading ‘Land of Seven Rivers’ by Sanjeev Sanyal. Before this, I read Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.