To give you an idea, he did not use ink or stamps of the companies he promoted for sending personal letters (integrity); his personal belongings comprised three pairs of clothes, namely, kurta and dhoti, which he changed once in three years, a pair of shoes, which he changed once in five years and a watch (simplicity). His almost obsessive focus on thriftiness in his personal life as opposed to his large heart for philanthropic work reflected the values with which he chose to lead his life. He spent his afternoons only for doing social work (larger purpose).
CIO: What effect did this ideology have on the group?
Sunil Lalbhai: I mentioned integrity as one of the qualities of my grandfather; this was not restricted only to matters of money. For example, he will do whatever he said; everyone around knew that once he said, there was no need to 'pen' it. In other words, there was a complete alignment between what he thought, said and did. Every company that he founded, conducted business with a larger purpose. In addition to the aforementioned qualities, he had another quality of respect for others no matter their position. I say, with humility, that our group today is known and valued for continuing to nurture that legacy.
CIO: How would you describe your leadership style and management philosophy?
Sunil Lalbhai: There are many possibilities to improve the existing operations of Atul Conglomerate which has a huge potential to become much bigger. This, in turn, expects us to continuously identify new initiatives in every function and then execute them. 'Hard' results will come from 'soft' leadership qualities: Promoting a working environment where the use of 'we' is more often than 'I', where we say 'let us do' than 'do', where an eye for details is the way, where decisions are invariably based on the strength of logic and not that of the position, where dissent is encouraged and where showing due respect to all is the priority. I am a student myself, but I like such people around me.
CIO: Some of your products are exported. How do manage forex fluctuations?
Sunil Lalbhai: It is imperative to have a good insight into the marketplace in order to sustain and grow. Furthermore, our manufacturing plants and sites have to be world-class as India since liberalization is not isolated from the rest of the countries. Fortunately, our founding fathers, and I wish to recall Balwantrai Mazumdar, an economist from the UK and my father, Siddharth Kasturbhai, a chemical engineer from the USA, built Atul with such great foresight that we have the flexibility to foster many changes. We have established prudent hedging policy under the aegis of our board for managing forex related risks which are there to stay.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.