Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 9, August 16-31, 2018

The bolts & nuts of enterprise

- S. Viswanathan

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Suresh Krishna.

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Arati Krishna.

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Arundathi Krishna

He built Sundram Fasteners as the leader in the business of bolts and nuts, metal forming and powdered metallurgy. Recently, Suresh Krishna handed the baton to his daughters, Arathi as Managing Director and Arundathi as Joint Managing Director. He had groomed them to manage the sprawling enterprise that has 27 factories, including one each in China and the UK.

Founder T.V. Sundram Iyengar pioneered the passenger transport business. Over the years, the company grew around the mother business of transport: the evolution was logical through retreading of tyres and manufacture of rubber parts, bodybuilding, goods transport and parcel service, vehicle and auto component sales, insurance, vehicle finance… a somewhat unique and synergetic evolution.

It was Krishna’s uncle, T.S. Srinivasan, who spearheaded the entry of TVS into auto component manufacture by acquiring a sprawling 300 plus acres of land at Padi, entrusting Krishna with a small-scale industrial unit in the Ambattur Industrial Estate.

Krishna who did his Master’s in literature was new to manufacturing. He learned the nuances of cold forging from the suppliers of equipment, their leaflets, as also from engineers and workers around. Soon he shifted from the modest shed to the TVS property at Padi and built it to its current stature.

Krishna’s close involvement with the CII exposed him to national and international practices. I remember his hectic schedule during his tenure as CII president. He participated in 305 meetings and had been out of Chennai over 150 days, travelling 4-lakh km. On completion of the term, with characteristic humour, he said: “each day I used to wake up at a different town to address the local chapter of CII. First I used to reassure myself in which town I was. I found my company doing even better during my absence and was worried about my job!”

Suresh is the eldest son of T.S. Krishna. Despite being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Krishna had been a workaholic and used to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. When he returned home, his father used to enquire, ‘how come you are back so soon?’ Krishna, just married, would shower, eat and then get back to work with his wife Usha at 8:30 p.m. and return by 11 p.m! Usha also evolved a business leader and headed with distinction Upasana Finance.

When Krishna came to know that many companies in the UK were asking if SFL was ISO 9000 certified, he didn’t know what it was. He read about it and brought a specialist from England to audit their processes and prepared SFL to conform to the punishing ISO 9000 standards: “our operations were already in good trim and so we got the certificate in 18 months,” said Krishna. SFL is the first Indian company to get this!

Manufacture of radiator caps for General Motors (GM), USA, was a chance addition for SFL. In 1992, GM was looking for a buyer of their radiator caps manufacturing units in England. Since they already knew SFL, they offered to sell these to SFL. Even though the company did not have any knowledge of the engineering intricacies of radiator caps, Krishna felt that this was an excellent opportunity to gain entry into GM and readily agreed. Since then SFL has been the principal supplier of radiator caps to General Motors and is a regular winner of their “Supplier of the Year” award. In addition to GM, SFL supplies a full range of radiator caps to other leading manufacturers worldwise. The dedication to customer satisfaction evident in 100 per cent defect-free and on time shipments.

SFL is the first Indian engineering company to set up a greenfield venture in China to manufacture high tensile fasteners for the Chinese and international markets. Set up in 2002 it has grown into a Rs. 250 crore business. SFL has recently announced a new 10,000-tonne capacity foundry in China at an investment of a billion rupees. The Chinese operation currently contributes more than Rs. 2.5 billion of revenue annually.

After getting ISO 9000 certification Krishna’s quest for quality got accelerated. He found the Japanese concept of Total Productivity Maintenance (TPM) an ideal tool to focus on systems and quality and invited the TPM guru Yamaguchi from Japan. He successfully took productivity of machines from around 35 per cent to over 80 per cent resulting in savings on capital investment and surging profits, attaining one of the best productivity levels in the world. Krishna refers to TPM as cleaning up of the minds, rather than of the machines or plants.

Krishna’s forte is his faith in communication. It is a regular practice for him to address his workmen at the different factories every year. There he explains to them in lucid terms the state of the economy and the work practices across the globe. The talk motivates them to excel. His constant concern for the advancement of the employees assured their loyalty and drove them to work better. This practice explains the cordial relations maintained by the TVS group he heads today with the employers and the trade union leaders for decades. Krishna used to refer with understandable pride, that his Sundram Fasteners Limited had not lost a day’s work due to industrial strife. (Courtesy: Industrial Economist).

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