Perspectives from ISB

During a workshop organised by the Special Interest Group (SIG) of MFAB, Indian School of Business (ISB), in Kolkata, a prominent family business owner was invited to speak on how he grew his business from 100 crores to 1000 crores.

Siddhartha Churiwal, MFAB (Founding Batch Co’2014), and Director Churiwal Technopack Pvt Ltd, also sat in the audience. At one point, the speaker talked about the reasons for his success, one of them being decision making. He referred to his dependence on his father for decision making even in the smallest of matters. Such dependence posed a challenge for him who should take the credit for success and who should be held responsible for the failure. One day he decided to cut the proverbial umbilical cord and stopped going to his father for any decision making. That way he knew who would be responsible for the decision, whether good or bad. It helped him become better at his decision-making capabilities.

‘I was experiencing the same situation. I would also seek my father’s advice even for making the smallest of decisions which I should have taken on my own. I often wondered, “Was my decision right because of me or because of my father or was it a combination of both?”’

‘I spoke with the speaker later and he told me that if you are passionate about a decision, go for it. It was a valuable lesson that I have since started practising. The SIG groups are a good learning experience. Thanks to ISB Community for organising such workshops where candid conversations are possible.’

Siddhartha, a computer science and engineering graduate from Penn State University, USA, is the third generation in his family-owned business that deals in manufacturing of Jute bags and PolyPropylene (PP) bags. The Jute manufacturing unit in Kolkata has about 4000 workers. The almost seven decades-old business was begun by his grandfather in the 1950s. Siddhartha worked as a programmer/analyst in the US and returned to join the business in 2008 and started handling sales and production. He wanted to enrol for the PGP programme but increased business responsibilities deterred him, and in MFAB he found the best option available.

During the programme, he interacted with other business owners of his cohort intensively and learnt from them about their businesses, for example, about FMCG and how its dealer network functions or for that matter how an iron and steel industry operates. The learning was enriching. Siddhartha’s class had business owners ranging from revenue of 1 crore to 1000 crores.

‘The business challenges we face depends on the scale of business. Usually, the issues I face in my business are not a problem for businesses with higher revenue. They have solved those issues long back. Their problems are bigger, something we can’t even fathom.’

Negotiation was a subject he particularly found useful in the PGPMFAB curriculum. ‘I learnt many techniques and I apply those often because I engage in several multi-party negotiations. I extensively use the tools and techniques taught. Thanks to ISB I have also started to use a scheduler now to help me prioritise tasks and organise myself better.’

The smooth transfer of the baton from one generation to another has seen the business operate smoothly. His father, who spearheads the business, is an open-minded person and is a believer in results and not just in the beauty of an idea. ‘When we moved away from Tally to SAP it was a greater struggle to convince the employees than convincing my father.’ The employees protested because they were accustomed to a particular tool, but my father was swayed by the outcome. He is a hands-on person and wants us to dirty our hands if we must prove the efficacy of an idea. ‘Quality is a value treasured within the family. We are not ready to compromise on the quality at any cost. Values ingrained by the forefathers haven’t changed, but the way of working has.’

When his father took over the reins, there was a significant investment in upgrading the machinery to enhance productivity. Siddharth and his brother have brought in systems and processes, and technology, for greater efficiency. Data is being migrated online. ‘Now we can access data from anywhere. While there was a little resistance from my staff earlier, everyone now agrees that it was a good move. We do not disburse salary in cash anymore. The money gets transferred to the employees’ bank accounts.’

Jute and PP bags are a safe industry and being related to the packaging of agricultural items will never go out of demand. ‘The government of India mandates that rice, wheat and paddy be packed in jute bags. Earlier we were only into manufacturing jute bags but with the increasing usage of PP bags we diversified to meet both the demands.’

The School is like an ocean of knowledge and the extent to which you want to draw out of it depends entirely on your thirst for the knowledge. Each of us has the same amount of time and what we make of it depends on us. ‘Keep an open mind and engage with other students, get to know them better.’ By being a part of the ISB alumni fraternity, Siddhartha says, one gets a sense of belonging, and initiatives by the School make it possible to bond and interact more with a fellow alumnus.

– Siddhartha Churiwal, MFAB (Founding Batch Co’2014), and Director Churiwal Technopack Pvt Ltd