Month: July 2004

The Joys of Friendship

The Joys of Friendship

Friendship, it is said, is like a violin; the music may stop now and then, but the strings will last forever. This truth of this statement is reflected in what happened last week in a small apartment in Thane’s Bhaskar Colony.  

Last week, when Pallavi Phansalkar from Thane won the gold medal for topping the M. Com examination at the University of Mumbai, she least expected the manner in which her achievement will be celebrated.

Suresh Phansalkar, Pallavi’s father has a group of friends who completed their B.Sc together. He and six others graduated in 1970 from Jhunjunwala College in Ghatkopar and have remained friends ever since, meeting regularly with their spouses and family.

On hearing the news of her feat, one of her father friend’s Ninad Srikrishna Athalye, decided to surprise her by organising a visit to her house along with all her father’s friends. On Saturday evening, six of her father’s friends and their wives paid a surprise visit to Devdutt Society in Bhaskar Colony, where the Phalsankar’s stay and and performed a private felicitation followed by celebrations. Time has only strengthened the bond between these friends, who find joy in the each other’s happiness and that of their families.

Pallavi, who was a student of MCC, secured 76 per cent in her M Com examinations. "Pallavi was always good in studies, but topping the University is no mean achievement. We thought we should celebrate this occasion by doing something different. After all, she is as much a part of our family," said Athalye, who runs a chemical business in Thane.

On Saturday Pallavi must have learnt a few lessons in true friendship from her father’s friends, which only reemphasises what writer Douglas Pagels said, "A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be."

Envirovigil: A Green Organisation

Envirovigil: A Green Organisation

Thane-based Enviro-Vigil, also known in Marathi as Pariyavaran Dakshta Manch, is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the cause of environment protection. They have initiated various innovative projects since it was informally set up about five years ago, when a few good men from Thane decided to come together to do something about the increasing threat to our environment. Today, Enviro-vision (E-V) works in the areas of environmental education, water management, rain water harvesting, recycling, forest conservation, bio-medical waste, waste management, and organic farming.

"It all started in 1993, when I was conducted a few seminars on the traffic situation in Thane. I invited people to share their ideas to improve Thane traffic situation and received 170 suggestions in response," says Professor Vidyadhar Walawarkar, one of the trustees of E-V. Later in 1998, after the road-widening project took off, Walawarkar undertook an extensive survey to study the problems of heavy traffic congestion on the major city roads and heavy pollution thus created by these vehicles. This project not only studied the problems but also suggested definite, scientific, and concrete solutions to those problems. The project report revealed that in five years, from 1993 to 1998, the number of vehicles in Thane grew six times! With the help of Dr N T Joshi, a former member of the Pollution Control Board, Walawarkar compiled a book based on the findings of the survey which was presented to K P Bakshi, the then Commissioner of Thane Municipal Corporation. So impressed was Bakshi with E-V’s work that he suggested the NGO take up another, more difficult problem of dealing with bio-medical waste.

The nature of the waste generated in the hospitals and clinics is different than the waste generated in other establishments – it contains toxic and hazardous substances including pathological waste, disposable plastic items and metal sharps (injection needles, knives etc). Many of these substances and items are contaminated can pose serious threat if left unattended. Dr Vikar Hajirnis, current president of E-V, says, "Bio-medical waste has to be handled and disposed of scientifically, especially since the laws governing bio-medical waste management are rather stringent." Since no information was available on the quantum of such waste generated, E-V began by surveying the hospitals in Thane. Then, they trained hospital staff to segregate the waste into septic and aseptic, at source. Today, E-V manages bio-medical of more than 500 hospitals in Thane, Mira Road, Bhayander, Vasai and Virar. Special vehicles collect the waste, which is later shredded or incinerated according to its type. Special equipments, like a three-chamber incinerator, have been installed to treat the toxic bio-medical waste.

At any given time, E-V has a no. of ongoing projects. For instance, E-V is trying to save a human made forest situated on the outskirts of Thane city at Gavali Dev, behind the now shut NOCIL factory. The forest project which NOCIL and BAIF initiated by planting 150 lakh seedlings, had been abandoned after NOCIL’s closure. E-V has trained 2000 patients at Thane mental hospital to make paper bags which can used to replace plastic bags. E-V sells these bags to encourage the use of paper bags. The money earned is returned to the hospital either in cash or kind. E-V’s school of environment in Thane has 40 students, who learn all about the environment and how to conserve it. E-V encourages youngsters to take up "green careers" – those who love the environment can actually spend their time close to it and also earn money. E-V is also setting up "Institute of Waste Management" in New Mumbai which will begin courses in January and will be the first such institute to impart formal training in waste management. E-V also publishes Aaple Pariyavaran, a monthly Marathi magazine that creates awareness about environment. Every year during monsoons, E-V works actively to channel the rain water for effective use. Last year, rain water harvesting was carried out in 22 buildings in and around Vasant Vihar. This year, they are planning to channel water into 800 tube wells – a really large project.
E-V has many more projects in pipeline, all at various stages of development, and all with only one objective – to save the Earth from monsters such pollution, toxic waste et al. You may contact E-V on 25400012.

Freedom and responsibility

Freedom and responsibility

During morning peak hours, a local that starts from Thane is usually full of people even before it reaches Thane, because people get in at Mulund and Bhandup and travel backwards. Now this is nothing new for daily commuters. But on Monday, this regular phenomenon caused a bit of confusion among a couple of fresh-out-of-school College kids. These kids had assumed that they will easily get a place to sit in a local that starts from Thane. But when the train arrived and they boarded, the poor kids were disappointed and perplexed, wondering aloud why the train was crowded. What the girls probably didn’t realise was that this was just a precursor to what lay in store for them out there in the real world.

The kids were in class XI in the reputed St Xavier’s College in South Mumbai and had passed out from Holy Cross Convent High School, an all-girls school in Thane. From their conversations, it appeared that they had lived and studied all their lives in Thane. The freshers were curious about college life and speculating about the unwritten protocols of the college life – the speculations pertained to everything from class attendance, professors and assignments to dressing styles, dealing with the opposite gender, college festivals and other co-curricular activities. I could emphathise with these girls because many years ago, passing out of St John the Baptist High School, I went to Jai Hind College. And just like me, these girls from Thane were undoubtedly entering a whole new world – a world that they are totally unfamiliar with, a world full of surprises, some pleasant and some not.

Each year, as the new academic year begins, the students who are most eager, apprehensive, and excited are the ones who are going to college for the first time. These girls were not any different. The change is more exotic and sweeping for students who have lived and studied only in small, self-sufficient city like Thane and suddenly find themselves in an alien environment of a south Mumbai college. The change is even more extreme if students have been never been to a co-ed school back home.
In spite of these major changes, most students look forward to college life. After being in the protected and restricted school environment, you want to enjoy freedom that college life offers. Finally, you can do away with your boring uniforms and wear what you like. You can enjoy the loose schedule and the freedom to decide which lectures to attend and which to skip. You get choose your electives and thereby decide which way you want to go with your education. In short, college is the most exciting time in your life – a time of freedom, a time of choices. But it’s is important to understand that with freedom comes great responsibility. That’s the important thing about college. It prepares you for the real world, where you take responsibilities for your own actions. Nobody’s going to be looking over your shoulder. You are finally going to make independent decisions – decisions which could shape your whole life. College is a place where you can discover your own vision of the future, your dreams. For those who are sacred at the prospect of suddenly being on your own and surrounded by new teachers, new students, new subjects and new a totally environment, think of it as an opportunity, not a threat. An opportunity to learn, grow and ultimately conquer your dreams.

Special thanks to special teachers

Special thanks to special teachers

Guru Purnima is observed across India as the day when disciples honour their Gurus, and students honour their teachers. The tradition was started by the disciples of Sage Vyas, who celebrated Gurupurnima by visiting their Guru and worshipping Him on his Birthday. Thousands of years later, the student-teacher relationship remains one of the most respected and cherished. But some student-teacher relationships are more special than others. Like those between special children and their teachers.

On July 02, 38 teachers and five principals from special schools were honoured at a programme organised to recognise and appreciate their efforts. The occasion was Guru Purnima and the programme was organised by the Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills.

The programme was held at the premises of Jidd School and principals, teachers from special schools Snehadeep, Jidd, Kamalini and Zaveri Thanawala participated. The chief guest was veteran teacher from Thane, Ashok Tilak, who is the former principal of Saraswati Secondary School (Naupada). Tilak has been teaching in Thane for over 36 years and has won several awards including the National Award for best Teacher in 1995, presented by the then President of India, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma. The Guest of Honour was social worker Sunanda Patwardhan who is the principal of Deaf and Dumb School at Jawahar and is actively involved in helping adivasis. More than 100 parents of special children also attended the programme.

At the programme, Tilak praised the efforts of the teachers and also spoke about his personal experience with special children. He revealed that his sister is mentally challenged and therefore he shared the grief and plight of parents of special children. He said that as compared to a few decades ago when joint family was still the norm and it was easier to look after a special child, it is much more difficult in today’s world, which is dominated by the nuclear family system.

The programme was the idea of Sharmistha Choudhary, the president of Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills. Sharmistha thinks that teachers of special children are doing a fantastic job and they deserve to be appreciated. She said, "I was a teacher at Sri Ma Bal Niketan School and I know how difficult it is to manage even normal children. So when I saw these teachers selflessly working for special children, I was moved. But I was aware these teachers rarely get recognition for their work."

The teachers and principals present at the dais seemed happy. Principal of Jidd School, Shyamshree Bhonsle, said, "These occasions give us reason to cheer. The day was special. Most of our children, especially those who are mentally challenged, are incapable of understanding the concept of Gurupurnima. Yet, when our efforts are recognised by parents of the children and the society, it feels good and motivates us to do even more."

Teaching is a noble profession, they say. But teaching special children is perhaps the noblest of all. On behalf of all special children and their parents, we take this opportunity to offer a special thanks to all their teachers.

This happens only in Thane

This happens only in Thane

When Bal Suranchi Mehfil gave their first performance in the last week of May, nobody had anticipated that the all-child orchestra will be received so well. Today, the group is receiving invitations to perform not just from around Thane and Mumbai but from cities all over Maharashtra – Pune, Nasik, and Ratnagiri to name a few. The orchestra is unique because it has 60 child artists from Thane city, aged between five and 15 years, working in harmony, to pack a three-hour entertainment programme with Marathi folk songs, modern songs (including film numbers), traditional folk dances like lavani, solo-act plays, and more. There are seven singers, 35 dancers, 2 mono-actors, and 16 instrument-players in the orchestra. The show is directed by Professor Mandar Tillu and the music is arranged by Amish Kondra. The child-orchestra is an initiative of Thane Bal Samvedana, an organisation for children in the field of performing arts and culture.
Although the producers and the director are adults, everything else is carried out by the kids themselves – singing, dancing, instrument-playing and solo-act plays. For instance, Adit Pandirkar does a four-minute long mono act, while Bhairavi Goregaonkar enacts a short extract from the play "Tee Phulrani" written by the legendary playwright P L Deshpande and immortalised on stage by the late Bhakti Barve. Even the compere is a 12-year old girl named Skhada Patkar. Although the show, which popularly known as Marathi Vadyavrinda, is performed entirely by children, it is by no means meant only for children. People from every age group enjoy the orchestra and in fact are also in awe of the performances of the kids.

The husband-wife duo of Vinod and Varsha Pandirkar decided to produce this show because they found that many children are gifted with different artistic faculties but they don’t get the opportunity stage their talents. And if the reactions of the audience are any indication, then the talent is amply demonstrated. In the inaugural show at Gadkari Rangayatan, producer-director Ashok Hande (of Mangal Gani Dangal Gani fame), was all praise for the professional way that the show was presented. Hande said in his speech, "I have been in the business of stage shows for 14 long years and I haven’t been able to achieve what these kids have in such a short period of time. This can happen only in Thane."

It’s true that the city’s vibrant heritage stimulates and encourages innovative initiatives like Bal Suranchi Mehfil by Thane residents. Hande statement echoes the sentiments of thousands culturally conscious residents of Thane who witness many such initiatives that are organised in the city time after time and then say: "This happens only in Thane!"

Sevadham: Inter-faith power

Sevadham: Inter-faith power

Since its inception in November 30, 1991, city-based NGO Sevadham has been organising programmes for the welfare of the poor, marginalised and deprived women and children. Its first project was a healthcare centre, which today operates independently, as do many other projects initiated by Sevadham in the past decade or so. The organisation works, or has worked, for the welfare of tribal children, convicted women serving a prison sentence, street children, and many such other neglected segments of the society.

Sevadham was founded as an inter-religious group with an underlying philosophy of mutual respect and appreciation for all faiths. Tabbassum Sheikh, Late Francis Linhares, Abraham Menezes, Shamshuddin Sheikh, Sudha Bhave, Veda Rebello, Marcus Alvares and Dominic Pereira were among the founding the members of the group. To underline the inter-faith belief, Sevadham organises three to four meetings every year to promote respect for all religions. These meetings are held on special days like festivals and important holidays and take place in worship houses of various faiths: a Hindu Temple, a Jewish Synagogue, a Sikh Gurudwara, and so on.

Among the various projects that Sevadham initiates periodically, those that deserve special mention are welfare of women convicts and development of tribal people. Sevadham reaches out to women in Jails of Thane, Kalyan, Nasik, Byculla and Pune. It organises educational workshops, provides legal intervention where needed, offers counselling to depression cases and regularly distributes old clothes to serving a jail sentence. "Recently we have begun a "Beauty Culture" course for women convicts, which trains them in basic beauty skills and certifies them so that they can use these skills to earn a livelihood after completion of their sentence," said Bernadette Pimenta, an active social worker and one of the founding trustees of Sevadham. The group also endeavours to rehabilitate many such women, although they admit it is a difficult task. Each year, Sevadham also celebrated Women’s Day in the prisons.

For tribal children, Sevadham organises food supplies (meals), educational programmes and developmental activities such as excursions to various places in the city and beyond. Recently, Sevadham helped a tribal boy get admission in class six in Thane’s MH School, a first-of-its- kind achievement for the NGO.

Sevadham keeps its financial requirements to the minimum and that is usually fulfilled by friends and well-wishers of the trustees. It networks closely with many other NGOs and social units such as Karuna Kendra, Bhartiya Mahila Federation, Joint Action Awareness Group (Jaag), Commission for Inter-religious dialogue, Justice and peace commission, and the women cell of Thane Police. They are helping AGNI to open its office in Thane.

Along with this network, Sevadham conducts various socially relevant programmes. For instance, street children project was started along with Father Degama and NGO Aasara. The project, which involved identifying street children and providing them with education, food and shelter, is independent. Today, there are several homes for street children. Another endeavour of Sevadham is the pro-life programme, which is conducted in various schools to spread awareness about AIDS, prevent chemical dependency (drug abuse) and deal with other issues that affect young people.
What’s next? Sevadham will continue to serve the deprived and the marginalised. For instance, it is planning to work in the remand homes for the welfare of juvenile delinquents. Starting July, every third Saturday of the month, Sevadham will organise healing sessions in Thane Mental Hospital which will use play therapy and music therapy to comfort and heal mentally disoriented people. "Soon, we also plan to start a Day-Care centre for the mentally challenged people," Pimenta added. The list of Sevadham’s social projects is endless and so is the compassion of its volunteers.

Vitamin King

Vitamin King

On his early life and his foray interest in Vitamin technology

I was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1931. After partition, my family moved to India. In Pakistan, my father ran one of the biggest wholesale and retail pharmacies of the time. In 1956, after my B.Pharm, I left the Indian shores and went to London for higher education. There I acquired a post-graduate degree in pharmacy before proceeding to Germany for my doctorate in Medicinal Chemistry. After a brief stint in Germany where I worked as a professor, I returned to India, got married to a medical doctor and worked with the AIIMS as a research scientist for two years before returning to London where I joined a pharma publication in an editorial position. It was a journal that published a compilation of abstracts of world patents in medicine. Almost all major pharma companies in the world were subscribers.

As a young research scientist at AIIMS Delhi, I observed anomalies in the administration of some of the most basic vitamins and minerals. The iron administered to patients at AIIMS was at least seven to eight times more than the recommended dosage. I decided to study this subject further and that’s when my interest in Vitamins and Nutrients developed.

On how he set it up Vitabiotics

During the late sixties, I suffered from persistent mouth ulcers. I had tried lots of medicines, but nothing had worked. Finally, after having suffered for about five years, I had decided to find a cure himself – after all I was a qualified pharmacist. I invented a medicine which worked wonders – used it a few times, after which my mouth ulcers vanished completely never to return again. I applied for a British patent for this new cure for mouth ulcers and got it. Then, I tried to sell the patent but did not find a buyer. So I decided to manufacture and distribute the product myself.

Having studied pharmacy locally, I was familiar with the local market. I also knew that people often relied on pharmacists for such common ailments as headaches and ulcers. So I packed a dozen units of Oralcer in neat boxes and sent them to all the local chemists along with a letter and a return stamp and address. I said in the letter: "You know that nothing works for ulcers. This is the first treatment in the world that will work. If you’re happy, you sell the product, and if not, you may return the box. Only ten per cent of the boxes came back. The rest of them sent repeat orders." This was the beginning of Vitabiotics. Then, when I visited Nigeria, I noticed that there was a market for multivitamin brand there and decided to introduce a multivitamin supplement. I developed an attractive packaging for the brand and called it Omega-H3. Today, Omega H3 is the largest selling nutritional supplement in several countries around the world.

On his awards and his source of delight

I have received four awards in the year 2003. The first among the awards was The Queen’s Award for Enterprise bestowed by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in recognition of the company’s remarkable contribution to International Trade. Then there was the Asian Achiever’s Award for Trade and Industry followed by Entrepreneur of the Year in UK sponsored by British Telecom and GG2. And most recently in December 2003, I received the Asian of the Year 2003-2004, awarded by the Asian Who’s Who.

I was reluctant to accept the Asian of the Year award this year as I thought that it would be one award too many in a single year. Yet I was persuaded to receive it this year itself. Awards are fine…however, my true source of delight is the positive feedback I receive from the thousands of users of my products from across the world about how the medicines are benefiting them.

I remember an incident of a young girl who attempted suicide because her mouth ulcers were so bad that she felt that "life was not liveable." Her desperate attempt came after nothing had cured her. Then she was given Oralcer, and her condition improved immediately and gradually she was permanently cured. These and many other episodes are what make me really happy.

On his conviction in the power of nutrients

There are countless instances of our products working where traditional formulations have failed. I truly believe that natural ingredients like vitamins and minerals can prevent and cure of a range of health issues, from common ailments to lethal ones like AIDS. Combined in accurate quantities, they can cure as well as, and sometimes even better than, traditional medicine.

Not only that – our formulations are very safe as they are made from natural products, whereas most traditional medicines have counter effects. Take for instance Menopace, a pioneering product we developed – the first non-HRT remedy for menopausal women, which is today a market leader in UK. Today HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) is under serious clout. Doctors and scientists across the globe are questioning the use of HRT remedies.

What drives him…

Certainly not profitability – we sacrifice a lot even today. We don’t jump into something simply because of a fad. It’s true that success would have come to me quicker if I was more businesslike. But that’s not been my philosophy. If I am not satisfied, if I am not sure that a product will truly benefit people, I will not get involved in it, even if trends suggest that it would be profitable to do so.

I voluntarily price my product low in the developing countries. And I simply do not distinguish between nationalities when it comes to charity, social service or financial assistance of any kind. I donate money and help needy people wherever they are.

About two years ago, a young English man aged about 24 years, came to Kulu Manali for an adventure trek. While paragliding, he was lost. His mother was a nurse and father was school teacher. The boy’s parents contacted the British High Commission for assistance who in turn contacted the Indian High Commission. They were told that the search operation would cost them a lot of money, which they could not afford. When I read about this in the newspapers, I instructed my secretary to locate the hassled parents and then sponsored the entire search operation for two days. Although the search did not yield the desired results (the boy was unfortunately never found), at least the parents were satisfied that a serious attempt had been made.

On his lifestyle

I live a simple life. Nothing extravagant. I love the old and the historic. I am fascinated by antiques and ancient works of art such as ivories, furniture and paintings. This (pointing to a painting on the rear wall behind) was a jackpot! She is Gayatri Devi painted by Augustus John. I bought it at an auction in the UK some twenty five years ago. Nobody there seemed to know who she was – they referred to her as "some Indian princess". Augustus John was one of the best-known English portrait painters during the early part of the 20th century. He painted many wealthy and important people and Her Highness Gayatri Devi was certainly one such person.

I’ve also got a collection of historical books, with some amazing insights into times gone by, illustrated with beautiful sketches. These days I am co-writing a book about the role of British in the history of India.

On his children

The success of my children makes me a proud. My eldest son, Ajit Lalwanii, who is a medical doctor at the Oxford, has achieved a rare distinction of inventing a test for tuberculosis which has 99 per cent accuracy with the results being available on the same day displacing a hundred year old test that required six days for a result and has an accuracy of only 80 per cent. You see, TB was not a disease of the developed world, so multinationals never took it seriously. My younger son is now the head of marketing at Vitabiotics a
nd is doing very well.

His vision for India

I think that India’s future can be bright if only our literacy rates could go up. With a population like ours, if every earning Indian would set aside only one day’s income for a charitable purpose like education, India could attain hundred per cent literacy in five years.

Any regrets in life?

None at all. I am 72 now and I have lived a good, contended life. But I have dreams that I’d like to see coming true in my lifetime. Like Vitabiotics becoming a major International player and India’s rate of literacy nearing 100 per cent.

Heal and hearty

Heal and hearty

Every year, at this time of the year, devotees numbering in hundreds of thousands, participate in a procession called Ashadi Ekadashi yatra, which is one of the oldest and also among the single largest processions in the world. Also called the Wari procession, it starts at Alandi and culminates with the darshan of Lord Vithal and Rukmini in Pandharpur on the Ashadhi Ekadashi day, which fell on June 29 this year. The procession lasts for 21 days and covers a distance of about 250 km with devotees walking barefoot through the hilly path.

With a procession of such large magnitude, eventualities of various kinds can be expected, medical contingencies being on the top of the list. To deal with these medical problems, Thane-based NGO Sahayadri Manav Seva Manch (SMSM) has been organising medical camps for the benefit of the devotees. 20 km after traversing the Ghats, when the procession reaches a place called Saswad on June 14, about two dozen selfless volunteers from SMSM greet them. This year too, a team of seven city doctors and 15 para-medicos conducted a free medical camp, from 9 am to 6 pm, which included free medical check up and free medicine. The procession spent around 24 to 36 hours at Saswad and during this time, SMSM volunteers examined and treated close to 3,000 patients. "As usual, most of the complaints were due to over-exertion, exhaustion, dehydration, malnutrition and so on. Some cases required minor surgeries too, which were performed by qualified surgeons," says Avinash Korde from SMSM.

Once again on June 22, the volunteers left Thane for Pandharpur, to hold camps at various sites along the path of the procession. For four days, the team of doctors and para-medicos from SMSM treated patients and distributed free medicine to those who required them, making the devotional expedition of thousands of people free of discomfort. In lieu of fees, the volunteers happily accepted the blessings of the devotees.

Work is worship
While lakhs of people were marching towards Pandharpur, little devotees from Saraswati Mandir Trust’s Pre-Primary School at Naupada took out their own little procession outside the school. Two children, a girl and a boy, were dressed up as Vithal and Rakhumabai, and the remaining students (numbering approximately 400) formed a procession similar to the one in Pandhardpur, and danced and sang praises of Lord Vithal as they marched towards the school.

The school dedicated the day to Lord Vithoba as teachers explained to the tots from junior and senior KG, the significance and historical perspective of Ashadi Ekadashi and why it is celebrated. The children learnt how Vithal, fondly called Vithoba, accompanied by his wife Rakhumabai, has been worshipped for centuries throughout Maharashtra, and why great saints like Tukaram, Mirabai and Janabai worshipped Lord Vithal. The children learnt important lessons from the stories narrated to them. For instance, from the story of Saint-Poet Tukaram, who was Lord Vithal’s devotee, and believed that work is worship, the children learnt that worshiping God does not mean leaving all worldly duties and heading off to the Himalayas – it means doing whatever you do, with love and complete concentration.

Low penetration means big opportunity

Low penetration means big opportunity

Manoj Khatri: What are the principal drivers that influence the underlying profitability of the brown goods industry?

Gulu Mirchandani: In the current market scenario, where the value erosion stands at 15 per cent for 2003-04, it is increasing becoming difficult to hold on to the bottom line. Nevertheless, the following are the key drivers of profitability in this industry:

Volume Growths: The low penetration levels of these products is a big opportunity area and the industry is strongly taking this route of increasing the production and sales volumes in order to make the most of the economies of scale. With increasing consumption, the raw material prices have been moving southwards, thereby enabling better profitability

Product Mix management: The challenge is to be able to have a healthy mix of high-end products contributing to the bottom-line. This can only be achieved by offering products which are unique and where the customer sees value in his purchase. The customer is ready to pay more if she feels that she is getting something, which will improve her life and enhance her lifestyle.

Product Innovations: It is also important to catch the changing trends in consumer lifestyles and offer the right product at the right time. Basically, we must innovate on a continuous basis in keeping with the changing consumer needs and to differentiate in the market.

Operational efficiency: It is important to gain overall operational efficiencies like inventory management (Overall inventory less than 15 days), debtors management (Ideally nil bad debts and zero days operation). A good, committed and loyal network also contributes significantly to the bottom line.

Manoj Khatri: Which forces (macro as well as firm-level) are likely to play a major role in shaping the future evolution of the consumer durable industry, say, with regard to growth in demand or introduction of new value propositions?

Gulu Mirchandani:Growing disposable incomes and the low penetration levels: Substantially low levels of penetration, coupled with the growing disposable incomes, will ensure greater share of wallet for the consumer durables industry. The changing lifestyles of the consumers will generate demand and need for this products. The new markets and the resultant demands will be strong influencers on this industry

Opening up of the market/easy access to multi optional inputs: With enhanced possibility of better and easy cross border talks with the suppliers worldwide, the range of offerings has gone up while the cost is coming down

Entry of new players: With the number of players increasing, there has been more action throughout the year and the industry has a buzz around it with constant high pitch communication from the industry to the consumers.

Technological advancements: Innovations and inventions will play a major role in shaping of this industry’s future. Technological advancement has always been at the back of most of the peaks in this industry’s growth. Right from the introduction of colour picture tube to the recent technological advancement of CRTs becoming pure flat, technology is the prime booster for this industry. Advancements in future technologies like the LCD panels and DVD recorders and the like will critically impact the industry. It is expected that by 2008, 33 per cent of the worldwide demand will be met by LCD TVs and Plasma TVs.

Manoj Khatri: Given the competitive scenario in most brown goods segments, what are the central challenges an electronics company like yours must address, in order to retain its price competitiveness and market share?

Gulu Mirchandani: The core to handling various market challenges is to protect the bottom line while being competitive in the market.

Constant Product change: It is critical to have constant newness in the consumer benefit offerings so as to be relevant to the consumer and to be differentiated against the competition. Also, it is important to have low turn around times on the creation of benefits for the consumer, in order to be effective and ahead of the competition.

Operations Integration and Efficiency enhancement: In order to get better return for the inputs, organisations will have to look at integration on backend (components required for the making of the product, logistics etc) as well as the front end (customer touch points, direct sales etc)

Brand Positioning: Every purchase of the consumer is not guided by the cheapest of the prices, but by the benefit that she perceives for the investment planned by her. Hence, it is critical to be appealing to the image seekers while being relevant to the value for money seeker. With lifestyles improving and becoming important to individuals’ personalities, the brand’s positioning and its relevance to the consumer will become more important than ever before.

Customer Relationship Management: The experience that the consumer goes through during the entire purchase cycle and the post purchase usage experience is critical to the organisations’ future business. Managing customer relations and the experience that is offered to her throughout will be a challenge for all players.

Channel Management: A strong influencer on the buying decision is the network, and the organisation that manages the network better, has a substantial edge over others.

Manoj Khatri: What broad strategic initiatives were affected during the last few years by Onida in order to exploit any opportunity that the market offered and also hedge against any underlying risk? To what extent have these initiatives benefited Onida?

Gulu Mirchandani:The past couple of years could be termed as the most dynamic years in the history of this industry. We have witnessed the rise of MNC brands and its adverse effect on the Indian counterparts. Many Indian brands have become almost extinct. We are probably the only Indian brand who have not only survived but have grown during this period. Today, Onida enjoys a high brand salience and is seen as a trusted and reliable brand, with a very high degree of product satisfaction among its users. These have been our key focus areas where we have taken major initiatives. Today Onida offers three principal assurances to the consumer, which is key to our success:

Brand Image – A TV today is a lifestyle statement for the consumer and hence the brand must evoke that sense of pride of ownership in the consumer. At Onida we truly believe this and hence over the years we have been investing on making the brand more modern and contemporary. Today, we enjoy top-of-mind recall and our being among top three brands of the country proves that our investments on the brand have been worthwhile.

Product – TV is seen as a high-tech product with a high risk of obsolescence associated with it. Hence a consumer tries to buy the best at the time of purchase. Onida lagged behind a bit on this parameter primarily because of the delay in introducing flat TVs. However the brand has greatly regained its technological edge in the recent past based on strong focus on Onida Black, the flat screen TV, and today we are at par if not better than the multinationals in this segment. For very high-end consumers who value technology and who would like to have nothing but the very best, we are in a process of introducing plasma and rear-projection television, which is the latest technology available anywhere in the World. Onida is a brand where lot of action can be expected in the very near future. We will touch consumers at all levels and if one is looking for any product related to consumer electronics and home appliances, Onida will definitely change his world.

Service and Quality – Given that TV is a high-ticket purchase, the consumer needs a strong reassur
ance from the brand in terms of reliability. Longstanding brands that have proven track record of trouble-free product performance score on this parameter. Onida is seen as one of the most reliable brands in the TV category and we keep quality at top of our priority list. Like any product, electronic goods suffer wear and tear. It is how fast you address the problem that is important. We believe a satisfied consumer is the best brand ambassador we can get.

Manoj Khatri: Against the backdrop of slackening of demand in many categories of brown goods in recent times and entry of powerful MNC competitors, how are you redeploying their resources * be it with regard to ad spend, sales promotion, distribution channel or sales organization * with a view to maintaining a threshold level of growth in both top and bottom line?

Gulu Mirchandani:To start with, unlike the overall brown goods industry, colour television industry is growing and we expect the market to grow by 10 per cent this year. Industry CAGR as of now is 15 per cent, with all India-penetration of 18 per cent. So there is a huge potential in this market. Even in the metros, the opportunity is huge, with a penetration of around 40 per cent. Therefore, the industry is definitely poised for growth. The major part of the industry is expected to come from the black and white up-graders. Hence we have special focus on this segment. Our distribution strategy is to reach the rural markets and hence we have our sales and service teams spread across India through 30 branch offices, 150 service centres and 35 godowns. We are also looking into our distribution network and trying to seek other opportunities to increase penetration. Our advertising will also be focussed on both the bottom and the top end of the consumer triangle so that we get the best of both – the replacement and upgrader segments.

Another key area that we are redeploying our resources is our new businesses. We have just launched air-conditioners, which have been accepted very well among the consumers. This category is expected to grow at a very high rate in the years to come, and we expect to be among the top brands in the air-conditioning industry. We also have plans to re-launch washing machines in a big way this year. We are targeting 7-10 per cent market share in washing machine business, and have very strong marketing plans to achieve the same. Over all the brand is in the upswing and as of now we are among the top 3 brands in the country. Financially we are clocking profits every year, unlike many multinationals, which somehow lose focus on the bottom-line in their mad race to achieve market-share. So overall you can say we are having a healthy profitable growth both in terms of top and bottom line.