“We are very bullish about growth and have plans to strengthen our position through timely capacity additions in the near future.”
Born to teacher parents in a town named Dharwad in Karnataka, Mr. Vadiraj Kulkarni studied Chemical Engineering from Regional College of Engineering, Warangal (now known as NITW). His journey with ITC began when he joined the erstwhile ITC Agrotech Ltd. back in 1996. He moved to ITC’s India Tobacco Division in 2001 and he became General Manager, Operations-Tobacco Division in 2013.
In November 2015, Mr. Vadiraj moved to Paperboards and Specialty Paper Business as Executive Vice President responsible for Manufacturing, Projects and Business Excellence. He took over as the Divisional Chief Executive of Paperboards and Specialty Papers Business with effect from September, 2020. Prior to this role, he was Chief Operating Officer of the business since November 2016.
He has worked across Agri, FMCG and Paper businesses across various locations in India, amassing a wealth of expertise in supply chain, manufacturing/operations, technology management, skill development, strategy formulation, sustainability, and Industry 4.0. His optimism and zeal shows when he talks about the vision he has for the Company’s further growth and correspondingly, as he charts his views about the indispensable steps to transform the Indian paper industry as globally competitive.
In a conversation with Paper Mart, that was both germane and freewheeling, Mr. Vadiraj Kulkarni, Chief Executive at ITC-Paperboards & Specialty Papers Division, talks about the newly added responsibilities he has on account of being the Chief Executive, the growth path of ITC-PSPD, and the capacity upgrade project of the pulp mill. Further in the conversation, he also presents his views on the ‘Make in India’ initiative, the strategies to boost growth of the Indian paper industry and reduce dependence on imports.
Paper Mart: Taking the helm as CEO of ITC-PSPD, what add-on does it get on the platter in terms of roles and responsibilities?
Vadiraj Kulkarni: In addition to the P&L responsibility and managing all the functions, to enable effective strategy formulation and execution, the new role comes up with the additional responsibility of chartering the future in terms of growth strategies and choosing suitable vectors for enhancing profitability.
“ITC-PSPD has always built capacities in line with the projected demand through the rebuild of existing machines and addition of new machines, across its portfolio.”
PM: With this evolution and change, how do you conceptualize the growth path for the ITC-PSPD?
VK: With the economy recovering post COVID-19, the paper industry is poised for healthy growth in line with projected GDP growth for the country. In addition, export opportunities too, are seemingly on the rise.
ITC-PSPD has always built capacities in line with the projected demand through the rebuild of existing machines and addition of new machines, across its portfolio. Thus, we are very bullish about growth and have plans to strengthen our position through timely capacity additions in the near future. Our growth story is also anchored on developing bespoke products in the paperboard segment, thus, providing superior value to our customers.
PM: The Company has recently announced that it will be investing around Rs. 2,500 crore into the paper and paperboard business and expand the production capacity; please elaborate further on this and relate how important you think this move will be in driving competitiveness and growth?
VK: We have just completed the virgin paperboard machine capacity upgrade project and we’re about to commission the machine. This should immediately help us capture the growing demand of paperboards. Our project to set up a first-of-its-kind high pressure recovery boiler is progressing well, despite disruptions caused by the pandemic. Moreover, the pulp mill capacity upgrade project is underway and we hope to commission the plant, sometime in the year 2022-23.
“The pulp mill capacity upgrade project is underway and we hope to commission the plant, sometime in the year 2022-23.”
PM: With the upsurge in awareness about sustainability in packaging, the paperboard, and paper-based packaging segment has witnessed sharp growth; what are your projections about the further growth of the sector and the ways in which you have strategized to capitalize on the opportunity?
VK: We believe that this category offers a great opportunity for paperboards, specialty papers and paper industry. The industry is poised to significantly contribute to enhancing the circular economy quotient, thereby helping deal with the adverse impact caused by plastics in packaging and other industries.
There has been a keen interest, expressed by global majors in alternatives to plastics. The experience of COVID-19 pandemic on the world has further provided a fillip to this sustainability movement. At ITC-PSPD, we have been at the forefront of developing sustainable packaging substrates. We have met with early success and hope that our capabilities in product development, strength in R&D combined with synergies with ITC’s packaging and consumer businesses will aid our growth in this space.
PM: ITC has always been at the forefront in adopting many path-breaking technologies? Kindly elaborate on some of the recent ones?
VK: Yes, we believe that absorption of the world’s best technologies in manufacturing and experimenting with new technologies – enabling quantum improvements will help our business reap the benefits in terms of quality and cost. Our recent investment in a state-of-the-art paperboard machine is delivering some of the finest products in the category. The investment in high-pressure recovery boiler (project under way), will boost our sustainability quotient by substantially reducing coal consumption. We have also experienced significant benefits by adopting Industry 4.0 technologies (IIoT, Machine Learning, Advanced Analytics, Image Processing etc.) in various areas of operations.
“At ITC-PSPD, we have been at the forefront of developing sustainable packaging substrates.”
PM: What is your outlook on the ‘Make in India’ initiative for the sector? Also, what do you think are the prerequisites with regard to investments and policy framework to develop a globally competitive domestic supply chain in the Indian paper industry?
VK: As various industries want to contribute to this noble mission, so should the pulp and paper industry. We must reduce our dependence on imports and enhance our competitive advantage. Beyond the economic benefits to the industry and country, the paper industry with its integrated pulp mill(s), adds enormous value in creating farmer livelihoods and generating farm income in remote and backward areas. It also aids in the sequestering of carbon through the plantation programs.
“Our recent investment in a state-of-the-art paperboard machine is delivering some of the finest products in the category.”
Going forward, the industry can become a change agent in developing solutions to substitute single-use plastics. To strengthen its position further, the pulp and paper industry must expand the farm-forestry and agro-forestry plantations program to ensure enough raw materials are available in the future. The industry must also provide attractive remuneration to the pulp wood farmers, so that the farmers remain interested in plantations. Leveraging fast changing technology can be leveraged by the industry to achieve globally competitive product quality and costs. Additionally, imports must be discouraged through tariff and non-tariff barriers, to provide a fair opportunity for the industry to become competitive.
- Key to success: Clarity in thought and focus on execution.
- Best advice you have ever received: Do not judge any person without a first-hand experience: what you hear from others about him/her could have biases.
- Favourite book: ‘My Experiments with Truth’ by MK Gandhi.
- Kind of music you listen to: Soft romantic and light Hindustani classical.
- Favourite movie: Bombay
- Creative pursuits: Singing, Reading, Writing.
- One quote you live by: Keep it simple.