A vivid follower of Swami Vivekananda and a keen observer of the stakeholders’ insight, Mr. Ashish De demonstrate traits of simple living with high thinking. In his tenure of over 40 years in the paper industry he has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry and successfully handled some of the successful projects with shear calm & compose manner along with analytical thinking. Banking upon his experience he is now handling the 1500 crores mega project at J.K. Paper with the utmost priority. Here are the excerpts of the interaction which we had with him along with the course of his busy schedule.
Paper Mart: Let us start with a topic that’s probably on everybody’s mind right now – the 1500 crore mega project which is in the pipeline. How do you see it? Kindly elaborate in detail?
Ashish De: This is a major decision taken by JK Paper in recent years. The main objective of such investment is to sustain the leadership position of JK Paper in the segment of the “Multipurpose cut-sized office papers”. This project together with our recent tie-up with Hewlett Packard to introduce copiers with “ColorLok” logo for Indian market will substantially enhance the brand image of JK Paper and especially of our unit at Rayagada, Orissa.
PM: What have been the hardest lessons you’ve learned about how to survive, innovate, making breakthrough etc? What have you learned from them?
AD: Never compromise with the basics. Always keep objectives very clear and visualize the bigger picture. Collect as much insight as possible from all the stakeholders, particularly from the customers, knowledgeable vendors, in-house team and of course from the wisdom of the Top Management. The trick is to create a dynamic & passionate team, with people who are everready to think “out of the box” and willing to do the things differently. Also would not like to settle down with the comfort zone. Take every competition or challenge as an opportunity.
PM: Let me get you to a subject you know a lot about, which is waste paper and the packaging board. Kindly discuss the challenges in terms of how innovation can address both the quality and the cost. Where do you see the opportunities? Where are the barriers?
AD: Yes. You are absolutely right. This is a subject close to my heart and I am very passionate about it. More than the challenge, I see a great opportunity in the area of consumer packaging in this part of the world. We are yet to see the retail explosion. The FMCG industry, barring a few exceptions, due to their global connection, has just started discovering the packaging as a value addition tool, instead of an overhead (which is still perceived by many). It is needless to mention that the consumer packaging board has been accepted as the most preferred substrate over other packaging medium globally.
But, Indian consumer packaging board industry has its own set of problems and this is not an easy subject that can be overcome soon. This is a complex business and actually it involves direct dealing with the converters and the end users.
Very few organizations, engaged in the manufacturing of packaging board in India, have understood this business well. Majority of the manufacturing facilities are still managing their business with yesterday’s technology, through conventional ways of manufacturing and distribution routes. Their products are struggling to cope up with the ever increasing demand of their customers, for the need of their new generation printing, converting and the filling lines.
Here comes the role of the ‘contemporary technologies’, economic scale of the manufacturing facility that can generate an attractive ROI. But there are two more important issues, we need to address so as to see the real growth in this segment:-
• We have to establish the discipline in disposing and recovering the used paper & paper products at every level in the society. This will generate the precious raw material locally and reduce the dependency to the import of waste paper. It is unfortunate to know that the Indian metro cities’ garbage contain more than 25% Cellulosic material (recoverable paper products) and our overall recovery of the used paper is only about 20% against global average of +50%.
• Poor packaging results in very high losses during transit and distribution of FMCG products. FMCG industry should encourage their converters and the packaging board industry for better product by paying adequate price so that new investment in technology would be possible in the area of the manufacturing of packaging board. This will not only reduce the losses during transit and distribution but also create higher value through better packaging solution for the FMCG manufacturers. Today’s consumers see what is outside the pack before they see what is inside the pack.
PM: How do you change personally?
AD: Change is the only constant”. There is no fun in being stagnant and becoming outdated. One has to be transparent and open to all the ideas. Regular 360 degree feedback process in various organizations I have served, really helped me for making a visible change, which has helped me a lot to perform better.
PM: Where do you get your ideas from?
AD: Mainly by capturing the customers’ insight and partnering with know-ledgeable vendors. The most important thing is to be open and transparent with my team during all discussions, through careful and patient listening.
PM: Where do you get your energy from?
AD: Firstly, from my family and of course from the organization I work for. Last, but not the least, when the dynamic team, as mentioned earlier, produce exceptionally good results through innovative ideas.
PM: What are a couple of the big trends that you foresee, from where you sit, will really affect the Indian Paper industry?
AD: The Govt. of India should bring about a suitable Forestry policy by allowing the corporate to create renewable forest in the waste lands to address the issue of acute shortage of paper making wood. There is also a need for a nationwide campaign through administrative departments as well as through efficient NGOs for creating awareness and discipline to dispose the used paper properly and for effective collection and distribution. We cannot neglect paper industry anymore.
PM: What is leadership to you? And how would you define your leadership style?
AD: Many years ago I read one of the books written by Great Swami Vivekananda, where he mentioned about leadership in The Govt. of India should bring some context, which I am unable to recollect at the moment. I have read the same leadership statement several times and keep practicing it as my leadership mantra.
I believe this leadership statement is applicable anywhere & everywhere and for all the time. It is as:
• “Leaders are rare people who come along and raise the standards of excellence, those who capture the hearts of many, and inspire them to achieve the impossible.
• A true leader should have the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make the tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.
• A true leader is one who does not set out to become the leader, but becomes one by maintaining the highest standards and going that extra mile.”