When India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal asked a room full of industry leaders who was prepared to start manufacturing shipping containers for their country, only one raised their hand: Yatish Kumar, the Chairman and Managing Director of Braithwaite & Co, a government-owned structural steel company founded in 1913.
"We’re the only ones who have proved that we can make containers in India," he tells The CEO Magazine as he recalls that meeting.
Yet 10 years ago, the scenario at Braithwaite was very different. "Our focus was only on the top line for railway wagons," he explains. These tenders were awarded by the Ministry of Railways on an L-1 basis, which often left the business exposed to fluctuations between provisional and final contract costs.
To counter that, when Kumar joined the company in 2018, he made a strategic decision to diversify. Under his leadership, 10 different verticals have been created.
Between the experienced people and the young batch, we made a sandwich.
Some of these were logical steps, such as the foray into wagon repair and the supply of wagon components. "Across the country, we opened 10 sites for railway wagon repair," he says. Rewards were immediate. "Within one year, we went from zero to 10,000 wagon repairs."
And then there were the opportunities found in leafing back through the pages of the company’s history. "I learned about our experience in crane manufacturing," he says, including Electric Overhead Traveling (EOT) cranes, ship unloader cranes and dockside cranes.
He also discovered a talent pool who, having taken voluntary retirement, had left the company. "I called everyone back and gave them a good offer," he says. At the same time, he hired a new batch of younger recruits. "And, between the experienced people and the young batch, we made a sandwich," he says with a smile.
Hub of innovation
Yet Kumar has also been careful to look forward. Along with an entrance into the solar sector – having recently been awarded a 500-megawatt solar project in Maharashtra and a 10-megawatt engineering, procurement and construction project in Jharkhand – another area of potential for Braithwaite has been identified in education, specifically welding training centers.
In its role as a ‘bridge’ between policymakers and those working on the floor, Braithwaite is looking to create 100 centers across the country in association with the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.
And that’s not the end of it – in fact, for Kumar, it would appear that the sky’s the limit in terms of what the business can achieve if it puts its mind to it. "The government has committed funds to station development programs and within the space of two months, we’ve started to bid on station development contracts," he says.
"Frankly, we’re prepared to tackle anything which is related to engineering."
He describes Braithwaite’s design wing as a hub of activity, where next-level solar and turbine concepts are sketched out alongside innovative railway wagons and containers. "We have a team of six working day and night and we are planning to expand it further," he explains.
People equal success
However, the skilled labor shortage is the most pressing obstacle blocking his plans. "At the moment, the biggest challenge we are facing is a proper talent pool," he acknowledges.
"Hiring skilled professionals for solar is difficult, even finding an engineer with good experience in crane manufacturing is problematic."
And until he’s recruited the right people, he’s holding back from chasing the opportunities he spots in the market. "There’s no dearth of work in the country, nor funds," he says. "There’s low-hanging fruit to be picked, but we need to hire good people first."
Frankly, we’re prepared to tackle anything which is related to engineering.
As a leader, he’s keenly aware of the important role HR plays in achieving business growth – and goals. "You have to be very cautious during the recruitment process because, if the person is not correct, you’re not going to be successful," he says.
One eye may always be on the present, but Kumar reveals that 70 percent of his day is spent investing in long-term plans. "We’re an old institution with old assets that need to be replaced with modern equipment, and for that, you have to earn a lot," he says.
But, as the company celebrates its 110th birthday this year, it’s clear Kumar is the pair of steady hands Braithwaite needs to guide it both today and beyond.