Playing his part: SK Behera
SK Behera and his brother RK Behera started RSB Transmissions (India) while still in their teens. Today, the auto-component manufacturer has earned a place on the global stage, supplying parts to the biggest auto brands in the world.
Suvendra Kumar Behera, known as SK, the Co-Founder and Managing Director of RSB Transmissions (India) has a simple motto, "Business needs busyness". Not only is it crucial to the company’s success, but it’s also what gets him out of the house every morning. "If we didn’t have meetings for new processes or new ideas, I wouldn’t like to just sit in the office," he says. "I’ve always enjoyed work."
It’s lucky he feels that way because across his esteemed career he has never really had a moment’s downtime. At the age of 18, fresh out of college, he started the auto-component manufacturer with his brother, the current company Chair, Rabindra Kumar Behera, known as RK, in Jamshedpur in 1975. Then called International Auto Products, the duo’s focus at the time was sheet metal components for the auto industry.
Eventually, they diversified production to include component machining, gears and shafts. By 1998, the company was also serving the needs of India’s booming construction equipment industry and today, along with the industrial sector, these continue to form its core client base. It took its present company name in 1999.
As RSB’s manufacturing abilities have grown to now include axles, gearboxes and propellor shafts, so too have its facilities. It has added new manufacturing plants in India – there are now 11 in total – with production facilities also established overseas, first in the USA in 2005 and then Mexico in 2011, making it a truly global name in Indian manufacturing.
Its capabilities are bolstered by an in-house research and development (R&D) unit as well as a long-standing technical collaboration with German auto parts manufacturer Klein Gelenkwellen for propeller shafts. A similar partnership was announced last year with American manufacturer Reyco Granning Suspensions for suspension systems for buses, trucks and special applications.
For SK, much of today’s success was planted in those first few years. "We were young when we started," he says. Yet to marry and start families, the brothers were brimming with enthusiasm and energy to make something out of the business they had started. "Everything we did, we did for the company," he continues. His brother’s background in engineering made the auto-component sector a logical choice. "But no one from the family was in business, so it was tough and we faced a lot of hurdles."
People are the main key to the success of any organisation.
The turning point for the fledgling business came when it signed a supply agreement with Tata Motors, which until then had made the majority of its components in-house. From there, other names in the field followed and customers now include Indian and global automotive names such as Ashok Leyland, Daimler, John Deere, Fiat, Renault Nissan, Mahindra & Mahindra, as well as TataHitachi, Caterpillar, Kobelco, Komatsu, LiuGong and others.
"We started as a small company and now we are competing with the global multinational corporations," SK says. It’s been a long journey, but every step forward was made thanks to a commitment to high-quality products driven by technology. And it’s that focus, as well as a commitment to its people, that keeps it occupying the front seat in the market.
SK continues to be based in Jamshedpur, while his brother now works out of Pune, where the company headquarters moved in 1995. From their respective offices, the brothers are still the driving force behind RSB’s success. And, while his brother is a qualified mechanical engineer, SK says that, despite his own commercial background, the pair often find their roles inverted. "I’ll sit with my team and plan out all the products and processes with them," he says.
Currently, RSB is made up of four different companies: RSB Transmissions (India); RSB Transmissions North America; RSB Transmissions De Mexico; and I-Design Engineering Solutions.
As an executive that doesn’t sit still, he says that if there’s one thing he can’t stop himself from doing, it’s continuously improving the company’s manufacturing capability. Nor does he rest when it comes to his team of over 6,000 people both in India and abroad. "Motivating my people is a key area of focus," he says. "They spend up to 10 hours a day working here and give us their hearts and minds so I like it to feel as if it’s not just a place of work but also somewhere spiritual."
He is resolute in the belief that people are the main key to the success of any organisation and that once you have the right team in place, everything else follows. "They are what create the technology. They are who create the processes," he says. "They are also who satisfy the customers and who go to the field."
Along with this team, who will travel to all corners of the country to solve any customer problems, SK says what gives RSB the competitive advantage is its focus on being best in class in its core products. "We have four or five products that are the benchmark worldwide, not just in India," he says. "And we are cost competitive with them." What also sets it apart is the ability to look beyond its customers to the end-user of the vehicle or equipment. "We strongly feel that the final customer should be happy with you," he says.
As a recipient of the Deming Prize, an annual award conferred on an organisation for its Total Quality Management by the Union of Japanese Scientists & Engineers (JUSE), RSB’s auto division is in a select group of players in the global industry, along with the likes of Tata Steel, Toyota, Ashok Leyland and Mahindra & Mahindra.
Accepting the award in 2013, SK commented that, at RSB, quality has no finish line. "We will always continue to enhance our quality, technology and management practices to delight our stakeholders," he said.
In 2019, the company was also awarded with TPM Excellence Category A by the Japan Institute of Plant Maintenance (JIPM).
As the automobile market changes to embrace electric vehicles (EV), there is no chance of RSB being left behind. "We are already developing a reducer gearbox and axle for an EV manufacturer," he explains, adding that it’s these parts that are "the life of a vehicle". Much of this new manufacturing line is being undertaken in its Mexican plant. He predicts a 50/50 split over the next decade between traditional automotive and EV component production.
With the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully over, SK says that the fluctuating costs of raw materials, especially steel, is the biggest challenge the business is currently facing in the market. "I can’t blame the steel manufacturers," he says. "But there has been up to a 30 per cent change in the market price in the last three years, which is creating problems." RSB’s R&D team is busy innovating ways to keep the cost down without compromising quality and safety.
But SK knows that, with his brother by his side, they will navigate the next obstacles to come their way as they have done with any in the past. And they’ll do it with the backing of some very important people behind the scenes, who have been their champions since day one – their family. "Without family support, I don’t think you can stand up in the market," he says.