While Ashwani Sharma has been steering Asepto, UFlex Group’s aseptic liquid packaging business, as President and CEO for only six years, his experience in the industry spans decades.
Coming from a modest background, Ashwani says his journey to UFlex has been, to put it humbly, interesting. He started out in the 1990s at India’s largest paper company, BILT, and from there his career just exploded.
Ashwani went on to work in a number of senior leadership positions for paper companies around the world, providing him with enriching global exposure, including in Europe as CEO and Chairman of the Board for Horizon Pulp and Paper; in the US as Business Head at Asia Pulp & Paper (APP); and in Asia as CEO and Senior President at Century Pulp & Paper, and Managing Director of APP.
He credits his fast-rising success to his penchant for embracing obstacles. "Challenges excite me," he says. "When the chips are down, I get going, knowing I can lead the change." Ashwani recalls, "I sat down with our Chairman, Mr Ashok Chaturvedi, who had a vision to start a new liquid packaging project in India.
It was a tremendous opportunity to establish a business from scratch and deliver world-class innovative products to Indian and global markets. It was an opportunity to showcase my business acumen to compete successfully with the best in the world.
In fact, most of the Chinese companies that ventured into the aseptic liquid packaging business blindly followed what Tetra Pak did." He explains that this resulted in retail shelves being lined with almost-identical packages.
Nothing stood out. After studying the market and noticing that, as a final product, there is not much difference in the packaging – it’s only the shape, size and sealing technology that varies, the folks at UFlex questioned, "How can we be different in terms of creating more value for customers?" The answer boiled down to innovation – the innovation which can make the product look very different and attractive on the retail shelf. In the FMCG sector, packaging cannot be undermined and in fact has become more important than ever in the age we live in.
"From day one, we decided to be unique and offer solutions to our customers that would differentiate their brands on retail shelves," Ashwani says. "Once you can stand out on a retail shelf, your chances of getting picked up are much higher. So that’s what we did for customers. That’s what worked for us and earned us respect from our customers."
UFlex has transformed the aseptic liquid packaging industry, becoming a trendsetter with its creativity. "Innovation has been the key," Ashwani shares. "We have more than 150 patents. We have pioneered holography, foil stamping and Asepto Eye technology in the liquid packaging space. And between now and the next three to six months, we’ll be launching even more innovative products to excite the market."
I’m proud to say that we are a global innovation leader, and all of the competition is now starting to follow us.
That excitement extends far beyond customer satisfaction, although this is a by-product and how UFlex ultimately measures its success. "Measurement of success for us is purely something that revolves around customers," Ashwani says.
"Delighted customers make us feel good. When they are happy and satisfied, our purpose gets fulfilled and we are motivated to go the extra mile. "For any company, the key is to keep its markets and customers excited. If you keep a high degree of excitement in the market, everything is linked back to that. When you have an exciting, innovative product in the market, everything changes. The price game changes. The value game changes. So we will always continue to excite the market by introducing worldclass innovations and products to our customers."
Continually delivering innovative packaging solutions, centred around its customer’s needs and desires, has made UFlex a global flexible packaging giant. It has world-class factories in the US, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
And it’s not done yet – UFlex is committed to expanding its international presence in all core segments over the next couple of years. "We are truly a global company. We have been dealing with all the top FMCG companies across the world for the past 35 years, so we understand the industry extremely well," Ashwani says.
"We understand the product, and we understand our customers’ present and future needs. We started with differentiating our products through innovation from day one, and we will continue this differentiation in times to come. I’m proud to say that we are a global innovation leader, and all of the competition is now starting to follow us."
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