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Sulaj Kini believes that taking over the reins in family businesses is challenging and impactful

Sharika Nair
9th Jan 2018
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The second-generation entrepreneur was recently honoured with Visvesvaraya manufacturing excellence award in small-scale industry.

While most youngsters set off on their own path when they embark on their career, for those joining the family business, it is a return to their roots. A conversation with Sulaj Kini, partner at Bell Paints, delves into the highs and the challenges of joining the organisation one has been familiar with right from childhood.

Sulaj-Kini featured

The law graduate is a second-generation entrepreneur, currently heading Bell Paints, an automobile and industrial paints company. Bell Paints was started in 1996 by Sulaj’s father RD Kini and her mother Latha Kini has been a part of the management for a decade now.

Since she joined the firm six years back, Sulaj has been infusing the operations with the freshness of her ideas while ensuring that the good work carried out by her father over the decades remained unsullied.

Sulaj says, “There are several employees who have been with Bell Paints since its early days. They have seen me accompanying my parents to the factory as a child. So taking over as the boss and telling them what to do was a delicate situation.”

Sulaj handled this by spending most of her time on the shop floor with the staff, instead of being opting to cut off from them in an office cabin. She explains,

Most of my learning has been hands on, especially with day-to-day operations. Even today, I spend most of my regular work day on the shop floor.
Sulaj with her parents Latha and R.D. Kini

The Bell Paints story

Bell Paints is located in Baikampady Industrial Area, spread across four acres of land in the port town of Mangaluru. Being an industrial hub for petrochemical-based products, Mangalore is also a good location choice logistics-wise due to access to port, International airport and National Highways.

The paints firm has a staff size of 40, which include production supervisors, paint testing QC specialists, electricians and office staff.

Bell Paints’ area of expertise is different from the more common architectural paint industry as they specialise in the manufacture of Automobile and Industrial Paints. This makes the quality and safety in the factory premises extremely critical since many of the chemicals used in production are highly toxic. Bell Paints manufactures Solvent based Coatings, Epoxy based Paints, OEM Finishes, specialised Auto and Industrial coatings, Thinners and Hardeners, among others.

Bell Paints caters to multinational giants such as BASF, Akzo Nobel and Valspar Coatings Corporation. These companies in turn cater to several leading automotive OEMs and auto refinish firms. Currently, average production at Bell Paints is 400 Tonnes per month.

The amalgam of old and new

Sulaj, 28, recalls an incident from her childhood when her father took the family for a weekend stay at a 5-star hotel in Bangalore. She says,

There was no work-related reason for the trip and in those days the expense was quite exorbitant. We thoroughly enjoyed the stay. When we were checking out, my father asked my brother and me if we had enjoyed the weekend. He went on to show us the amount it cost and told us if we wanted that kind of lifestyle when we grew up we would have to work hard for it. I think that’s a message that stayed with us.

Sulaj threw herself into decentralising and professionalising the operations cycle at Bell Paints after she joined the business. The SME sector tends to be disorganised but things have been changing lately. Sulaj is ably supported by her mother Latha Kini and her father continues in an advisory role. Since Sulaj’s mother was a part of Bell Paints before she joined the firm, she paved the way for Sulaj and her gender was never an issue in the male dominated SME sector.

Sulaj plans to expand the production cycle to sourcing raw materials and handling the marketing activities as well in the near future. As of now the raw material comes from the clients and Bell Paints handles the processing and handing over of the finished product.

The paints testing lab at Bell Paints

Sulaj has been particular about following all safety and environment related norms. All employees go through mandatory training and the staff working inside the production plant and warehouse wear safety shoes, Goggles and Helmets. A fully functional fire hydrant system and Separate underground storage of 1,00,000 litres capacity has been constructed for storing water to meet the fire fighting requirements. Around 30 percent of the factory area is covered by greenery.

Sulaj was invited to present a technical paper in the Asia Coatings Congress held in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam in May last year. She is also the only elected female council member of the Kanara Small Industries Association (KSIA).

Sulaj maintains her left and right brain balance by offsetting her highly technical work with a deep interest in dance and running. An accomplished classical dancer trained in classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi and Kathak, Sulaj also participates in marathons and turns to running for both fitness and relaxation.

When asked what drives her, Sulaj says,

Work is something that excites. I don’t mind working on weekends, since I never feel that work is a punishment. I am lucky that every morning I wake up looking forward to the day ahead and that’s my biggest driving factor.
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