On the hotseat: Steelcase India's Praveen Rawal on designing chairs for CEOs of Google, IBM, Accenture

25th Nov 2018
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In a conversation with YourStory, Praveen Rawal, MD of Steelcase India, reveals why the 105-year-old company’s chairs have become the favourite of top companies and their heads.

The first thing I ask Praveen Rawal, the MD of Steelcase, is if Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg sit on chairs made by his company and after a moment's thought, he says, "I believe a lot of them would! We recently supplied a big quantity of chairs to Amazon. We are doing their campus up in Hyderabad."

"We have author Devdutt Pattanaik sitting on our chair. The CEOs of Accenture, Google, IBM, Haldiram, Dr Reddy's and TATA Communications would all be using Steelcase's chairs."

Fact of the matter is, the cafeteria food may be bland, the breaks may be short, and the AC temperature may be too low - but all these can be tolerated if you have a comfortable chair. Ergonomics is becoming increasingly important at workplaces, and American office furniture company Steelcase, knows a thing or two about it.

Praveen Rawal, MD Steelcase India
Praveen Rawal, MD Steelcase India

Recently, Steelcase India launched its latest innovation - the SILQ chair at Bengaluru. The 105-year-old company has helped create office experiences for the world's leading organisations and has a network of over 800 dealer locations. The company recorded a revenue of $3.1 billion in 2018.

Steelcase entered the Indian market in 2008 and globally, serves customers like Google, Facebook, Accenture, MasterCard, Dr Reddy's, Novartis, Pega, Jindal Steel, Infosys and Yahoo.

In a conversation with YourStory, Praveen Rawal, MD of Steelcase India, Singapore and SEA tells us how the company has come to make chairs for the CEOs of global companies.

YourStory: What are the services that Steelcase offers?

Praveen Rawal: We understand the space and the business, and talk to users about how they look forward to using the space. We then help them with designing the space and, finally, we work with design companies in India to find solutions.

YS: Who are your major clients?

PR: Starting from early converts who bought these chairs - Sunlife Financial Company, Accenture, IBM, Google, Dr Reddy's, and Facebook.

YS: Do you personalise designs for your clients?

PR: It gets personalised in a lot ways. Some companies work as an open office. Some others could be needing a lot of private spaces because they have many collaborations going on that need to be confidential. Depending on the business and their needs, we personalise.

YS: What is the concept of luxury office furniture?

PR: I would replace 'luxury' with 'performance'. We are all about high performance. Since we understand workspaces, we design workspace products that meet sustainability needs and also the needs of human behaviour and human form.

YS: What do you mean when you say you help improving workplace productivity and sustainability?

PR: People need tools to be successful. If they are boxed into offices that don't understand them, they will not be creative. We build spaces where we want people to be connected tool-to-tool and space-to-space. Employees should not struggle to find a space that they want.

Our products are sustainable. We are very careful about certifications for our products and the indoor air quality and our products’ recyclability.

YS: Are all your products recyclable?

PR: Most of them are. We make them out of recycled products and ensure that they do not end up at landfills. We use plastics, fabrics and, at times, some metal parts. We have cradle-to-cradle certification for sustainable products. We have plants and supply chain across the world. In India, we are based out of Pune and we adhere to the same standards that we have in our global plants.

YS: Any plans on expanding in India?

PR: The responses has been great and for the last decade, we have been growing well. We feel that growth and aspirations of the millennials resonate well with us providing them with better workspaces. We are trying to develop the dealer market in Tier-II cities. We want to go to cities like Chandigarh, Cochin, Kolkata. We did a big instalment with MasterCard in Baroda recently.

YS: Are your products available on ecommerce platforms?

PR: Internationally, there are a lot of ecommerce platforms from where you can get our products sourced. We are setting up in India but we currently are not on any ecommerce platform here.

YS: Tell us about the SILQ chair.

A SILQ chair
A SILQ chair

PR: SILQ uses very less mechanisms, it has no controls and its very malleable to the needs of the user. The back moves when the user wants to move - it understands you and moves with you. It has many variations - in terms of fabric and leather options, platinum-frame back, and the wheels can be different.

YS: What is the price range of SILQ chairs?

PR: It depends on the order size. Our business is very quantity driven. Prices would change with freight and installation charges. Price points based on quality would be something between $500 and $800.

YS: If a company wants to redesign its office space, how do you decide what suits its employees the best?

PR: We look at spaces and employees - what kind of work they are involved in. Whether they will sit on the same desk for eight hours or are nomads moving around the office or outside. Based on the pattern of how people want to use the space, we do a study. We also install sensors in the spaces that study heat maps of where people are moving and gravitating to, across the day. We have a new service coming on board, called 'Smart and Connected’ for better workspace utilisation. Based on this we will make our recommendation. Ideally, a company should start working with us before it starts the journey of relocating or finding a new space.


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