How Vinati Saraf Mutreja turned around her family business to make it a Rs 1,000 Cr company
Not many women in India venture into the manufacturing sector. But then, as the saying goes, there are no limits except the ones we place on ourselves.
Vinati Saraf Mutreja has over the past 12 years, proved women can belong anywhere, even in the manufacturing sector.
Hers is a unique story. Though she may have joined the family business, Vinati Organic Ltd (VOL), she had to work really hard to turn it around and make it profitable.
Vinati’s father started VOL, a specialty manufacturing company in 1990. In 2006 Vinati joined the company. Since her joining the company profits revenues have risen from Rs 66 crore to Rs 1,000 crore. The company was listed under Asia’s 200 Best under a Billion Dollar companies by Forbes.
After putting in 12 years of hard work, Vinati finally became the CEO and the Managing Director of the company.
In a freewheeling chat with HerStory, she talks about how she turned losses into profits, the challenges of working in manufacturing and what spells success for her. Here are some excerpts:
The turning point
A middle class upbringing, stress on education and knowing the importance of money has held Vinati in good stead. As a teenager Vinati started accompanying her father on sales visits and board meetings. This exposure led her to pursue chemistry, engineering and business at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2006 when Vinati returned to India, she joined VOL.
I started from ground up spending time in different divisions and learning about different business functions.
After joining, her biggest challenge was to turn around their ATBS plant from a loss making unit into a world class facility that could take global competition head on.
ATBS is a versatile molecule used for making polymers. It has a wide range of applications due to it hydrolytic and thermal stability.
Recounting the turning point Vinati says, “We started the ATBS unit in 2002 and because we were not getting the right quality, we were thinking of shutting it down or selling it off. We were a small company then and had exhausted all our resources and expertise available. There are only two other companies making this product in the world. So we were in a fix since this was a niche market. But I managed to bring a consultant on board who helped streamline processes.”
Vinati also succeeded in locking long-term contracts with global MNCs that gave the company sales visibility. Until 2006, VOL was mostly selling in the domestic market but today about 75 percent of sales are derived from exports.
“We focused on cutting costs and improving productivity by optimising the batch timings. This resulted in increased capacity with minimal investment. There was also considerable effort put in for improving the quality by engaging international R&D experts which paid off,” says Vinati.
Today, ATBS is the largest product for the company and it is its largest manufacturer in the world. Vinati explains, “Better quality, higher productivity accompanied by annual contracts buoyed up sales and we started expanding capacity at regular intervals, usually pre-empting demand.”
The family held 26 percent of the shares of VOL in 1991, which has gradually increased to 74.01 percent.
Women in manufacturing
When it comes to manufacturing Vinati believes more women can contribute to this field.
Women don’t see other women in this industry and are hence, hesitant to join. It is important to break this cycle so that when our daughters are in the workspace they don’t feel like a minority. Women bring in diversity and empathy and a different dimension to any discussion. We should encourage women to take up engineering and make our work space environment more conducive for them to thrive.
Traditionally, factory conditions have been a deterrent and since one has to start from the shop floor and then rise up to the position of a manager, many women stayed away. “Today I feel women can do it and of course factory conditions have improved and are not what they were two decades ago,” she says.
Being an outlier
Vinati feels that the manufacturing industry is all about delivery and numbers; if you can deliver then that is all that matters, and not whether you are a man or a woman. In fact she feels her gender/ age and personality all three make her an outlier in this industry but it has also made her a good listener, she claims.
Vinati feels that all the constant help and encouragement from her family has been a boon. “The entire team at VOL has been very supportive and never treated me differently because I am a woman.”
However, she has learnt to go the extra mile to prove herself.
Woman on a mission
In 2006, VOL had a market capitalisation of approximately Rs 20 crore and today it stands at over Rs 8,000 crore.
However, Vinati is a woman on a mission and is raring to go.
She shares, “Our vision is to grow at 20-25 percent year-on-year, essentially double revenues in three years. We are still a very small company in the chemical space. Most mid-sized chemical companies have revenues of Rs 3,000/4,000 crore. We have better margins but need to increase our footprint since our existing products have limited market potential.”
As Vinati steers the company into the future, she is also proud that she didn’t have to choose between having a family and career.
Most women I know give up work after having children. I enjoy my work and the faith our stakeholders have in me. This drives me to keep doing better.