BY ANN KIGO
Mr. Subodh Srivastav, in the 45 minutes of conversation, comes out as outrightly honest and unpretentiously humble. He is proud of the company’s achievements at COYA but is quick to attribute the success to many people, places, and situations. In his opinion, the idea is not to be better off than everyone else, but to collectively make efforts to better production, business and improve the country.
“These victories have not come as much of a surprise to us,” he says. However, he also quickly alludes to Tata Chemical as having been a front runner even back in India. The Magadi plant really has no option but to follow suit. Mr. Srivastav attributes the company’s smooth running and success to excellent systems and processes.
According to him, it is not enough to have systems and processes in place- there has to be consistency in their use. “We use the systems and follow the processes, and after we get results, we improve the systems and processes,” he explains. Following this consistently, therefore, continually improves operations in the company and it is no wonder that examined under the OPI (Organizational Performance Index) process, they have won the Company of the Year Award two consecutive times. Still, Mr. Srivastav commends OPI, the Business Excellence Framework used in COYA as useful in helping companies streamline their systems and processes for excellence.
Production and Quality
Tata Chemicals Ltd Magadi is Africa’s largest soda ash manufacturer and this is despite having halted production of high purity soda ash in 2014 due to high energy cost in Kenya. At Tata Chemicals Magadi’s manufacturing facility, soda ash is obtained by washing and calcining trona, a naturally occurring form of sodium sesquicarbonate, extracted from Lake Magadi in Kenya.
Despite being energy efficient, evidenced by the multiple awards at the annual energy management awards every year, the high cost of energy in Kenya, made the plant economically unsustainable. This was the situation when Mr. Srivastav came in as MD for the company, and he knew he had to do something to make things more efficient and sustainable.
“We mothballed the plant and impaired it in our books, then had to settle the loans from our other operations. When a company, especially, is in debt, the weight goes down on everybody’s shoulders,” he explains.. The outcome of this decision is one of the things that has fulfilled him most in his tenure as MD of the company, as he satisfactorily states, “We put in a lot of effort to solve this, and today we are happy that we already paid off all our debts and are now efficient. In fact, our mother company is looking to expand the Magadi Branch”
Corporate Citizenship and Environment
Apart from having cut costs and eased the financial burden on the company, choosing to focus only on standard soda ash production gives Tata Chemicals Ltd Magadi pride in being energy efficient. Lake Magadi Trona is unique, being the only Trona resource in the world that regenerates, which means that Tata Chemicals Ltd.’s mining of the same is environmentally sustainable. It is the cutting-edge standards of processes & quality that still has the company ranking as Africa’s biggest Soda Ash manufacturer and bringing into the country $100M in foreign exchange as 90% of what they produce is exported to South East Asia, India, South Africa, and other areas worldwide.
Besides the environment, Tata Chemicals Ltd Magadi is also literally interlaced with its community in many aspects. Being situated in the Magadi area that has extremely harsh weather with temperatures almost always above 40 degrees celsius, Water is a key need for the community and Tata Chemicals has over the years alleviated this need by tapping water from Ngurumani hills and distributing it to about 40,000 people in the community.
“The water is filled up in tankers and the tankers do several rounds every day, pouring the water into smaller tanks at designated points where community members are able to reach easily for their water needs,” Mr. Srivastav takes us through the process. The population is rather scattered; so, in order to reach all these people, the tankers cover about 25km radius of land in distributing the water. A train is also always constantly filling up its tanks with water and distributing it in the areas along the railway line. To further solve the water problem in the area, Tata Chemicals is making a dam which even now before completion has been supplying water to the community just from the short rains toward the end of last year.
Besides, Tata runs a level 4 hospital in the township, whose pricing is way below a typical level 5 hospital, and still discounts 20% for the community. The 55-bed hospital is well-equipped and efficiently staffed and serves approximately 100 patients a day from the surrounding community. To help alleviate the dire situation caused by the recent severe drought, the hospital has in the last six months been offering its medical services free of charge for expectant and lactating mothers and their young children.
In the MD’s words, “We are immersed in the lives of the community.” He further adds that starting this year, the company will be doing an ESG report, which will further put them on their toes to be conscious of their community and environment. Tata Chemicals Ltd. Magadi will be among the very first companies in Kenya to voluntarily report on ESG.
“85% of the time I am very democratic, letting people take responsibility for what they ought to do. In this time, we talk, discuss- you can even argue with me, it’s ok, all as long as if you don’t contravene the Code of conduct or any Prevention of Sexual Harassment policies. But 10-15% of the time I have to be firm.”
That is the description Mr. Srivastav gives of his leadership method. Even though he accepts that the democracy he allows staff is eventually beneficial to the company because their input is valuable, for him it is more than that- it is a responsibility he has to grow his staff. “Just like in parenting, you cannot restrict people so much because you are afraid that they will make mistakes. As long as they are not being destructive, let them make mistakes. In any case, even if the mistakes are really harmful, if they are made, we will find a way around it,” he explains, implying that this way, you have more confident and productive teams.
We use the systems and follow the processes, and after we get results, we improve the systems and processes”
In his unpretentious humble personality, once again, he quickly admits that he cannot claim to have been so knowledgeable in leadership. He confidently asserts. “I dare say this is how Tata works. Having been led before I came here as MD, I am only implementing the principles I learned from my leaders”
One thing is clear- tapping into the people around you and the structures that work well for your company is key to strengthening your leadership. Tata Magadi’s victory at COYA is definitely one of the fruits of Subodh Srivastav’s strong leadership.