Perseverance Can Achieve Anything

In this conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia, Essel Propack’s vice chairman and managing director Ashok Goel outlines the company’s innovation-first approach with a strong dash of perseverance that helped it get where it is today

Essel Group’s packaging company Essel Propack, has made its mark globally. It boasts of 33 per cent market share of the international laminated tubes business in the oral care category. Today, Essel Propack has manufacturing plants in 11 countries, and is servicing many more markets across the world. Times have, however, not always been kind to it. The company was on the verge of being deemed a sick company in its initial years.

In this conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia, Essel Propack’s vice chairman and managing director Ashok Goel outlines the company’s innovation-first approach with a strong dash of perseverance that helped it get where it is today.

Edited excerpts:

If you had to summarise what led to the turnaround, what would be the key words?
Stay focussed on the superiority of the product irrespective of the challenges. Stay ahead of the curve through technology and innovation, and perseverance.

The first five years were our worst ever. We not only wiped out our capital but banks almost placed us as a potentially sick company. Ours was a very sophisticated product, and there were concerns around whether India could make such a product. We had to prove at the time that we wouldn’t replicate mistakes in manufacturing. We had to employ best practices right from the word go. After 1989, we finally cut through and began to make profits. There were all kinds of challenges, but the group was sturdily behind the company, and since then, there was no looking back.

You are currently the market leader in the oral care category, and you have said you are keen to grow in other categories too. What are some of the steps that you have taken to achieve this?
Essel Propack’s strength is in being the first mover in every aspect. We have completed significant groundwork to expand into non-oral care categories such as beauty and cosmetics, hair, home care, foods and pharmaceutical. Our target is to get 50 per cent of our revenues from these categories. We have introduced new products and tech, got our factories certified with the required approvals and taken care of every big and small detail.

Our forte is innovating. Around 50 per cent of our sales today come from products that we have innovated in the last two years. That is testimony to our robust product line. We have always pushed the envelope to convert bottles, aluminium and plastic tubes into laminated tubes. All this has helped us stay ahead of the curve. That brings its own set of challenges as that involves developing the market, which takes time. But we are doing this since 2004-05; so now is the time to reap benefits.

The board reorganisation around two years ago, clearly divided the businesses between your brothers and you. How did that help?
It brings out clear responsibilities. There is more vigilance in making the business a success, and it keeps everyone on their toes. The next generation is also very clear about what they should be doing. They have become very serious, they know the succession plans, they are very actively involved in the business and they work as a team.

Would you say this growth over the years has come more by design or by chance?
To be honest, we took life as it came and we seized the opportunities it presented. We did not shy away from responsibilities or from learning new businesses. That was our strength. Even if something did not succeed, we did not give up. We never backed down from doing something for the first time. That was our credo — do something for the first time and be the leader. And it has proven to be our hallmark, which we continue to follow. As we progress, we evolved and aimed higher, made our targets more aggressive to be the global number one.

On a more personal note, what is it like to be the youngest brother in a family-run set up? Were you the most pampered?
On the contrary! In our family, the younger ones face the maximum brunt without any say. If someone asks you to do something, it has to be done. I had to follow my grandfather, my father, my three brothers and later on, my wife. That is just how it is. Jokes apart, it was always reassuring for me to have three elder brothers. Working with the family as such has never been an issue for us. Everyone is given their freedom, and if you did not mess it up, you were allowed to follow your path. We had fire in our belly; we experimented and did new things. This helped me grow both emotionally and as a businessman. It was the best education I could have asked for.