December 2016 | Philip Chacko

Get systematic to get superior

The process is prince and protector in the Rallis India way on business excellence, which has helped carry the company from its lowest point to the summit of its industry

Being caught by a haymaker can have an upside. Turn the clock back to 2003-04 and Rallis India was a horizontal heavyweight. One of the most storied corporate names in the Indian agricultural sector had been laid low by a loss of `1.07 billion, the worst in its long history, and resultant doubts about relevance and direction. The time was nigh to get off the mat and start swinging. That’s what Rallis did, and in its corner to render guidance was the Tata Business Excellence Model (TBEM).

A marketing campaign for Rallis products

“The loss forced us to introspect about the businesses we were in and about how we should run the enterprise,” says Veeramani Shankar, the managing director and chief executive of Rallis. “We decided to concentrate on what we were best at — which was agrochemicals — and on making changes in how we conducted this business, particularly the processes associated with it.” Naturally enough, it now seems, business excellence became the core of the company’s turnaround strategy.

Rallis followed the tried and tested method in wedding the organisation to processes: from articulation to deployment to execution to alignment to integration across functions and teams. “It’s after we accomplished all this that our business excellence journey actually began,” says Mr Shankar. “From that point on, it’s been about evaluating how our processes are working and about tweaking them to improve outcomes.”

Getting on the road to resurrection was a slog for Rallis in the immediate post-2003 period. Employee morale had hit the depths, lucidity on the way forward was in short supply and there was an overdose of uncertainty about the business as a whole. “We addressed the multiple issues facing us by, first of all, putting in place a clear and thoughtful strategy for our future,” explains Mr Shankar. “We then communicated this strategy to our people, rallied our teams around it and pursued with determination the objectives that emerged.”

The exertions soon started delivering the desired results. Caution and consolidation enabled Rallis to go from red to black by 2005. A couple of years further down the line, the company had gained the confidence to look beyond securing what it had. “We reckoned we had earned the right to grow,” says Mr Shankar.

Learn how business excellence powers progress and becomes a way of life at Rallis

The phase from 2007 to the present has been the making — or remaking, to be more precise — of Rallis. A slew of systems, initiatives and programmes have informed and driven improvements in every nook and corner of the organisation. The centrepiece here has been ‘Rallis poised’, the strategy powering the company’s ambitions.

Business excellence, with the TBEM methodology to measure and manoeuvre it, has powered the process orientation that is today taken for granted across the Rallis ecosystem. Good as a process or programme may be, though, there is no place for standing still with either. “Business excellence is about continuous improvement,” insists Mr Shankar. “It’s never a static situation; there’s no finish line. It’s when business excellence becomes a way of working that it really takes off.” 

Rallis has achieved liftoff and more. The company now connects with a customer base in excess of 10 million farmers, in the spheres of crop protection, contract manufacturing, seeds, plant nutrients and allied agricultural services (it also exports products to different parts of the world). It has a network of more than 2,500 dealers and 60,000 retailers, covering about 80 percent of India, and the largest agrochemicals capacity in the country. Importantly, profitability has never been a problem for Rallis since the dip of 2003-04.

The scores Rallis has recorded in TBEM assessments reveals best the progress made. In 2005 the company won the TBEM ‘serious adoption award’. In 2011, with maturity on its side and a raft of improvements under its belt, Rallis bagged the prestigious JRD QV award. The honour was well-deserved for a company that has never wavered in its commitment to the model.

Steeling itself for the present has afforded Rallis the opportunity to be ready for the future, no matter in which shape that arrives. “The long term is about volatility, ambiguity and complexities,” says Mr Shankar. “We have to refine our processes to a yet greater extent to understand these better.”

Mr Shankar is not the sort to blow his own trumpet, but there can be no doubting the contribution leadership has made in the Rallis embrace of business excellence. “The chief executive’s involvement has to be nothing less than 100 percent, especially at the beginning of the journey. But as the organisation matures and people make excellence a way of life, the situation changes. It’s almost like everybody is practicing business excellence all the time.”

Heeding the customer's call
The people at Rallis India have a penchant for tagging every programme and initiative aimed at making the company just that bit better in the business of excellence. The proclivity shows up in ample measure when it comes to customers, a sphere where Rallis has scored high and in consistent fashion.

“We have extremely structured processes around which we have developed our customer portfolio, and this has helped us over time,” says Veeramani Shankar, the company’s managing director and CEO. “We start by understanding their needs, current and future. We identify the influencers in the farming community and we have focused group discussions conducted by well-trained teams.”

Rather than dish out advice, the teams do the more difficult thing, which is listen to what the farmers have to say. This bent of behaviour works as strategy as well as tactic, especially so when it comes to the more progressive and influential among farming communities. The Rallis Kisan Kutumb (RKK), a farmer network that has more than a million members, is an outcome of the company’s mindset.

Set up in 2007, RKK is the umbrella programme through which the company’s products, solutions, advisories and the rest are offered to farmers across India. The RKK philosophy, in a nutshell, is about sampark, sambandh, santushti and samruddhi, which translates as contact, relationship, delight and prosperity. 

This article is part of the cover story about the culture of business excellence across Tata group companies in the October - December 2016 issue of Tata Review:
Overview: Continuous improvement
Five Tata companies describe how business excellence has helped build value and reshape the business model
Read the complete articles, and more, in Tata Review
Tata Business Excellence Group: A unique model and its holistic method
As custodian of the famed Tata Business Excellence Model (TBEM), the Tata Business Excellence Group (TBExG) has been helping Tata companies achieve global benchmarks in different operational spheres
Tata Steel: Mastering change
The business excellence endeavour at Tata Steel has helped the company evolve continuously to stay on course in an industry that has been buffeted by transformative trends on multiple fronts
Titan Company: The goal: To get better all the time
Business excellence has powered the rise of Titan Company, and the proof of the pudding has been its evolution into a multidimensional success story
Tata Power Delhi Distribution: Energy to spare in quality quest
Tata Power Delhi Distribution has banked on business excellence to overhaul its organisational structure, overcome challenges galore and build an exceptional enterprise
Tata Steel Processing and Distribution: Steely and sturdy
Business excellence has been the spark for a transformation exercise at Tata Steel Processing and Distribution, an enterprise that has matured further with every forward step