Sunjay Kapur – The Man Steering Forward One of India's Oldest Legacies
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When he walks into a room, Sunjay Kapur brings with him a legacy of a business that has defined India's automobile components industry. The CEO of the Sona Group and MD of Sona BLW is aware of the eyes on him and the legacy that he’s now carrying forward.
On the eve of his father Surinder Kapur’s 75th birth anniversary, Entrepreneur India caught up with the heir of one of India’s biggest auto components manufacturing company. While reports about his flamboyant lifestyle have always left people in awe, it is when you meet him that you get to really know his business sense, his style of leadership, one that he owes to his father, and his futuristic thought for the growth of his company.
His Father’s Son
At a time when even having a car was a luxury that only the elite had access to, Surinder Kapur had set up a company called Bharat Gears in the then Bombay. Just a little boy then, Sunjay Kapur fondly remembers factory visits in Thane. In the 90s, Sona Steering with the intention of filling a gap Maruti then had in the market.
In 1996, Kapur finished college and came back to India to set up the HR department of Sona Koyo. Kapur said that businesses at that time were run purely on what the market required. Being in a cost-price economy, they produced what the market required.
Going down the memory lane, Kapur remembers that he used to often visit the factory with his father. “We always ran our businesses from the factory. There was no head office culture. But I vividly remember, my father used to make this presentation to each employee on what competition is and what we should expect as a business – how we should reorient ourselves while having a strong focus on quality – all the things that changed the business dynamic in India,” he said.
Many years later, Kapur took to the stage for the same exercise, only he did it for 3500 employees. “While I was doing it, it was because we had a quality failure. Of course, it was managed but the importance of quality was not being stressed upon because of high production. I did the presentation for all our employees, from location to location, plant to plant,” he said.
It’s certain traditions that his father started that have stayed with him over the years, like the Monday meeting where the entire company would come together. “We had a huge focus on quality. For us, what’s important is the journey, it sounds clichéd, but it’s all about getting to that quality level where we really want to be,” said Kapur.
Steering Through Industrial Changes
Through the years, the Indian automotive industry has gone through dynamic changes, which has had an obvious impact on the component manufacturers too. From PAS cars to electrification today, innovation is powering through the industry. Kapur too identifies these changes to say that the industry has become highly disruptive along with digitization. “Over the years, there’s been a paradigm shift from what it was. It’s been said enough times, what took 30 years will happen in 10 years. Earlier, there was a huge focus on safety, being lightweighted and connectivity. Today, that is added with autonomous and electrification,” he said.
But change has also happened from the consumer mindset. When an Indian consumer wanted to buy a car earlier, it was all about the price. Today, the new Indian wants to really get the specifications right. “Ease of use was not as important as the price was. But that’s changed now. However, safety has stayed as an important aspect,” he said.
Given India’s diverse range of cars from utility to luxury, is it a tough task catering to the entire segment? “Our business today has 40 per cent PAS car and 40 per cent trucks. Catering to the needs really depends on the kind of requirements that say the end consumer or the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) has for the product,” he said.
Today, the Sona Group is a global leader in forging and their offering is at a global level. Kapur explains that the tolerances and specifications may differ for an OEM but it’s pretty standard for what goes into an Indian truck or a German one. The key part of their business is dials and Kapur has no qualms to say that it sets their business apart from others even on the global stage.
Sixty per cent of their business comes from bevel gears but Kapur looks at what else they can forge. “The idea is to look at where we can grow. I see a great option in farm equipments,” he said.
The Reign of Electrification
Every big automobile company today is dabbling into the world of Electric Vehicles. New EVs are hitting the market and they have global attention. Being one of the biggest players of car components not just in India but globally, Kapur’s Sona Group too has been a part of the EV revolution. They are continuously investing in R&D and with the fortune of having a business in Europe, they have been able to spot trends early on. “We have developed parts for EVs. We developed an electric axle. We saw that the market required it and we invested heavily in R&D and put our time and effort into it,” he said.
But is India ready for the shift to EVs? Kapur believes it all depends on the infrastructure. The introduction to EVs will be from two-wheelers and three-wheelers, then move to people carriers and will then come to PAS cars, believes Kapur.
Talking about innovation in business, Kapur said that the industry today is extremely disruptive both in terms of products and services. “You have to stay ahead of the curve and see what’s next. We need to look at what the requirement of our product will be and how will we cater to it,” he said.
Being The Leader
Some would say that Kapur got his legacy handed over to him on a silver plate. While Kapur acknowledges that he did have a platform, he still had his own set of challenges to grow it. “It’s a huge challenge to build on a platform that’s already been built. Filling in someone’s shoes and the expectations that come along with it – from the employees and the consumers are not easy,” he said.
He admits he had an advantage but he reiterates – the challenge lies in taking the business to the next level. “It’s something I often tell other entrepreneurs too – the trick lies in how do you grow the business without taking it away from its core,” he said.
There definitely is a lot of pressure in handling a business that has built a name in the market – one that hundreds of others look up to. So how does one handle the pressure? “You’ve got to stay focused. You have to identify that – these are my goals and I’ll achieve them. I have a strong belief in a great foundation, putting the right people in the right place to build the right strategy. Business is 90 per cent planning and 10 per cent execution. A lot of businesses spend a lot of time in execution because they are redoing things they haven’t planned well,” he said.
So, what’s Sunjay Kapur’s style of doing business? Kapur believes in systems and procedures and the ability to delegate. But at the end of the day, he relies on one thing – his people. For after all, as Kapur’s twitter bio says, he’s a factory worker, which makes him a man of the team.