A Daughter's Account on Reviving the Renewable Energy Maker Suzlon 2.0: Daddy's girl grows up from the shadow of her illustrious billionaire father
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Tulsi Tanti had built a company that was then the market leader in the renewable energy space. But to hold that position with the changing times required the current generation to bring in new energy and get people to buy into it. As they say, it's easy to create a new setup but the difficult part is to bring in changes to that existing setup. For Nidhi (Tanti), it wasn't easy to find her place in the business but it was her grit and persistence that didn't let her lose focus.
At the recently concluded Women's Day, Nidhi launched a "women at work' campaign to increase the number of women working in this out-an-out male-dominated sector. The campaign was not only about finding a mention on the papers, Nidhi has closely looked into the working conditions at many sites and worked towards strengthening the safety systems to ensure more women participation. She launched Climb-Assist, which is an electrical lift for the women in service maintenance.
Nidhi's memory of seeing her father in the business goes back to the days when Tulsi Tanti used to manage a textile factory in Surat, Gujarat. As the story goes, Tanti's grit was so strong that to do away with high expenses for electricity along with issues related to outages, he ordered two wind turbines to take his factory off grid. When other businesses started showing interest, he realized that the future lies in wind energy. With this belief, Suzlon was started in 1995 in Pune.
The Energy Empress
We met Nidhi at Suzlon headquarters, which is very much in tandem with its green image. Sprawling across 10 acres of land, the campus is managed responsibly and gives a feeling of having an office in the garden. From rainwater harvesting to using solar panels to generating electricity in-house or the campus being designed ergonomically to reduce the use of airconditioners - "One Earth' is another marvel by the man.
After completing her studies, Nidhi joined the Boston Consulting Group, where she witnessed financial markets dipping down. At that time, her brother was also a part of the business. (Though later, he ventured out to start something of his own.) She came to India in 2009 on a break when her father suggested her to look into the family business. As her interest grew, Nidhi stayed on.
Talking about her first few days, she says, "I started spending time talking to different people from different departments, on how they work and about their perceptions of the market. Soon, I realized that we were not well prepared for a financial market meltdown." At that point, the business was flourishing but it was likely to get hit because the supply chain and all other investments were planned on a long-term basis. "I came out with a list of issues which I felt would become a major challenge in a short time."
At this point, her father reminded her, "It's not good enough to bring up an issue, you have to work towards fixing it." She brought in a consultancy agency and spent next four years in fixing the supply chain, technology, operations and manufacturing.
Another task that she initiated was speeding up the production process. Earlier, it took time to put together a product. Further, due to the supply chain constraint, a lot of money would get sucked into the system. To address this, she brought all the teams working in various geographies to work on the similar page. That transparency brought much more speed into the system. It wasn't easy to bring in these changes, there was resistance. To put it in context, she realized that it was a matter of putting all perspective together and seeing how you can systematically correct it. Sharing on how she did it, she says, "I had to create an example and then prove to people how it could be done."
As things progressed, the rhythm picked up and people started buying into the change. The second change that she brought in was the digitization process so that the engineers can login even from the remotest areas.
After spending four years in streamlining operations, she took a break from 2012-14 to do her MBA from University of Toronto. "I was so engrossed in the process and the system that I needed to take a step back," says Nidhi. However, when she joined back, she created a new space for herself - the Business Review Committee (BRC). She explains, "What I do is - at the start of a year, I sit with my whole team to plan a five-year strategy, for each and every vertical of the company. We further break it down to year-on-year basis, based on how the market is going to react for that particular year.
Accordingly, our budget is created." Each vertical comes for a review and shares how they are going to achieve it, talking about their issues and opportunities. She again faced huge resistance while introducing this. It took her time to make them understand that she is not there to judge them but to help them in making the system more efficient. She says, "More than anything else, this helped the senior management to rightfully identify the risks."
Even then, the pat on her back from her father didn't come easy. Nidhi shares, "When I started BRC, I spoke to him that this would really help the entire management to come together. Though he liked the idea but showed concerns about how we were going to initiate the process or keep it streamlined."
Nidhi was always stubborn, tenacious, and a woman who won't give up easily. Her father always knew that and hence encouraged her to create her own space. Sharing an example, she adds, "Couple of times, I was asked to back down on critical company matters but I refused as I felt those decisions were important for the company, even though few people might think differently. Such incidents made my father realize that I am here for the business and not to create a position."
As a mentor, Tulsi has a directional approach, instead of telling her what to do and what not to do. "Initially, I would keep on asking him questions and his suggestions would directly influence my decisions. I developed my business understandings like this." Now, the frequency of her visits has reduced. The BRC also looks into new business development and the diversification opportunities working as an incubator where it reaches out to companies looking for tie-ups or services. Talking about the same, she says, "We often find interesting ideas.
Following which, we talk to the entrepreneurs and share each others perspective, before taking it forward." Her main initiatives so far have been in forging, solar and hybrid power. Currently, Nidhi is also working on "repowering', which is designed especially for older models of turbine. In such cases, they either exchange the old turbines with the new ones or install new turbine along with the existing ones. Talking about her learnings from markets like Australia, she says, "It is smart in terms of execution. They have amazing project plans – available across the board. One person is in charge of updating that on a daily basis. Here, cultural changes make it very difficult to execute."
Woman of Power
On speaking about her merits and the negatives too, she says, if you don't talk about it, the world will. She feels that she has miles to go before she can put in the perfect work culture but the good parts have already started seeping in. With these winds of change at Suzlon, she is all set to see it become one of the top three in the world.
Tulsi Tanti on Nidhi Tanti
As a first generation entrepreneur, were you in two minds to introduce Nidhi into the business?
We have a very big basket of opportunities and all she had to do is pick up an area of interest. Once that is done, she had to decide whether she wanted to do something on her own or grow within the business. She decided to stay and
hence, had to be more responsible by adding value to the business.
Does she carry the same kind of passion?
She has the same tenacity and in fact, she has the better knowledge than me.
Moreover, she is very aggressive, passionate and aspirational.
Any changes you have seen in the company post her joining?
After she joined back, 90 per cent of my workload has been reduced. Along with the BRC team and the senior management, she seamlessly deals with every detail, processes and then sets budget too. She has taken a huge responsibility to expand. Secondly, she also focuses on the service business to provide value-added products, increasing the revenue. Nidhi is also instrumental in introducing a project like renewable solutions in solar and re-powering. Another change that really strengthened us internally was her initiative to digitize the entire process.
Personally also, do you think Nidhi has brought in any change in your style of operation?
She is driving the organization now, so I think that is the biggest change. Now, I can focus more on industry roles working closely with the government in areas like renewable space, wind, solar, bio and hydro-power. Nidhi has given me that space, or else I would have been busy taking care of my office.
(This article was first published in the June 2018 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)