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Much More Than Just A Drink

The Head And Heart Of A Manufacturing Setup

A conversation with five factory managers with a combined experience of nearly 100 years, responsible for a fourth of the people working for one of India’s largest manufacturing company. This is what we learned.

B. Raja Sekhar Reddy is only a few years away from retirement. The long and fulfilling life journey for this mechanical engineer and son of a government school teacher from a small village in Andhra Pradesh is a story that may not be unique but is certainly inspiring. For a little over three decades, Reddy has been an integral part of one of India’s largest beverage manufacturer, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB).

He believes his rise from a quality control executive to the position of a factory manager in one of HCCB’s big factories in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh not only tells the story of the triumph of hardwork and single-minded perseverance but also speaks volumes of a work environment that made it all possible. “All these years, I was never once considered a switch of jobs,” concludes Reddy.

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B. Raja Sekhar Reddy

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Ganesh Gunasekaran

Ganesh Gunasekaran, who is Reddy’s counterpart in HCCB’s Khurda factory near Bhubaneswar, expresses a very similar sentiment about this work. Gunasekaran, who will be completing 25 years next April has been a ring-side witness of what it means to work for HCCB. “Even 20 years back I was able to see the potential for growth when a local franchise bottling company that I worked for was taken over by HCCB,” said Gunasekaran.

Reddy and Gunasekaran summarize the single most important advantage of working in HCCB in two words – freedom and ownership. This sense of freedom at work is much more than just a vague notion of independence. “Everything here is rooted in people, process and trust in no small measure, from which success flows quite smoothly,” said Gunasekaran.

Kamalkrishna Giri who runs the factory outside Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh articulates this a bit more sharply. “Technically I am the head of my factory and this kind of ownership attitude is encouraged in HCCB, something my peers in other factories seldom enjoy,” he says.

As the head of the factory, a manager operates in an environment that embraces multiple stakeholders, both internal and external, and objectives that may sometimes seem to be at cross-purpose. For example, when the Wada factory in Maharashtra was facing a severe water shortage in 2019, its factory manager Himanshu Acharya had to find a solution that would not only resolve the issue for HCCB but also for the local community that was facing a particularly difficult summer.

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Kamalkrishna Giri

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Himanshu Acharya

Securing a reliable source of water that will address only the factory’s needs may have met his immediate needs but like everyone at HCCB he knew that good businesses don’t survive in failing ecosystems. So, when he sought the support of government authorities to resolve this issue, he knew he had to represent both his employers and the local villagers with equal fervor. Acharya believes that social acceptance is the cornerstone of a thriving business.

There is a reason why a long-term view of its business attracts a premium in HCCB. The factory sits at the center of a very complex network involving resources (raw materials and people), markets, and local factors that decide their long-term economic viability.

Gunasekaran who had spent two years between 2008 and 2009 with the company’s central strategic planning team elaborates “We have a long-term strategic rolling plan for setting up new lines and factories. In 2020, we are planning for 2030 just as we had planned the current capacity back in 2008-9,” he said. Some 4,000 plus data points including line and packaging capacities, manpower, equipment, transportation and manufacturing cost etc are fed into a proprietary forecasting software tool that provides the optimum location and capacity the company should be looking at in the future. “The accuracy of this forecast is as high as 85-90%,” he said. Such accurate forecasting for future demand is critical for the long-term planning of new lines. In a market like India with a population of nearly 1.4 billion, a one-liter increase in per capita consumption can mean a significant addition to manufacturing capacity.

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While the size of the Indian market for beverages continues to grow steadily, for the factories it involves evolving technologies. Factory managers play a critical role in finding the perfect balance between costs, efficiency, and productivity on the one hand, and the ability to address the highly impulse-driven consumption habits of its customers. This means a factory manager is expected to remain on top of several specialized subjects like technology, supply chain management, industrial relations, local government policies, highly localized community dynamics etc. The real challenge here is in seeing the microcosm and macrocosm at the same time and often making decisions that appreciate the fine balance between the two worlds, like optimal utilization of the resources available and upskilling for the employees involved.

A steep automation curve also means a near-fanatical allegiance to the principles of Total Productive Maintenance or TPM that strives to keep every piece of machinery in perfect working condition and zero potential breakdowns. Factory managers like Ganesh are trained to look for every potential reason for breakdown through a simple 5S process (Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain). “5S is the basis for TPM. Without 5S there is no TPM,” said Ganesh. Since September 2019, the potential abnormalities identified by his team in the Bhubaneshwar factory have shot up from around 200 to 13,000 this year, and 85% of these potential reasons for trouble have already been taken care of.

“An eye for small details matter,” says Reddy. If you see the hours that the teams continue to invest in kaizens’ you will see that the learnings and therefore the value of what we derive in one factory gets implemented in our others,” he adds.

One of the ways in which HCCB does not let good work remain locked up in one factory is when Factory managers are moved around the country at regular intervals. This ensures that good practices are shared and implemented across all its locations. Such movements also improve the cultural bonding within the company.

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Bheemanappa Manthale

Bheemanappa Manthale, who currently heads the factory in Bidadi outside Bengaluru talks about this unique experience when he had spent a few months in the company’s Ghaziabad factory back in 2016. “For a south Indian to work in Uttar Pradesh, it was not easy at first, partly because of the language and partly because of the difference in style of working. But by the time I had finished my work there, I not only received a very moving farewell and my own people skill improved a lot,” he recalls. In the last four years in the Bidadi factory, Manthale has helped groom multiple employees who moved to head roles across locations. “Co-own and co-evolve is how it works in HCCB,” he adds.

Reddy in the Vijayawada factory also talks about his own experience in grooming the next generations of leaders with the company. “In the last three years alone more than 150 people have been trained in the factory. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my father was a teacher too,” he adds as an afterthought.

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