Some 24 years ago, Narotam Satyanarayan Sekhsaria, a 33-year-old cotton trader from Gujarat left the family-run business to try his hand in the cement sector. here was a stable demand for cement in the country and there weren’t too many companies producing the commodity at the time. Along with family friends, Suresh and Vinod Neotia, Sekhsaria established Ambuja Cements Private Ltd.
He started out by setting up a 700,000tpa plant at Ambuja Nagar in Gujarat. The first bag of cement rolled out in 1983 and Sekhsaria has never looked back since then. Today, with a capacity of 12.5Mta, the company is reported as India’s lowest cost producer of cement. It has now ushered in the world’s second largest cement company, Holcim.
In spite of all the glory, Sekhsaria prefers to keep a low profile. He believes the driving forces behind any business are passion and compassion. His philosophy, which has also become the company’s motto is, "Give a man orders and he will do the task reasonably well. But let him set his own targets, give him freedom and authority, and his task becomes a personal mission."
The greatest strength of Sekhsaria, a chemical engineer, is his uncanny knack of identifying the right person for the right job and trusting him completely. This is important as he lacks technical expertise. "He has always assigned a job to a person and allowed him to do it his way. This has brought in a sense of responsibility and belonging, which is very critical for any organisation," says Anil Singhvi, executive director, Gujarat Ambuja, who has worked with Sekhsaria for the past 19 years.
Gujarat Ambuja presents a fascinating growth story. In 1997, it made its first acquisition -- Modi Cements’ ailing 1.4Mta plant at Raipur (Madhya Pradesh). The very next year, it acquired the Nadikudi (around 100km from Guntur) and Proddatur (near Cuddaph) limestone mines in Andhra Pradesh to strengthen its presence in southern India. In December 1999, it acquired a 51 per cent stake in the Delhi-based DLF Cement, which catapulted to the fourth spot in the cement industry after ACC, L&T and Grasim.
The master stroke was its 14.45 per cent acquisition of the Associated Cement Companies from the Tatas in 2000. Gujarat Ambuja last week then struck a complex deal with Holcim, through which it may end up acquiring a controlling stake in ACC. Personally, however, Sekhsaria dislikes complexities, which reflects in his attitude towards solving problems. "He believes in breaking down a big problem into simpler and smaller ones, which are easier to handle," says another employee at Gujarat Ambuja.
He knows that a commodity business can succeed in two ways: either by reducing prices or by adding value. "Considering there’s little value one can add to a bag of cement, the focus was always on reducing prices. He realised that the biggest cost was of power and the company has devised various ways of cutting costs on this front," says Singhvi.