Trying times are an opportunity to put the house in order

Written by Meher Pudumjee | Updated: Jan 1 2010, 05:10am hrs
The global economic crisis was a timely reminder about the glaring lapses in corporate governance practices in companies around the world. So, we used this opportunity, first and foremost, to declare once again within Thermax that while performance is critical, values are sacrosanct.

We saw in these trying times an opportunity to put our house in order. From the host of improvement areas, we focused on operations, innovation and talent management. We streamlined the various manufacturing processes and improved operational efficiencies. To manage cash flows prudently, we kick-started an initiative codenamed Project Everlean to eliminate waste, streamline processes and systems, and reduce costs.

The unpredictable business environment also persuaded us to look at various markets from a new perspective. We participated selectively in the projects of municipal corporations and public sector undertakings, providing us new and diversified opportunities for the water and power businesses.

The nascent service business addressed customer concerns with innovative approaches like energy rental, process efficiency tracking at boiler sites, equipment life extension, as well as operation and maintenance of power plants and water utilities.

This business is now geared up to explore other service revenue opportunities to mitigate the cyclical risks that affect the capital goods sector.

It is during difficult times that companies realise the full extent of the gains from resource conservation and productivity improvements. Internally, we tightened up our systems to conserve electricity and water at our offices and manufacturing facilities.

Externally, we sharpened our focus on supporting our customers with applications such as waste heat recovery for energy optimisations and recycle of water.

During this phase, though oil prices went down, we went ahead with our fuel-shift programme for the customers benefitconverting from expensive oil to solid fuel, primarily biomass and waste-to-energy.

We also used this period to step up our efforts to develop a green portfolio of products and services to align ourselves with global initiatives towards climate-change mitigation. These include boilers that use the polluting waste from distilleries and municipal solid waste as fuel to generate energy, and hybrid systems that use solar with conventional energy to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

We have invested our time, money and people in green and renewable energy. We set up a research technology & innovation facility to establish centres of excellence in the key technology areas critical to Thermax. Focusing on collaborative research, the centre is undertaking projects with premier research and scientific institutes. Though it could be early to quantify results, these initiatives are bound to improve the internal drivers of speed, scale and sustainability. An innovation council, comprising external experts and chaired by RA Mashelkar, is providing guidance to Thermax in revitalising innovation.

Even though there was a freeze on hiring, Thermax went ahead with the recruitment of graduate engineer trainees to whom we had given appointment letters six months prior to the financial crisis. Moreover, recruiting talent in R&D was encouraged. We used this phase to upgrade the competencies and skills of our people. We focused on training and developing our internal talent. The Thermax leadership development programme, launched in 2008, played a major role. We also designed and implemented specific training sessions to include our supplier partners, channel partners and customers operators.

All in all, internal communication with our own employees was a critical element throughout this period. It helped to set our priorities, allay any fears and focus our efforts to weather the unpredictable times.