Tata Chemicals’ consumer products and agri-business divisions may be showing the greatest signs of invigoration, but the fact remains that a good half of the company’s revenues come from that old warhorse, soda ash, a vital input for several industries, among them detergents, glass, mining and construction.
Tata Chemicals’ soda ash is produced at multiple sites across the world — the original plant in Mithapur, India, the Brunner Mond plant in the UK, the Magadi Soda Company (MSC) site in Kenya and the General Chemical Industrial Products (GCIP) facility in Wyoming in the US.
A year ago, Tata Chemicals decided to consolidate its many chemicals businesses into a single unit: the Global Chemicals Business. The acquisitions were rebranded to reflect both the unified name and the global spread. Brunner Mond became Tata Chemicals Europe, GCIP became Tata Chemicals North America and MSC became Tata Chemicals Magadi.
What’s in a name?
The businesses were realigned to present the Tata Chemicals brand across the world, with each region taking ownership of certain important accounts. India, for example, handles the Unilever account, Tata Chemicals Europe handles the St Gobain business and the US takes care of the Proctor & Gamble business.
There was also an internal factor that contributed to the rebranding — employee sentiments. “After the acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover and the launch of the Nano by Tata Motors, the Tata group has become well-known globally,” says Mr Mukundan. “We got feedback from our people that they wanted to be associated with a brand like Tata, one that stands for ethics, values and stability. They wanted to be a part of something bigger, a group that understands business and is willing to invest.”
The rebranding also stimulated Tata Chemicals to undertake a massive consolidation exercise. Instead of the four or five different IT platforms that were being used in different locales, the company moved to SAP. Support functions like finance, safety audit and risk management have been centralised, while human resources, treasury and sales and marketing remain federal. As Mr Mukundan puts it, the whole entity functions like an aircraft carrier-led fleet of ships.
Says De Lyle Bloomquist, the head of the Global Chemicals Business, “We started identifying best practices, but people also began to create networks. It broke the ice. Nowadays people are picking up phones and talking to colleagues across the globe. For instance, if Magadi is facing a technical issue, they’ll call the US site and ask questions. On the commercial and sales and marketing sides, we have quarterly meetings, a King Arthur and the round table kind of thing where we all sit down, talk about different issues and share experiences.”
Another positive move has been the planned shift to a leaner, fitter organisation with higher speeds of response. With one eye on the balance sheet, Tata Chemicals is implementing programmes such as Lean Six Sigma and Economic Profit Management to improve returns on investment.
Christopher Douville, vice president at Tata Chemicals North America, explains, “Since the rebranding, many of our employees have commented that they now see the business as global versus regional. They have first-hand opportunities to interact with their counterparts at other Tata affiliates. This has brought about an exchange of ideas and success stories that will continue to help unify the global entities as one.”
Rebranding, realignment, consolidation — these management terms don’t fully capture what Tata Chemicals is actually doing: making sure that the vintage chemicals business is in a sustainably better shape to deal with the future.