There’s no doubt Suchita Oswal Jain was born with textiles in her blood and a strong instinct for business running through her veins. After all, she’s a third-generation member of the Oswal family, which meant growing up in India with the founders and operators of the Vardhman Group, a leading textile conglomerate boasting a rich history spanning more than 50 years.
As an only child, she regularly visited the company’s factories with her father, absorbing the business, delighting in the splash of colours and textures, and developing a natural passion for the industry. Surely her date with destiny lay right at her feet with the family company.
Not necessarily. A few minutes of conversation with the Vice Chairman and joint Managing Director of Vardhman Textiles reveals a formidable woman, one who clearly lives by her own decisions, particularly the one she faced three decades ago after graduating from university. While many would have considered slipping into the family business a no-brainer, it required much more thought from Suchita. A lot of thought, followed by a conversation with the boss, her father and Chairman SP Oswal, the son of Vardhman Founder Rattan Chand Oswal.
Having armed herself with a Master in Commerce from Panjab University, the Accelerated Development Programme from the London Business School and Leadership Development Programme from INSEAD, Paris, Suchita was more qualified to secure a job with any number of global companies, or indeed, start a company of her own. Joining the family business just because she could wasn’t an option for this ambitious woman. Genes or no genes, any decision to join Vardhman had to be based on all the right reasons. Fortunately for her and ultimately the company, there were plenty.
“I was barely 23 at the time,” she remembers. “I wanted to do more with my life than take the easy option and just work for the family business. I wanted to be challenged and learn, use the company as a platform, a golden platform of opportunity to develop and expand, incorporate my ideas and my creativity. It was a passion, a junoon, fuelled by a strong drive coming from within.
“I knew there was so much I could do and that’s what attracted me, tempted me and pushed me towards the family business at that young age. It was the desire to do something, to achieve something, to be mentally stimulated. So, I spoke to my father, telling him I would like to train in the company, this great institution, built over nearly 55 years, and the number one leader of textiles in the country.”
Suchita joined Vardhman in 1990, a young woman in an industry dominated by men and shouldering high expectations. She was an Oswal after all. But it was also a golden period, an age when India’s economy was opening up to the rest of the world and providing numerous and exciting opportunities for import and export. It was perfect timing for Suchita to bring her fresh ideas and knowledge into the business together with her finely-tuned attention to detail.
Working her way through various departments, streamlining processes along the way, it took just a year for Suchita to turn the company on its head and introduce a woven fabric division. Starting with a new factory at Himachal Pradesh, she began manufacturing greige fabric. Today, fabric manufacturing is the growth engine for the group with more than 200 million metres of greige fabric and more than 175 million metres of fabric processed every year.
Founded with just 6,000 spindles in 1965, Vardhman is the largest and most versatile yarn, thread, fabric and garment manufacturer in India, turning over more than US$1.1 billion a year. The group is headquartered in Ludhiana in the Malwa region of Punjab state, an area commonly renowned as the ‘Manchester of India’. It is the largest spinner (over 1.2 million spindles) in the country, home to 24 per cent of the world’s spindles and eight per cent of the world’s rotors. More than half the revenue is generated from its production and process of yarn, nearly 30 per cent from fabric and the rest from the company’s fibre and special steel business.
Vardhman employs more than 30,000 people in more than 20 production units spanning five states, including Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujrat and Tamil Nadu, exporting the bulk of its production to more than 65 countries. It is one of the largest consumers of raw cotton in the country, sourcing the natural resource directly from worldwide markets to produce yarn and sewing threads used in multiple applications and fabric in a wide range of patterns and weaves to global clothing designers, including Gap Inc., H&M, C&A, Benetton, Uniqlo, Marks & Spencer, Target and others throughout Europe and Japan. In fact, the company’s export strength has largely buffered it from downturns in regional textile markets when weaker competitors were severely impacted.
Even taking into account that India has the second-largest spinning capacity after China in the world, it’s difficult to get your head around Vardhman’s production numbers. Every day more than 650 metric tonnes of yarn is produced, with more than 50 tons of it processed; in excess of 15 tons of fibre is processed; more than 5,000 shirts are made; and more than 43 metric tonnes of sewing thread, most of which is sold to local suppliers.
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