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He excels in the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship
The most notable feature of Sundram Fasteners relates to its man-management. The focus on human relations and the paternalistic concerns explain the unit not losing a single day of production due to industrial relations’ issues.

My association with Suresh extended to the 1960s when I entered journalism. We used to meet at the office of S N Ramasami, the brilliant advertising manager of the group – a freedom fighter in white khadi, a four cubit dhoti and jibba – extremely knowledgeable with a blunt exterior and a soft heart. Suresh was just back after studying literature (not the traditional engineering or accounts common for scions of business families) in Germany. 

He described his entry into business: “uncle TS Srinivasan, asked me to take charge of a bolts and nut manufacturing unit in the small scale sector at the Ambattur Industrial Estate.  I had least idea then on the technology or process but the machinery supplier provided inputs on these. I went into the details and learned the techniques of cold forging and extrusion by experience and close involvement.”

In those years, the field was dominated by the company, Fit Tight Nuts and Bolts P Ltd,  Mumbai and the British company Guest, Keen, Williams that was supplying bolts and nuts to the railways and other large customers in the engineering sector. When Fits Tight Bolts and Nuts had a labour problem which led the management closing down the shop, there was a windfall opportunity for SFL; the company was alert in grabbing it. SFL built its own plant at the huge Padi complex so thoughtfully conceived and built by T S Srinivasan. In quick time SFL became a dominant supplier of bolts and nuts. 

 

The CII exposure...

Suresh expanded his horizons, initially as the chairman of CII southern region and subsequently as the President of CII at the national level. This provided rich opportunities to interact with policymakers as also observe business organisations at the national and global plane. I remember the punishing schedule of his travelling thousands of miles for almost 24 days a month on CII business. This exposure took his credentials as a reliable and effective business leader. And opportunities for expansion increased. General Motors offered him the opportunity to supply radiator caps as original equipment. Suresh transplanted a British plant to Padi and in quick time emerged a prized vendor for GM. 

 

Total productivity management...

Suresh constantly focused on systems and quality. I remember the passion with which he pursued the Japanese concept of total productivity management (TPM). He invited the TPM Guru Yamaguchi from Japan and passionately pursued the TPM concept. I remember his success in taking productivity of machines from around 35 per cent to over 80 per cent resulting in savings on capital investment and surging profits. 

Yet another pioneering contribution of SFL relates to his foray into manufacturing of fasteners in China. SFL was the earliest to make bold to set up a plant in China despite issues relating to language, distance… Later SFL acquired a precision forge unit in UK. These exposures further helped in the cross-fertilisation of manufacturing practices. 

The most notable factor of SFL relates to its man-management. Articulate Suresh spends time liberally addressing his workers in all his plants and establishes close rapport with them. The liberal pay packages and other benefits have built loyalty. Suresh refers with satisfaction to the hundreds of SFL workers providing quality education to their children who are employed today across the globe. 

Wife Usha was heading with distinction Upasana Finance and has been richly contributing to the growth of SFL and Suresh. Daughters Arathi and Arundathi are at the helm managing SFL. 

During 2016-17 SFL had a turnover of Rs. 3000 crore with a third of it coming from exports.  It has 27 plants employing over 9000. Surely Suresh and his teams know the nuts and bolts of successful entrepreneurship.- SV 


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