16 September 2014
Arun Gaur, Chief People Officer at Birla Carbon, takes a trip down memory lane and talks about the successful integration of Atlanta-based Columbian Chemicals Co into the Birla Carbon Business of the Aditya Birla Group
The 21st of June 2011 was a red-letter day for all of us. At an overcrowded press conference held to announce the acquisition, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla averred: “We view the Carbon Black Business as a significant global business in our portfolio. There is a lot to be derived from this coming together of the two entities. Columbian Chemicals’ excellent R&D capability, multiple speciality products, the customer connect in North America and South America coupled with committed teams will add to the strength of the Carbon Black Business. Likewise, our strength in scale economies, managing large capacity plants and managing multiple emerging markets will be leveraged.”
Added Dr. Santrupt Misra, Director – Group Human Resources and Chief Executive Officer, Carbon Black, “The completion of the acquisition of Columbian Chemicals is indeed a milestone in our Carbon Black Business. At one stroke it doubles our capacity from 1 million tonnes to 2 million tonnes. It extends our geographic reach. Our global footprint now spans 12 countries – India, Thailand, Egypt, China, USA, Brazil, Korea, Spain, Canada, Hungary, Germany and Italy, where we collectively have 17 state-of-the-art manufacturing units. The deal helps in giving us a foothold in the mature markets of North America and strengthens our position in Europe and in emerging markets. Our focus is on unrelenting value creation and optimising costs through innovations in areas such as logistics, sourcing and technology.”
The whole process of integration was extremely innovative. The senior management team of Columbian Chemicals were invited to India. Making them familiar with our Group, its businesses, corporate functions and its ethos is a given in any integration process. But what we did was to give them a kaleidoscopic view of India, her colours and the taste and flavour of what it is to work in India. This was an experience they would never forget.
From cultural nuances, we moved on to straddle the minefield of business integration. Dr. Misra was crystal clear from the start that none of us, irrespective of geographies, should harbour a “them and us” feeling. He believed implicitly in “One Team, One Dream.”
“Bringing the leadership team from both sides of the acquisition together in India immediately following the closing, provided a great opportunity for us to quickly understand the background of our individual perspectives and build a common vision for the future. The venue made it possible to openly understand the very real cultural differences and figure out how to take advantage of that diversity rather than let it stand in the way,” said Mr. John Loudermilk, President, North America and Chief Technology Officer.
The meeting with our Chairman made a big impact. The kind of positivity it generated among the teams is not easy to pen down. One loud and clear message from Mr. Birla said it all: “When you are back home, tell our teams — not a single man or woman will be turfed out. You are now part of our extended family.”
We had to move fast to create one entity even though there were several legal entities. Resolving this issue at an early stage meant that we could move towards the creation of “One Birla Carbon”. We did what was most obvious and really simple. We live in the digital age. So our first step was to create a common email id that would bind us all as one entity. The management team felt strongly that this was the best direction. So from early on, we harped on the fact that we are one entity. There was no need to live in the past. Our American colleagues took pride in the fact that they were now a part of the storied Aditya Birla Group.
Another issue was language. Columbian Chemicals was a business comprising several nationalities and for most of the people, English was not the first language. That was why, the video message of Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla, welcoming the Columbian Chemicals teams, went out not just in English, but in multiple languages ranging from Mandarin and Korean in the East, to Hungarian, Italian, Spanish and German in Europe, and to Portuguese in South America.
Mr. Birla’s message touched a chord in many hearts, when he said, “I believe an acquisition — the coming together of two companies — is not just about the balance sheets or assets or market shares or distribution channels. It is at the end of the day about plugging into the minds and hearts of people. It is about rallying them to a compelling and exciting vision of the future. It is about harmonising different perspectives. It is about creating an emotional symphony that gets the best out of one and all.”
Several task forces were set up to address the issue of functional integration. Our intent was to tackle issues and not run a farcical exercise or just pretend to go through the motions. We had task forces leading integration efforts in Manufacturing, Finance, Feedstock sourcing, HR, Sales and Marketing, Technology and Specialty Blacks.
Columbian Chemicals was among the leaders in technology and Specialty Carbon Black. The capabilities in the carbon black operations in the existing Group units had to be brought up to speed. Creating and developing the Specialty Blacks market in India and parts of Asia was an urgent need. It was also critical to present one face to tyre manufacturers, our common customers in Rubber Black. Mr. Rahul Kohli, Chief Marketing Officer, opines: “The tremendous effort put in to create a seamless marketing team with ‘One Face To The Customer’ approach was worth its weight in gold. And customers appreciated our fast moves on the integration front.”
Sustained and frequent communication between the teams, and a monthly integration newsletter on integration efforts and significant milestones achieved, kept all colleagues in the loop. These endeavours resulted in building a cohesive team much faster than expected. There were numerous small teams that worked on short and medium term projects that not only addressed key business issues but also ensured regular interaction. All this helped build cohesion.
Value workshops were a parallel play. We went ahead with the values roll out in great earnest in the
US, Europe, Asia and South America. At the first level, we had the local leadership team attend the workshop. We trained the trainers who then went forward and rolled out the workshop at the plant level. The teams understood the importance of integrity, commitment and hard work in our ethos. Everyone understood that we do not build businesses “on the quicksands of opportunism,” but that we are in it for the long haul.
The speed with which this happened was really commendable and it was possible because, as Mr. Tim Fedrigon, Deputy CPO, puts it: “Both parties were highly engaged from start to finish with no personal agendas or barriers.”
The adrenaline rush continues. And like a river our flow is seamless! We’ve moved far beyond the narrow confines of two separate companies, never letting the ‘them vs. us’ syndrome plague us. The vision of “One Dream, One Team” has become a ground reality.
Dr. Pragnya RamGroup Executive President, Corporate Communications & CSRAditya Birla Management Corporation Private LimitedAditya Birla Centre, 1st Floor, 'C' WingS.K. Ahire Marg, WorliMumbai 400 030.
91-22-6652 5000 /2499 5000
Fax: 91-22-6652 5741/ 42
A US $43 billion corporation, the Aditya Birla Group is in the League of Fortune 500. It is anchored by an extraordinary force of over 120,000 employees, belonging to 42 different nationalities.
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