Ravi Dadlani

"Tyres are generally regarded to be a 'grudge purchase'. Changing this perception by living our purpose can help change the tyre industry."

In Conversation with Ravi Dadlani, Managing Director, CEAT Sri Lanka

I follow the common and almost clichéd ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra in life.

1. Tell us about your background, early years & education.

Being a second-generation Sri Lankan of Indian origin, I enjoyed the best of both the countries. My mother hails from south Mumbai and my father from the Sindh province, which became a part of Pakistan – post-partition. My father’s family migrated and made Sri Lanka their home in 1936. I never really took education seriously, as I was always encouraged to join the family business. I thoroughly enjoyed Rugby and even played for the under 15 and 17 years teams of my college. However, due to an injury, I was unable to pursue the sport further. I have a diploma from Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK, and I have also followed various management programmes from National University of Singapore, Union Japanese Scientists and Engineers, IIM Ahmedabad and ISB over the years.

2. What attracted you to CEAT?

I joined CEAT as General Manager - Sales & Marketing. Multiple factors and reasons attracted me to this company. For one, CEAT was a challenge – given its market status and position in the minds of consumers. From a marketing standpoint, it was no less than a dream to grow and succeed with the brand. Secondly, the position was held at that time by an expatriate, so as a Sri Lankan, it was a matter of pride for me to assume charge. Last but not the least, this was a new exposure for me, and somewhere deep within, I could sense the opportunity for me to change the consumer perception towards CEAT in Sri Lanka.

3. What lends CEAT an edge over its competitors?

CEAT is the single-largest pneumatic tyre manufacturer with market leadership across categories, except for two wheelers in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, we are on the verge of gaining leadership in this category too. We have built, nurtured and invested in the brand. In fact, our unaided brand recall across categories is above 90%. The expansion in product offerings – commercial tyres, consumer- driven Passenger Car Radials (PCR) and Sports utility Vehicle (SUV) categories, has changed the perception of the brand amongst consumers. The support from R&D India for development of products best-suited for the Sri Lankan terrain, investments made towards product quality improvement in line with benchmarked competition, and the unparalleled warranty given for the brand, give us a clear edge over our competitors.

4. Can you share a pivotal moment from your career with us?

I Joined CEAT in 2007 and have been part of its tremendous growth journey for the last 13 years. From being at the frontline in sales and marketing, I am now leading the operations at CEAT. I believe my team and I have played a role in building and promoting what CEAT stands for in Sri Lanka. The pivotal moment in my career was when I was identified to lead the company in Sri Lanka. This was in 2017. It was indeed an honour and a privilege to have been considered worthy to undertake this responsibility – especially considering the fact that it was the first time that we had a Sri Lankan leading the team. To me, this was a defining moment in my career.

5. How are the auto trends in Sri Lanka different vis-à-vis India/rest of the globe? And yet, what are some parallels one can draw from the industry?

Trends are not very different in Sri Lanka from that of India. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka does not have an Original Equipment (OE) industry like in India and the rest of the globe. OE is a catalyst for growth in the automobile industry. It not only drives R&D, but also the trends we see in automobiles. Another point of significance is that the type of vehicles available in Sri Lanka are comparatively of higher grades, and in some sense, dominated by Japanese and European models. Sri Lankans are very passionate about their vehicles, and this explains their fascination towards the best European and Japanese vehicles.

6. What do you think is lacking in the tyre sector in the Indian subcontinent? How does CEAT Sri Lanka work towards bridging this gap?

Frankly, what we needed was a ‘Purpose’. I strongly believe that the purpose statement adopted by CEAT in 2017 of ‘making mobility safer and smarter everyday’ fits in with what we need to do in the Indian subcontinent as well as adopt some of it in Sri Lanka. Our minds are conditioned to look at the tyre sector in a traditional manner. Tyres are generally regarded as being a ‘grudge purchase’, and it is our ability to change this through living our purpose that will bring about a change in the tyre sector.

7. What products and services have had a boom in 2020?

For Sri Lanka, we have seen an unprecedented boom in the tyre industry, predominantly from the domestic markets due to the import restrictions put in place by the government. We have also seen phenomenal growth in the food/restaurant industry from the standpoint of home deliveries. Several cloud kitchens have mushroomed, and their numbers are significant. These have been in response to the mobility restrictions on account of the pandemic.

8. What are some of the bikes/cars/automobiles/any vehicle in Sri Lanka that sport brand CEAT?/ What does CEAT have a brand association with?

CEAT as a brand has been dominating the racing arena in Sri Lanka for the last 10 years – be it bikes or cars. We are privileged to have presence in three categories of cars, where the governing authority for racing stipulates the need to have CEAT tyres to race. We also sponsor a racing team in Sri Lanka and through this, we are able to drive the ‘performance endorsement’ for the brand.

9. How have you been dealing with the pandemic – both on the work front as well as personal?

The pandemic has been a catalyst in reassessing how we do things. Barring a few close calls, thankfully we have been safe for the last eight months. Emphasis on communication with teams has significantly increased. For the purpose of convenience, smaller teams have been created, headed by the respective Executive Committee member, who stays in regular correspondence with the rest of the members. Utmost emphasis is on the simple yet crucial message of personal safety of all employees and the safety of the company. The current environment in which we are functioning, needs to be the prime consideration in anything we do.

The pandemic must be credited for a positive change in the attitude of employees. We have witnessed a significant increase in their level of commitment and camaraderie. Personally, I have been trying to align myself with the work-from-home concept. Since the lockdown is not as stringent here, the workaholic in me drives to go to office as frequently as possible.

10. How are you unwinding from stress during this period?

I have been using this time to start a routine workout schedule to get my health in order. I have lost a considerable amount of weight in the last 10 months. Since there has been a restriction on overseas travel, I have taken a couple of breaks within Sri Lanka. The pandemic has led me to appreciate the beauty within Sri Lanka. It is only now that I have realised the fact that the country still has some unexplored beautiful places.

11. On a lighter note, how do you unwind? Once the world is safer again, which vacation spot would you hit and why?

I find the activity of travelling, discovering places within Sri Lanka and collecting currency notes quite absorbing. With encouragement from my son, over the last three months, I have explored adventure sports such as jet-skiing – I absolutely love it. I have also roamed across some of the unexplored terrains of Sri Lanka. Two holiday destinations that have been on my bucket list for a while are Prague and Switzerland, and I’ll plan on visiting these beautiful cities once the pandemic is over.

12. What’s your mantra in life? What drives you?

I follow the common and almost clichéd ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra in life. Dull as it may sound, I strongly believe in it.

My perspective on life is strongly influenced by my wife and son. My family has always been my driving force. Earlier, I was unable to spend sufficient time with them, but while working from home, I have been able to spend some quality time with them.