Cover story

Win The Fight. Win The Future

Win The Fight.
Win The Future.
– RPG’s Annual Conference 2020

The past year has been unforgiving for most people. Lives, jobs, businesses, economies were all impacted adversely in 2020. As people fought to overcome personal and work challenges, pivoted strategies to keep businesses afloat, or lent a helping hand to the needy, stories of resilience, grit, determination, and kindness began to emerge.

Win the Fight to Win the Future was the clarion call arising out of the pandemic year. And that was also the theme of the RPG Annual Conference 2020, which witnessed its first ever virtual symposium. The annual conference has always been an extravagant on-ground platform for the sharpest minds across the Group to converge, discuss and share insights into the latest disruptions and developments in the respective companies and industries. This year, however, the conference was moved online, as the management team facilitated an interactive, engagement-led digital experience for all its attendees from the safety of their homes.

An effort of this scale involving all companies from the diversified conglomerate was a colossal techno-coordination undertaking. The event commenced with attendees navigating a skilfully designed landing page to enter a virtual auditorium. With chat tools for attendees to connect within the premises of the virtual venue, immersive company booths with valuable content and live notification pop-ups, the online experience managed to nearly replicate the energy of a physical event. A resource centre with downloadable media also provided the audience with the option of staying informed long after the event ended.

The speakers further elevated the virtual sessions into transformative and interactive experiences by putting the spotlight on the post-Covid business landscape, products and services for the ‘new normal’, as well as updates from their respective industries.


Kick-starting the event with updates on the Group’s performance and plans, Pramod Menon, the Group CFO, shed light on a few of RPG’s wins in a turbulent global environment. Over the last few quarters, even as the Indian economy continued to witness an extended slowdown due to various factors such as the slowdown in both global and domestic markets, external disruptors such as the NBFC crisis, the US-China trade war and even Covid-19, the RPG Group continued to deliver consistently, with a revenue growth of 4 percent and EBIDTA of 8 percent in FY20 alone.

The Group continues to outperform the index at 1.99x against 1.43x for the Sensex (reported for Oct 19, FY21; base year FY16). Pramod attributed this to the Group’s consistent focus on growth-oriented capital deployment across its various businesses. RPG has deployed ₹ 4763 crore from FY15 to FY20. In the same time period, the Group’s balance sheet has grown much stronger, with revenue growing at 1.4x; EBITDA and PAT growing at 1.6x, and market capitalisation growing at 1.2x, pegging RPG amongst the top three conglomerates in the industry.

Well poised to “Win the Fight and Win the Future”, the Group CFO stressed that RPG needs to continue to focus on being at the frontier of the ‘new normal’ corporate landscape with agile adoption of new technology and sustainable practices.


S Venkatesh, President, Group HR, set the tone of the evening with a session on building a sustainable future with robust and employee-first policies that will empower RPGians to be resilient, accountable, and conscientious. The highly acclaimed RPG Remote Working Policy is testament to the same. He stressed on the importance of building people capabilities across the Group. Despite the volatile environment ushered in by the pandemic, the RPG Group hired several CXOs during the period. Additionally, while majority of the industry was still contemplating the way forward, RPG welcomed summer interns who operated remotely, and also onboarded and inducted the Group Management Resource (GMR) batch of 2020.

The Group had a highly calibrated response to the pandemic and proactively took preventive measures much before the lockdown commenced. These included a seamless transformation to a complete work-from-home setup across companies and verticals, and developing Emergency Response teams, while firming up strategies for business continuity. Additionally, procedures ranging from sanitisation to thermal and retinal scanning have been set in place to ensure workplace readiness. The HR fraternity had much earlier adopted digitalised processes for leave management, onboarding, an Expense Management System, etc., which enabled a seamless experience of all processes for the employees, from the safety of their homes. Additionally, the Group provided extended health and wellbeing benefits by collaborating with various health professionals and extending insurance policy benefits for all.

Venkatesh also shed light on the continuing work towards delivering RPG’s brand promise of Hello Happiness, with the recent institution of Happiness Councils and the OneRPG Happiness Champions Taskforce.



Vimal Kejriwal, Managing Director & CEO, KEC International, spoke about significant developments across the company’s diverse businesses, as it continued to expand across segments, clients and geographies during the past year. The company acquired its eighth manufacturing facility — a state-of-the-art automated tower manufacturing plant in Dubai. The new facility is expected to help KEC enhance credentials and expand its footprint in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The company also launched its newest vertical, the Oil and Gas cross-country pipeline business, in line with the Government of India’s thrust of developing a gas-based economy and ensuring clean transportation of fuel. It also forayed into the Urban Infrastructure business by securing five large orders in the Metro and RRTS (Regional Rapid Transit System) segments, aggregating to over Rs2,800 crore. KEC is now one of the select engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) players capable of executing large scale, complex and technology intensive urban infrastructure projects. Additionally, its Civil business was successful in making a breakthrough in new segments such as High Rise Residential and Defence, and Warehouses, in addition to further cementing its position in the industrial market.

Vimal also highlighted the company’s financial growth over the last five years. KEC continues to deliver sustainable profitable growth with a Revenue CAGR growth of 8 percent and PAT CAGR growth of 40 percent during this period. In line with its diversification strategy, the company has also successfully doubled revenue share from non-T&D businesses to 34 percent in FY20 from 17 percent in FY16.

Speaking about the company’s strategy to combat Covid-19, the MD & CEO highlighted the focus areas that helped KEC sail through the pandemic, including building a robust diversified order book; deploying digitalisation, mechanisation and automation initiatives; and focusing on cost optimisation.


As the company stepped into a new decade, replete with unexplored opportunities, the unprecedented pandemic caused an initial, but not irreparable dent. Starting with a quick run-through on the general outline of the industry, Anant Goenka, Managing Director, CEAT, took the audience through CEAT’s - Six Cs strategy (Cost, Cash, Change in business model, Care for people, Community, Customers) to effectively mitigate the Covid crisis. In addition, the tyre company has pivoted its business model to cater to an evolving market scenario, such as its recent foray into PPE and Omni- channel.  

As a result of several of these measures to combat the adverse effects of Covid on the business, the company had quite a few success stories to boast of. A summary of their outperformance in Q2FY21 includes 17 percent overall growth, 15.5 percent growth in EBITDA margins and production, 33 percent growth in replacement business, a staggering 53 percent growth in Off Highway tyres, and 39 percent growth in Sri Lanka and 15.5 percent growth in Bangladesh sales. With more future-ready strategies in hand, the MD mentioned that requests for quotations from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have doubled since FY19.

Anant also highlighted CEAT’s position as market leaders in the two-wheeler sector as one of the success stories. The tyre company’s leadership position was aided by new products, deepened distribution, entry into South-East Asia markets and strengthened OEM relationships. The company is amongst the top two players in the Passenger Car Radials/Utility Vehicle Radials segment, a position further cemented through their product Secura Drive; the recent launch of a new product, Sport Drive; and the company’s strategy to introduce an omni-channel approach to sales. The company has also secured a market share of 12 percent in Trucks as a result of the shift from products to services through Fleet Advisory Services and the expansion of exclusive truck-servicing hubs. Today, CEAT is amongst the top players in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which continues to contribute to its rapid growth in the international business. With entry into newer international markets such as Scandinavia, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, CEAT is poised to drive on the road to further success.


Sachin Nandgaonkar, President & CEO – Speciality Sector, spoke to the audience about RPG’s innovation capabilities and its positive impact on the business landscape at large. With digitalisation, innovation and revamping of old methodologies, the ‘new normal’ is expected to cut through redundant work practices, allow for cross-pollination of ideas, introduce fresher perspectives, and exercise creativity like a muscle. RPG Group, a recipient of the ET – Most Innovative Company Award, is no stranger to the adoption of new and fresh ideas crucial to business and people growth. The Group’s Speciality sector continued to work towards improving processes for all its three companies, brought new and improved products and services to the market, and increased efficiency as well as profitability.


“We, as a pharma company, have a massive responsibility in this pandemic.” These words by Yugal Sikri, Managing Director, RPG Life Sciences, highlighted the significant pressure on the pharmaceutical industry due to the emergence of Covid. RPG’s pharma business went beyond the call of duty with their CSR initiatives. It established a network of medical professionals for the SafeSeniors app (a tool designed for the elderly to take preemptive measures by recording their daily health updates) and streamlined a bevy of volunteers to deliver medicines to chronic patients. RPG Life Sciences also ensured that life-saving drugs for transplant patients were available at their doorstep, against all odds, at a time when the lockdown was in full force. Constant communication with its employees was pivotal to ensure high productivity and morale, and reinforce trust and camaraderie during these tough times. "We explained to our employees about social distancing and personal hygiene measures, and assured them that the organisation will take care of their safety," Sikri added.


As operations restarted, the first step for Raychem’s management team was to stabilise operations and safeguard its employees. With a rise in frequent e-customer inspections, the company has adopted various digital measures in its processes such as the integrated application, which ensures that each team member is aware of the equipment’s movements at the click of a button. With major restructuring and reform within the company, Raychem continued to work towards building employee trust, along with taking actions related to their safety, security and stability during the pandemic.


As the spread of Covid impacted their business, Harrisons Malayalam Ltd. (HML) was in a particularly fragile position during this crisis. Production was adversely impacted since the lockdown was enforced during peak plucking season. However, as the tea industry’s survival is not removed from the interests of workers, having a solid social distancing plan was crucial to ensure the safety of their people. As the company discontinued the halt on their operations, HML chalked out their policies, rules and regulations to safeguard their employees and the businesses. However, despite all the challenges faced from a business standpoint, the employees crowdfunded and sourced digital screens to enable underprivileged children to continue e-learning during the pandemic.


Sandeep Kishore, CEO & Managing Director, Zensar, called Covid the greatest catalyst for digital transformation across industries. He shared case studies of successful business transformations across companies globally, which had been enabled by Zensar. He spoke about the company’s continued focus on digital transformation led by human experience design, High Velocity Enterprise (HiVE) for new-age digital application services, Cloud First strategies with digital foundation services, and building intelligent enterprises with AI, automation and analytics.

The CEO & Managing Director also highlighted Zensar’s continued uptick in performance and execution, growing customer success via experience-led B2B programmes, employee-experience transformation and new-age differentiating studio, among several other initiatives led by the company. He also shared that Zensar featured as a case study at London Business School, in addition to being featured at Harvard Business School for its accelerated digital transformation journey.


Ruchir Sharma, Head - Emerging Markets and Chief Global Strategist, Morgan Stanley Investment Management
Ruchir Sharma, an investor and fund manager who manages assets more than USD20 billion at Morgan Stanley and has also widely written on global economics and politics, was the guest speaker at the conference. He outlined the impact of recent major socio-political, environmental and economic events on Indian businesses and its outlook, and took the audience through the saga of India’s wealth and enumerated the problems. He highlighted that the problems were not the expenses, but the choice of expenditures. Pointing out that our nation was not living beyond its means, he highlighted how India has been running an average current account deficit of just 1.3 percent of the GDP for the last five years. In Democracy on the Road — his book about India — Ruchir exuded confidence that the country’s political DNA is fundamentally socialist and statist and runs through the veins of all the leading parties.

Alan Iny, Global Leader and Director - Creativity and Scenarios, Boston Consulting Group
Alan Iny, the author of Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity, urged the audience to explore why thinking creatively about the future was a challenge. In doing so, he busted some of the myths on how creativity and innovation really work in business, while sharing his pet approaches to any challenge. Using Bic’s example, he demonstrated his ‘Thinking in New Boxes’ strategy where, instead of thinking out of the box, one creates a new box altogether. He elucidated that as long as one is open to changing pre-existing mental models, it is not necessary to be the first one to come up with an idea. According to the leader, it’s all about being creative with the existing idea at hand.

Sanjeev Mehta, Chairman & Managing Director, Hindustan Unilever Limited
Sanjeev Mehta shared how the FMCG giant had been staying ahead of the pandemic. While the sector was severely impacted during the lockdown, it has been learning, innovating and rising from disruptions to put the worst behind and is looking forward to the new year with optimism and new-found confidence. Sanjeev divulged the company’s winning formula — people, who he believes will remain its biggest asset. He also shared that it was important to discern the difference between fads and long-term trends to win the fight and the future. He believes that it is important to keep a pulse on evolving consumer habits, and identify trends that will outlive the pandemic.


Year after year, the RPG Annual Conferences have been a great way for employees to recharge, regain passion, and get a new perspective about their work. However, one of the perks of traditional conferences has always been the in-person networking and energy. While one may pause at the thought of participating in virtual business events, it is a noteworthy achievement for RPG to have digitalised every aspect of the conference so flawlessly, almost managing to replicate the physical networking energy. Afterall, not every conglomerate is bestowed with the ET Most Innovative Company award.


Celebrating the best of RPG, the coveted RPG Annual Awards honoured the top company and individual performers during 2019-20.

Best Corporate Performance Award 2020
RPG Life Sciences

Outstanding Achiever Award 2020
Kaushal Kodesia, KEC International
Yugal Sikri, RPG Life Sciences