Dynamic and progressive, this duo stands out for the old-world grace with which they conduct themselves and their business, with an unwavering moral compass.
HELLO! sits down for a tête-à-tête with the brothers who helm Kajaria Ceramics as joint managing directors, picking their brains on ethics, cut-throat competition and the importance of perseverance to make it big.
HELLO!: Share some of the trade secrets that helped you take the Kajaria brand to such great heights.
Chetan: “Our beloved parents ingrained the right values in us. They gave us our space, but taught us how to use our freedom judiciously. They gave us authority, but taught us to use it responsibly. These enshrined the importance of family in our minds. These factors kept us rooted in our conventional culture in these contemporary times.”
Rishi: “Education is the other key factor that helped us in our journey at Kajaria. We were fortunate to have graduated from some of the most reputed global institutes. These years helped us immensely in gaining insights into global trends. We’ve been able to leverage this international exposure to improve several aspects within our organisation.”
H!: In the cut-throat competitive world we live in, how do you both complement each other and have the other’s back?
Chetan: “We are on each other’s back and have each other’s back! It’s a fascinating equation we share. I’m at the top of what I do. He’s at the top of what he does. We are two intensely competitive individuals who take immense pride in each other’s success.”
Rishi: “We have our unique business styles. We talk. We share. We agree. Most importantly, we agree to disagree, and we are fine with that. The best part of our relationship is that we communicate freely.”
Chetan: “The open communication channel helps us address issues as and when they arise. It also helps imbibe winning strategies from each other.”
H!: Who were the primary influences in your lives?
Chetan: “My father has been my guiding star. He’s a self-made man who rose from a humble background to a position of great respect. His one piece of advice that is, and will always remain, etched in my memory is, ‘Never forget where you came from.’ This simple mindset allows him to remain grounded despite the dizzying heights he’s at now. I see this every day in the way he interacts with people across the board, from dealers and office staff to the management and even employees on the shop floor.”
Rishi: “One trait of my father that impresses me the most is his ability to respect people for who they are. That respect allows and empowers him to give authority to people to take on projects, do things their way, be patient, and accept that sometimes, they will go wrong.”
Chetan: “Honesty is another trait close to his heart. He strictly follows this path, no matter what. In business processes, dealings, financials — in everything. He says whatever you do, you should be able to look at yourself in the mirror without feeling a sense of guilt. This is his filter.”
Rishi: “These value systems were ingrained in us not by force, but by watching the man living by them day-in and day-out.”
H!: Where would you say your happy place is? What’s your definition of downtime in this manic world?
Chetan: “My happy place is my family. After office, that’s my priority. It’s quite a pleasurable experience to grow old with family. You will have bagloads of stories to tell your grandchildren. Also, I love to travel to new places, see new things, gain new experiences… I do that with my family. Going out with them every year is a top priority. I try to have my ‘me time’, too, where I drown myself in the world of books.”
Rishi: “Family is like the pivot. The good, when shared with family, becomes better. Likewise, the bad becomes a little less so. It’s a happy place to go back to after a packed day at work. Travelling and sports are two things that are close to my heart. They rejuvenate my senses completely.”
H!: Your advice that can help guide and light a spark in gen-next entrepreneurs.
Chetan: “There’s no substitute for hard work and no shortcuts to the top. You have to persevere and give it your all. You have to believe in yourself, realising that not everything will work on day one. There will be challenges and disappointments, but stay calm to find the way out. Like my father says: bad times are a passing phase; they only come to test your mettle.”
Rishi: “In today’s competitive and fast-paced world, you need to act fast because opportunities never go abegging. Either you take it, or someone else definitely will. You need to have the courage to make mistakes and the chest to face the challenge. It’s the ones who can overcome challenges that survive and succeed. Also, surround yourself with good people. Characters who are committed and willing go the distance to showcase the fire in their belly. It makes a world of difference.”
H!: Tell us about your journey that led to such exponential growth.
Chetan: “My journey has been very exciting. I joined the company in 2000. For the initial few years, I went through the grind of picking up the ropes and understanding the nuances of the business. After settling in, I headed the ceramic wall and floor tiles vertical. We upped business operations every year, with larger capacities, expansive presence, an expanded product basket, etc.”
Rishi: “My journey at Kajaria began in 2002. I spearhead the vitrified tiles vertical. It’s the variant that has gained credence in advanced nations. I also saw an opportunity in the bathware segment and launched Kajaria Bathware.”
Chetan: “We followed up with our plywood and laminates vertical. So Kajaria, which is now synonymous with tiles, is well on its way to becoming a reputed and recognised home products brand.”
Rishi: “The other crucial component in our growth is our pan-India presence. We moved with speed to establish a manufacturing presence in other regions.”
Chetan: “As we extended our footprint from north to west — we’re now headed south — our dealer base grew. Our product development became more customised to regional tastes. Our shelf occupancy improved considerably. Our volumes surged.”
Rishi: “There’s always something big happening at Kajaria. Brownfield expansions, joint ventures, new technology, a new business vertical or product line… The atmosphere is always charged! This single factor has and continues to push us out of our comfort zone. It works like magic.”
Chetan: “I agree; the zeal is contagious! It compels people to come to work.”
H!: There must be pride in being a ‘Made in India’ brand with such global prominence. What were your highpoints?
Chetan: “The company’s first acquisition of a ceramic tile plant in Gujarat in 2011 was my first high. It was followed by a joint venture to produce ceramic wall tiles in Andhra Pradesh in 2012. The next was when we entered the wood panel industry in 2018, and most recently, the joint venture in Telangana for a ceramic floor tile plant that will provide us more efficient access to the south.”
Rishi: “1. Our first vitrified tile manufacturing line. Watching the concept transform into a tile in hand, manufactured at one’s own facility, was surreal; 2. The commissioning of our Srikalahasti facility in Tirupati. It was a long-cherished dream that finally transformed into reality; 3. Our synergic diversification into bathware, which transformed Kajaria from a tile manufacturer to a renowned name in bathroom solutions.”
H!: There must have been bumps along the way, especially in the past couple of years…
C&R: “Covid-19, especially the second wave, brought in significant disruption and considerable pain. It affected several members of the Kajaria family — our dealers, partners, employees…. The fear of what could happen was understandably terrifying. It was a first for the entire world, let alone us.
During the first wave, there was a complete lockdown, and we had to abide by it. But the second wave was tricky. The virus was exceedingly virulent. Phased and partial-to-complete lockdowns were put in place. It hit rural India even worse, which increased the fear multifold. From a business perspective, uncertainty was at its peak. It was near impossible to plan for the next day or week.”
H!: How do you plan to navigate an empire in today’s fractional economic doomsday scenario?
Chetan: “Kajaria is a battle-hardened warship that continues to sail through choppy waters. Today, there’s inflationary pressure, where the Russia-Ukraine war plays one of the factors. Tomorrow, it could be something else. This points to one fact: every day, we need to become better at what we do. This all-encompassing philosophy guides the entire Kajaria family.”
Rishi: “Business is primarily about managing challenges. And challenges will persist every year in some form or the other. In the recent past, it was Covid. What’s visible on the horizon is inflationary pressure, which could impact profitability. Interestingly, every challenge we faced over the years has only made the organisation stronger. As a result, growth has become a natural corollary.”
Photos: Anil Chawla; Creative Direction & Styling: Amber Tikari
This interview has been adapted for the website from an interview that was originally published in Hello! India’s December 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!