It is failure that breed success: Sanjay Agarwal, MD of Century Ply Boards India tells BrandSutra – Free Press Journal

Posted: December 6, 2020 at 9:01 am

Sanjay Agarwal, MD of Century Ply Boards India, steers a company that had a topline of Rs 2,300+ crore last year. He has significant milestones to his credit, navigating the business terrain in a nascent industry, meeting with failure, adopting new technology to finally emerge successful with Brand CenturyPly. Here, Sanjay Agarwal recounts his extraordinary journey, in his own words

My earliest business lessons

I grew up in a joint family in Tinsukia, Assam. My father was one of five brothers running a small hardware shop selling paint and tiles. By the time I was in Class VIII, my father insisted that I go to the shop at least twice or thrice a week and spend some time there. It turned out to be very rewarding for me as a kid, thanks to the unlimited cups of sweet tea I could have there, while at home there was a restriction! So, I learnt how to issue a challan, how to calculate quantities, to manage the stock register, and how to organize stocks to make search easier among hundreds of products on display. Later, a few of us cousins would post entries in accounts, create vouchers and enter them in the ledger. Matching the trial balance fastest used to be a competition among us! It was also a huge advantage that growing up, I heard everyone talk business around me and those were invaluable lessons I learnt.

How a medico took to plywood

I got into medical college, but left after a year because I did not like it and had to come to Kolkata to study because Gauhati University did not allow Science students to shift to the Commerce stream. My first business venture was a door manufacturing unit on a small piece of land bought with the help of my parents. But soon, I realized it was not for me as it required bribing government officials. Around that time, I met Sajjan Bhajanka, our current chairman, who is also from Tinsukia, and had been into the plywood business for years. In 1985, we started working on a small second hand press we bought and set up a small plywood unit on my land. We would import veneer and press it and sell the plywood. But as fate would have it, seven days before our factory was to start, the Government of India hiked the import duty on veneer to 200% from about 10% and it became impossible for us to run the unit. It then struck us that people like us across the country would be looking for veneer. With finance from State Bank, we immediately went for a veneer unit and that is how our success story started. After that, we kept bringing out new things one after another. I believe it is failure that breeds success, because from failure you learn so much that your success is better and sustainable.

In 1988, we started manufacturing plywood from the waste we generated and it was a hit across the country. This at a time when timber was cheap and nobody bothered about the waste. Then the Government opened up all the forests in the North-east and our veneer unit in Kolkata became unviable. We opened small units in Arunachal Pradesh, that too had to close sometime in 1996 following a Supreme Court order. Meanwhile, we had been running the Kolkata unit too, and Brand CenturyPly had come into existence in 1995.

The powder proof triumph

I was in Nashik when a dealer took me to a site where powder was falling from our plywood used to make panel doors. We were not selling our plywood cheap, yet there were small holes all across it and powder fell from it. We were taken aback as a company. The problem had been there in the plywood industry for over 40 years, but no one had thought of a solution. It struck us that on trips to Malaysia, Burma, Singapore and Japan, we had never seen this powder problem. We imported timber from there and it couldn't be that those countries did not have termites or borers. We got to know that they were using technology from Dow AgroSciences in the US and immediately contacted Dow Agro. Their team came down to Kolkata, stayed with us and helped us solve the problem. Till today, no CenturyPly product has a borer or termite problem. It is called 'powder proof' and we registered it as our trademark. We were the first to use that technology in India and we became CenturyPly because of it. Even if you keep our plywood on a termite hill, nothing will happen to it. Only under water, there is a risk as the chemical leaches, reducing its efficiency. Subsequently, we came up with flexible plywood and other innovations, started our laminate division, tried using our existing dealers to sell laminate, realised it was a mistake, and then took a few years to understand supply chain management. After that, we started our decorative plywood division, and it is doing very well.

ViroKill response to COVID

ViroKill is a nanotechnology we have brought in, where chemical particles in nano form are mixed with the glue to make plywood.

In India, you cannot test it for resistance to COVID-19, but there is a group of viruses, from a genre similar to COVID-19, against which our plywood has been tested and there it has worked 99.99%. In a few months, it may be possible to test it against the COVID-19 virus too, and we know it will be successful. We do not have proof how long it lasts, but wherever it has been applied, if the plywood does not come in contact with water, it is effective for up to 20 years. All through the lockdown, we aggressively advertised this and it has helped us. Even IPL advertising has been beneficial for us.

During the lockdown, we also started selling online, successfully launching the service in a few cities through Amazon and Flipkart. We know that is where the future lies, though it will take time to understand the logistical nightmare and payment hurdles as the amounts are huge and credit cards may not suffice. Our agenda in the next one year is to make all India serviceable. Plywood will be delivered on your floor. Very big or very small online deliveries are not viable, but the mid-sized ones make up a huge market that can be tapped.

My resilience prevails

I play golf and go trekking. I have been to Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Base Camp and high altitude treks in Ladakh and Nepal. Every time I go to Nepal, I have butterflies in my stomach as we have to land at Lukla, one of the most dangerous airports in the world, with a 500-metre airstrip. About five years back, I did the Dream Run in the Mumbai Marathon and it was so tough for me that I swore I would never run again in my life. But my resilience prevailed I now have six half-marathons under my belt; my best timing is 2 hours and 3 minutes and I look forward to achieving a sub-2 hour time.

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It is failure that breed success: Sanjay Agarwal, MD of Century Ply Boards India tells BrandSutra - Free Press Journal

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