Amara Raja Batteries
Chennai-headquartered Amara Raja Batteries is an innovator and leader in the battery industry, with a 40 per cent share in the VRLA battery market.
Amara is credited with introducing world class battery technology in India and transforming the fortunes of the industry.
"It's an overnight success that took ten years," says its dashing MD, Jay Galla in an exclusive interview to Sify. Galla talked about the early days, his company's strong points and its future.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did your father (R N Galla, Chairman, Amara Raja Batteries Limited), who was working in the US, get into the battery business in India?
My parents returned to India in 1985. My dad was an electrical engineer in the US. He headed electrical projects for his company that designed electrical systems for nuclear power plants in the US.
Public opinion in the US turned against nuclear energy after an accident in one of the plants in 1979. Most of the nuclear power projects that
were in the pipeline got cancelled. My father realised that it was time to look for a change.
My father returned to India with the idea of starting an engineering
consulting firm. A family friend was chairman of Andhra Pradesh Electricity Board at that time.
My dad visited a few power plants in AP along with officials to get an idea of the ground situation. He visited the battery room in one plant and found that the batteries being used were at least five
generations behind what was being used in the US.
That's what pushed him into starting batteries in India. He saw the
opportunity for marketing the latest technology batteries in India.
Setting up a company in those days must have been a hard task. Did your'connections' with government make it easier?When did you join the business?
I came to India seven years later, in 1992. In 1994, we shifted our
marketing headquarters from Tirupati to Hyderabad. By this time we were
doing well that people thought we were an overnight success.
Establishing a company is not about government connections. The first
challenge we faced was getting a licence for making Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) batteries and UPS systems.
But when we entered there were only two manufacturers of UPS systems. My
grandfather was a Member of Parliament from Chitoor district at that time.
Getting appointments with officials can be difficult and my grandfather's position may have helped to that extent.
Because my grandfather was in politics, at least some doors opened for my father to present his case. But it was only with his credentials and capabilities that he secured the licence.
A reporter came to me in 1995 and said that Amara Raja sounded like a great story. I said, "it's an overnight success that took ten years." Nobody knows the struggles and difficulties that we faced during the early years.
What were the early struggles that you faced?
Looking back everything looks easy, because we got the license. But we faced difficulties at every stage of our development. Starting with acquisition of land, getting power supply, water, and finding skilled manpower, it was not an easy task.
We were introducing new technology into the country and we had to liaison with the bureaucracy and various agencies of the state and central governments.
What are the milestones of the company?
The first milestone was my dad's decision to come back to India. Along with getting the licence to set up the company, he also secured technological collaboration and acquired land.
The biggest challenge we faced was setting up the plant. My father had
decided to set up the industry in Tirupati, which was his second choice
after Chitoor, his hometown. Tirupati was chosen because it had some level of infrastructure compared to Chitoor.
In terms of business growth what was your strong point?
My father always took bold decisions. When the company was started, we made a decision to depend heavily on fresh recruits.
We began commercial production in 1992. There was no market for our product when we started. We established branch offices in different cities in India to sell the Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) technology and get people to look at it. The Department of Telecommunications was the largest user of batteries of this type.
But we had to convince them to pay three times the price they were paying for conventional batteries. It was a huge challenge for us.
We had to educate the end users of the economic advantages of these
batteries over conventional ones. We proved to them that we are technically and economically superior to conventional batteries. Within six months the entire DoT moved over to VRLA batteries. At
that time we were the only manufacturers of VRLA batteries.
Have you slipped from your number one position at the moment?
We are still market leaders in VRLA batteries, where we have about 40
per cent market share. There are two other major manufacturers, and maybe half a dozen smaller manufacturers. When you start at 100 per cent there's only one way to go!
How do you spend your free time? Do you walk the ramp often?
(Laughs)I have done it only once. That was in Chennai for the Provogue show. I agreed to be on the ramp because people who run Provogue are friends and the distributor for Provogue in Chennai is also a friend of mine. In fact, they had to twist my arm to agree to it.
I am not interested in acting or modeling. In the same way, I agreed to take part in the McDowell campaign because the person who ran the campaign had run the Amaron campaign before he switched agencies. When he approached me I couldn't say no to him.
As for free time, I didn't have much of it till about 18 months ago. We had shifted our corporate office to Chennai in 1999 from Hyderabad. For the first three years, my family stayed in Hyderabad and I was working here in Chennai. Every weekend I was shuttling to Hyderabad.
The challenges were huge, and there was not much scope for socialisation. It didn't mean I never met anyone during that period. I did meet people who called me for a few things. When I refused first, second and third time, they stopped calling me afterwards.
My family joined me last year. In the last 18 months I have met a lot
of people in this city. I have been actively involved in quite a few
organisations. But I am not a typical socialite. I like getting together
with close friends.
P C Vinoj Kumar