The total market size of wood panel industry comprising plywood, MDF, particle boards, laminate is estimated at 40,000 crore, according to a PTI report, and Century Plyboards has a 25 per cent share of the organised plywood market. As executive director and director-in-charge of the decorative business of Century Plyboards for more than a decade, Keshav Bhajanka, 33, has no doubts that the company’s reputation as an industry leader is based largely on its ability to keep innovating. Bhajanka recently said the demand for all of its products is strong, primarily from retail consumers, driven by a revival in the housing segment and the company is expecting 20-25 per cent growth in revenue this fiscal. We talked to Bhajanka to know more about his vision for the company, the innovations he brought, life lessons for business, and more.

Here’s edited excerpt from the interview:

Why do you think there is a need for innovation?

Since day one, our mission, as laid down by our chairman (his father, Sajjan Bhajanka), has been about Sarvada Sarvottam (always the best). To realise this, we can’t keep doing what we have been doing in the past. We need to do things differently, to try out new things.

Can you share some innovations brought in by you to CenturyPly?

Innovation often gets triggered by need. I felt the need to stop the use of fake plywood. There was rampant sale of fake plywood and customers had no way of identifying the fake from authentic ones. Necessity being the mother of invention, I wanted some mechanism to be there to identify the fake plywood. That’s how the Promise App came up. By scanning the QR code on each of our products through this app, a customer can identify a real product from a fake one.

As a market leader, what have you done to retain leadership position?

CenturyPly operates in a space where more than 50% of the market is dominated by the unorganized sector. Within the organized sector, CenturyPly is the market leader. Staying ahead of the curve through growth and innovation has been our continuous endeavour. We plan to invest 900 crore in the next 3 years in both brownfield and greenfield projects. With factories located from Hoshiarpur (Punjab) in the North to Badvel (Andhra Pradesh) in the South, the company is again planning to invest in Tamil Nadu.

How did the seed of innovation get embedded in you?

While pursuing my Bachelors in accounts and finance at Warwick, I understood that the secret to innovation lies in the constant iteration — the ability to improve by repeated reviewing and testing. Unlike the Indian education system, I found no readymade solutions in Warwick. I had to find things out for myself, which helped me think out of the box and made me focus more on being iterative and interactive.

From where did you receive your real-life lessons?

I have always been a big fan of brands like Apple, Gucci and Mercedes. So it is inevitable that brands with the biggest recall value are those that never compromise on quality. You’ll never find these brands cutting corners or giving their customers a cheap solution that doesn’t work in the long term. As a lifelong Manchester United supporter, I have also learned a thing or two about brand-building and innovation by watching Sir Alex Ferguson build one great team after another at Old Trafford, a mini-replica of which finds pride of place in my chamber.

Where do you fit into the family business?

Since taking over the decorative verticals at CenturyPly, I have been responsible for numerous product innovations such as exterior grade laminates, venlam laminates, and medium-density fibreboard (MDF), to name a few. In the past three years, we have been able to triple the profits of the decorative business, and, presently, we are looking after the company’s largest capital investment — a 700 crore unit in Andhra Pradesh — among other projects.

How has innovation played a part with your people?

To sustain innovation in the long run, I believe in investing prudently — in businesses, technologies, and most importantly, in people. When my father started off, he had brought in people at CenturyPly who are still there after three decades. He knows how to identify talent and delegate work, both of which are extremely important if you’re a leader who values innovation. At the same time, no matter the expertise of an individual, innovation cannot happen if there is no inspiration. Different people have different ways of feeling inspired. For me, when I go back home and play with my daughter for a couple of hours every evening, I feel so much fresher the next morning, bubbling with ideas. That’s why I’m a big advocate of a healthy work-life balance. While there are people — Elon Musk being the best example — who can work 12-hour days, I don’t prefer doing so myself.

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