For Suchita Oswal Jain, talking about continuous innovation, delivering excellence and customer satisfaction, sustainable development and women’s empowerment in one breath is par for the course. Since the pandemic struck, the third generation entrepreneur, and the Vice-Chairman and Joint Managing Director of Vardhman Textiles has galvanised her company onto the fast track of digitalisation, launched a slew of products customised to suit the ‘New Normal’, all the while ensuring that the strong army of 28,000 employees stayed safe and motivated through troubled times.
Suchita is not one to rest on her laurels though. A human dynamo who’s on a mission to turn her billion-dollar company into a one-stop solution for all textile requirements, she leads by example. Within months of the lifting of successive lockdowns, Vardhman Textiles got back on its feet rapidly and reached near 100 per cent capacity utilisation in both its yarn and fabric businesses. Under her stewardship, the company is now working towards strengthening its IT framework to be in sync with a changing world that is focusing on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain to build businesses. Over the years, she has been a key driving force at Vardhman, instrumental in formulating the group strategy, CSR initiatives, governance policies, new projects and expansion plans.
A Pioneering Spirit
Innovation and agility have always been the hallmarks of Suchita’s style of functioning. As a 22-year-old who joined her father in the family business in the early ’90s, she quickly foresaw the trends that would drive the textile industry in an economy that was just opening up. Recognising the importance of initiating the forward integration of the Vardhman Group, she led the establishment of the company’s first fabric manufacturing plant in Himachal Pradesh, circa 1992. This was Vardhman Textiles’ first brush with fabrics, a move that helped propel it rapidly into becoming the largest vertically integrated textile manufacturer in India.
Suchita spotted both the challenges and the opportunities. On one hand, she was driving product innovation, adding dyeing, printing and processing lines, stabilising and expanding the business; and, on the other hand, her focus was on catering to the most quality-conscious markets of Europe, the US and Asia. A keen observer, Suchita ensures that the company adheres to the highest standards of excellence, promise of quality and customer-oriented approach. It is owing to her endeavours that Vardhman today exports its products to over 75 countries and is a preferred partner for brands such as GAP, H&M, Target, Uniqlo, Calvin Klein, M&S, Kohls and Muji.
Vardhman Textiles was founded by Suchita’s grandfather Shri Ratan Chand Oswal and her father Shri S P Oswal (Padma Bhushan) in the year 1965. Beginning with a capacity of 6,000 spindles, Vardhman Textiles today boasts over 1.2 million spindles (the largest in the country) and an annual fabric processing capacity of 180 million metres. The Group has five business verticals – yarns, fabrics, acrylic fibre, garments and threads. The company is known for quality products and is a household name for hand-knitting yarns in the country besides being a leader in functional products such as stretch fabrics. Vardhman keeps innovating and adding to its already vast product range as a central research and development team fuels new product development. With Suchita driving its innovation initiatives, the product line has increased to include blend, stretch, cellulosic, linen, polyester and acrylic, as also a larger range of patterned and printed fabrics. During the pandemic, the Group ventured into the manufacturing of face masks, PPE kits and launched a special range of anti-microbial fabrics under the name TravelShield. The thrust on developing green (sustainable) products is equally unparalleled. A recycling plant ReNova has also been established that will utilise textile waste to manufacture fibre.
Suchita is a fierce advocate for women’s empowerment and equal opportunities. Thanks to her efforts, Vardhman is today a beacon of gender diversity in the industrial landscape of the country. Under her leadership, Vardhman Textiles took a leap in the direction of women’s empowerment by convincing the Governments of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to allow women to work night shifts. Today, an estimated 35 per cent of the company’s 28,000 strong force comprises women, and more than 13 per cent of these happily work night shifts.
Suchita considers skill development and financial independence to be the pillars of empowerment. Thus, learning and development are a norm at Vardhman. The company puts in extra efforts not only to make the transition comfortable for first-time women employees through its conducive and safe workplace environment, but also for their families. Counselling sessions followed by factory visits, workshops, etc are conducted to encourage rural women to work with the company without any apprehensions. After joining, for their holistic development, the organisation provides them training in both technical and soft skills and even organises routine awareness sessions to improve their health and promote healthy living conditions. Owing to the support, some of the women workers of the company who could not even complete formal education have done wonders and reached international platforms, delivered their case-study in English, and won awards.
A Leader Who Inspires
Suchita studied the ropes of the business from her father and worked her way through nearly all the departments of the organisation to familiarise herself with the processes. There has been no looking back since, as she took major strides to move the company from a product-centric business to a customer-centric business model. She centralised her marketing teams to acquaint them with production processes and established a central technology cell as well as a product and design development cell to help the company stay ahead of the competition. Apart from that, Suchita has juggled family and work well, tending to family responsibilities including the upbringing of her two daughters while she handled the rigours of running a business. She has always appreciated the steadfast support of both her parents, and credits her husband Sachit Jain (Vice-Chairman & Managing Director of Vardhman Special Steels Limited) for his unstinting support of her. Today, with her daughters grown up, she is able to devote more time to growing the business flanks and is a source of inspiration to many.
Sustainable Development At Heart
Trained at the London Business School and INSEAD, Suchita knew that staying ahead of the curve in the dynamic textile industry requires astute anticipation of trends, adequate planning and assiduous preparation that is not limited to product development. At Vardhman, she has striven to continuously invest in technology and automation and to improve cost optimisation. Sustainability, circularity and digitalisation are not just phrases to her – she puts in all her energies to keep at the cutting edge of tech that builds her business even as it nourishes the people who are at the core of the company.
She is spearheading the company’s sustainability initiatives by helping build environment-friendly practices such as reducing, reusing and recycling resources such as water, energy or waste. There is a Group-wide committee in place, headed by her, established to identify and implement sustainability initiatives across all the 18 state-of-the-art manufacturing units spread over four states. The textile conglomerate’s endeavours towards sustainability have been recognised by Frost & Sullivan and TERI, and a unit of Vardhman has been selected as a model factory to develop energy-saving guidelines for the industry as per an MoU signed by the Government of India and the Government of Japan.
While sustainability is a way of life, she believes, digitalisation is the only way forward if we are to thrive in a post-COVID world. Suchita has been personally leading the rapid digitalisation drive that Vardhman Textiles has embarked on. In the last two years, the company developed mechanisms to showcase its products to customers virtually, without having to be physically present. Despite being in an industry that rates the physical experience of products highly, she helped her company identify and implement new tech to overcome this barrier. Going a step ahead, the company even started virtual factory tours to acquaint potential clients with the systems and processes at Vardhman.
Suchita aspires to contribute to society to her best. Vardhman has numerous CSR initiatives such as the Vardhman School Development Program and Project Nandini modeled on sustainable development. Under the initiative to promote education, Vardhman has provided over 65 Government schools and 40+ anganwadis with the required infrastructure including well-equipped classroom blocks, toilet complexes, and water coolers with purifiers, etc. Project Nandini is a menstrual hygiene management programme focused on adolescent girls under which affordable sanitary napkins are provided along with conducting awareness sessions to break the taboo about periods. Recently, the Group has expanded this project to slums. Solar lighting, health camps, drinking water and sanitation facilities, etc, comprise major initiatives in rural areas, while the company also provides advanced healthcare equipment to major hospitals in its vicinity where people from far and near come for treatment.
Corporate Life Amid COVID
To Suchita, leadership is all about inclusion and participation, and these qualities came to the fore during the pandemic that keeps evolving and necessitates changes at several levels in corporate functioning. Managing human resources, staying connected with customers and focusing on business was simultaneously done. Suchita ensured that Vardhman’s HR and IR teams along with administrative teams were assigned the task to ensure the safety and well-being of employees. From supplies of essentials to moral support, medical tests to mass vaccination drives, the company made sure its people were safeguarded at every stage.
The Way Forward
Suchita wants to grow Vardhman Textiles’ business manifold and export to even more countries. The company has already won numerous awards for highest exports from Federation of Indian Exports Organizations (FIEO) and Textile Export Promotion Council (TEXPROCIL). She wants to take the finesse of Indian workers and entrepreneurs to the larger global stage, believing determinedly that India has tremendous potential and that Indian companies can really do well in the international arena.
An astute business person, an empathetic employer and a keen visionary, Suchita’s success can be attributed to her ability to predict trends, persevere and take tough leadership calls when required. The awards that line her shelves bear testimony to her revolutionary vision – she has been conferred with the Outstanding Women Leadership Award 2020 by World Women Leadership Congress, India CSR Leadership Award 2021, Times of India Power Icons 2021, Economic Times Leaders of Change 2021 and ET Inspiring Women Leaders 2022. Besides, Suchita is a celebrated Member of (National Executive Committee) Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Young Presidents’ Organization and International Textile Manufacturers Federation (Board).
However, for her, the journey of taking Vardhman Textiles to newer heights is only just beginning.