“Give a man orders and he will do the task reasonably well. But let him set his own targets, give him freedom and authority, and his task becomes a personal mission: ”
The spirit of is the catalytic force behind the success of Ambuja Cement and its people’s strength in pushing boundaries and achieving the seemingly impossible.
The spirit encapsulates the management philosophy at Ambuja Cement Ltd. It signifies that every individual contributes to the best of his potential to achieve the collective goal of many. This process of tapping individual initiative for team synergy is at the heart of the culture nurtured over the years. It emboldens employees to have an equal voice in the functioning of any system that they are a part of, enabling them to achieve goals more efficiently as a team.
Ambuja Cement entered the cement business with the driving conviction that challenges are there to be met and opportunities are meant to be seized. As the David among the established Goliaths, it saw a way to put the competition at a disadvantage, and that was to achieve maximum efficiency and productivity at the lowest cost. The rationale promotes the virtues of accountability and empowerment at each level and keeps the employees motivated by letting them share equal responsibility.
Three years is the time required for a cement plant to become operational! At least that was the norm until Ambuja Cement engineers built a greenfield plant at Ambujanagar in Gujarat.
One of the reasons for the delay in construction of plants was the time taken for approvals. To cut red tape and reduce delays, Ambuja engineers were empowered to take decisions on the spot which helped in ensuring timely completion of tasks. The response time for approvals was dramatically reduced by 90 percent.
The freedom from red tape ensured that plant engineers placed orders for machinery even before the site was chosen, as a result of which the equipment was ready for installation by the time land was acquired. Result: The plant was on-stream almost a year ahead of schedule and ensured tremendous savings in inflationary costs for the company.
The norms said you can't build a cement plant in three years. We built it in two.
Mumbai, the financial capital of India, is India's largest cement market. When Ambuja Cement decided to expand its market share by increasing production, the company was faced with a big challenge. To meet rising demand, the company would have to transport cement from its plant at Kodinar, which meant delays and high rail transportation and packaging costs.
As a way out, the company decided to ferry cement by sea which would not only reduce costs, substantially reduce pollution caused by trucks but also ensure timely delivery and quality of cement. Convinced about the plan, Ambuja Cement set up a cell with the mandate to locate and acquire land for building the unloading station and to select the right technology for handling cement in bulk, and to adapt it to Indian conditions.
Three special ships, made for Indian conditions and requirements, and designed in Singapore, which had the capacity to transport 2,000 tonnes of cement were purchased. Transporting by sea helped the company substantially lower transportation and packaging costs, reduce wastage and spillage, and ensure quality.
Ambuja has the lowest cost of plant and machinery per tonne of cement produced. Thinking out of the box has benefited the company not only in monetary terms but also helped advance its sustainability agenda.
When transport of cement by road proved costly, Ambuja engineers built their own port and delivered bulk cement by sea.
Plastic bags were once the preferred medium for packing cement. Versatile and low cost, the plastic bags had several disadvantages too. It got easily damaged during transportation leading to loss of quality, affecting the brand's image in the market. Much more harmful was the damage plastic bags caused to the environment.
Ambuja Cement found an innovative way to overcome the challenge. Paper bags! Despite being eco-friendly and cheaper than plastic bags, paper bags had drawbacks too. To add to the company's woes, other companies which experimented with paper bags and failed miserably, as paper bags damaged easily during handling.
However, Ambuja Cement persisted with the idea as it had certain advantages which its competitors lacked. With a packing plant in Navi Mumbai, Ambuja Cement needed to transport the cement bags over shorter distances. Using stronger paper bags and a dedicated transport system would reduce the chances of damage caused by careless handling.
A reliable paper bag manufacturer was identified who helped the company develop a multi-layered, strong paper bag. A reliable transporter was also contracted to ferry the bags to the company's dealers in Mumbai which reduced the risks of careless handling.
Ambuja captured the difficult Mumbai cement market – with grit and an ingenious tamper-proof bag!
When Ambuja Cement decided to expand its operations in north India, its team zeroed in on a site near Kashlog in Himachal Pradesh which had substantial limestone deposits. However, three hills stood directly between the quarries and the plant site.
Transporting limestone through road meant traversing a distance of 17km, which not only meant delays and inflated fuel bills but would also end up polluting the environment. The Ambuja team decided to build a conveyor belt that would stretch across three valleys and burrow through the mountains.
However, constructing the conveyor belt seemed to be a challenge as construction firms baulked at the prospect of transporting their cranes and tonnes of steel to a site that didn't even have an approach road. Undeterred, the Ambuja team decided to do the job themselves. It didn't seem overambitious as Ambuja engineers had a history of erecting an entire cement plant and a port without prior experience, and that too in record time.
Steel girders were cut to manageable size and ferried to the site by mule trains. Even as the work on the conveyor belt progressed, another team was busy tunneling through the hills. Working through rain, sleet and chilly wind, the team had the conveyor operational in 18 months.
The conveyor belt passes through three tunnels and three enclosed bridges which reduced the distance between the quarry and the plant to just 2.8km. Powered by three powerful motors, the conveyor belt can move 800 tonnes of limestone an hour.
The engineers also took care to enclose the conveyor belt to prevent pollution. The motors that power the conveyor belt are located at the plant site, which has helped in reducing engine noise.
Given its location and inaccessible terrain, the conveyor belt has been acclaimed as one of the most stupendous feats of construction even by international experts.
Our engineers dreamt the impossible: To make a conveyer belt that cut through 3 mountains!
And they made it possible.
Ambuja Cement is the first cement company in India to receive 'water-positive' certification by Det Norske Veritas (DNV), an independent global certifier. A company is 'water positive' when the amount of water it draws is less than the fresh water it replenishes.
The company achieved this feat through rainwater harvesting at its plants and surrounding villages, staff colonies, and by conserving water for mining activities. The company's efforts to increase efficiencies at its plant also helped.
The experience gained through water conservation efforts has helped the company offer its expertise to conserve water in rural and urban areas. Ambuja Cement is the only water-positive cement company in India that gives back more than five times the water it uses.
What do you do when you achieve a target? Relax and ruminate over your success, right? Well, in the case of Ambuja Cement engineers, they set the bar higher and sought a new challenge.
When the engineers at Ambuja Cement's Maratha Cement Works at Chandrapur in Maharashtra decided to keep their plant running for 100 days, they consciously set a modest target for themselves. The extant record which had never been broken for 25 years was 65 days of continuous running.
Keeping the plant running for 100 days meant operating the kiln as well as the support units – from mining and crushing, to coal supply and power generation – at full potential. A challenging task as it had never been attempted before in the history of cement manufacturing.
With single-minded determination, the team set themselves to the task. Problems that would normally require a shutdown were identified and rectified with ingenuity without stopping work. The engineers outdid their own expectations by keeping the plant running for a total of 156 days.
Ambuja engineers ran their plants continuously for 156 days. They broke records and exceeded their own expectations.
In 1999, when Gujarat was reeling under one of the most severe droughts it had seen, the state government decided to encourage construction of check dams in villages to conserve rainwater. However, the good intentions of the state government hit a wall because of ignorance about the best method to construct check dams.
Ambuja Cement, with its rich heritage of actively supporting local communities, was quick to offer the expertise of its engineers in construction efforts. The company set up a taskforce and a multi-pronged strategy was conceived to tackle every aspect of the project.
Engineers conducted workshops and imparted skill training to construct the check dams, following it up with site visits to supervise construction. The company's marketing and logistics teams chipped in with supplying cement at reduced costs and ensuring timely supplies.
The result: Over 9,000 check dams were constructed in Gujarat. Of these, 7,000 began overflowing with water with the first heavy rain.
We constructed over 9,000 check dams to raise the water-table after droughts hit Gujarat in 1999.
When the Gujarat earthquake of 2001 rendered millions homeless, Ambuja Cement was one of the first companies to rush to the quake-ravaged area. Raising funds to extend financial help to the quake victims was easy; however, the company soon realised that rebuilding the lives of the survivors was the need of the hour, especially in the worst-affected Kutch region.
However, the challenge was how to train the survivors whose lives had been devastated by the quake to rebuild their lives and homes in a short time. A team of 25 civil engineers from Ambuja decided to take on the challenge of training the quake survivors in masonry. The benefits were twofold; besides providing the survivors with a livelihood, it was expected to instill the pride of rebuilding their homes with their own hands.
With support from the international charity CARE, the engineers succeeded in training 440 persons as masons. And the numbers continued to increase.
After the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, we were among the first to offer funds and a new source of livelihood to 440 new masons.
When cotton farmers from Chandrapur in Maharashtra faced grim prospects because of falling yields and increasing costs of cultivation, Ambuja Cement Foundation's (ACF) Better Cotton initiative extended a much-needed ray of hope and rescued them from the downward spiral of poverty.
ACF's multi-pronged strategy involved soil testing and imparting knowledge about scientific farming techniques to increase productivity. However, convincing farmers to change their traditional farming methods was a challenge.
As they say, nothing speaks louder than success. The success and prosperity of farmers who benefitted from the Better Cotton initiative helped in convincing others, and gradually, it led to the transformation of the entire region.
From rural Maharashtra, the Better Cotton initiative has now spread to Gujarat, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, and helped transform the lives of over 7,000 farmers. The '' spirit of Ambuja employees has ushered in change for farmers too.
We educated farmers about new farming techniques under the Better Cotton initiative to spread prosperity.
In India, and around the world, it is acceptable for a cement plant to shut down, on an average, after every 300 hours of operations for repairs. Machines, irrespective of how well they are maintained, need downtime.
However, this was unacceptable for the engineers at Ambuja Cement's Ambujanagar plant and they decided to challenge the industry norm. With some out-of-the-box thinking and oodles of their '' spirit, the engineers devised a whole new approach to maintain their plants.
Previous incidents of plant stoppages and 10 major causes, ranging from mechanical breakdowns to instrument failure, were identified. The engineers devised a plan to tackle each cause proactively and the results were astounding.
Unplanned stoppages reduced from 16 in 2011, to 6 in 2012. The plant operated an average of 1437 hours between failures – over four times longer than the accepted benchmark.
Our engineers challenged the accepted benchmark and succeeded in cutting down unplanned stoppages from 16 to 6 in just a year.
At Ambuja Cement, sales targets are presented by the sales force annually at the sales conference and not decided by the top management. Consequently, the pressure to perform is inevitably greater.
Over the years, the sales force has pursued every avenue to distribute cement and maximise sales, and in the process, the team has not only expanded their reach to cover conventional wholesale distributors but also small vendors who deal with individual home builders.
In the early nineties, the sales team set itself a new challenge. They took a collective decision to outperform themselves by selling cement at regular prices and not at discounted rates, which was the prevailing norm, especially to government projects. The sales team's confidence arose from their conviction that the high quality of Ambuja Cement would find ready takers in the market.
The sales force set individual targets to reduce the discount sales in each region which resulted in a windfall for the company. The gross profit went up from Rs40 crore in 1990-91 to Rs56 crore in 1991-92.
At the heart of world–class plants and high performance is the innovation and the executional skills of its people. Ambuja Cement realised that for high growth and future expansion, the company needed more and more people to take on the leadership mantle.
Towards this end, the company launched the People Power project at Ambujanagar in 2008 which entailed deep diagnostic evaluations followed by a series of workshops to enhance cross functional leadership and continuous process improvements.
The end result was an organic, home–grown restructuring programme with the aim of establishing 'healthy plants', fostering talent by adoption of global best practices and using the concept of successful 'dream runs' for execution of ideas.
The project has spawned a new generation of leaders, home grown mentors and coaches, reduced mean time between failures, lowered costs and triggered an over 15-fold jump in production. Another testament to Ambuja Cement's credo of 'Yes, '.
An innovation in sustainability