Monday, June 28, 2010

Week 1 with SKEPL

Shops selling handmade leather sandals and paan, a digestive treat made of sugar and fennel seeds wrapped in bright green betel leaf, flank the three-story office building which is situated on a relatively quiet and tree-lined street in Anand. As I walked up the stairs to the SKEPL office the first day, I was surprised to hear the sound of hammering and to see a pile of debris sitting on the landing. Ujval Parghi, Head of Marketing and my main contact, informed me that the office was in the midst of a renovation and that for the next several weeks at least, the team would be working in the workshop where the products are assembled. Despite the whirling fans overhead, the temperature in the workshop hovered around 110 degrees. Stepping gingerly around product components and live wires, I made the rounds and was introduced to the company managers, engineers, accountants and product assemblers. Everyone was warm and welcoming, if not a little curious about what a tall, white, western woman was doing in the workshop. One step of the assembly process is captured in the photo below.

Fortunately, a single office was spared from the renovation so the four managers and I have been able to work in a comfortable air-conditioned room. The close quarters have facilitated easy collaboration and rapport building. By the end of the week, we were listening to Bruce Springsteen to block out the sound of electric saws, and the team lent me a thermos to use for what they view as my inordinate consumption of tea. I’m grateful to be working with such a passionate and receptive group of people.

With the initial transition behind us, we focused on the project at hand. Over the next two months I’ll be working with SKEPL on business development and marketing for the automated milk collection system (AMCS) product line. During the first week I ramped up on the dairy sector in India, touring several milk collection societies to observe the products in action, interviewing society employees and taste-testing several varieties of Indian ice cream, including my new favorite, saffron fennel. I learned that the Indian dairy sector is organized as a producer-owned cooperative system, characterized by millions of small farmers who carry containers of milk to the local co-op twice a day, seven days a week. Daily procurement by the co-operatives is an estimated 13 million liters, an astounding number that makes India the biggest milk-producing nation in the world. Anand is considered the dairy capital of Gujarat which is home to over 3.25 million dairy farmers, 13,000 milk societies and Amul, arguably the most successful milk producer in the country.

SKEPL has been designing and manufacturing technology-based systems to streamline milk collection operations at the co-op level since 1996. Summer months are slow in the dairy industry as a result of the sweltering temperatures and dry fields and the corresponding 50% decrease in milk production. The team is taking advantage of the downtime by renovating their office, exploring new revenue streams and ramping up marketing efforts in preparation for the release of their newest product. As Ujval Parghi explains, “SKEPL will stop only when the cows stop producing milk.” With an estimated 4% growth in dairy consumption over the next fifteen years in India and the World Bank’s $3.6 billion investment in the industry, the cows are far from calling it quits.

- Lauren

Lauren just completed her first year as an MBA student at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, where she is specializing in business development in emerging markets. She is currently in Anand, India for the summer, working with Shree Kamdhenu Electronics Private Limited (SKEPL).

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