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 Pioneering Initiatives

 The Breakthrough

 Assam Company

 Tea Travels

 Early Entrepreneurs

 Memorable Heritage

 Making Waves

 Laying the Foundation

 A Time for Cheer

 Mergers & Acquisitions

 Core Values & Culture

 Loyalty & Commitment

 A Tradition of  Excellence

 Research &  Development

 Innovation &  Modernization

 Excellence the  Watchword

 Consistent Quality

Excerpts from "The Heritage of Indian Tea" - D.K. Taknet

Core Values and Culture:

The Williamson Magor saga of success is based on certain core values and corporate culture developed by its chairman. Underlying this is a firm belief that teamwork and motivation rooted in fairness are the key to success in business. The group sets benchmarks for itself in these areas and strives to achieve them, believing in seeking the active participation of everyone in decision-making rather than relying on the imposition of central diktats. Quality, productivity and optimal utilization of resources, human and materials, woven around the concept of the welfare of the community as a whole is central to the management's philosophy.

However, it is more than just sound business practices that contribute to its success story. BM's fundamental insight, that tea is not just a commodity but a way of life, has been internalized by the group as a whole. He firmly believes that business cannot sustain growth unless there is perfect harmony among the owners, managers, workers and the government.

More than most others, the group understands and lives by the principle that in the final analysis, the quality of tea will always be an eloquent testimony to the well-being and efforts of those associated with its production. With this in view, over the years, the group has consciously associated itself with the life and problems of its employees and the contiguous communities by utilizing its resources, skills ad talent to the development of human resources.

Says Aveek Sarkar, owner of a leading newspaper, the Telegraph : 'The group has earned itself a very high reputation because it has involved itself in a lot of welfare activities without seeking personal publicity. 'Its penchant for maintaining a low profile has earned for it the confidence of the central and state governments, the public and private sectors, its share holders, as well as the Reserve Bank of India and other financial institutions.

The Williamson Magor group enjoys a reputation for financial probity. It always tires to keep on optimal terms with the government, financial institutions, banks, creditors and other stakeholders. D. Pal Choudhary, senior accounts manager, Williamson Magor & Co. Ltd, explains, 'It is group policy that government taxes and dues should be paid honestly as and when they become due'. S.K. Nigam, chairperson, Central Board of Director Taxes, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, government of India, conferred the Rashtriya Samman on B.M. Khaitan on 7 April 2000 for being one of the highest tax payers during the assessment years 1994-5 to 1998-9.

The group never actively seeks leadership roles in business, social, cultural and sports organizations; rather, the opportunities come their way in the natural order of things. Whenever anybody from the group has headed an organization or association, it is by consensus or by invitation. Innumerable such examples abound, as in the cases of International Chamber of Commerce, Indian Chamber of Commerce, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Indian Tea Association. 'All this business of throwing a hat into the ring is alien to Williamson Magor's corporate culture. These jobs come by consensus and invitation; when any member of Williamson Magor moves out and becomes the president of any chamber of association, he does not have just Williamson Magor in mind, he has to think of the entire industry. His whole focus becomes much wider,' said the late Mumtaz Ahmad, former chairman of the Indian Tea Association.

Corporate culture plays a crucial role in economic performance and is an important factor in determining the success of a company. The group's corporate culture has been nurtured for decades. Its salient features are fairness in dealing with and excellence in human resources, focus on consistent quality, research and development and a concept of public welfare.

Williamson Magor is a professionally run conglomerate with a family atmosphere. Its culture includes the following tenets: to run its business as efficiently as possible, be competitive, make enough money not only to plough back into the business but also to serve in equal measure the interests of the various stakeholders and support cultural, educational and welfare activities, particularly in the states of Assam and West Bengal. A central pillar in the group's philosophy is employee welfare both in monetary terms and at the human level. A reason why it is able to hold on to its employees is that besides compensating them well monetarily, they also enjoy a large measure of independence and scope of creativity.

Citing an example, a. Monem, vice president of the sales division of Williamson Magor, relates, 'I come from a family of tea planters, tea owners…..and I think you have to be in love with tea and there is a sense of security when you know the man running the company is in love with tea himself. It's a company run b a family of tea lovers and professionals in a family-like manner.'

Loyalty and Commitment:

IThe rise of militancy in Assam has thrown up unforeseen challenges for the management. The isolated tea gardens have been soft targets for militants and kidnapping of managers for ransom has become commonplace. G.P. Barua elaborates, 'So the whole atmosphere was tense as the group's managers worked in remote areas. At that time their only beacon of light was the chairman. The felt that even if something happened to them the burra sahib would take care of the family.'

A few armed extremists entered the bungalow of Tarun Bordoloi, senior manager of Hunwal Tea Estate and took him to his office. One of them stood at the door with an AK-47, while another was near a phone. They told him that they were from the United Liberation Front of Asom and asked him to forward a demand letter of Rs 15 lakhs to the company. Later, the chairman called from Calcutta and spoke to him and members of his family. The chairman assured his wife, 'Nothing is more important to me than your husband's life and I'll ensure he is safe'. He also told his wife, 'If there is anything we can do to give you a sense to security let me know'. Every possible measure was then taken to safeguard him and his family.

In February 1990 the killing of D.K. Choudhary, manager of Romai Tea Estate, by militants came as a great shock. The management decided to continue paying the salary and emoluments that Choudhary had been receiving to his wife. The education of his children was ensured and later his son was employed as an assistant manager. In April 1992, militants packed up Subir Ray, manager of Dimakusi garden located in Udalguri subdivision of Darrang district. The management spared no efforts and eventually managed to get Ray safely back to his family. There have been several other similar examples of the caring attitude and generosity of spirit, as in the case of the untimely demise of P. Bajaj and Ranjan Mukherji. This protective attitude has earned the company the loyalty of all its executives.

Williamson Magor is equally solicitous about the labour force which it carefully trains and nurtures. Its tea estates are like welfare amenities are provided voluntarily. According to Paban Singh Ghatowar, former union minister of state and a prominent leader of tea workers, 'Its tea estates are like mini-townships where a number of additional, non-statutory welfare amenities are provided voluntarily. According to Paban Singh Ghatowar, former union minister of State and a prominent leader of tea workers. 'Its chairman is a very enlightened employer and takes personal interest to see that his executives properly implement the labour welfare activities in their gardens and that's why it is rated high in terms of labour welfare.'

Underlining the healthy relationship between the management and the workers, Subrata Narayan Maitra, the leader of Williamson Magor Workmen's Union, says: 'The contribution of the management, with their pragmatic approach towards the welfare of staff members, has helped us a lot in building up a one family concept.' The group has undergone its share of restructuring, reorganizing and shedding far necessitated by business compulsions. Such actions have often been undertaken and meticulously executed. The one thing, however, that makes this group stand out even while taking hard business decisions is that no employee ever got a raw deal even when asked to part company.

S.K. Pal, vice-president (HRO), confirms, 'It may not be out of place to mention here that the voluntary separation package offered to its employees in the recent past has become a benchmark for many companies who have followed suit and have been successful in their mission'. Even when an employee parts company, he never hesitates to come back in the event of his requiring any assistance and generally such help is willingly provided.

A Tradition of Excellence:

At the Williamson Magor group the loyalty generated by its commitment to fairness it testified to by the extensive plantation programme and high quality standards it is able to maintain. 'From 1968 onwards, we went in for extensive replanting of its tea gardens. The replanting project continued for seven years, covering about 1000 to 1500 acres a year, which has yielded rich dividends in terms of larger yields and lower costs,' says Deepak Khaitan, managing director of the group. It has a very careful programme of investment year on year, to develop better systems and improve discipline in the gardens and factories. Its agricultural and technical experts have changed the face of the estates and factories to such a degree that virtually every factory in the tea gardens has been completely dismantled and reconstructed.

Development of the tea estates receives the utmost priority and the group has reinvested over Rs 2.5 bn over the past five years. In the plantation area, massive improvement of the drainage system, roads and bridges was effected. Large replanting programmes were undertaken each year by uprooting the unproductive tea sections in order to pre-empt future loss of crop. The basic concern from field to factory is to ensure not just higher production but also better quality while remaining in touch with emerging trends in the industry. That is why overseas buyers respect the group's philosophy of development with its concentration on consistent quality.

By consciously adopting a policy of keeping abreast of the latest technological and scientific developments in the fields of agriculture and biotechnology and by enforcing a rigorous quality regimen, the Williamson Magor group continues to retain its leadership position in tea.

Research and Development a Priority:

A research and development focus has provided strong scientific support to the group's quantitative growth with continuing enhancement in the quality of the product. It would be pertinent here to recall that many years ago it was George Williamson who introduced a new methodology for the production of tea in Assam that was very different from the traditional method developed in China. That tradition of innovation not only continues but has been greatly intensified.

The research and development policy keeps the group's long-term interests in view and believes in anticipating the needs of the future. It is committed to modernization and encourages it in every field. While it sponsors research related to crop improvement and the important area of control of while ants, in prestigious institutions of learning like Cambridge University and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, it seeks to develop information and application systems that are region specific. Future research planning is considered equally important. The group plans to set up more training establishments and in addition produce in house training videos to show its workers in order to improve plucking and pruning operations. The group organizes seminars on subjects relating to tea-growing and manufacturing in which scientists from plantation research institutes participate to upgrade the technical knowledge of management staff. Although the senior managers have never attended research development programmes in laboratories, they have achieved significant results with their own experiments in the field and factory.

Research activities received a boost when the management appointed Dr W. Hadfield, a renowned agronomist from Cambridge, as consultant to review its existing agronomic policies. He has been visiting the group's tea estates since 1991-02, providing detailed reports on their yield patterns. The implementation of the recommendations of its research and development department has begun paying rich dividends in terms of improved quality and enhanced production efficiencies. The yield increases are closely linked to effective pest control and irrigation practices.

Williamson Magor has extended considerable support to the Tea Research Association since its inception, with senior members of the group having acted as members of its Council of Management. Apart from this, many tea estate managers have actively participated in various expert committees in Assam and the Dooars. The management has also permitted the Association to carry out many experiments on the group's tea estates and indeed, initiated some of these.

Courtesy: The Heritage of Indian Tea - D.K. TAKNET

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