As a second-generation business csar in the making, you would think that Keshav Bhajanka has grown up preparing himself to someday take over the reins from his illustrious father, Sajjan Bhajanka, the chairman of Century Plyboards (India) Ltd, India’s largest plywood and decorative veneer company. But the problem with such perceptions is that more often than not they are prejudiced.
It turns out that this 25-year-old, who is now the director of CenturyPly, did not in fact have things handed to him on a silver platter. Nor was he shown to a swanky corner office on his very first day. On the contrary, he didn’t find his much-awaited induction something to go gaga over. “My initial period with the company was the most miserable time of my life,” says Bhajanka. “But it was also the most exciting.”
Learning the ropes
Bhajanka, who schooled at La Martiniere, Kolkata, and then studied accounting and finance at the University of Warwick, UK, spent three years learning the ropes of the plywood business, starting at the lowermost rungs to familiarise himself with different jobs at every junior level. “I was completely unprepared for what greeted me,” he reminisces. “Starting at the base level marked my real induction. One day I was riding pillion on someone’s bike to court retailers and another day I was meeting and interacting with carpenters and contractors. I also spent six months studying the functioning of the factory, after which I worked as a junior level branch analyst to understand the commercial aspects of the business. Each experience was gruelling, but fun at the same time.”
The turning point came when he cracked a six-month target within just two months—of his own accord. To test his mettle, he was given charge of Century Laminates’ sales in Kolkata’s Howrah district where business was dipping. The challenge was to increase sales from 800 to 1,500 sheets. “Instead of going after retailers, as was the norm, I decided to target the end-user, who was the carpenter,” says Bhajanka.” I had tea with them in mandis while discussing their problems and offering our support. This out-of-the-box approach did the trick and I achieved the target set for me earlier than the designated period.”
Expansion and growth
But that was then. Today Bhajanka handles all the decorative products of the company, which is not only the market leader of the r18,000 cr plywood industry, but also boasts a 15.70 per cent growth in revenue in the quarter ended September 30, 2014, and plans to become a $1 billion entity by 2020. Of his four portfolios—laminates, veneers and the Nesta and Exteria brands—the latter two have been introduced by him. Though he has so many irons in the fire, instead of being confined by a rigid job description, Bhajanka finds time to look into everything from the factory to marketing to HR to sales for all these verticals. Exteria brings European innovation of exterior grade laminates to India for the very first time. “This product has been in the European market for about 50 years, and I realised that with our technologically advanced unit, we could manufacture it too. We are the first Indian company to do so,” says Bhajanka. Nesta, on the other hand, marks the company’s foray into the readymade furniture retail industry backed by its vast experience as key players in the plywood and engineered wood segments. “This was the next natural step for us, as we noticed a lot of demand for the same,” explains Bhajanka. “Moreover, customers are assured of superior design and high quality when they opt for us. We have 12 active franchises at the moment and aim to increase the number to 30 plus by expanding to East and South India by the end of the current financial year.”
The road to success
Contrary to how most leading business families function, joining CPIL wasn’t the only way forward for Bhajanka.
This was because he was always encouraged to keep his options open. “There was no pressure… in fact, there was a time when I wanted to be a writer, but that did not quite work out as I couldn’t write!” he laughs.
It was a summer internship under his father in 2009 that made him realise that CenturyPly would be a stellar opportunity for him. “My father has great foresight, is swift with his decisions and is extremely balanced—he always sees the bigger picture,” says Bhajanka matter-of-factly. So what is the biggest lesson he has picked up from his stalwart dad? “On my very first day, my father and my mentor Sanjay Agarwal (the company’s managing director) called me to their cabin and told me that if I don’t fail, I will never learn to succeed,” he says. Citing Thomas Edison’s famous words, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”, Bhajanka goes on to state that he truly considers failure to be the stepping-stone to success. “For every home run I’ve hit, I’ve made at least three mistakes. And it would have been impossible to learn without those errors,” says the Young Turk whose business philosophy stands on the founding principles of innovative thinking, consistency and quality.
Life beyond work
Bhajanka, who has recently married his college sweetheart, Sanjana, shares his passion for work with his newly wedded wife, who is the manager of the company’s Product Marketing Group (PMG) and deco products. Away from work, he likes to spend time playing squash, watching comedies or thrillers (Pirates of the Caribbean and Iron Man are among his all-time favourites) or following football. A sworn Manchester United fan, he hasn’t missed a single game in 18 years! Bonding with the extended family works as yet another of his preferred pastimes. “I have three sisters and brothers-in-law and five nephews, making us a big, happy family! Since we are all based in the same city, we try to get together at least twice a month,” he says taking his leave of us. Work beckons, after all.
Considering that Bhajanka has made his way up the ladder largely on his own merit, he knows that success is no inheritance or privilege. It is something you invest your time, effort and sweat in, even if that means frequenting crowded mandis in the heat or taking bumpy rides across the Howrah Bridge. Which explains why there is not the slightest of arrogance in his demeanour. Bhajanka’s soft spoken and humble disposition, self-deprecating humour and visionary eye that is strongly set on the future, surely makes this rising star one to watch out for.