The first thing which catches your attention as you meet Deepika Jindal is her calm and serene nature. If you were wondering what’s unique about that, well, it’s all about how you perceive founders who are managing the show at their business. The general presumption would be that a founder head would have the atypical alpha personality – forceful, oppressive, even narcissistic, if you may. Deepika Jindal is none of that; or at least, the rendezvous 4Ps B&M had with her at Jindal House in Delhi revealed none of that. Married into one of India’s leading business houses, Deepika has no airs about her as she describes her own journey as an entrepreneur and business woman.
Born and bred in Kolkata, Deepika Jindal got married at quite an early age of 19. She reveals that since the start she had a strong desire to do something of her own, rather than just be a house wife. But she also didn’t want to get into fashion or clothing “like all rich women did” (pardon the sic erat scriptum stereotyping), and instead wanted to create her own niche. But she had to wait till her children entered college, to really devote time to her actualization needs. The journey of JSL Lifestyle, Deepika says, started in 2001 with the launch of the brand Art D’Noux on encouragement from her husband Ratan Jindal, who is the Managing Director of Jindal Stainless Ltd, where brother Naveen Jindal is the Director. “My husband, Ratan Jindal, has been in this industry for a long time, so he was very keen that someone makes value-added products out of stainless steel. One day he asked me, ‘Why don’t you do it?’, and that got me started.” The initial idea was to develop and position stainless steel as a branded material to be consumed by high-end customers, an idea with not many takers in India at that time. Thus was born the concept of Art D’Noux, the brand by which the company retails its products, which means the ‘art of stainless’.
The initial periods were tough, as there were no precedents in the Indian market, and a steep learning curve had to be traversed. “We started with a one-room office, with one technical person, one designer and me in the team, and we groped in the dark for many months on how we could create products out of stainless steel. We were trying to see how we could outsource our work to vendors, and create products with small time karigars in Delhi, those who were making utensils and stuff,” she reminisces. The problems she faced included unprofessional vendors and even the mindset of customers, as they were not ready to pay the amount of money that was required in design and manufacturing; that bogged Deepika down in the early phases.
At the same time was the issue of production. Stainless steel, being a tough material, can’t be designed easily. So it was a challenge how to keep the processes simple yet make innovations in the products. To achieve this, JSL Lifestyle got its own factories and machines to produce what was designed by Deepika and her team. The plant was (and still is) located in Haryana’s Rohtak city.
The company didn’t go for any foreign overtures in the early phase, as the funds available were very limited, says Deepika. And also, while foreign firms were too modern in their designs, India was still traditional. Given all that, JSL Lifestyle, being an Indian brand, created its own design philosophy and style to keep an Indian touch to it. While JSL Stainless, the parent company, is thundering towards an annual sales figure of Rs.10,000 crores, JSL Lifestyle is quite puny comparatively. Jindal is quite candid on this. Jindal reveals that she has learnt from her mistakes over the years, “Earlier, many people would take me for a ride considering I am a woman and don’t know much about management, as I am more of a creative person. I never thought there could be a second motive to what someone was saying. Now I am more confident in the direction that I am going; and we are increasing our portfolio.” The philosophy for growth, says Jindal is looking, learning, growing, but not rushing. “I know we are in a niche business catering to a certain segment; I don’t want to lose going too fast. Stainless is a material which has got its own characteristics and limitations, so we have to study where do we fit well, and take it forward. Besides, we have started doing other material as well.”
Deepika confesses that JSL Lifestyle was in for a scare during the recession period of 2008-10, as it had spent a lot in retail expansion and opened too many stores. It lost a lot of money then, as inflows were considerably lesser than outflows – losses were intense. But emergency restructuring – including stock checks, management, working and systems – got them out. The company is apparently back on the growth path and has bene making profits for the last two years. “We now want to do it properly, steady and in a more practical way,” says Jindal, an avid Bhagavad Gita fan, who de-stresses with yoga sessions.
As the head of the firm, her management style is team work. “I have my strengths and weaknesses. I take the final decision, but it’s always in consultation with team. While my CEO Anuj Jain looks at the everyday running and management of the business, when it comes to growth and direction I have a final word.” Deepika is clearly an anti-thesis in this world of maddeningly hyper go-getting top management. But one guesses top executives like Deepika balance the pool where one presumptuously only strives for higher and higher growth and profits.