December 2016 | Philip Chacko

The goal: To get better all the time

Business excellence has powered the rise of Titan Company, and the proof of the pudding has been its evolution into a multidimensional success story

Excellence, of and by itself, has been the watchword for Titan Company ever since its inception in 1984 as a joint venture between Tata and the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation. The ‘business’ bit, in the context, seems to be an almost incidental attachment in the defining of an enterprise that has stood apart as a trailblazing amalgam of manufacturer and retailer. But, appearances notwithstanding, this is a tango and it is for two.

Business and excellence have been made inseparable at Titan Company, conjoined twins nurtured to secure benefits across brands and industries, functions and people, leadership and strategy. “Business excellence has enabled us to compartmentalise the organisation and, at the same time, integrate it,” notes Bhaskar Bhat, the managing director of Titan Company. “The other principle in this journey is continuous improvement.”

Being an early bird in the business of business excellence has been a help for Titan Company. It was one of the handful of Tata enterprises that, in the mid-1990s, kick-started the business excellence movement in the group.

“I cannot say, to be fair, that we recognised the need for business excellence at that point,” recalls Mr Bhat. “This was a new effort from the group and we were one of the first to embrace it. Until then the idea of a systematic approach to excelling in business was perhaps available, but it had not been mandated by the group.”

Taking TBEM on board meant Titan Company was driven to become process-oriented. That, on the face of it, rebelled against the essential nature of an organisation that thrived on spontaneity. “We are, predominantly, an intuitive, instinctive and people-driven company,” adds Mr Bhat. “TBEM forced us to be process-oriented, but we learned how to be intuitive without letting the process overwhelm us.”

Titan Company’s steady climb up the business charts is in no small measure a reflection of its commitment to the core values enshrined in TBEM. It is now ranked among the world’s top watchmakers; it owns India’s largest and most visible jewellery imprint, Tanishq; its eyewear brand, Titan Eye Plus, has carved out a niche in a difficult business; and its precision engineering division supplies cutting-edge products and solutions to industries such as automotive and aerospace.

There is a chain in Titan Company that links these distinctly different commercial endeavours, and the metal it is crafted from contains different ingredients: the culture of the enterprise, a predilection for innovation and, not least, the unending quest for excellence in every facet of business. “What we seek is connectivity, between information analysis and strategy, for instance, between our businesses and sustainability, between our continuous improvement objectives and things like digitisation,” says Mr Bhat.

The future is, in Titan Company’s reading, a time for raising the bar, and not just on innovation. “We have to push the right levers on business excellence to get to an even better place than where we are today,” says NE Sridhar, head of corporate sustainability and business excellence. “We have to work on the next wave of improvements, in strategy, in developing leaders, in benchmarking against the best from across the world, in embracing digital technologies and in enhancing our capabilities.”

The company will have to anticipate requirements on diverse criteria and across its many divisions, reckons Mr Sridhar, who has been with the organisation for 25 years now. “That means going beyond what is mandated today to what may be a necessity tomorrow, especially on sustainability,” he adds.

According to Mr Sridhar, “TBEM is a mirror that reveals what we are. But we are not obsessed with the tools of business excellence; they are but enablers. These tools have to be appropriate, they have to be relevant and they have to be employed in the right manner. At Titan, we do not mandate which tools have to be used. What we say is: ‘Use what is good for you to become better.’ It’s as simple as that.”

The business excellence programme that Titan Company lives by is sophisticated enough to accommodate improvisation and customisation. “We don’t look at any of the different spheres of TBEM in isolation,” explains Mr Sridhar. “With strategy, for example, it is co-created with our people. It’s fine that we have adopted a particular model, but we have to make it more contemporary to the way we view ourselves.”

There’s no denying, though, what TBEM has brought to the business table. “The model has made a huge difference at many levels across the Tata group,” says Mr Bhat. “We are concentrating more on how we can improve results through business excellence, and then there’s the learning for the group and Tata companies from one another. That makes TBEM very Tata oriented and unique.”

Titan's relationship with customers has always been exceptional

Two on top
In which of the seven spheres of the Tata Business Excellence Model (TBEM) does Titan Company perform exceptionally? The answer reveals a dead heat, with leadership and customer focus emerging at the top of the heap. 

“Customer centricity comes naturally to us, but on leadership it is the TBEM process we have to thank,” says managing director Bhaskar Bhat. “We have always had a strong and differentiated approach to leadership: trustworthy, transparent, free of hierarchy and power structures. Our leaders are approachable and accessible, and so are our people.” TBEM has buttressed these virtues.

“The vast majority of leadership positions in the company are now filled from within, by people who have been groomed and mentored to take up more substantial responsibilities,” says NE Sridhar, who heads corporate sustainability and business excellence at the company.

With customers, Titan Company already had a well-developed system by the time TBEM came to the fore.

Customer focus at Titan Company is not a task left to sales and marketing. “The behaviour and habits of everyone in the organisation counts,” adds Mr Bhat. “There’s more to it than creating products that satisfy our customers. We treat them like kings and queens; we want them to come back to us.”

This article is part of the cover story about the culture of business excellence across Tata group companies in the October - December 2016 issue of Tata Review:
Overview: Continuous improvement
Five Tata companies describe how business excellence has helped build value and reshape the business model
Read the complete articles, and more, in Tata Review
Tata Business Excellence Group: A unique model and its holistic method
As custodian of the famed Tata Business Excellence Model (TBEM), the Tata Business Excellence Group (TBExG) has been helping Tata companies achieve global benchmarks in different operational spheres
Tata Steel: Mastering change
The business excellence endeavour at Tata Steel has helped the company evolve continuously to stay on course in an industry that has been buffeted by transformative trends on multiple fronts
Rallis India: Get systematic to get superior
The process is prince and protector in the Rallis India way on business excellence, which has helped carry the company from its lowest point to the summit of its industry
Tata Power Delhi Distribution: Energy to spare in quality quest
Tata Power Delhi Distribution has banked on business excellence to overhaul its organisational structure, overcome challenges galore and build an exceptional enterprise
Tata Steel Processing and Distribution: Steely and sturdy
Business excellence has been the spark for a transformation exercise at Tata Steel Processing and Distribution, an enterprise that has matured further with every forward step