A Leader Who Takes Pride In Caution
K.K. Bangur has steered Graphite India through good times and bad and plans a future driven by high-end technology and caution
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Graphite India Limited (GIL) is a pioneer in manufacturing graphite electrodes in India. The company, established in 1967 in collaboration with the Great Lakes Carbon Corporation (GLCC) of the United States, is headquartered in Kolkata. Along with graphite electrodes, it also manufactures carbon and graphite speciality products at six manufacturing facilities spread across India. The company has a wholly-owned subsidiary at Nuremberg in Germany, named Graphite COVA GmbH.
The company has been helmed by K. K. Bangur as Chairman since 1993. Bangur joined the company in the late 1980s and has been a part of its growth story since. The company has managed to grow from a small venture in the 1960s to one of the largest graphite electrode manufacturers in the world in the ensuing seven decades.Graphite India is today the third largest graphite electrode manufacturer in the world and the lowest cost producer.
A factor that has aided Graphite India’s growth in the last two years is the Chinese government’s decision to shut down some of its heavily polluting steel and electrode manufacturing capacities in 2017, as part of its concerted focus on environmental issues. China’s decision to cut back production enabled manufacturers across the world to increase their own production of steel, creating a higher demand for electrodes outside of China. The last two years therefore, have been good for both Graphite India and the industry as a whole.
Graphite India though, was able to keep its head above water even between 1998 and 2008, a decade during which the industry went through a financial crisis. Bangur credits his team and the company’s policies, prudence and cost structure for the achievement.
As a company, Graphite India has focussed on keeping costs low, without compromising on quality. “We have come a long way and I have been fortunate to see the company transform over the last 30 years,” says Bangur. “The journey has been interesting, challenging at times, but rewarding overall. Challenging – from the point of view of penetrating into new markets, upgrading technology, cost control and managing the balance sheet during difficult periods. We were able to manage our balance sheet reasonably well and gave good returns to our shareholders even during difficult times,” says he.
In 2018, Graphite India invested close to $18.5 million in the US company, General Graphene Corporation, which manufactures graphene sheets. The investment was part of Graphite India’s focus on acquiring high-end technologies. Being the lightest, thinnest and the strongest material known, Graphene is expected to be the next big thing in industry. It is highly likely to open up new opportunities in high-tech applications, improve efficiency and optimise costs. For the future, Graphite India plans on staying invested in the carbon and graphite business. It plans to scale up operations, but remain prudent about costs.
Says Bangur, “a good leader needs to be cautious and humble. If complacency sets in, downfall is certain. It is a buyer’s market, and has always been one. A good leader should be committed to being competitive”.
In the last quarter of the financial year ended March 2019, Graphite India’s net profit rose by 4.07 per cent to Rs 562.00 crore. Its sales increased by 27.97 per cent to Rs 1,693.00 crore.