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BW Businessworld

Book Extract: Embrace The Change

The ability to accept and adapt is one of the greatest traits of a leader

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In 2008, the kanwars felt that Apollo’s logo and brand image could do with a major overhaul. It had not been changed from day one. Three major agencies were asked to pitch but it was a doyen of corporate branding, and award-winning Englishman Wally Olins, co-founder of Saffron Brand Consultants with offices in London, Madrid and New York, who won out. Famous for his round glasses and bow ties Olins had worked with topflight clients including Orange, Renault, Tata, Lloyd’s of London and McKinsey. He came to Gurgaon in person to do the pitch, something that greatly impressed Neeraj Kanwar.

Olins instinctively understood Apollo, where it had come from and where it planned to go. He felt that in creating a niche Apollo could claim as its own, it was important to create a brand that was distinctive and reflected the characteristics and qualities that made the company special. He would come up with a completely new and relevant identity that would strengthen Apollo’s credibility by ensuring that every aspect of the way in which it presented itself was at least as good as the best of the competition.

Out of Saffron’s rebranding came the new Apollo legend ‘Go the Distance’ that would appear on reports, documents and letterheads. Next to it would appear four circles, each one in a different colour with a slightly different inner radius representing the kinds of tyres that Apollo produces. The same motif would be applied physically to Apollo’s Gurgaon building and its tyre plants.

The new Apollo logo also came out of these tyre shapes. The old chunky black-and-white logo all in capital letters was replaced by a very contemporary ‘apollo’ all in lower case—the ‘Os’ inspired by the tyre circle motifs—and in the company’s new colour: purple.

When Olins had made his pitch to Apollo, he produced a map of where all the global tyre companies were located and the colours they used to represent themselves—Michelin in blue, Bridgestone in red and so on. He then showed all the colours on a spectrum and there was a significant gap at purple. He said when it came to fashioning a new identity there was no point in tackling the major brands head on and anyway the competition had become boring, staid and entirely lacking in imagination. Purple was fresh, distinctive and different just as Apollo was distinctive and different. It would make for a clutter-breaking use of colour.

In coming up with a radical rebranding, Olins had also sought the views of dealers, customers and other stakeholders to gain their impressions of Apollo the brand. Reflecting the fact that Apollo was an Indian company striding on to the world map, Olins company website put its branding strategy this way: ‘Indian companies had traditionally shied away from talking about where they came from, the result both of a lack of self-confidence and antiquated perceptions about India. We saw an opportunity to break this mould. Apollo’s long-term strategy was to target the European market; with this in mind, a compelling proposition began to emerge—tyres made for some of the worst roads in the world would be very much at home on some of the best. And so we developed a brand strategy that underlined Apollo’s Indian roots and emphasized quality along with value for money. The IKEA of the tyre world, in a sense. There is nothing else like it in the industry.’

The team loved it, but would the boss? Onkar Singh Kanwar had grown up with the old logo from the earliest days of Apollo. Would he embrace the change? He took one look at the new concept and said, ‘That’s great, I love it too. Let’s go ahead.’....

Neeraj Kanwar says that his best ideas either come to him in the shower or in the middle of the night. His boldest idea yet was Apollo’s groundbreaking Chennai plant, which began commercial production of passenger car radials on 13 March 2010. The first truck and bus radials came out of Chennai on 11 May and in July Apollo shipped its first consignment of passenger car radial (PCR) tyres to an original equipment (OE) customer, Hyundai Motor India, from the new plant.
Construction had begun in November 2008 and the factory, Apollo’s ninth in total and fourth in India, had been built in a cracking fourteen months by a team headed by KP. ‘The Tamil Nadu government had given permission to JK, MRF, Michelin and Apollo to put up tyre factories in various parts of the state at the same time,’ Prabhakar explains. ‘Ours was not only the biggest, it was finished the quickest and I believe it is the best.

...The Chennai plant covers 125 acres and employs 1,760 people working in three shifts twenty-four hours a day. The major differences between it and Apollo’s other plants, and Indian tyre plants in general, are twofold: its layout and the level of automation, and the lack of hierarchy in the workforce.

‘My concept was to break with the old on both fronts,’ Neeraj explains. At Chennai the PCR and truck and bus radial (TBR) production line buildings run parallel down the site but between them is an equally long building, a central spine, which houses all the support functions from labs to engineering to quality control that are used by both production lines. This innovative layout avoids duplication and all support facilities are close to where they are most needed...
Every process is monitored from the ‘nerve centre’ in the plant’s central spine support building. A wall of computer screens provides to-the-second data and live video feed of every stage of the tyre making process on both production lines. It is modelled on a similar information and management system used at the Vredestein plant in Enschede. Soon after integration Apollo and Vredestein were also sharing technologies in areas such as compound recipes and silica mixing and sidewall design. ...Much of the robotic and automated manufacturing technology that made Neeraj’s vision a reality comes from Finnish company Cimcorp...

‘Internally there was a lot of discussion about how much I was spending on Chennai,’ Neeraj admits. ‘At first my father and others argued, “Why are you spending so much money? Surely we can do it cheaper. Why are you putting in so much automation?” But I argued that we had to have the best. We had to build a plant to world standards, not just the best Indian plant. While there would be a short-term impact on capital expenditure we would ultimately save on labour costs because the tolerances of machines are much less and the fewer hands you physically put on a tyre before it is cured the better quality and consistency you achieve. By streamlining our material and data flows, the logistics automation systems would allow process machines to be utilized at 100 per cent capacity, thereby increasing the output of the manufacturing lines. I think it is at it is at times like this that my father’s real greatness is revealed—he’s willing to forgo his past experiences and back us for the future.’