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Is India on her mind?

The US-based science giant DuPont will need to scale up its manufacturing efforts if it has to squeeze more growth out of an opportunity filled Indian market.

Shalini S. Dagar & Suman Layak | Print Edition: April 18, 2010

What's common to the Leh-Manali Highway, the newlook octagonal columns of the Delhi Airport and frissia, the protein drink? If you want hints, we have a few: it's also common to the Tata Motors' Nano, high-quality hybrid cotton seeds and the Asian Paints Royale ad, which features a paranoid Saif Ali Khan worrying about scratches on the wall.

The answer: The $26-billion, Delaware, US-based E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, or DuPont as it is better known, and the innovative products from its labs. A section of the Manali-Leh highway uses DuPont's Elvaloy resin to ensure smoothness and crack resistance. The material was used on India's first toll road in the Ahmedabad-Vadodra section and is now being used more regularly in the National Highways Development Project. Another DuPont customer, Asian Paints, uses a product of the Teflon family for its new Royale paint with surface protection.

If Saif Ali Khan is in the picture, you can't keep another tinsel town regular, Shahid Kapoor, out of it. Remember the VIP ad where Kapoor flees with his bride on his wedding day, with a suitcase (with the wedding dress inside) in tow? That piece of luggage has Teflon coating too—with water protection. At the new terminal of the Delhi airport, DuPont's Corian has been used for the 134 columns of unusual shape—and for the first time it has been used for vertical cladding.

And frissia, of course, is convenience protein—just dissolve in water for your daily needs. Want some more examples? Tamper-proof Rakhi envelopes made of Tyvek (a paperlike material that you can't tear and can wipe clean even if you spill coffee on it) or Kevlar, used for bullet-resistant jackets by the Indian army. And then there are the biggest customers of DuPont in India—farmers who buy its insecticides, Avaunt and Rynaxypyr.

Passage (Back) to India

DUPONT'S CHIEF SCIENCE & TECH OFFICER'S JOURNEY.

When Uma Chowdhry says "the talent pool here (in India) is tremendous," it's difficult to miss out on the irony. Chowdhry, 62, Senior Vice President and Chief Science & Technology Officer at DuPont, was born in 1947 in Mumbai—then much better known as Bombay—where she went on to obtain a bachelors degree in science from the Indian Institute of Science of the Mumbai University.

She didn't see much of the city after that. After a master's degree from the California Institute of Technology, Chowdhry worked for a couple of years with Ford Motors and then went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for her PhD. In 1977, she joined DuPont and today heads the innovation department of the innovation company of the world.

Last fortnight, Chowdhry, along with DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman, met up with BT in Mumbai (they also visited Delhi and Hyderabad, home to DuPont's knowledge centre), dressed in a Kota saree. "I try to come to India once a year," says Chowdhry who now lives in Wilmington, Delaware, with husband Vinay. At a time when most industries have been ravaged by a recession, Chowdhry has plenty of silver linings to show for her efforts.

"In a recession year 39 per cent of our revenues came from our new products that had been introduced in the last five years," she beams. The company's decision not to cut back on research & development expenditure also resulted in 2009 being a record year in terms of patents issued. "We have become a lot more productive and if you look at the revenue per person in the last few years, it has grown tremendously.

It is allowing us to do research at a much lower cost. In India, the cost of research is almost one-fourth of what we can do in a developed country," says Chowdhry who has been heading DuPont's scientific research function since 2006. So is her CEO satisfied with that? "I am never satisfied but innovation is a hard thing to schedule," quips Kullman. "And what is important is to really get to understand the Indian market." Chowdhry will clearly be making many more trips to Hyderabad in the years ahead.

Numbers Make a Case

To paraphrase a cliche, there's a little bit of DuPont in every part of India—in fact so many little bits that they caught even Mark Vergnano, the Wilmington, Delaware-based Executive Vice President of DuPont, by surprise. "The openness to innovation (in India), which is really our lifeblood, is surprising and very exciting."

As India goes about chasing double-digit growth, it is more than happy to adopt DuPont technology. That is visible in the nearly $500 million of revenue that DuPont clocks in India (along with the seeds business, which is housed in a separate company, Pioneer Hi-Bred) from a variety of businesses—agriculture and nutrition, construction, automotive, consumer goods—all growing in robust double-digits. Balvinder Singh Kalsi, President, DuPont South Asia, reckons the Indian operations, E. I. duPont India Pvt Ltd, will double revenues to a billion dollars by 2012.

That fits in well with DuPont's global strategy of juicing out more from emerging markets—which in 2009 have contributed 30 per cent to the top line, with emerging Asia accounting for 11 per cent. So it wasn't an unpredictable move when Kalsi made a strong pitch for investing in manufacturing when DuPont Chairman & CEO Ellen Kullman flew into the country last fortnight. Currently, DuPont India has six units in three manufacturing locations in India at Hyderabad, Savli near Baroda and Madurai in Tamil Nadu. These units make crop protection chemicals, engineered polymers, automotive paint refinishes, seeds, Teflon coatings and Nymex. This apart, in 2008, the company set up a Knowledge Centre and a Service Centre in Hyderabad, which is easily the jewel in DuPont India's crown.

Kalsi feels it's time for the next big move. "Three years ago my position was: Let's focus on what India can bring to the table. That led to the setting up of the knowledge centre. I feel this is the right time to focus on (scaling up) manufacturing." Adds Uma Chowdhry, Senior Vice President and Chief Science and Technology Officer of the parent firm, who made the trip to India along with Kullman (see Passage Back To India): "In emerging markets such as these, we do not have time to waste." For DuPont, however, which has just about got its house in order after a difficult 2009, a scale-up in India may have to wait. "We have local manufacturing here in three centres in India. The knowledge centre will help us understand the local needs and determine what's next for us here," says Kullman.

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