Founded in 1985, Welspun began its operations in Palghar and grew to texturize in Mumbai and Gujarat. Soon enough, with the financial reforms in 1991, the company filed for an IPO and became a public enterprise. Since its inception, Welspun has been one of the leaders in the global market of textile. Today, it is the second largest producer of terry towels in the world, exporting more than 94 per cent to 50+ countries worldwide.
No company can be a success without an innovative leader. At Welspun India, Dipali Goenka leads the company as the CEO and Managing Director, making her one of the most inspiring businesswomen in India. “For over 35 years, we’ve been a global leader in home textiles. My goal was for Welspun to become an innovative, consumer-focused, comprehensive solution provider to their retail partners. Years down the line, these factors have become the DNA and growth pivots for the organization and differentiators to reckon with,” she shares.
With 35 patents, Welspun has the highest market share in the US and holds a dominant position in India and the UK. The company’s luxury label Christy England is the official towel licensee for the Wimbledon championships. The main focus at Welspun India is on the four main guiding principles – Customer centricity, Technology & innovations, Collaboration, and Inclusive growth. Keeping this in mind, Dipali guides the team at Welspun with the sole intention of bettering themselves and the planet and keeping consumers’ well-being at the core.
Overcoming the Challenges
In the last couple of years, the global economy has been going through unprecedented times, with the pandemic and, more recently, the upset in Europe due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict. This gave many companies logistical challenges, unseen levels of increase in commodity prices and high inflation in western economies that have dampened business sentiments across industries worldwide. But despite all these, Welspun India has delivered a strong topline performance – FY21 at Rs. 7,408 cr, growing by 8.4 % and for FY22 at Rs. 9,377 cr, growing by 26.6 %. Having crossed the USD 1 billion revenue mark for the total company last year, the core business of home textiles crossed the US$ 1bn mark this year with revenues of ₹ 8,791 cr, growing 23.3% YoY.
Innovation continued to be a key enabler, propelled by Welspun’s patented products and processes, accounting for 27% of HT revenues in FY22, growing by 6% YoY. Emerging businesses of brands, eCommerce, flooring and advanced textiles continued on a strong growth trend, up by 44 per cent in FY22, accounting for 26 per cent of total revenues of the company, up from 23 per cent last year. The domestic retail business grew by 66 per cent in FY22 to reach the highest ever revenues.
Coming from a Marwari Family, Dipali never saw it as an obstacle to chasing her eloquent dreams. Today, as a mother, she realizes that she has to do her best to set an example for her daughters and reach her goals in a way that inspires them. “My inspiration stemmed from my mother, who taught me the time management skill. Due credit also goes to my husband, who has always been supportive throughout my journey,” she explains. From the start, it was clear that even though she would be joining Welspun, absolutely nothing would be handed to her on a platter. Thus, she created her own space within an already established network of functionalities and people. Starting from scratch and working her way up, Dipali found the journey to be a great learning experience, spending most of her time on the shop floor learning about the business processes, right from purchasing the cotton and manufacturing methods to the speed of the machines. Understanding the various aspects of the job and closely observing consumer behavior was critical during these visits. “Looking back, I feel that this journey has been one of sheer hard work, dedication and most importantly, the belief that I could do it. It also strengthened my leadership skills and built empathy toward the team,” she says.
As the MD and CEO of Welspun, Dipali understands that there is a lot of attention and criticism in the public eye, be it constructive or destructive. However, she knows that the downs are a part of the ups, and criticism is a part of the praise. “I take it not as criticism but constructive feedback and try to work on improving myself and my work. As they rightfully say, you are your biggest critic; so as far as you have faith, everything can be worked out. It is also important to have trust in your employees and the values you pass on to your team,”
Dipali entered the business world in 2002 and was met with cynicism. The textile industry then was largely male-dominated, with only 7% of the workforce at Welspun being women. This made it difficult for people to trust a woman leader, so making a mark for herself through the work and gaining the trust of her employees and colleagues was one of the main challenges during her early days at Welspun. “Initially, I had started with a design studio. In 2003, I launched Spaces, a premium bed and bath brand. But, the global financial crisis of 2008 made me move to the textile business. It was a challenging situation for me since I knew very little about it at that time. Once again, I had to start from scratch by learning the basics of the business,” she shares.
Another major hurdle was in 2016 when American retailer Target cut ties with Welspun India. Still in the training wheels of her career, Dipali decided to reassure customers worldwide by taking personal meetings to rebuild their trust in Welspun. Barring one, the company got back their clients and moved forward with the business. “We learned from this incident that our processes have to be tight. One has to maintain a process-oriented company rather than an individual-oriented one. I think our mistake if I can call it that, was our attitude that if things are going well, there’s no need to interfere. In the end, learn from your mistakes and never make the same one twice,” Dipali explains.
Sustainability and technological breakthroughs are the core of all business operations, and Welspun, with no exception, tries to inculcate the same in the company’s values and ethos. Welspun takes constant efforts to create awareness and small steps to make the planet a better place for future generations. The company has launched the Wel-Track 2.0 Blockchain, one of the textile industry’s largest traceability and ESG transparency rollouts. The upgraded platform is designed to help drive transparency in the supply chain from farm to shelf. Welspun is one of the first home textile manufacturers to use a Blockchain and AI-based traceability platform at such a large scale, which captures all its product lines and major sustainability-related data points. These include ESG metrics such as water usage, fair pay, power consumption, and gender equality. Further, Welspun has launched the Manthan program, which aims to encourage employees across departments, functions, offices and manufacturing units to develop impactful, innovative and adaptable ideas aligned with business goals.
Digitalisation has ushered in a new dimension of operations and value creation for businesses. Welspun’s belief in creating a culture of experimentation, innovation, and continuous improvement has made them embrace technology to leapfrog into a new future. Welspun is Asia’s largest and the 2nd largest terry towel producer in the world, beside terry towel they also manufacture bedsheets, rugs and carpets. Welspun exports more than 94% of its home textiles products to more than 50 countries. Towel Counting using AI/ML-based vision computing is at both plants in Anjar & Vapi.
Further, Welspun’s direct association with farmers through the Well Krishi program is also one of the unique aspects of Welspun. There is a strong interdependence between cotton farmers and the home textile industry. Welspun is dedicated to weaving its growth story as the fabric of the nation through sustainable and responsible practices. “We are working directly with farmers and are committed to supporting them with agronomic know-how, improving yields and getting better pricing,” Ms Dipali says. The Wel-Krishi initiative supports over 16150 farmers and 85000 farm workers across 387 villages for growing sustainable forms of cotton, for which there is a huge demand. Such interdependence between farmers and industry must be encouraged for the welfare of the farming community. “We have already made a proactive shift both in our business strategy and operating model with a well-defined roadmap and targets that fulfil the principles of ESG,” she adds.
Unwinding is an essential part of everyday life. Ms Dipali unwinds by means sweating it out at the gym, Kathak and weight training, thus prioritizing both physical and mental well-being. “If you are passionate about what you do, the end of every productive day automatically puts a smile on your face. But letting off steam is key to coming back stronger the next day. I do this by spending quality time with my family, watching content on OTT platforms and making time for physical activities during the day,” she elaborates.
At the Turning Point
Until 2002, Welspun was primarily an exporter, and it was with Ms Dipali that the company championed the domestic retail market with ‘Spaces’. Thus, began her entrepreneurial journey within a well-established company, something that she was determined to make a success of. The launch of the home furnishing brand SPACES captured a significant market share and was an important milestone for Welspun. Since then, it has grown globally and is recognized today for its customer centricity, innovation, and sustainability.
The other milestone would be the increase in the number of women in the workforce. From 7%, the numbers rose to 30% women in the workforce, which is uncommon in the male-dominated manufacturing industry. “I believe business can be an agent of change, and all should embrace inclusive growth. Women need to have immense faith in themselves no matter what they believe in, and respecting yourself is of prime importance,” Dipali conveys. In the spirit of this belief, Welspun has announced its ‘Women of Welspun’ initiative to provide an environment of growth and opportunities for all women employees, institutionalizing progressive policies that actively help women to reach desired positions.
Welspun has also come a long way in terms of innovation. With it being the need of the hour, Welspun understands that the more one innovates, the increase in affinity for the company’s products. In addition, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is critical to the existence of businesses as giving back to society is of utmost importance. Being recognized as one of the top companies in India for sustainability and CSR has also been an achievement for Welspun India. “Our sustainable brand SPUN blends important elements of circularity, livelihood for women and traditional crafts. It has recently been named as one of the Top 100 Corporate-Ready Social Enterprises, in a list by the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs,” shares Ms Dipali.
Welspun India has been rated by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, one of the world’s most renowned sustainability indices, through the Corporate Sustainability Assessment 2021. The company has emerged as one of the leading companies for sustainability, with a strong environmental performance and significant improvement in the social and governance impact parameters. Welspun recently won the National Water Award, announced by the Ministry of Jal Shakti. The recognition came on the back of the social and environmental impact made by Welspun’s cutting-edge sewage treatment plant in the drought-prone Kutch district. Frost & Sullivan and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) also recognized Welspun India for their sustainability practices and impact on the environment and communities at the Sustainability 4.0 Awards.
Holding the Fibers to the Future
To be sustainable, innovative and ‘vocal for local’, Welspun focuses on the new logistics park in Bhiwandi, hoping to emulate these values. It has been certified as a platinum-rated green project by the CII and continues to be developed as per the global standards and green building certifications. The company has increased its nationwide footprint to 4,288 outlets and 80 towns with the brand name Welspun vis-a-vis 3500+ outlets and 66 towns in Q4. Further, Welspun’s goal is focused on increased sustainability efforts. As a leader in the manufacturing sector, the company see extraordinary possibilities to increase positive impact, from their aim to be carbon and water neutral by 2030, obtain 100 per cent of the cotton sustainably or impact a million lives through Corporate Social Value (CSV) interventions by 2030, Welspun’s ESG efforts drive measurable results.
The pandemic has changed consumption and purchase patterns drastically. Home products are in greater demand than they were earlier. As more people work from home, there is a higher demand for hygiene products like towels and wet wipes. Retailers even in the West are also stocking more of these. So, Welspun plans to focus on increasing production to meet the demand.
Moreover, digitization and online transactions are growing rapidly. “We had forayed into the e-commerce segment much before the pandemic and were operating the Omni channel through the introduction of our e-commerce platform SPACES, which offers products online in the bed and bath category,” shares Dipali. During the pandemic, the e-commerce platform had seen massive growth and increased sales, especially in Tier-II and -III cities, and that is where the aspiration for the brand is growing. “The belief that gives me the strength to handle pressure and remain calm amidst all the challenges is that, ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do.’ One should constantly keep looking for inspiration and not settle. Challenges will make us and take us ahead if taken in the right spirit,” shares Ms Dipali as a final note.
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