Mr. O.P. Puranmalka, Group Executive President, Grasim Industries and Chief Marketing Officer, UltraTech Cement, both part of the Rs. 27,000 crore Aditya Birla Group, started his career with Grasim as an industrial management trainee. This cement industry expert recently successfully initiated the brand transition of L&T Cement to UltraTech. In an exclusive interview with Business Barons, Mr. Puranmalka shares his experience in the brand transition and new business strategy of UltraTech. Excerpts:

The transformation of the L&T Cement brand name to UltraTech has been successful. What strategy did you adopt to achieve such a seamless transition?
Puranmalka: The L&T Cement brand commanded a strong presence in the marketplace, standing for technology, quality, modernity and engineering excellence. These perceptions were validated and reinforced by research findings initiated to understand the brand. The biggest challenge that was faced by our team was that since only the brand name was being changed, the brand transition process had to be designed and in such a manner that none of the attributes and values that L&T Cement stood for were either diluted or modified in transition. Another challenge was that time available to the team was very limited to complete the process. Ideally, for a brand as big and with huge national spread, the transition process should have been spread over a period of two to three years. However, we are allowed to use the brand name L&T Cement till March 2005. The process had to be completed within nine months. However, we took the challenge and our marketing team worked on a war footing to complete the task. That's how the brand transition has been going on smoothly.

The geometric growth in the housing sector and the government's thrust on infrastructure is expected to help speed up the growth in the cement industry. How will this contribute to the growth of UltraTech's business?
Puranmalka: The rise in per capita consumption would be fuelled by the strong growth in the housing sector and the government's thrust on infrastructure development This is expected to translate into a growth of close to eight to nine per cent annually. UltraTech is uniquely positioned to capitalise on these developments given its unique brand values and customer orientation, backed admirably by the best trade partners possible.

What are UltraTech's plans to maximise operational efficiencies across its plants nationwide?
Puranmalka: UltraTech plans a capital expenditure of Rs. 200 crore. Through this, efficiencies will be improved and removing of bottlenecks will generate an additional 2.5 million TPA of capacity. We also plan to cut operational costs and improve the efficiency at our plants.

What are the key markets for L&T Cement in different parts of India? What are the new markets that UltraTech is planning to tap?
Puranmalka: UltraTech Cement enjoys a leadership position in practically all the markets in which it is present. Close to 70 per cent of its volumes comes from the southern and western states. We plant to consolidate our leadership position in these markets and complete the process of the transition to UltraTech in the next few months. Thereafter, we will look at expansion opportunities and decide accordingly.

Could you tell us about your distribution network?
Puranmalka: UltraTech's distribution network is very widely spread out in the country with over 5,500 dealers and 30,000 retailers. It enjoys a leadership position in all the markets that it serves. We are committed to preserving the brand's premium and its market share. The company has enlisted the support of all of its business associates. This includes dealers, stockists, retailers, builders and engineers, among others.