As a second-generation entrepreneur, it was a matter of great pride for Dr Rahul Mirchandani, the Chairman and Managing Director of Aries Agro Limited, to see how farmers across India had gained using the Aries range of speciality crop nutrition solutions.
Both his parents used to take Dr Rahul with them to the fields, and he accompanied them on business trips when, on weekends and during vacations. Seeing their products being used and the fields of Aries farmers full of bountiful harvests showed Dr Rahul the impact their business had created from an early age.
His higher education saw Dr Rahul specializing in the areas of Business Management, Finance, Marketing and Economics. This further deepened his understanding of the world of work. Post his MBA in Australia, Dr Rahul joined the business as a management trainee and worked his way through various departments and functional areas. With no fixed work desk or work cabin assigned till over six years after he joined, most of his time was spent in the fields across India, learning first-hand from farmers, dealers and distributors. This was the most intense part of unlearning and re-learning within the context of the complex and ever-dynamic Indian agribusiness markets.
With his earliest experiences being roasted in the fields of Punjab, with minimal technical knowledge, limited linguistic skills and being unable to convince the discerning rural customers, the best learning in Dr Rahul’s early career was to see how even the junior most salespeople were more useful than he was – simply because of their perfect understanding of market conditions and product benefits. This made Dr Rahul spend the first half dozen years just understanding every Agro-climatic zone, farmer attitudes and rural consumer behaviour.
With every field experience, Dr Rahul became more confident and aware of the ground realities, and with every small change that he implemented for the benefit of the teams, he became more accepted as a positive contributor to the Aries family.
Dr Rahul shares, “The constant questions that I asked myself were ‘What have I achieved minus my surname?’, ‘What have I done which was never done before to create incremental change for the company?’, ‘What did I do with every blank sheet of paper that I had the privilege of having?”
In an interview with CIOLook India, Dr Rahul told his enthralling journey in the search for answers to the earlier stated questions. The highlights of the interview are given herein.
Dr Rahul, please tell us about the saga of your entrepreneurship from the beginning.
Over the two and a half decades, one step at a time, I built trust and credibility by attempting to build over 100 speciality agribusiness brands in ways never done before. Innovative rural marketing was my calling, and ‘shock and awe’ tactics became the Aries signatures. From India’s first loyalty programme for agribusiness to launching a mineral product mined from the volcanoes of South America across 26 states in one single day…. From India’s first rural flash sale generating over two billion in orders in just 30 minutes hosted at the iconic Bombay Stock exchange to getting Aries farmers to pitch the company independently to President Obama during his visit to India. We did everything that no one else dreamt of doing!
Now with a presence in 26 states of India and six countries globally and a manufacturing capacity of 1,50,000 MT spread across our eight manufacturing units in India and UAE, Aries has established its leadership in India’s speciality plant nutrition sector. Almost all of our 114 world-class brands are proudly Made in India, making India’s farmers ‘Atmanirbhar since 1969’. Leading the Aries team of 1200 highly skilled professionals at the forefront of India’s agribusiness sector has been a privilege. The consistent growth is a firm testament of the world’s best that we deliver to India’s farmers.
Over the past 15 years, beyond my business, I have also had the opportunity to promote youth entrepreneurship as the Founding Chairman of the Commonwealth Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs (recognized as a best practice in the Commonwealth of Nations) and being part of the founding team for the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance, hosting the first Leadership Assembly in Delhi, leading to the signing of the New Delhi Charter for the G20 YEA. I have also created and led several verticals of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Young Indians (Yi), including the National Students’ Network (Yuva), Yi Farmer network and CII Industry Farmer Alliance, Yi Next Practices and Innovation (as part of the India@75 Vision), Yi International as well as Champions of Change (for Niti Aayog). I have also taught and mentored over 1500 second and third-generation entrepreneurs at the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Family Business within two of India’s top Business Schools (NMIMS and SPJIMR).
What was your inspiration behind venturing into the business arena?
My parents, Dr T B Mirchandani and Mrs Bala Mirchandani, were the Founders of Aries. Both were thought leaders and, in the 1960s, chose to leave their jobs in multinational companies to build India’s pioneering speciality nutrition business. Their grit, passion, wisdom and determination created today’s Indian multinational. Even today, the values and culture they instilled in the Aries Family have been our true ‘North Stars’. Known as the Father of the micronutrient industry in India, my dad has been the inspiration for many generations. With her marketing savvy and intellect, my mom created the longest and most successful of our flagship brands – Aries Agromin and Chelamin. Over five decades, these remain India’s most respected and recognized brands in the speciality plant nutrition sector.
My continuous travels into rural areas across every conceivable part of India and meeting farmers using their deep native intelligence to cultivate and feed a nation of over a billion have also been a massive inspiration. Farmers have helped us create some of our best and most successful product concepts and have challenged us to develop innovative solutions for specific problems they face in the fields. Serving this most discerning set of rural buyers and being rewarded with their loyalty is truly a treasured gift for the Aries teams.
What were the initial challenges you had to surmount to ensure Aries Agro Limited’s success rate reached greater heights?
Aries has grown its revenues 35 times since I took over the organization’s marketing function 23 years ago. We faced many challenges along the way, the most crucial being working capital management – with rural areas facing weather uncertainty and expecting extended credit cycles and a wide product line necessitating high inventory levels.
The slow and tedious process of demand creation for speciality product concepts was also a high-cost choice that we had to make constantly. However, the determination to invest on demand creation for 100+ brands without spending a single rupee on mass media campaigns has been the cornerstone of Aries’ success. We built trust from the bottom up, from the farmers giving testimonials from their fields. Not by high decibel campaigns and anonymous media interventions. Though time-consuming, the reputation and credibility of being known by the brands we create have been invaluable.
What leadership skills, values, and qualities do you think your clients admire in you and Aries Agro the most?
I believe Aries is admired for being an organization with a unique identity – a speciality plant nutrition company proudly Made in India. We have brought the world’s best to India and supplied India’s best to the world. A singular focus on crop nutrition using customized, cost-effective, agronomically efficient and environmentally sustainable solutions has created Aries’ niche within the otherwise hypercompetitive fertilizer sector.
With multiple generations of staff and factory workers working as part of the 1200+ team of Aries, the family spirit and deep commitment to the organization goes on to create a unique work culture. Many staff and customers are also shareholders of Aries and have invested in the Aries growth story. A professionally run organization with a legacy of over five decades of serving India’s farmers is unparalleled.
Aries is known for the brands we have built in the markets we serve. The admiration and acceptance of our brands are reinforced by consistent product performance and global quality standards. Aries sets the benchmarks.
Empowered teams and the development of intrapreneurs are also part of the Aries way of doing business. High levels of variable pay across all levels ensure that everyone realizes they have a share in the company’s present and our future growth. For every rupee earned and every rupee saved, there is a share for every team member who has made a positive contribution. This positive reinforcement with money and recognition has led to teams that remain forever committed to the organization and treat its goals as their own. Our top customers are all Aries employees whom the company identified and supported as entrepreneurs to build their own distribution companies. Spawning successful businesses with Aries’ teams have demonstrated our commitment to job creation and intrapreneurship.
What are the USPs that highlight Aries Agro’s uniqueness in the industry?
The Aries brands have three unique features: Customization (for crop and soil-specific requirements of crop nutrients), Chelation (converting nutrient sources into inert compounds that do not react with air, water, soil, etc. and hence are environmentally safe) and Cost-effectiveness (Proven benefit: cost ratio of a minimum of 6:1 that leads to improving the commercial rewards of farming).
These features have been consistent over the past five decades and have shaped a clear identity of Aries as a speciality plant nutrition company.
More recently, the Aries Mascot – Jeevan – has also built an iconic identity for the unique Tribe of Aries Farmers: Strong, Trustworthy and Innovative.
As an experienced professional, what would you like to advise the budding aspirants willing to enter the business world?
India is the world’s biggest opportunity, and Rural India is the crucible of growth for the Indian economy. Since 1969, Aries has proudly built world-class Agri brands that were made in India. Anyone wishing to enter the world of business must realize that there is a demand for new products and services in India that serve unique needs and fit the specific habits of Indians. However, this is also the world’s most ‘value seeking’ market; hence, attaining cost leadership must be one of the foremost business goals.
At Aries, we have always spoken the language of commerce first and excited consumers with the science of our product result later. This is another lesson for aspiring businesses.
How do you envision Aries Agro’s operations with the emerging technologies and automated tools that are revolutionizing the business world by enabling innovations?
Over the past three years, Aries has transformed its digital backbone by having almost every single process online. 100% of our order booking and payment process is now online; our in-house ‘Aries Integrated Management System’ works across departments and all our 30 plant and branch locations, seamlessly bringing human resources, procurement, distribution and reporting.
Digital applications are used in all markets to train farmers using online ‘Fasal Sabhas’, reward points and enable redemptions on ‘Khazaana’–India’s first and most rewarding customer loyalty programme in agribusiness, real-time Aries Dealer locators, mobile coupons for farmers and AI-enabled soil testing and product usage recommendations.
Aries is also the first to have received a DGCA license for micronutrient application using drone sprays and has built 100 days of data proving the ideal parameters for nutrition sprays using drones. High-density, water-soluble fertilizers, nano nutrients and crop-specific targeted nutrition solutions are some of our innovative planned future offerings for Indian and global farmers.