It is a balmy evening in Mumbai and as I rush into a hotel lobby after successfully beating the traffic, I wonder if the man I am scheduled to meet will be as punctual as the ubiquitous brown packages his company is famous for delivering.
Despite a very long ride from his office in Goregaon, Pirojshaw Sarkari, the managing director of UPS Jetair Express Pvt. Ltd, upholds his company’s tradition by pipping me to the post by a few seconds.
We meet at the Dublin Bar in the ITC Grand Central Hotel and after ordering our drinks (a glass of Chantilly for him, a kiwi margarita for me), we settle down to chat about everything from Big Brown’s debut in India to the new fleet of Boeing 787s to be launched by the year-end.
While Sarkari, 40, reaches in time for our meeting, that has not been the case with UPS, a fairly late entrant into the courier and shipping market in India. Although it had an agent relationship with Elbee for over a decade prior to 2000, the company only flexed its muscle when it entered into a 60-40 joint venture with Jetair Pvt. Ltd (a group company of Jet Airways) in December 2000.
Seeing the potential that the Indian market had, UPS moved quickly, joining hands with Jetair and, in the process, getting access to a ready-made domestic airline network.
Sarkari’s move to UPS was quite by chance. Having started his career in the tax department at Jetair in 1994, he quickly moved up the ranks to become a general manager by 1998.
When UPS came calling in the winter of 2000, he was on the other side of the negotiating table. Post negotiations, at the celebratory meeting between the two parties in Singapore, UPS’ regional manager, South Asia, called him aside and asked him if he would like to come on board with the new set-up.
Sarkari’s first day on the job was fairly eventful. Landing up for the mandatory new-hire orientation, Sarkari was given his schedule. The first item on the agenda: “Drive a truck!”He recollects with a laugh that he spent the day with a veteran 50-year-old UPSer in a large UPS truck, making deliveries and getting acquainted with customers.
The move to UPS was not without its share of teething problems. The very first hurdle Sarkari faced was the American work culture, which was a tad different from what he was used to in India. He remembers questioning one of the edicts issued by the company’s management in Atlanta: UPS drivers have to be graduates, they will drive around in air-conditioned vans and get their uniforms, comprising shorts and crisp shirts, from the US.
Considering Indian conditions, where many executives don’t have access to A/C cars, the diktats seemed a little unrealistic. But UPS was unflinching in its attitude that, as its brand ambassadors, these service providers were to be accorded benefits that were consistent globally.“They will go down very soon,” thought Sarkari despairingly at that time. “Was this the right way to go about business in India?”
That initial feeling soon gave way to admiration as he acknowledged that UPS placed premium value on all its employees and, therefore, commanded incredible loyalty. So, yes, UPS drivers in India are graduates, even if they do wear trousers instead of shorts.
Since taking over as managing director in August 2006, Sarkari has been on the move. He has spent the last six months criss-crossing the country and scoping 26 cities to understand the needs of businesses there.
He’s just back from Ludhiana, the traditional hub of hosiery manufacturers. “Now there are diverse SMEs coming up, including a firm that manufactures some of the best office stationery in the world,” says Sarkari. Small and medium enterprises, or SMEs, especially exporters, are UPS’ bread and butter.
So, Sarkari’s eye is trained on the manufacturing units of Sriperumbudur, 35km from Chennai, and on Pune’s auto and auto ancillary industry.
“All in all, the country, which is considered a leader in the service industry, is definitely taking a turn towards manufacturing,” he believes.
Big Brown, as UPS is known in the industry, is the world’s largest package delivery powerhouse, with the eighth largest airline fleet in the world, and is instrumental in moving goods, information and funds across the world.
Consider this: On any given day, the company moves more than 15 million packages and documents all over the world.
While India is still just a blip on the UPS radar, it is a blip that could achieve some significance, given the pace of growth of the economy.One of Sarkari’s challenges lies in rapidly expanding UPS’ SME and private consumers’ portfolios through ‘The UPS Store’. The first-such store, which provides tailored one-to-one solutions to private customers, opened in Mumbai in 2005.
“We tell them to do their core business and leave the logistics to us,” he says of his clients in the small-business segment. An example of this is UPS TradeAbility, which helps international shippers in India easily identify specific country tariff codes to calculate duties necessary for customs clearance.
Sarkari is moving aggressively and aims to open 150 UPS stores all across India in the next three to five years. This is in tune with his plans to provide SMEs with full retail facilities, combining shipping, packaging and other business services, such as office supplies, printing and even a Jet Airways ticketing service.
Sarkari says that his style of management is based on the 3Ps: people, productivity and profitability.
When not travelling across the country, Sarkari prefers to relax at home. Weekends are reserved exclusively for his wife, two daughters and parents, whether it is lazy Sunday afternoons with “mum and dad”, or Saturdays spent in taking his younger daughter to McDonald’s where he has to chew a burger while she happily plays with her Happy Meal toy.
Sarkari loves to pore over books on aviation, an interest triggered off by an official visit to the facilities of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, in Bangalore, in 1998. Aviation Week and Cargo Today are among his favourite bedside reading and given the chance, he would love to visit an airline factory, such as the famous Boeing facility in Seattle.“I would love to be the CEO of an airline,” he says.
Cricket is his second love. Alas, since he has just taken over in August, it is too early for him to take time off to go to Barbados to catch the upcoming action.
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