Home / Companies / People /  A thirst for knowledge: Alok Kirloskar

Alok Kirloskar has a clear vision. To make Kirloskar Brothers Ltd (KBL) the most profitable pump manufacturer in the world and the first name in pumps, according to the Carnegie Mellon graduate. The 29-year-old son of Sanjay C. Kirloskar, KBL’s chairman and managing director, has always wanted to join the company. Now he’s gathering international experience as managing director (MD) of UK unit SPP Pumps Ltd. Before this, he spent about four years at the India operations of the pump manufacturer starting 2007, working in all its divisions and then becoming vice-president of the industrial pumps unit, catering to the needs of the processing industry.

The going hasn’t always been smooth for the company, Kirloskar says.

“There was a time in the 1990s, when everyone had written off the Kirloskar group, when it went through major ups and downs. The stock markets had written us off as a has-been group. We weren’t sure what was going to happen, but by 2000 things began to look up," he said in an interview. In 1991, the stock used to trade at 6 on the BSE. The recovery began after 2000 and it’s now at a more respectable 151.50.

Among the achievements he takes credit for are restoring the shine of the industrial division and boosting its market share besides implementing a self-learning knowledge management system in the company’s domestic operations—something he is now trying to replicate at the UK unit.

“Engineering companies, specially a company like ours which is over 110 years old, have a lot of knowledge with them but that has not always been recorded. My team at the industrial pumps division and I decided that we would implement this so that the engineers in the research and development would be freed from supporting the marketing arm, when it came to providing details of pumps for specific applications," he says.

The self-learning knowledge management system can reduce time for some processes dramatically, say, to three minutes from three weeks, according to him. It also frees up engineers to get on with their work rather than support marketing.

Trying to implement this in the UK has been difficult as the older workforce is reluctant to learn new tasks but the young MD isn’t giving up yet.

Kirloskar’s degrees include one in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University in the US, apart from a year’s study at the London School of Economics. He worked for a year in a California start-up before returning to India to join the company his father headed in 2007. While his schooling up to Class X was in India, the next two years were at a private school near Los Angeles. He “definitely" sees a role in his company for younger sister Rama, a 23-year-old graduate in mathematics and biology from Bryn Mawr College in US.

“It is good to have a family member in a family-owned company: my father and his brothers got emotional support from each other and a family member helps build security," he says. The group has a history of women in the family having executive roles, starting with patriarch S.L. Kirloskar’s wife, Yamutai Kirloskar (Alok Kirloskar’s great grandmother).

To be sure, there’s one big difference in the way Sanjay Kirloskar and his son came to be inducted into the company. Back then, the new entrant had to work his way up the rungs.

“We were hired as low-level managers but did work that even trainees weren’t expected to do," says Sanjay Kirloskar, whose induction into the group was at the behest of his grandfather S.L. Kirloskar.

Alok Kirloskar explains why things have changed: “There is no longer time to slowly learn things. My father joined the erstwhile Kirloskar Cummins Ltd. I got experience at KBL across divisions, with a company rather than a factory focus."

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