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Challenging conventional wisdom: an exclusive interview with Gharda Chemicals

Dr KH Gharda, founder, chairman and managing director at Gharda Chemicals talks to Savita V Jayaram, about challenging conventional wisdom in chemicals.

Gharda Chemicals celebrated five decades in the industry as of 2017, growing from a team of 10 people in 1967 to around 2,000 researchers, scientists, engineers and experts today. 

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” aptly describes Dr Keki Hormusji Gharda, founder, chairman and managing director of Gharda Chemicals, the first recipient in India of the Chemical Pioneer Award. He also holds nine PC Ray awards and, in 2016, he was conferred with the highest honour of Padma Shree for his contribution to the field of chemistry and sciences. He is recognised as a trailblazer, harnessing the potential of known chemistries and recording many first-in-India developments.

Dr Gharda completed his masters in chemistry and chemical engineering in India before pursuing a PhD in America, followed by two years teaching chemical engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Then, being an only son, Indian cultural values demanded he return to his homeland. Soon after his return, he witnessed the demise of his father. Circumstances made him look for a job, but he could not find a suitable place in industry, which is when Dr Gharda decided to start his own company. 

Gharda blue

He started in a small shed at Santacruz. It had mud floors, a tin roof and a stove heated reactor. It was here that his research led to a landmark innovation in India – phthalogen brilliant blue, now called Gharda blue. The product reduced costs and dependence on imports from Germany in the 60s, and the quality was even better. 

Gharda blue brought a renewed confidence in Gharda’s abilities. He moved from Santacruz to a regular site in Dombivali, where Gharda Chemicals introduced the benzidine homologues. While lots of manufacturers placed heavy reliance on imports of this direct dye and reactive dye intermediate, Gharda Chemicals was the first to have manufactured it in India. 

These two first-in-India innovations brought Gharda Chemicals into the spotlight. The industry started taking notice of the man with a resolve and commitment to deliver affordable quality products in India.

“When good chemistry and good process engineering come together, they yield a product which is hard to beat – be it developed in this country or anywhere in the world,” says Dr Gharda.

The company today has a sales turnover touching Rs. 2000 crores and reserves amounting to Rs. 1700 crores. It is one of the largest R&D organisations for any agrichemical company, with a team of over 200 research scientists and engineers. It invests about 5-10% of its earnings in R&D. 

“We are not simply exporters of external technology. Being a leader in the agrichemicals space, today two-thirds of our agrichemical products are sold overseas,” explains Dr Gharda. 

Made in India

With no debts or financing from the outside, the business model of Gharda focuses on the principle of doing things honestly without engaging in unethical practices. 

“We could have perhaps grown other ways faster if we would have done acquisitions and borrowed money, and just grown for the sake of growing,” said Dr Gharda. “[But] we wanted to make everything on our own, come up with our own technology and have that sense of pride that we have accomplished something in India, for India, and by India.”

Speaking about the current state of the speciality chemical industry in India, Dr Percy R Kavasmaneck, deputy managing director and CEO of Gharda Chemicals (and Dr Gharda’s nephew) stated: “Unlike commodity chemicals, the speciality chemical sector is technology-driven, more product-specification driven and a customer-focused industry where agility and quality are very important. Also, the price of speciality chemicals is high in comparison to commodities.”

Referring to the ‘Make in India’ initiative, Dr Percy noted: “Gharda Chemicals was the first company to believe in this dream and this is just exactly what we stand for. We were the first to venture into many initiatives which others never dared to deliver. We spurred a national movement not just in dyes and agrichemicals, but by using the best talent, good knowledge, and technology to deliver cost-effective products made in India, thus reducing dependence on imports.”

Sustainable and environmentally friendly

Focused on manufacturing and research of sustainable eco-friendly novel developments, Gharda Chemicals is partnering with major international organisations and multinational corporations to make sure their products meet regulatory requirements. Gharda Chemicals is also working on a process to treat effluent through multiple effect evaporators and incineration; the company is working to become a responsible partner in protecting the environment.

Gharda Chemicals intends to grow at CAGR of 19% over the next four years by creating better synergies in its R&D, production and manufacturing to develop new formulations and introduce new molecules. The company is working on registrations and patents for an extensive list of new molecules focusing on herbicides, pesticides and insecticides, besides other product developments. Beyond agrichemicals, Dr Gharda also plans to invest extensively into polymers with unique properties that have applications in the aerospace and biotech industries. Dr Gharda is also looking at tapping pigments, polymers and metals to research novel product developments that could be a boon to society and the automation age. Around ten of these novel innovations will see daylight in the next three to four years. 

Wishing many more successful years in this eventful journey of Gharda Chemicals and applauding the endeavours of the scientist and entrepreneur driving the innovation wheel, here’s an inspiring message from Dr KH Gharda:

“You cannot afford to be proud of your talents, either God-gifted or from parents, but what you do with your talents is something you can be proud of … Although I work a lot and know a lot, what I don’t know is always more than what I know … Do the best you can and then do more; sometimes you are rewarded. I started with 2 lakh rupees and now donate more than 20 crores.”

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