A piece of News that has been doing rounds of Façade and Fenestration industry off late, is “LIXIL Corporation’s acquisition of majority stake holding in Start Alubuild.
At one hand is Japan’s largest building products company LIXIL Corporation, which also owns Permasteelisa, world’s largest and most admired façade company.In its drive to enhance focus on the Indian market LIXIL acquired a majority stake in Star Alubuild from DLF. On the other hand isStar Alubuild,North India’s leading façade design, fabrication and installation service company focusing primarily on doors & windows, curtain walls and solid surface façades for interiors and exteriors. Led by founder and president, Romi Malhotra, it has serviced an array of projects, ranging from residential to infrastructure, as well as from economy to premium segments, with key clients including DLF, IREO, and Larsen & Toubro.
Together they have forged a partnership which promises to bring about a revolution in Indian fenestration and façade Segment. WFMgladly presents the edited excerpts from the interview ofMr. Romi Malhotra, promoter of Star Alubuild, detailing the present and future of this exuberant organization:
WFM: For the benefit of the readers, please relate your and Star Alubuild’s background.
RM: I started my career with banking. In 1992, after about 10 years in this field and my final stint as a senior manager in Citibank in Middle East, I took a sabbatical and returned to India. Then in 2002, a window opened, literally and I entered the business of Window & door manufacturing. 1st project we got was DLF’s Carlton estate for which we did one tower of the two.
WFM: How come this giant leap from banking to fenestration?
RM: I was always keen to come back to India, to my roots and had this compelling notion of starting something on my own. But, it’s easier said than done. After 11 years abroad, it was a cultural shock. There was a huge difference in work culture abroad and back home. It took me almost 3 years before I could start something and come to terms with work scenario here. Eventually, I started Auto-dealership in 1996-97 and moved on to façade contracting in 2002.
WFM: How did you get your first break as a Window & Door manufacturer?
RM: It was a time when DLF was looking out for vendors. They had already developed a few buildings like DLF Square, Gateway Tower, Nestle building and other corporate buildings along with certain residential developments like Ridgewood etc. on MG road. That was the time when DLF was probably the numerouno developer in India and was growing at an exponential rate. It was now looking at identifying more vendors and to have more options in order to raise the bar. They were looking out for alternatives and we pitched in at the right time.
WFM: But you were new. Rather didn’t even exist at that time? What made you embark on this phenomenal journey and what were the major milestones?
RM: You are correct.The opportunity came by chance and we were able to convince some keydecision makers in DLF. It just so happened that we got this huge break and things fell in place. In my banking career I was well trained as a manager, so I got on with what I do best and started to set up the new venture. We started the right way,engaged correct peoplefor the job, got the correct machines and made sure that we did a great job. Fortunatelynone of the windows blew open or flew open.
With this success we further got more jobs fromDLF. We got a breakthrough in Carlton and our 1stfaçade job was IBM tower in Silokhera. Then the fully unitized office building ‘9’ in DLF Cyber City (fig.3) and from there on there has been no looking back.
We did a lot of projects with DLF and for quite a while we were a DLF centric company. There was a time for a couple of years when we were doing window/façade contracting only for DLF.
In years to come, we did Kolkata airport (Fig. 4, 5, 6) and another major milestone was the successful completion of Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi International Airport with DIAL/GMR. Amongst a plethora of international bidders, we were the only Indian company to have bid successfully. We did the CORIAN®solid surface cladding on the columns along with all the interior glazing and entrance portals with automatic doors (fig 7, 8, 9)
WFM: Please elaborate on how you bagged this prestigious project?
RM: We actually quoted for the whole internal package which was majorly divided into 3 parts. The ACP cladding, then the interior solid surface CORIAN®cladding which was awarded to us and third part was of railings and balustrades.The most challenging thing here was the system design. There was no front capping in the CORIAN®and all the fixing was done in between the column and rear of the CORIAN®. We were competing against international players. We were able to get the project because our mockupwas the exact replica of what was actually installed at site. On inspecting our mockup, the client stated – “the job is yours, let’s negotiate.” It was a design build scenario.
WFM: This project was a little tight on schedule as I understand. How did you manage to accomplish the grueling feat?
RM: We had 18 months to finish the whole job and we were able to finish it well within the time frame. This was one project so well managed from the owner’s side – DIAL GMR that it’s really commendable. I used to look forward to that 7o’ clock meeting which was held every day throughout the tenure of the project, including Sundays. Mr. I.P. Rao, Project Chief Executive led this project sensibly and with supreme diligence. He’s one person who can be credited for the successful completion of Terminal 3.
I believe, whatever delays there are in a project for whatever reason, it is the owner of the project finally who can make or break the situation. If the owner knows his project, has done his calculation well, is ready to take on challenges and does not shy away from making quick decisions, that project will be a very happy project and people working for the project shall also appreciate being associated with it.
WFM: Talking about projects, Magnolias are one of the top end residential complexes in India. How did you manage to break the monotony of basic doors & windows and introduce high end fenestration system in the same?
RM: It was DLF’s decision to create a world class residency and we facilitated by fabricating and installing. It was a trendsetter project, probably 1st in India to have used some of the best system in the world in the form of thermal break lift & slide doors with Low E Double Glazing Units and that too at such a massive scale. We went out looking for best systems available and chose Reynaersas the system provider.
The quick thinking, fast work and choosing of excellent system paved the way for a fantastic project in making.
WFM: Do you get all your systems tested for each project? Do you have some in-house test facility as well for the same?
RM: We design the systems and if client recommends we get them tested at a third party laboratory. Otherwise we go by prescribed norms. Some of the companies do have their own test facility like Permasteelisa which conform to worldwide standards and even let 3rd parties as well to test in their premises.
WFM: Since you were not from this background, you must have come across various engineering challenges. How did you manage to overcome them?
RM: Yes there are various challenges at every step. I believe no one person can do everything on his own. If you are doing a multitude of jobs then you need your team and everyone is cut out to their task.
My being non-technical never proved to be an obstacle. We always went about the things in the right manner. And over the years I got enough technical expertise to work around and speak the language of façade to anyone and everyone. All I mean is a job should be done in a correct way. There are no shortcuts. A process has to be followed and a proper team needs to work in cohesion.
WFM: Star is one of the few companies in India who took off on their own, without any foreign technical collaboration…
RM: We didn’t have any technical collaboration as such but what we do have is always a set of very good people. And life is about having correct people. All the people who work with us are from a rich technical back ground. So if you have good people and you keep them well, it works like a cohesive force. 1+1 makes 11 and if you manage your 1+1 well, then you will remain in business and do a good job of it.To add to it, we were confident of our designs and we went about the correct process.
WFM: How did the partnership with DLF evolve and subsequently end?
DLF took a strategic decision at that time to take a majority stake in Star Alubuild primarily to fulfill their business needs. In later years when DLF decided to move out of all non-core businesses, that’s when they divested their stake and on course of their exit, again we were honored, LIXIL deal happened. We became a LIXIL Group Company.
WFM: For DLF projects you didn’t even tender, you simply got them. Or was there any formal bidding process?
RM: For 2 years we got all their projects without conflict. But later we started to bid like any other vendor. From 2009 till 2013 we were bidding for DLF projects as well as projects outside DLF.
WFM: Now with the partnership ending, how much support do you expect from them?
RM: Well, It’s the question of a company’s standing in the market. There is the owner and then there is the contractor.As a contractor if we have a standing and we are doing a good job, we will get the projects. So there is no change as far as getting DLF projects is concerned.
WFM: So what’s the scenario now with changed management?
RM: There has been a change in shareholding and not management. Management is still the same and I continue to lead the company as CEO. DLF has divested their shares toLIXIL Corporation. LIXIL is the primary supplier of construction materials worldwide. From readymade kitchens to bathrooms, you name it and they have it. They are the world’s leading Façade and Doors & Windows Company. Permasteelisa too is a LIXIL group Company. By market share they are the largest door and window manufacturer in Japan. We foresee very exciting times ahead.
WFM: But initially the partnership was with a developer, now the tables have turned. LIXIL too is a vendor to the developer. How do you see it impacting the business for Star Alubuild?
RM: I would say, now we are with a likeminded company. From a developer we have now partnered with a company which is doing business similar to ours. We are like minded in our approach. LIXIL sees a great future in India. They are the majority shareholder in Star Alubuild and there’s an interesting synergy through which we shall extend maximum benefit to the consumers of Indian façade and fenestration industry. India is a huge & diverse market and there is immense business potential
WFM: Would you like to explore other systems apart from aluminium? Say uPVC/ Steel?
RM: We are already into aluminium and steel and we have no plans of getting into uPVC window fabrication in foreseeable future.
WFM: A company which you’d consider to be a threat for Star Alubuild?
RM: We are a unique company in a way that we are the best in façade contracting as well as specialist in window & door manufacturing. Other façade companies of repute are yet to venture into Doors & Windows on such a large scale. So, we have the niche to ourselves and are ahead with this business model.
WFM: How would you rate Star’s performance in the past years and how do you see your 5-10 years with your diverse past
RM: For Star it’s for the market to decide. But sitting here, I enjoy my job and we try and run a good show here. We are in business, we are getting business and that’s the way we hope to go on in times to come.
As far as I am concerned, I am committed to the façade and fenestration industry. I just hope to see Star grow and grow. We have been consistently doing 100 Croreturnover for the last 3 years. And we hope only to grow. And with current development, future seems bright.