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Released on: Mar 15, 2022


Kiron Chopra -
Chairman and Managing Director Chopra Retec Rubber Products Limited

Talk us through your background and your journey as an individual and entrepreneur.
I was the first born of three sons. My father lost his father when he was not even a teenager and grew up in the shadow of his uncles who were successful businessmen pre and post the partition in 1947. With no assets and a widowed mother and almost penniless in India, he graduated and joined the uncles who were well versed with the automotive sector.

As an apprentice and later as a manager, he worked diligently, learnt the ropes and proved himself as an able administrator. However, married and with three sons, he sacrificed to provide us, his children, with good education, good values and inculcated in us, a sense of self belief, where he led by example. In 1970, he decided to chart his own story and with all his savings and some borrowings, he bought a small running rubber manufacturing factory. I was in school then, but fascinated by the fact that my father now owned a business, I started to visit the factory and see for myself what a manufacturing set up was like.  I would spend days on end, during my school breaks, cycling 20 kilometres to go to the factory to learn and observe. My father was also not a Rubber specialist but had experience and a network which he leveraged to learn and find business customers. However, to grow in any sphere, you must be master of your craft. And I somehow realized that in my very early days. In those days letter writing was the only means of communication and a Library perhaps, the only source of information. I started to write and search options for learning about rubber and rubber product manufacturing. While still in college I came across the required information after years of written communication and concluded that at that time, and perhaps even today, the best place in the world to learn about manufacturing rubber products was a special college in London.
In those days (early 70’s) one could not buy or spend even 1$ without a lot of paperwork required by the Reserve Bank of India ( RBI). Moreover, my father was still struggling to pay off the debt of acquiring a running business. I shared the details with the family and despite the challenges of finances and foreign exchange processes, they agreed that to make our business different from other similar business, we must acquire that one differentiator called technology and advanced knowledge, to be a master of our domain. I joined the National College of Rubber Technology, London ( now a part of the London Metropolitan University), graduated with top honours by topping the batch in 1975 as a Rubber Technologist. After a short stint at Aeroquip in Wales as an intern ( a company making rubber parts for the Aerospace industry), after my college studies, I came back and took over the responsibility of technological and business development at a young age of 21.
Although the company was doing well by then and a lot of the debt had been paid off, I felt, going forward, we would not grow as a company in view of limited opportunities in India and particularly in Lucknow. I brainstormed with my father and asked him to let me explore the opportunities in global markets since India was very restricting in shape and size of the opportunity. The challenge was, were we good enough since Made in India was a bad phrase in those days? Having been exposed to global standards and thought processes, I convinced my father to let me go to Germany where the largest automobile components trade fair was held every year. The purpose was to identify opportunities and break into the most stringent and difficult market, which actually had set the global benchmark for quality and engineering standards.  I was convinced that if we could break into Germany, we could easily break into other global markets as well.
In those days, there was no ISD, no Fax, no Telex, no mobile, no computers, no internet and telephones rarely worked. Even the suitcases had no wheels!  But I landed in Frankfurt and walked the automotive parts show, with a shoestring budget, living in a dilapidated pension hotel and having bread and cookies for meals for 10 days. The fair was so intimidating and huge that I must have walked a 100 kms in those 10 days, looking at products and applications for rubber parts in automobiles. We needed volumes and that was only possible if we found parts that were frequently replaced. Logically these parts would be under the car, where the exposure, wear and tear was the maximum. Looking under different cars it became obvious that the Exhaust or Silencer of the car was the most ill-treated area and there were a lot of rubber parts in play, suspending the silencer. However these cars did not exist in India then so I had no idea about the size and shape of these parts. So I went into various car spare parts shops in Frankfurt to assess and collect samples of the fastest moving parts of the top vehicles sold in Germany and Europe at that time. My target market was the spare parts or aftermarket in Germany since supplying to new car manufacturers from India was virtually impossible as they wanted just in time deliveries and there were huge liability issues. At the same time we would need to invest a huge amount on upgrading our manufacturing facility as was mandated for OEM’s. We could not afford any of that.
So I returned home with a lot of fast selling samples of parts, got down to developing them in our factory and the next year, with the help of the Government, got a small subsidized display booth at the exhibition. Having developed and replicated the fast moving local parts, we drew a lot of interest at the show but each time, the ‘Made in India’ tag worked against us as some of the potential buyers had burnt their fingers with Indian manufacturers who had delivered very poor quality of products earlier. But my belief in our ability and conviction that we could beat the world at making rubber parts kept me going. One German company who really seemed to like our quality and price was apprehensive that we would not deliver the same quality in bulk supplies.  This was an opportunity I did not want to lose. So I offered to accept an initial order and agreed to be paid only after the goods were received, tested and sold by the German company. The gentleman was taken aback by the unusual business offer but was convinced that we were different from others. After a year of delivering a few small orders, the gentleman came to India and shared with us that we were the best supplier he had had in years, with regard to quality, price, business ethics and communication. In fact he felt that with our support as a vendor, he could grow his market in Europe substantially as he had never seen such good quality. That is when we agreed to sign an exclusivity arrangement for Europe and brought the German company on board as a commercial Joint venture partner. The company Retec GmbH, is today a part of our name and history.
We remained focussed and with the help of Retec, developed one of the largest ranges of Exhaust/Silencer rubber parts and thereafter expanded to other global markets, and up the Supply Chain to Tier 2 and Tier 1 customers, some of which are market leaders in this product category. Today we are in almost 30 countries and counting. About a decade ago, we realized and Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) would be replaced in time with EV’s and alternate fuel run vehicles and started to look under the car again. By now my son had also joined me in the business after completing his management studies. We worked on diversifying into other verticals and found that a lot of rubber components went into Steering and Suspension of automobiles, the category also called ‘Ride Control’. We started to engage with Tier 1 and Tier 2 companies and in a few years had a formidable range of ride control parts and a presence in the US, European and Chinese markets. A few years ago we moved into a new world class, state of the art manufacturing facility, also in Lucknow, to continue our quest for servicing more global customers, with the finest quality of parts at the most competitive prices. And the story goes on. Good work speaks for itself and a marquee brand, Aston Martin Lagonda, UK (manufacturers of the famed car that Mr James Bond drives) contacted us to develop a special exhaust suspension rubber hanger for their, to be launched, $2.5 Mn Special Edition car ONE-77, a few years ago, which project we successfully completed and were conferred with the responsibility of being a preferred supplier to Aston Martin thereafter.
All this has been very satisfying and is a combination of dedicated hard work by our team, self-belief in our ability to enhance customer experience each time and a combination of top class communication, technology, efficient systems, ethical business practices, adherence to commitment and deadlines and very competitive pricing.
I got married early (at the age of 24) and was blessed with two wonderful children who are both married and settled, and three adorable grandchildren. I believe in the adage of working hard and partying hard. Work life balance has always been a very important part of my life and for that I am ever grateful to the almighty. I have enjoyed the benefit of gracious and loving friends, a relaxed small town existence where I have been able to find time for reading, writing, golf, theatre, serving social causes besides getting to see the world as well.

If you had to start over; would you choose a corporate career or being an entrepreneur and why?
I’d always want to be an Entrepreneur for sure. Because the opportunities and challenges are never ending and they give you the ability to think out of the box, be creative, be a master of your time and to some extent help you shape your and others lives and livelihoods. 

What is the hardest challenge you faced in your career and how did you turn it into an opportunity?
Being in landlocked UP and Lucknow in particular, it was a challenge to manufacture and serve the automotive sector which was far flung across the country. That is when we started to look at global markets as an opportunity in the late 70’s/early 80’s, when India had no focus on exports. With self-belief and conviction in our ability to deliver despite regulatory challenges and limited access to raw materials and services in Lucknow, we took it upon ourselves to deliver on the world stage. Today we are amongst the global market leaders in our space, sitting right here in Lucknow! Sometimes you can make geography history.

Tell us about the uniqueness of your business model.
We are focussed, strive to be the best in our space, have the secret sauce (ingredients being communication, conviction, ethics, teamwork, efficiency, commitment, competitiveness, and perseverance) to deliver a unique level of customer experience. Which is why, no customer has ever left us in several decades of our association. We built our business around relationships and not vice versa.

Tell us about your social initiatives?
We are doing multiple activities which include our focus on employing women in our workforce (today the figure exceeds 30%). We are empowering them by providing family support for education of their children. We also support critically ill patients at hospitals through various support initiatives and NGO’s, both short term and long term. Besides this we also address the need for education of children of the economically weaker sections, by helping them become a part of the mainstream educational eco system.

What is your business success mantra that you have embraced as you sought to establish your success story?
There are these differentiators which make a company great from just being good. At times we do not even realize the importance of certain work ethics, which can actually build a character of a company. For example, we have never delayed payments to our vendors or employees, no matter what in our entire journey of over 4 decades. Even during the pandemic. You cannot imagine how much more you are valued by both employees and business partners.
You can build a very solid business relationship with a very high level of communication, honest and up front commitments and assurances and delivering as per the same. Never bite more than you can chew and build the business on relationships and transcend cultural barriers. We follow all of this. We have rarely lost a client to another supplier of similar products in our journey of over 4 decades. Research, plan and evolve a strategy for phased but continuous growth. Perform and deliver as a team. Believe in your ability to be the best and take practical decisions without blinking because we need keep correcting our course to maintain the momentum for growth and progress. Adopting and adapting to technology at the right time is also crucial for the lifecycle of your business.

One special Quote/message for all communities/brands.
Never break the chain of communication because that’s the only human aspect which can make or break a system. Transparency and empathy help keep focus of the goal of any organization. Never lose faith in your ability to achieve and be the best in whatever you do. It’s all about Junoon, Jugaad , Hard Work, Risk Taking and Luck. And Luck favours the brave!

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