The Lalbhai brothers spin a new yarn at Arvind
hirty three-year-old Punit Lalbhai has trained to be an ornithologist. Nature, ecology and conservation are subjects dear to him. This is evident from his academic credentials: A bachelor’s degree in conservation biology from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s degree in environmental science from Yale University.
“Ornithology is still a passion. I was pursuing it through academics and I didn’t see a direct way [of using it] to influence things,” says Punit, who has donned the hat of a businessman. After all, he is the elder son of India’s textile mogul Sanjay Lalbhai. “Rather than just studying birds, I build sustainable businesses that have the ability to impact ecology and conservation in a positive way,” says Punit.
His younger brother Kulin, 30, is passionate about how best he can serve consumers. When he was in the ninth grade, he had interned at the textiles-to-brands company Arvind Limited (then known as Arvind Mills). “I’ve been quite clued in and connected to Arvind’s consumer side from a young age,” admits Kulin, who has a master’s degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s degree in science (electrical engineering) from Stanford University.
Punit and Kulin, executive directors on the board of Arvind Limited, are spearheading new growth verticals within the company, each of which are slated to become billion-dollar businesses in the future. While Punit’s focus areas are advanced materials (such as flame-resistant apparel), engineering (waste water treatment) and agribusiness (related to growing cotton), Kulin is driving Arvind’s entry into the world of ecommerce.
“Both of them are trying to lay the foundations for Arvind 3.0. Their father Sanjay laid the foundation of Arvind 2.0, which saw the company’s business expand from denim to multiple other categories,” says Arvind Singhal, chairman, Technopak, India’s leading retail, textile and apparel consulting firm. “Punit is looking at applications of textiles, beyond the conventional apparel applications, popularly known as technical textiles. Kulin has a much sharper focus on brands, retailing and ecommerce. The brothers have taken completely different directions, so they aren’t coming in each other’s way.”
With an installed capacity of 110 million metres per annum, Arvind Limited is among the largest producers of denim globally. In 1984, the Ahmedabad-based textile house gave India its first homegrown denim brand Flying Machine, which became a market leader in the branded denim wear segment. The company is also credited with bringing to India global fashion brands such as Arrow, US Polo Assn. and Tommy Hilfiger over the last two decades and, more recently, GAP. It also diversified into retailing in a big way with the launch of multiple retail store formats (The Arvind Store in 2009-10) and revamping its value retail store Megamart, which was first launched in 1994-95.
Currently, the core textile business—which is largely a business-to-business play and includes denims, woven fabrics and garments—rakes in about 60 percent of the company’s $1 billion revenue. The brands and retail businesses together constitute about 33 percent and it is the growth of these two verticals that has redefined Arvind Limited over the last decade.
For the future, Sanjay Lalbhai’s sons have a vision for Arvind. Punit and Kulin speak of a conglomerate that will be aligned to the changes that the Indian economy is undergoing. “Ecommerce is changing the way people shop. Material science is going to be a strong pillar in how the country is going to grow and fulfil its infrastructure, transport, human safety and environmental safety requirements. And we are trying to build a portfolio of businesses that are catering to that future,” says Punit, who first formally joined Arvind as a management trainee in 2006-07. In 2010, he left to pursue an MBA from Insead, France, and a year later, he returned to join Arvind as executive director.
Of the three business verticals Punit oversees, advanced materials, which uses textile technology to diversify in the field of material science, is the largest. Under this, Arvind has specialised businesses catering to personal protection: Anti-ballistic or bulletproof apparel, antistatic garments and high-visibility clothing. Its clients include India’s armed forces and companies such as Reliance Industries and the Tata Group.
That apart, Punit is quick to talk about his efforts in building sustainable businesses. “We are trying to make industrial processes more environment friendly through waste water treatment, recycling and by offering zero liquid discharge solutions. We have about 22 patents for our zero-liquid discharge technology,” he says.