Managing director, Havells Sylvania

Sylvania has given us a global footprint
Why Sylvania? In 2007 we were strong in India with a turnover of $20 million on 1995. We were growing very fast, and our products were world class. But we thought: ‘How do we take the product out of India?’ We needed an international brand and a distribution channel.

In 2000, we realised how difficult it was to build a brand outside our home market. After all, it has taken us 50 years to do this in India. So we looked for opportunities to find a brand that would give us global access. At the time Sylvania was up for sale and we saw that there was huge potential. It had 10,000 distributors, it had presence in 50 countries and it would give us a complete global footprint.

Buying Sylvania wasn’t a small ask
We had a $400 million turnover. They had $600 million. But we decided in 2007 we would do it.

We should have started the integration process earlier But because of our inexperience we didn’t really integrate the two companies at the start. The year after we bought it, 2008, we left Sylvania pretty much alone, as an international company. Then after that came the financial crisis and we had to put all our efforts into putting things right. Only after all that did we decide to take direct control.

It’s been a big learning experience
We were able to take a company that was losing money in 2009 and turn it into a profitable company in 2009. Now 2010 is looking like it will be a great year for us. Our ambition is to double our turnover over the next three years.

We are going to take a more active role in competing with the Big Three We are going to change our defensive position of the past and take a more active role in competing with the Big Three lamp manufacturers. It terms of issues like talent access, our new London premises is the best location for us. The UK has been a strong market for us, but the business has had a defensive background. However, we aren’t finished with the growth.

New products are key
Some 40 per cent of our product range was introduced in the past two years. We have strong funding for new product development, and we are saying to our R&D teams that we will put money behind innovations. So we are saying now is the time to look at new product. We do believe that LEDs will present a big future. In our showroom [in London] you will see more LED products than traditional products, even though they only make up 10 per cent of our business. As a company we totally believe in energy efficiency. We should be as energy efficient or more energy efficient than our competitors.

Customers buy brands rather than products
Our philosophy is that the brand is key. We are a large company but we are not large enough to kill off brands, only grow them. So we give the same importance to Sylvania [in Europe] that we do to Havells [in India]. The philosophy is the brand more than the channel even though the technology, such as LEDs, will change in the background.

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