For centuries, India has been at the crossroads of trade. And since the 19th century, Bhairavi Jani's family has been in the center of it. Jani is a fourth-generation logistician; her family's business, SCA Group, can trace its roots to a customs brokerage her great-grandfather founded in 1896. That company was among the largest involved in the movement of goods to and from India and was one of the few Indian-owned brokerages during the British Rule. Today the SCA Group of Companies includes organizations specializing in air and ocean shipping, customs clearance, freight forwarding, express parcel service, warehousing, logistics infrastructure building and management, and other supply chain services.
Despite her family's deep logistics roots in India, Jani began her own career in the United States. After graduating from Miami University of Ohio with a degree in decision sciences (statistical analysis), she worked for KPMG Consulting in Washington, D.C., USA, where she focused on supply chain and business-process reengineering.
But Jani always wanted to return to India and the family business. In 2000, she did just that, setting up a small fourth-party logistics company in India called i3pl. That organization now has 150 employees, warehouses in five major cities, and clients in a wide range of industries. In 2005, Jani assumed the role of Group Director for all the companies under the SCA Group. She provides strategic and operational guidance, directs new projects, and is in charge of joint ventures and alliances for the entire group.
Drawing from this varied background, Jani shared unique insights into India's past and future and talked about how supply chains are developing to meet the needs of this fast-growing market.
Editor's Note: Bhairavi Jani is CSCMP's country representative. Contact her at for information about CSCMP's special web membership available for Indian supply chain management professionals. Information is also available here.
Name: Bhairavi Jani
Title: Group Director
Organization: SCA Group of Companies
What impact has your membership in CSCMP had on your career?
My membership in CSCMP has provided me with an incredible resource of information and ideas through its various publications and products. Being a part of this organization is a phenomenal peer-learning and leadership experience.
How has India managed to become so successful in international business?
Some 1.2 billion people provide a vast consumption base. For example, even with the highest penetration of cell phone subscribers in the world, more than 50 percent of the Indian market still remains untapped for cell phone networks.
We are also the world's largest democracy and the most diverse. Our technology and engineering skills have received global recognition in the last decade, and the service capability of our country cannot be ignored. In addition, demographically, India has one of the youngest populations in the world, as more than 60 percent of our citizens are under the age of 35. These are fundamental reasons why India is growing at 6 to 7 percent—its population comprises one-sixth of humanity.
What role has your company played in India's emergence as a leader in the international trade arena?
Our company, the SCA Group, was founded in 1896 under the name of Kanji Mahadev & Company in Bombay, now known as Mumbai. It was one of the first Indian customhouse brokers during British rule and was among the largest involved in the movement of goods to and from India at that time.
In the 1950s, we began customs clearance of machinery and engineering cargo from around the world as our country began building its infrastructure and venturing into mass manufacturing. In the 1970s, we were analyzing containerized cargo movement and air cargo services for exporters based in India.
We launched Express Logistics in the 1980s, linking over 10,000 Indian destinations with over 200 countries. The ability to accomplish this was truly a milestone for the Indian supply chain. In the 1990s, we initiated the private air cargo fleet in India, which ushered in an era of private civil aviation for the country, allowing better integration with international trade. Now, in the 21st century, we're focused on meeting the supply chain and distribution needs of multinationals that are increasingly doing business here, through our 3PL [third-party logistics] companies. And we're working closely with Indian exporters to extend their distribution around the world.
What was the business like when your great-grandfather started it in the days of the British empire?
The supply chain business in India in the 1890s and early 1900s was extremely laborious and riddled with apartheid. India was not a free nation then, and all business was controlled by the British. Bullock carts and railway carriages were our modes of transportation, and customs regulations were unclear and subject to change at any time.
The Noncooperation Movement against foreign goods was an ethical challenge that my great-grandfather faced. He ultimately chose to stand by India and for her citizens' freedoms, and, as a result, suffered many business losses. Those were extraordinary times, and my great-grandfather's business survived solely on the goodwill and loyalty of his customers.
How has your company made the transition from an Indian organization to a global one?
When you think about it, every logistics company, by its very nature, is global. For us, this phase began in the early 1990s, and over the past years, the transition to becoming a global enterprise has been virtually seamless. As an Indian company, we have been operating in a diverse, complex, and growing economy for a long time, and we have been able to transfer this knowledge and these experiences to other markets.
What steps did you take to steer your family's company in new directions when it was so well established for many years?
People are integral to a logistics or a supply chain business. It was very important for me to incorporate some of the best human resource practices available into our operations. My firm belief that "down-up" teams are more sustainable in the long run led me to initiate HR [human resource] programs that make the budgeting and strategic philosophy of our organizations far more inclusive than ever.
We have always been committed to our people, but now, through various initiatives, we have developed an internal program to foster entrepreneurship in our companies. This has allowed new ideas to emerge and creative business models to take shape as well as add long-term value to our organizations.
How has your education and experience in the United States helped you to manage supply chains in India?
What I learned through my education in the United States has not only affected the way I work but also the way I think and continue to learn in the supply chain arena and beyond. I learned through my experiences in the U.S. that there must be equal opportunity for anyone who wants an education and a job; for every best-case scenario, there is a better one somewhere else, so we must constantly innovate and break barriers; systems are necessary to give people direction, and they need to constantly evolve; and every idea and out-of-the-box thought are the seeds for building next-generation enterprises and should not be ignored. Most importantly, I learned that I must never stop learning.
Do you face any obstacles as a woman running a company in Indian society?
A woman running a business in India may have been a novelty in the 1980s and 1990s, but today, many women work and run enterprises. Yes, there are still only a handful of women in the logistics field, but there has been a great change in the acceptance of women in the workplace. Issues of equality with male colleagues and work-life balance remain, but I'm hopeful that just as female leadership in Indian politics has been embraced, women in business will be embraced as well.
How does Indian culture make supply chain management different as opposed to the United States or France or Africa?
India is a large and diverse nation consisting of 26 official languages and 2,000-plus dialects. When running your business, you must constantly balance between standardization and localization. Being geographically diverse, too, adds another challenge. From the mountains in the north to the desert in the northwest, with 7,000 kilometers of coast in the south and some regions that are difficult to reach, India poses a logistics challenge to even the most skilled supply chain manager.
What's unique about conducting international supply chain management business from India?
I believe that what is truly unique is that India as a nation has gone from being a closed market to a robust global player. There are new markets to explore every day. Our restrictive infrastructure is changing for the better, which is creating more planning challenges. India is a growing nation, and like a growing child, its needs are changing in a world that is constantly changing, too. You have to be flexible and open to change if you want to conduct international supply chain business from India.
What do westerners need to know about doing business in India?
People are the key. Winning their support is crucial, but once you do, you will experience a commitment and loyalty that you may never have encountered in any other country. India's infrastructure and regulatory restrictions are easing up, but there are still improvements that can be made, so patience is a virtue and flexibility a must.
What can India do to maintain its strong position in the world economy?
India must improve its soft and hard infrastructure. Our country must focus on building state-of-the-art infrastructure for public and business use. We must invest in training 500 million people so they can acquire technical skills in the next 15 years. Education and healthcare must be provided for all of our citizens. And India must become a more inclusive country and not be beaten down by the threat of socioeconomic inequality.
What are indian businesses doing to assuage the fears of their international partners in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist incidents?
Indian businesses are even more concerned than their partners are about the safety of their homeland, and as such, security is being enhanced everywhere. Companies are reviewing their employee records more carefully to make sure that contract workers have no criminal record, and safety and terror drills are being held.
How can India's supply chain professionals advance the supply chain management profession in their country?
The function of supply chain management and the world of global trade are constantly evolving. I believe that enhancing your skills and knowledge regularly is a career necessity. The role of Indian supply chain management professionals is changing as well, so I'm an advocate of sharing CSCMP best practices and case studies through their events and publications. I am very proud to be part of a profession that literally makes the world move.