In an Exclusive Interview with FIL’s Director Syed Junaid Altaf
FIL Industries Limited is a diversified business organisation with interests in agrochemicals, food processing, agro-infrastructure and cold chain management.
In an Exclusive Interview with the Kashmir Leader, FIL’s Director Syed Junaid Altaf reveals his top priorities and what he thinks about making Jammu & Kashmir self-reliant.
Excerpts from the Interview:
You are one of the youngest entrepreneurs in Jammu and Kashmir. Could you elucidate about your education, background from the very beginning and the reason that motivates you to be an entrepreneur?
Syed Juniad: I was a student at the Tyndale Biscoe School in Srinagar up to 1996 when I finished my class 6. I went to The Doon School, Dehradun in 1997 where I spent my formative years and completed my class 12 in the year 2003. I pursued Mathematics (Honors) at St. Stephens College, Delhi from 2003-2005 and transferred to Washington University in St. Louis, USA to complete a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in Finance, and concentrations Mathematics and Economics. I also hold a Master of Science in Risk Management and Financial Engineering from Imperial College London. Prior to returning to the country in 2010, I worked in the Mergers & Acquisitions Group at CIBC World Markets, New York and UBS, New York with a focus on the consumer & retail, industrial and healthcare sectors. My previous experience also includes work at the American Express Bank in New Delhi.
I joined FIL Industries in 2010 as a Management Trainee and am currently a Director. Entrepreneurship to me is natural extension of leadership, teamwork and value creation for the society at large. I believe that my generation is Jammu & Kashmir is confident of its place and its ability to make the State an economic success, while consciously serving the larger developmental aspects of the community. We are palpably excited about the future.
New businesses are being launched everyday, new business models tested. Even the dim economic view of the world economy noways teaches a lesson in entrepreneurship – every day, people strive to do more with less, for survival. This is what motivates me about being an entrepreneur – the opportunity to work and build an organisation on a larger, diverse and comprehensive canvas to create a meaningful impact.
How much role your father played in shaping your entrepreneurial skills? Do you plan to take over the company and let your father work for the society?
Syed Juniad: My father has always been an inspiration to me, both for what he has achieved professionally and personally. I look up to him as a mentor and guide in all facets of life. I am of the firm opinion that an entrepreneur learns with a “bottom-up” approach in any organisation. Even though I had substantial work experience before my return to the country in 2010, I joined FIL as a management trainee and my first few years were an enriching experience learning and understanding the nuances of the business right from the ground level.
As such, I don’t subscribe to the philosophy of “taking over” the Company because running a company in the long run is a continuous learning process and is driven by the constant desire to innovate and transform. I am currently involved in managing the Company with my Uncle, who is the Managing Director. FIL as a business organisation has had a professional team and work culture that was heralded by my father right from the early 1990’s and we have a team that comprises the Management Committee of the Company, which is responsible for the operations of the organisation.
Yours is an Agro based business and the major problem of the the Agro based industry is the perishing of the items before they are put to use while transportation.How, according to you thi issue should be resolved? What initiatives do you think can the government take to address this issue as a lot of produce is wasted every year?
Syed Juniad: The problem of post harvest losses is a global phenomenon in developing economies and needs to be looked into holistically throughout the entire value chain. Moving forward, it will be imperative to improve both pre-harvest and post-harvest management techniques, training and information campaigns at the farm level for the growers as well as integrated pest management programs to cut down on these losses during transportation.
We will also need to develop synergies between the various stakeholders of this supply chain (farmer to end consumer) to reduce these losses and essentially improve farm level income. The government can act as a catalyst in implementing and supporting policies that promote investment through the agri-value chain which will help in reducing losses in the long run. Investment in agriculture carries a longer gestation period but can bring about transformative changes in creating substantial value for the grower. Private industry initiatives that seek to execute projects for “change” at the farm level should be encouraged through a co-operative mechanism and potential public private partnerships.
The efforts made by the government to make aspiring entrepreneurs and industrialists aware about the schemes and incentives available are limited .Do you think there is need for the government to make more efforts on this front ? Any suggestions ?
Syed Juniad:– The modern age of business is clearly linked to faster and more adaptive methods of communication and delivery. I personally feel that there are some good initiatives/schemes available from the government, both State and Central, across different sectors for promoting economic development – what needs to be strengthened is the medium through which such critical information can actually be communicated to the aspiring entrepreneurs. This could potentially include internet campaigns, seminars, online Q&A sessions, targeted outreach programs for young entrepreneurs for schemes available in priority sectors etc. Such endeavours could further be augmented by single window clearances and defined timelines for approvals/clearances which will eventually go a long way in growing confidence amongst the business fraternity.
The concept of food parks is essentially creating direct linkage between the farm to processing units and on to the consumer. The previous government had plans to open such parks at various places in Kashmir . How in your opinion will this bolster trade and economy of Kashmir ?
Syed Juniad:-Food parks or industry specific clusters can have a significant role in the development of integrated facilities and preservation infrastructure throughout the supply chain. Jammu & Kashmir has a variety of temperate fruits and the State accounts for the major share of India’s total production of apple. Further, the agricultural sector is witnessing a major shift from traditional farming to horticulture, meat and poultry and dairy products, all of which are perishables.
The demand for fresh and processed produce is increasing as populations rise and consumption habits change. Due to this increase in demand, diversification and value addition are the key words in the agriculture today. These changes along with the emergence of an organised retail food sector can be tapped by the State through the setting up of food parks. Creation of such infrastructure will fundamentally have a positive impact on the growth of agriculture/horticulture/ animal husbandry/food processing in the State by linking all the critical stakeholders right from the farm to the end consumer, and assuring products with certified hygiene and quality to the end user.
SICDO and SCIOP are facing plethora of problems from land acquisition to administration. What are your suggestions to allay the friction and smooth functioning of such organisations?
Syed Juniad: Private industry and public institutions throughout the world work together to promote inclusive industrial and economic development within their defined geographic locations. A pro-active forum with private industry representatives and officials from public institutions in Jammu & Kashmir can be suggested to improve mutual coordination. I think that this can be a start in streamlining the functioning these public institutions. As suggested earlier, single window clearances and defined timelines for approvals/clearances within these organisation will further be a confidence boost for the private industry and spur new investments.
Tell us about your future plans. Would there any measures from yours end to create more avenues for employment generation in state?
Syed Juniad:– FIL is committed in enhancing and supporting the comprehensive economic development in the State as a responsible corporate citizen. Over the last three decades, along with the creation of world class technological and production infrastructure at our facilities, we have been fortunate in getting some of the best talent to work with us. We continuously invest in our employees, whom we believe are one of our key assets.
In fact, human capital to us symbolises long term leadership talent management and we constantly strive to provide our employees with the different opportunities for personal/professional growth and progression as well as global exposure. Creation of employment, both direct and indirect, is a significant part of the future growth plans and strategy of the Company. Our teams are working directly with the farmer at the ground level to advise and improve on various challenges, both pre-harvest and post-harvest, being faced at the farmside.
I am hopeful that this will improve farm level income in the medium to long run and a new breed of agrientrepreneurs with strong vocational skills can be groomed and assisted through these initiatives. Last year, we commissioned the largest sorting, grading and packing facility for apples in India at our Food Processing Complex in Rangreth. We will be commissioning one of the biggest integrated tetrapak processing and slim-pack facility for juices in North India later this year.
This facility will be the first of its kind in Jammu & Kashmir and is also being set up at our Food Processing Complex at Rangreth. While these are tangible industrial investments, I also belive that these are investments in people which lead to employment generation. Today, FIL is one of the few fully integrated companies (from agri-inputs to food processing to harvest management) in the agri-consumer chain with global partnerships and marquee clients. We are evaluating various growth opportunities going ahead, both horizontally and vertically, to strengthen our presence. With a global outlook, we remain dedicated to putting the state of Jammu & Kashmir on the world map.