The Hirdaramani Group


The Hirdaramani Group's origins trace back as far as the 1890s, when 16-year-old Parmanand Hirdaramani borrowed some money and opened a tiny store in the commercial center of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

As history is apt to do, it has come full circle in at least one way for the Hirdaramani Group. In the beginning, Parmanand Hirdaramani made a name for himself by introducing the same-day tailoring concept to cruise ship passengers who often stopped over briefly in Colombo in the early 1900s.

Today, the Hirdaramani Group specializes in very short turn times on orders for customers such as Nike, adidas, Marks & Spencer, Columbia Sportswear, Liz Claiborne, Polo, Levi and Eddie Bauer.

The value-added focus
The Hirdaramani Group reports that it has sustained and increased its business with many of the world's leading brands by carving its own path in the way it treats customers, and by investing aggressively in systems and processes to improve efficiency.

"We strive hard to not lose the 'Ëœcommon touch,' " says CEO Tony Nadaraja, one of five non-family directors of the group, which is led by a senior management team including three generations of Parmanand Hirdaramani's descendants.

"We are very hands-on when it comes to building and developing close relationships with buyers," he says. "We encourage them to give us their input on how they would like us to do business with them, and we are constantly finding ways that can achieve our mutual best interests."
As the end of quotas approached prior to 2005, the group saw an immediate need to invest in value-added services for its customers so that it would be perceived as a preferred supplier. It responded by adding the following to its portfolio:

  • A Product Development Center (PDC) featuring an embroidery plant with more than 500 heads of the latest Tajima machinery, a design studio equipped with new TUKAtech CAD software and a printing facility. The PDC can develop integrated tech packs, including patterns and samples.

  • A washing plant equipped with washing and dyeing machines from Tonello and Ngai Shing, special effects and dry-processing machinery from GFK and Tonello and dry-processing machines developed in-house.

  • A scan-and-pack facility for generating packing lists and custom packing for each customer's individual store and location. There also is a closely integrated label plant developed in collaboration with Paxar.

  • An in-house-developed ERP system that runs on the Microsoft SQL server platform. This solution enables Hirdaramani to track orders through the production cycle, integrate with suppliers, generate reports on the fly, query order status from satellite locations and plan reallocations.

Hirdaramani's customers also can use the system to create their own templates to monitor order status along self-defined critical paths.
These investments are in addition to many innovations in sewing and materials handling developed by Hirdaramani's extensive industrial engineering team. For instance, these engineers built a ruffle placket-attaching machine, a hanger-opening unit and an automatic folding, rolling and bagging machine, to name just a few inventions.
"We ventured into various areas -- some involving significant capital outlay, others being simple, inexpensive in-house innovations -- all with the aim of reducing time, waste and cost," says Nadaraja.

Building up and giving back
The Hirdaramani Group has always placed a lot of emphasis on recognizing the role of the entire team -- from sewing operators to top executives -- in its success.

The company has many formal policies designed to improve the lives of employees at all levels, including subsidized meals, transportation to work, immunizations, accommodation, scholarships, educational and vehicle loans and regular company-sponsored outings to sports and entertainment events.

Hirdaramani also has instituted performance-based incentive programs whereby employees can earn rewards, bonuses and incremental pay. Promotions are awarded on a biannual basis, and overseas job assignments and management positions are almost always offered to internal candidates, the firm reports.

"Employees at all levels are made an integral part of the process," says Nadaraja. "Knowing the process, how everyone fits into the overall picture and having pride in the garments they produce are key principles that are instilled into all employees." As

an example of how far Hirdaramani carries this philosophy, he notes that graduates of the firm's management training program must learn how to sew a garment.

Beyond building up its employees, Hirdaramani also is very active in giving back to the communities where it does business. Its generosity touched thousands after the December 2004 tsunami, and continues to be felt today as post-disaster restoration continues.

For instance, in collaboration with the U.K.'s Harrow School, Hirdaramani rebuilt a large school in Galle, Sri Lanka. It also rehabilitated an entire fishing community in the Batticaloa district, and built 50 houses for displaced families in Hambantota. It also sent its own staff to affected areas with emergency supplies and medicine.

Hirdaramani has a dedicated fund and team to support carefully selected charitable projects. The fund contributed approximately US$1.2 million to projects in 2005 to 2006.

One example of its good works is the "Marks and Starts" program, which Hirdaramani initiated in conjunction with Marks & Spencer to employ and develop "differently abled" people.

Other projects involve the ongoing maintenance of city and rural hospitals (including three children's hospitals and a cancer hospital), support for children's welfare (including orphanages and schools for children with special needs) and funding regular meals for the elderly in community nursing homes. Hirdaramani also regularly donates books and school supplies as well as funds for the renovation of Buddhist shrines and local sports centers.

"The idea of giving something back is an endemic part of our culture, which is taken very seriously," says Nadaraja. "The Hirdaramani Group identifies itself not just as a leading apparel manufacturer but as a 'Ëœsocial concierge,' dedicated to making a change in our community." n

Kathleen DesMarteau, Apparel

Quick Takes

Significant Size and Scope
The Hirdaramani Group employs more than 16,000 in its textile and apparel operations, the largest portion of its portfolio. Another 857 work in a hotel branch of the business. The group is organized into six clusters focused on: 1.) wovens, 2.) knits, 3.) Mercury business (this includes several manufacturing plants wholly owned since last year by Hirdaramani that previously were joint ventures with U.K.-based Desmonds & Sons), 4.) value-added services, 5.) vertical integration and 6.) hotels. Among other businesses, Hirdaramani's vertical integration cluster includes Ocean Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd. This is a joint-venture knit fabric manufacturing operation established in 1996 with Hong Kong-based Fountain Set.

Words to Live (and Work) By
Hirdaramani runs a very complex organization, from textile manufacturing to design development to cutting, sewing, packing and shipping. But the company traces much of its success to sticking to the basics, such as good customer service, quality and ongoing innovation.

Here are a few quotations that Hirdaramani uses to describe itself and its way of doing business:

  • "The difference is our people" -- a catch phrase used in all corporate communications, and seen and practiced at all levels, Hirdaramani reports.

  • "Hirdaramani is a 'Ëœspec and cheque' operation -- give us the specifications and leave the rest to us!" -- a long-time mantra that continues to be the firm's vision for success in the post-quota era.

  • "Our philosophy is simple. If the customer benefits by doing business with us, we benefit." -- a statement summing up "the Hirdaramani way," and reflecting the firm's commitment to be unique in the way it does business and to lead rather than follow the competition in the race to succeed.

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