Today. organizations face rapidly accelerating change, intensifying competition and increasing commoditization, and a shift in bargaining power from producer to consumer. Effective management is concerned with the goals of the organization. Strategic decision making is both sequential and dynamic. Organizations need to begin with understanding the context, clarify their objectives and only then they can correctly visualize tactics for achieving those objectives. Circumstances are constantly shifting, therefore corporate strategy must dynamically respond to changes in order to remain vibrant and relevant. Strategic moments often appear in crisis. These moments can either push organizations forward or set them back - perhaps irretrievably. In order to set the right trajectory, organizations have to immediately recognize the seriousness of the situation, take ownership. and galvanize for a clear direction. This book is an attempt to present the organizational experiences through various case studies. The business experiences recorded are expected to enable the users to make continuous necessary modifications in their understanding of strategic decision moments. The book would be useful to the students of Business Administration and participants of Management Development Programs.
The origin of Blue Pottery goes back to 17th century, when Jaipur was established. The making of Blue Pottery has come a long way since then and earned a distinction of being one ofthe prominent crafts ofJaipur. This art reached the verge ofdying because oflowering ofquality, non-modernisation ofdesigns, poor interest in the development ofart by master craftsmen, poor market acceptability of available designs, limited product range and low income ofartisan. Machine-made pottery was a challenge for handmade Blue Pottery and it had become a threat for the survival of this ancient craft. Leek Bordia while working for social upliftment in rural landscape with artisans identified a big opportunity of uplifting the artisans' living conditions through revival of this an. Gaining the faith and confidence of artisans and working with them were crucial steps in exploiting the potential of art. Leek Bordia was determined to revive and re-energise the ancient handicraft and give it back the place of pride as distinct ancient handmade Indian art globally.
BLUE POTTERY: ORIGIN, HISTORY AND EVOLUTION
Blue Pottery, Turko-Persian in origin is said to have been introduced to India in 1727 AD when Jaipur was founded and craftsmen from all over India were invited to settle in the city. Making of Blue Pottery has come a long way and earned a distinction of being one of the prominent crafts of Jaipur. Initially, master potters refused to share their trade secrets with their fellow craftsmen. So, there was an eventual lowering of standards and a gradual dying out of the craft. Over the years, the craft was kept alive by erstwhile royal family of Jaipur, which widely promoted Blue Pottery. The craft received a much needed boost in 1960s as internationally renowned artist, Kripal Singh Shekhawat entered the field of Blue Pottery and raised the bar. His presence brought a new excitement to the craft as his designs began selling very well. However, even then the use of Blue Pottery was very limited.
The product range consisted of a few large items, such as bowls, plates and vases thus the market declined. Many craftsmen had no option, but to leave their villages and go to the cities in search of work. With the dwindling number of potters, Blue Pottery faced near extinction as there was little hope in sight. The efforts started by Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay and Gayatri Devi of the royal family of Jaipur to revive this art were taken forward by Leek Bordia.
This case was developed by Dr Sheetal Mundra and Dr Upinder Dhar UK Lakshmipat University. Jaipur) for class discussion.
Leela Bordia was born and brought up in a Rajasthani Jain family in Calcutta. Young Leela Bordia had been a witness to her mother working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, which had a deep and lasting impression on her. In 1977, Leela Bordia was engaged in social welfare activities in the villages in and around Jaipur district of Rajasthan, India. While visiting the slum area, Leela was shocked on seeing the living conditions of the people living in the slum. She was determined to figure out a way to help. She thought that it was best that instead of giving the people money she should figure out a way to help them make their own living.
Later, while visiting the village she discovered some craftsmen making exquisite pottery. They made pots and vases, painstakingly hand painted them in patterns which were perhaps a. thousand years old. There was repetition of old age designs, shapes and colour patterns. Quality was a secondary consideration. Those who were engaged in craft were just surviving by making the two ends meet. Leela realised that this was the opportunity to help the people by creating new jobs and improving their living conditions. She began to think in terms of incorporating certain changes in the designs, using some other colours and introducing some new designs in the traditional Blue Pottery. She told them, "Let's work together. You make your products and I will help you in selling them." The potters liked the idea, but they were sceptical at trusting an outsider. In addition, Leela also knew that she will have to convince the potters to break from tradition and make new and more marketable designs. This was her toughest challenge. Leela spent two years in watching and talking to the craftsmen, offering suggestions, telling them to make utility items, but for two years they didn't listen to her.
Then finally, a potter named Kailash came to Leela and agreed to work with her designs. Soon, Leela met a French buyer named Paul Comas. He saw the potential in Leela's work and placed an order for extravagant Blue Pottery bead curtains that he wanted to sell in his Paris retail store. He paid Z 50,000 in advance for the order. Leela and Kailash acted quickly, finished the curtain beads and sent them to Paul. The project didn't turn out as planned, the beads were of lower quality than Paul expected, so he couldn't sell them in his shop. Leela had planned for re-orders but she ended up being stuck with two big sacks filled with hundreds of beads. Leela did not give up and she decided to make necklaces out of the beads. So, Kailash made the necklaces for her and she displayed them for sale at a retail shop named Anokhi in Jaipur. At that time, the movie "Far Pavilions" was being filmed. While the necklaces were on the counter for display, a few actresses from the movie visited the store, saw the necklaces and bought them all.
After this success, Leela never looked back. She continued to be in touch with Paul Comar, who became a life-long friend and mentor to Leela. He also gave her useful feedback on the market, quality of the product and the buyers' tastes. She took Paul's advices seriously and mixed it with her own creativity to develop hundreds of new products that served as utility items, while maintaining the identity of the Blue Pottery craft.
Originally, Blue Pottery was made from ground quartz. The dough is pressed into moulds and the unfired pieces are hand painted with oxide colours, touches of blue and white, dipped in clear glaze and fired in wooden kilns. The process is very tedious and time consuming. Once made, the Blue Pottery items cannot be reworked. In order to rule out cracks and other flaws, results have to be awaited till the pottery is fully done.
Blue Pottery of Jaipur is a mix of ground quartz, green glass, fuller's earth, borax and gum. This is kneaded into dough, flattened and pressed into an open mould. It is then dried in the sun, smoothened over, and finally taken for painting. The outlines are drawn in cobalt oxide and the design is filled in with other metal oxides, each of which is transformed into a bright colour by firing. The oxide of cobalt becomes deep blue, chromium changes to green, cadmium produces bright yellow, and iron oxide becomes red-brown. The piece is then dipped into a homemade glaze of glass, borax and lead oxide, which is made adhesive by the addition of boiled flour. Finally, they are kept in fire at 800-850°C for six hours in a closed kiln fuelled with charcoal. The detailed black decoration is heated directly into the clear lead-free glaze, giving it a tough, resilient, dishwasher-proof finish. The kiln is left to cool for three days, avoiding any rapid temperature change that easily cracks the china clay.
From one potter to over 150 potters, the business excelled, thanks to the new products and high quality standards that Leek insisted upon. The initial experience of two years gave her sufficient confidence to begin with Neerja International and the rejuvenation of the Blue Pottery craft. Named after Leela's younger sister Neerja, the company was founded in 1980. The first year, the company's turnover was one lakh. During the next two years, orders for different items started pouring in regularly and she felt the need of having the unit of her own so that she was able to stress on quality control. She had her own land on which she started a pottery unit in the year 1982, employing four people.
Over the years, by 2013, Bordia had established fifteen pottery units in Kotjewar Village, 50 km from Jaipur and nearby areas and provided work to thousands of craftsmen. The Warehouse and Showroom of Neerja International were housed in the Pink City, Jaipur in India. Gradually, it became the world renowned and well acclaimed leader and largest manufacturer and exporter of Blue Pottery. The warehouse was actually more of a museum than a stockroom. There one would find one-of-a-kind pieces on display, each with its own story to tell. The company started with Z 500 had touched the turnover of around 2-5 crore in favourable weather conditions and rain. Salaries of 500 workers in fifteen small village units ranged from 5,000 to Z 2,00,000 per month. The skilled labour was getting 10,000 to 15,000 per month.
Leda Bordia knew little of ceramics, so while visiting the United States, she undertook one-month course in pottery technique and design from a University in Detroit. The course
endorsed her earlier belief that if Jaipur pottery had to win international acclaim, the entire approach had to be changed. New concepts would have to be brought in. She was convinced that this an had the potential to stand in the world market. At that time, the traditional Blue Pottery items consisted of big vases, pots and other heavy items. This naturally needed a big and rich customer owing to the size and material cost of the products. Leela Bordia pondered on the possibilities of innovating away from the well-trodden path of Blue Pottery items and envisioned small, delicate and the items of day-to-day use made with the same material. The result of her ingenious vision and dedication to the craft brought forth beauty and intricacy in the form of enchanting door knobs, beads, curtain rods, ashtrays, candle stands, lanterns, incense stick stands, bathroom fittings, coasters, decanters, perfume bottles , tiles, lamps, coffee tables, tableware and other astonishing but useful items.
She had the advantage of having a tie up with the 'Anokhi', famous for contemporary crafted textile. Anokhi had a sales counter in Jaipur and was a place recommended and known to number of foreign tourists and buyers. Thus, marketing was never a problem for her. On her part, she had to introduce new designs at least every six months depending on the fashion trends. Foreign buyers needed new design every time. By continuously creating new designs, with the aid of India's National Institute of Design, Leela Bordia pursued product innovation. Owing to her entrepreneurial zeal, she was instrumental in creating more than 300 Blue Pottery products and 1000 unique designs based on her vision and imagination. She knew that change in approach was also going to give her a lot of business. She made it a point to visit different countries every year to study what type of pottery designs they had. In 1982-83, she visited Mexico and took further training in ceramics.
The work culture of Neerja International and practices were based on building self-reliant innumerable units right at the place of residence of the artisans itself. Neither did the artisans have to take the trouble of coming to a factory workshop nor some other place for creating Blue Pottery items. They could stay at home and worked as well as catered to the needs of their families and farming. Normally, the women of the house finished their daily chores and helped their husbands in making pottery. They could contribute in one of the various processes.
The company appreciated and encouraged new streams of thoughts and ideas from its creative artisans which gave rise to new business opportunities and gains for the company as well as the craftsmen. Leela Bordia had never believed in false promises and not fulfilling them at lacer stage. If she could supply ten items, she committed for eight, supplied on time and earned the credibility of buyers. Her policy of We shall succeed jointly' rather than 'I shall succeed solely' had always held her in high esteem in the hearts of her artisans, well-wishers as well as the Indian and Foreign Print Media who had spoken volumes about her.
In 1992, Neerja International adopted Kotjewar, which assisted the villagers with educational and medical help, life insurance and support for widows. Apart from her continuing crusade to improve the quality and aesthetic appeal of the pottery, Bordia took one-hour sessions with school children in Jaipur on craft traditions and had also started to write a book on Blue Pottery. Leela Bordia believed that one must preserve cultural identity and originality.
Leela Bordia was Vice-President of the Federation of Rajasthan Exporters Association, Member of the All India Women's Council, an erstwhile member of the Bead Association of California, Founder Secretary of the Rotary Club (East) Inner Wheel 1980-1981 and winner of the Best Performance Shield. She was felicitated with the National Outstanding Export Award by EPCH (Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts), Best Woman Entrepreneur Award by the President of India in 1990, Best Woman Entrepreneur Award by EPCH for three consecutive years from 2003-2005. In addition, various awards from International Societies commending Neerja's support to the local craftsmen and their families were also conferred on her. Further, she was also honoured by Bank of Baroda, Jaipur in 1998 for Excellence in Exports. In 1994, a certificate of Recognition was given to her by Globus, Switzerland and a National Award for Best Woman Entrepreneur by Institute of Marketing and Management.
Initially, the company exported its innovative Blue Pottery products in France, United States, United Kingdom and Japan. But by 1994, the products were also marketed in India to the tourists and local shopkeepers. Buyers included not only local shoppers, but also much larger customers, such as Taj International — the chain of hotels, Anokhi and several international homeware companies. The link with the Taj International was important for public exposure of Neerja International products, as Neerja's bathroom fittings, tiles and bowls were seen by guests at hotels all over Asia and Middle East.
The inclination of Leela Bordia to a social cause had led to identification and rejuvenation of a dying art leading to a healthy business around the globe, giving all together new dimension to an art and bringing social and economic changes in large number of families through adoption of villages and bringing recognition to all concerned along with her. Being a woman, she had her own limitation in Indian social context for working in villages with these social groups.
Though in the business, such as Blue Pottery the operating cost and capital equipment cost were very low, but the pottery business had its own challenges. Being handicraft, it was highly labour intensive lacking new technology and perfection of work. The process was tedious and time consuming. Once made, the items could not be reworked upon. One could never be sure if the finished product would have the exact shade as expected. The smallest mistake could lead to the piece either cracking or turning black. The craftsmen had very little income as market was dominated by middlemen, who had no interest other than making money.
Old designs and patterns of the products of Blue Pottery were less appealing. The problems in the rainy season were inescapable; during this time the production lowered down and thus the margins too. The high inventory could not be kept. Automatic machine processes leading to mass production of fine design had also affected the local hand crafted products. So non-modernisation of designs, non-promotion of craft and low income led to the vicious cycle of decline of craft and interest of craftsmen.
Though challenges were very high, but Leela's confidence in the art and her conviction, persistence and determination had led to a globally robust recognised business which had brought about a social revolution also. She was aware that technological changes were required for improving the quality of product For this, she went through various courses to have better understanding of the technology and then implemented the changes at the ground level. The company also kept on doing the innovation on the process part, such as replacing the old furnaces with the new gas, oil and diesel furnace, etc. The interest of customer in traditional Blue Pottery items was declining, because of changing expectations of customer over a period of time.
Introducing new items and patterns relevant to new set of expectations was crucial in establishing the brand in the market. Due to low income, younger generation was not interested in getting into this occupation, which led to shortage of artisans, who could work for taking art to new heights. Generating the interest in younger generation was more important Leela Bordia's keenness was not only to preserve the craft, but also to take it to the next level. This was evident in her efforts to bring about changes in all dimensions of business, whether it was innovation, production process, upliftment of workers, raising income and hope of craftsmen, market reach, etc. The challenge from machine made items was very serious as mass production of fine items was possible at low cost leading to further dying of arc. Generating the awareness about the hand-crafted items was even more challenging for preservation and promotion of this art.
Leela Bordia was very keen to save the craft as it was one of the rare crafts, which was still "hand-made" and was slowly moving over to machine-made craft. She refused to retire from making continuous efforts in preserving the hand-made craft. She liked to be known as somebody who gave back more to Blue Pottery than what she took from it
What are the key factors responsible for the success of Leela Bordia as a woman entrepreneur?
What were the risks faced by Leela Bordia while starting Neerja International?
Discuss the work culture in Neerja International. What were the benefits available to the craftsmen and the company itself due to the prevailing culture?
What is the present market strategy of Neerja International? What changes do you suggest to the company to meet the present challenges from machine-made Blue Pottery?
What advantages and disadvantages will arise if Blue Pottery is produced by modern machines?
Teaching Objectives and Target Audience
This case is written with the objective of giving students an insight into the concept of entrepreneurship and characteristics and competencies of successful entrepreneurs
Key issues are the challenges and issues of sustainability of an ancient hand-made craft vis-a-vis machine-made craft.
This case may be discussed by the students of marketing and entrepreneurship. It should be analysed both at individual and group levels. First, students should be asked to come with an individual analysis focused on the relevant issues. At the second stage, the class may be divided into groups of 4-6 participants. Then, the students should discuss in groups and try to reach at a consensus regarding the solutions to the questions/challenges and opportunities presented in the case.