Proudly Local is a series of stories that spotlight Indian promoters who have established a strong footprint in their respective industries both locally and globally. These business leaders, who have worked with us for their recruitment needs, speak with us to share insights on how Indian companies are growing.
Kunal Sikchi wears many hats. A chemical engineer. A businessman. An innovator. An entrepreneur. “I believe in getting my hands dirty with any new project, and later, make sure the team takes it ahead in the right direction. I want to remain available for any challenges faced so that we tide over it as a team,” says Kunal Sikchi, Founder and Managing Director at Matrix Fine Sciences.
Kunal Sikchi, Managing Director at Matrix Fine Sciences, shares his insights with
Srushti Shukla, Senior Consultant at Michael Page India.
Matrix Fine Sciences: Manufacturing Nutraceuticals and Exporting Globally
Established in 2015, Matrix Fine Sciences is the first Indian company specialising in extracting tocopherols (vitamin E) and plant sterols from non-GMO soy, rapeseed and sunflower sources in high concentrations.
This Maharashtra-based company produces a wide range of products that cater to the food, feed and pet food, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, cosmetics and bio-fuel sectors.
“I’ve always been interested [to work with] by-products of industries and trying to create value out of it. This led me to start a trading company first where I was trying to find by-products, which are of value, and try and export that out of India. That’s how I got into the raw material industry, extracting vitamin E,” says Sikchi.
“R&D has been the strength of the company,” he adds. “We have close to 50 different variants within [the antioxidant-rich] vitamin E, and that is rare for a company; we are today, amongst the top five in the world in the natural vitamin E space.”
The global healthcare crisis brought about by COVID-19 has changed the dynamics of the nutraceutical industry. According to Sikchi, there is a growing awareness and movement in Asia towards products with ingredients that are naturally derived, vegan, sustainable and not tested on animals, even before the pandemic hit the world. Consumers in the west, where the nutraceutical market is more mature, have moved from synthetic antioxidants to natural antioxidants.
So, it is no wonder why Matrix Fine Sciences have since developed a robust global network, with distributors in Asia, North America, South America, Europe and Australia. The company also has a warehouse and office in Delaware, USA, to cater to customers in North America.
Challenges and Successes in talent attraction
Aside from vitamin E, Matrix Fine Sciences have ventured into farming rosemary for its extracts, “we should have close to 500 acres of rosemary under plantation by the end of next year” and look to develop about four plant extracts in the next few years.
It hasn’t always been a bed of roses. “[The] first few years were a big challenge for us,” Sikchi relates. According to the chemical engineering graduate from Mumbai University, most people prefer to work in well-known companies in big cities like Bombay, or Bangalore, where most nutraceutical companies are found. However, he decided to establish his company in his hometown, Aurangabad, when he came across a suitable location, “a good piece of land at a very reasonable price”.
The location had affected talent attraction and retention. On top of that, most people are less likely to join start-ups as they seek stability and longevity in a job, and it’s almost impossible to know how a particular start-up would pan out.
“Since nutraceuticals is a very niche industry in itself, there are challenges in finding the right team players,” Sikchi relates. “However, with seminars and social media awareness, we have been able to attract the attention of today’s generation who wants to be associated with companies that have good growth rate and offer excellent learning opportunities too.”
And when it comes to partnering with a recruitment consultancy, Sikchi adds, “We look for [recruitment firms with] in-depth understanding of our needs, and this is something Michael Page with its global understanding, gets on the board very well.”
Job seekers want to move closer to home due to COVID-19
Ironically, the coronavirus pandemic played a vital role in Sikchi’s efforts to attract talent too. It turned out that establishing the office and manufacturing facility in Maharashtra was a plus.
“Having been away for months, people, now, realised the value of family, and with families facing difficulties [due to COVID]. People want to [move] closer to their hometown as well,” Sikchi explains.
“I can proudly say that people, who’ve been working at Matrix since day one, continue to serve Matrix today. We started with 15 people in 2015 and were close to 110 before COVID-19. And today, we are setting on the strength of about 240 people,” says Sikchi.
A multipronged approach to talent retention
With a candidate-driven market, retaining talent becomes a constant challenge for most companies. To manage talent retention, Matrix Fine Sciences put substantial importance on developing, nurturing and caring for its staff.
“We follow a variable-based structure, we have quarterly reviews and meetings, so the expectations are set right as to what we are looking at, what could be a probable output. We have a lot of learning sessions, so if we feel there is learning required in any area, we bring in the best of the consultants around the globe, who can train our people in trying to set up the best systems in place,” Sikchi explains.
There’s a lot of learning involved at all stages and in all areas, and I’ve connected with consultants, not just from India but also globally, and that has helped us bring in new ideas on the table
These training sessions helped ensure that people and operations at Matrix Fine Sciences stay up to date with technology. Another contributing factor to effective talent retention at Matrix Fine Sciences is the adoption of flexible work.
“The work-from-home policy was unheard of before; we had quite a few people working from home, and we tried to [apply that] in manufacturing as well, and I think all that helped us build a reputation.”
Matrix Fine Sciences is committed to gender diversity and employs many female employees. The company supports women in their pregnancy journey, creating an environment where women can work during and after the maternity period.
“This helps create a great culture within the company to help us retain good talent and bring the kind of change that is required for a growing company of our size,” explains Sikchi.
A recipe for success
To succeed as a company, he believes you need to “create an entry barrier for the business you are in, empower the right people with right skills set to do their jobs well and focus on long-term vision and growth plan.”
“The fact that we are working on natural ingredients, which have been around for many years and even used in several cultures and traditions as part of a natural healing process, is fascinating; and converting this age-old science to new-age ingredients is indeed exciting,” says Sikchi.
Technology at the forefront
Coming from a family business in manufacturing, Sikchi learned that it is highly essential to adopt world-class technology and manufacturing capability and scale-up technologies to reach global scales for success.
Create a culture that fosters learning and development
Hiring the right team and keeping the team trained plays a considerable part in a company’s success. Sikchi ensures that his employees get the best training available to do their jobs well. After all, a positive attitude toward learning sets the premise for lifelong learning in entrepreneurship.
Expand your professional network
“I am a huge follower of LinkedIn; I will connect with people on LinkedIn and make sure I’m active. So, there’s a lot of learning involved at all stages and in all areas, and I’ve also connected with consultants, not just from India but also globally. So that has helped us bring in new ideas on the table.”
“I think one very important thing which I've learned is having the right mentors. There are a lot of people out there who are willing to give you a helping hand. They may be from very different or [similar] background, and you should not be afraid to ask for help,” says Sikchi.
“I haven't been afraid of asking for help and I have connected with tens and hundreds of people on LinkedIn. Some of them have guided me in some of the other ways you draw inspiration from somebody, you become friends with somebody.”
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