SMEs should proactively adopt Technology and Innovation


Striving for continuous improvement is a success mantra Mr. T R Sriram has applied to perfection in his own life as well as to the organizations he worked for and provided services to as a consultant. Coming from a generation when shortcuts to success was a strict no-no unlike today and setbacks were truly the pillar of success, he broods very well what’s wrong with modern-day engineers, loopholes in the current educational system, and organizational laxity in management and processes.

Assessing the crisis and need to resolve it, he established Progress Consulting and Progress Institute of Management which are one of the dedicated organizations offering growth-oriented consulting services and right management and skill training among industry people respectively.

Today, Mr. T R Sriram the Founder & CEO, Progress Group, Chennai is also empanelled as a trainer by Entrepreneurial Development Institute, Govt of Tamil Nadu, Madras Management Association, Andhra Chamber of Commerce, TUV SUD and Certified Lead/ Internal Auditor for ISO 9001:2008 & IATF 16949.

But the foundation of Progress Group stands on years of experiences and insights of its founder Mr. T R Sriram and the story begins from his early days. It was his father’s advice that he should not sit idle even for a single day. He started working from the next day after getting his certificates, though it was for a few hundred rupees a month. He joined a fabrication unit in Guindy Industrial Estate, Chennai to learn that whatever he studied so far was not helpful to work in an organisation.

He started observing the processes with interest and excitement. He learned from the workers and supervisors many things which he never studied.  He kept changing jobs and took up different departments.  Later at Panasonic and TVSE, he worked in different departments under job rotation. 

He was regarded as a good performer, trained in new initiatives, took part in many CFT and new projects.  Though multitasking was stressful then, he believes, today he is able to withstand by virtue of the learning and strength gained at that time.

He was good in building the relationship with colleagues and suppliers, resolving pending issues, removing NVA, innovating processes etc. From 2003 onwards his focus was on strategies and management issues.  He underwent very good pieces of training that changed his attitude and helped him to overcome some of his weaknesses. He saw how external consultants brought value addition to the processes.

His employment career spanned over 18 years from 1989 to 2007 in organizations such as Schefenacker Motherson Ltd, TVS Electronics Ltd, Panasonic Home Appliances Ltd, Switzer Instruments Ltd, Nova Electro Magnetics Ltd. It was this journey which helped him develop expertise in the entire supply chain including planning, manufacturing, purchasing, quality, sales, spares, warranty management, and HR etc.

Besides, working for industry verticals such as Sheet metal Fabrication & Press parts, Plastic injection moulding, Instrumentation, Home Appliances Manufacturing (Electrical), Electronics & IT HW, and Automotive. He also gained immense process expertise in Fabrication, Press parts, Machining, Injection moulding, Electrical & Electronics, Die casting, Tool & Die making, Wiring harness, Painting, Plating, Assembly.

Even all through these employment careers it was his dream to start an own business after working for 15 years.  On the fruition of this dream he narrates, “During my employment, I had close interaction with vendors.  They shared their passions, achievements, and sacrifices.  Even after running a business for 15-20 years they could not stabilize, scale up or become wealthy.  I found most of them not happy or under a lot of stress.”

“These entrepreneurs have excellent knowledge in their chosen field say, design or manufacturing, but lacked in management, people skill, quality systems or marketing.  Much of their time is spent on daily issues and they are unable to focus on process improvements and business growth.  I used to think how can I help them?  But, I didn’t have any clue.”

So, he decided to use his experience and skills to help them grow.  “Large corporates are able to engage experts as consultants.  SMEs couldn’t afford.  So I thought I will prepare myself and take it up as my career, serve SME at an affordable cost” he infers.

He left employment in 2007 and in 2008, he started ”Progress Consulting” for consulting services and “Progress Institute of Management” to provide skills required for the manufacturing industry.  In the beginning, he got consultancy projects from his close contacts and was fully occupied.

However, the initial days were as challenging as any other. Progress Institute didn’t take off as planned. He suffered a loss on rental, trainer’s salary, marketing etc. While analysing the causes of failure, Mr. Sriram realised that he did not plan well and his marketing efforts were inadequate or ineffective. Then, he put the Institute on hold for some time and started focusing on consultancy projects.

Getting consulting assignments was a challenge being a startup and without a brand image. “I registered myself with Madras Management Association and Andhra Chamber of Commerce. I started doing workshops on technical topics which are not handled by other trainers. I started upgrading my skills in management systems, LEAN, QMS, EMS & IATF standards. Our website was improved with professional look, projects done and customer’s testimonials.”

The momentum picked up, Progress Consulting started getting new projects through web-based enquiries and customer referrals. He started to specialise in Strategic Management, turn around, Project Management and Manufacturing Excellence projects for SME.

Some of the projects are the testimony to his success. It is with his brilliant guidance that an injection moulding company at Chennai was able to raise capacity utilization from 60% to 85%, increase sales from 7.5 crores to 22 crores, completed construction of two new factory units within just two years.  In other instances, a small family owned HW shop transformed into a professionally managed company with HR systems, performance-based incentive, inventory, and working capital management etc. Today, it is the largest trading organization in Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu.

Besides, for a premium apparel brand in India which was struggling with quantity error, product mix up issues, throughput was increased from 25K TO 45K garments/ day with zero error and saving 30% floor space within 6 months, thanks to the consulting days. The list of success story is endless and encouraging.

As much as these projects and many other added laurels to Mr. Sriram’s illustrious journey as a consultant, He also extended insights into the challenges faced by the manufacturing industry at large. According to him, SMEs in India struggle to get a business loan from banks, due to ineffective single window systems from Govt., outdated and impractical govt. rules, the absence of a payment guarantee system, shortage of skilled manpower, entrepreneurs who are not proactively adopting technology and innovation.

He feels automation can play a major role in the growth of SMEs in performing the simultaneous repetitive or cyclic tasks much faster and error free.

ISO Certification is still another namesake proposition in India as he feels all the stakeholders in the chain dilute the purpose. He opines, “If an organisation follows the ISO requirement sincerely, sure those organisations will grow fast and steady.  Those organisations will be system driven, rather people driven.  There will be no communication gaps, documentation and record keeping will help the company at a troublesome period.”

“It will be easy to channelise contribution of all employees and achieve the objectives of the company.  Total employee involvement will become reality.”

On being asked about the current education system , he says, “First, the syllabus need frequent updates.  There should be more practical classes.  When I interviewed people who got first class, they are unable to recall what they studied 6 months or 12 months back.  Nor they could explain what they studied.  They lack the ability to think, thanks to our education system, syllabus and quality of the lecturers.”

“Second, they lack the interest to learn, patience to make trials.  They don’t want to follow any system.  They want to win through shortcuts. Third, this generation is weak.  Not strong enough to face criticism and lack ability to come out of failures.”

So how to achieve excellence, be it on educational level or professional and organisational levels? He states that “If you continue with what you are doing, you continue to be like that”. As a staunch practitioner of “Kaizen”,(Continuous Improvement) he feels questioning is the first step for any change,  What am I doing?  Why should I do like this? Is there any better way?  Can I still improve it? I don’t know, can I take help from someone? These questions gave birth to numerous inventions.  “If you start questioning each and everything you will start improving all around, not only productivity,” he says.

Of the new wave of entrepreneurship, he seems to be satisfied, however, he also feels that support in terms funding and policies such incubation centres are funding are still not as much available for startups in manufacturing as much as they are in technology or service sectors. 

He suggests the entrepreneurs to think through every process bit by bit, write down and review again and again and there will be a time when it will be seen that a lot is improved a lot or many things are redefined.

He further stresses on the fact that planning should be detailed and spanning due time without hurry while execution should be faster.

He cherishes a grand vision for his company Progress Group which was established as a solution provider for SMEs. “By 2025, we will have the presence in the west and north Indian regions, empanel experts with regional connect and develop expertise in new avenues like Finance management, Industry 4.0.”

With his life mantra that is “Don’t accept anything as it is. There is still a better way than this”, it is only a matter of time before Mr. T R Sriram and his Progress group guide many other SMEs to the path of growth and glory. 


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