PARAG KULKARNI – Managing Director A. O. SMITH

Managing Director


Describe your business in 10 words or fewer.
A. O. Smith is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of residential and commercial water heating equipment as well as manufacturer of water treatment products for residential applications .

What is the big idea behind your business?
Our key business drivers are doing business with uncompromising integrity, taking care of our customers, and developing innovative water heating and water treatment technologies as well as Energy Efficient solutions which directly benefit our consumers. In India specifically, A. O. Smith sees great opportunity by bringing forth latest and patented technology in water purification to serve the needs of its consumers by providing safe drinking water solutions.

It’s often said that leaders these days must operate in an environment of extreme volatility. Do you agree? How does that affect the way you lead?
In a global world, one is always faced with challenges which are anticipated as well as ones which you least anticipate. Leadership’s role is to ensure we take no short cuts or compromises on basic values and guiding principles and to ensure that stakeholders’ interests are never compromised. Once you are clear about these principles as a leader , it’s much easier to tackle any volatility that an external environment may pose.

A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. What is your prime focus for retaining customers?
At A. O. Smith, we place a high premium on customer satisfaction. We pride ourselves on the innovative technology and products that we periodically bring forward in our business across markets. We back these through innovative campaigns to bring these across to our customers be it the trade or the end consumer. Most importantly we invest a lot in our Post Sales service, and here, our “Power of 1” service is an Industry benchmark. In specific markets where we have introduced it in India, we promise our customers a response within the first hour, addressing their needs on the same day, and doing it first time right. Our customers value this tremendously which helps us retain a very high percentage of our customers.

Your Favorite Book or Quote of all time?
One of the best lines that I heard from my childhood, from my mother has been First Deserve then Desire”, and this till date drives me to excel and be realistic about my desires.

What was your first paying job?
I had the fortune of starting my career at one of the world’s leading bearing manufacturers “SKF Bearings”, where I had a short stint , which was followed by a much longer stint in another Swedish company and world leader in Compressed Air “Atlas Copco”.

Do you have a formal mechanism for making sure you stay in touch with employees and customers on the organization’s front line?
In our India organization we have institutionalized a “Town Hall” with co – located employees every quarter, and this is a much anticipated event. Additionally, we have Sales & Service teams in multiple locations across the country. Regular travel to all these locations and spending time with them and our customers (trade partners) helps me understand and appreciate the efforts of all our team members. We also invest a lot in other informal discussions and training which once again allows all senior leaders to learn customer and employee viewpoints and better our performance.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever heard?
You Win, only if your employees and customers win, hence focus all your energies in helping them win.

What has surprised you about being an entrepreneur?
The ‘World of opportunities” that awaits the honest triers is simply terrific.

What strategies do you use in terms of planning your personal career progression?
-Never stop Learning . -Work continuously to Reinvent yourself. – Surround yourself with team members who are smarter than you as it helps you learn faster.

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