In the mid-1990s, almost all cookware brands in India had slowly started diversifying into other categories like kitchen appliances and water purifiers, among other household products. But Hawkins Cookers chairman and managing director Brahm Vasudeva was firm about only ‘doing that business which the company was good at’, though many employees urged him to quickly enter new segments.
Brahm was right. Competitors entering other categories barely saw any increase in revenue; in fact, diversification hit their margins.
On July 10, Hawkins Cookers’ non-executive chairman Brahm Vasudeva passed away at the age of 84. He had been at the leadership position for 52 years in the Mumbai-headquartered company, known for its pressure cookers and cookware.
Born in Pakistan on April 26, 1936, he came to India as a refugee when he was 11 years old. When Brahm came to Mumbai with his parents after the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, his father H D Vasudeva dabbled with multiple businesses, including an insurance company, a white goods distribution business and a cold-storage unit.
Hawkins Cookers was started in 1959 by Vasudeva, in technical collaboration with LG Hawkins of England, with Rs 20,000 as capital. Meanwhile, Brahm completed his education at St Stephens College in Delhi, and took over Hawkins in 1968 as the vice-chairman and managing director.
Company insiders said that, in the initial phases, Brahm put in all his focus on consolidation, supply chain and production quality. Between 1968-78, the company started manufacturing new range of pressure cookers and allied products like idli stands. Simultaneously, non- performing units were shut down.
In his annual general speech in 2009, Brahm had said that when he joined in 1968, there was a company division trying to manufacture optical-medical instruments. This was closed down after a few years.
Similarly, the company produced and marketed Four Seasons, a quarterly magazine in four languages, four types of spices specially formulated for pressure cooking and two types of electrical kitchen appliances -- the Inframatic and the Simmermatic. All these products were not commercially viable and were closed down by 1984.
In 1984, when Vasudeva decided to step down from the management, he handed over the CMD position to Brahm. In his new role, Brahm made it clear that if it all the company went for diversification, it would only be into the cookware category.
In three years, Brahm felt that there was a need to appeal the younger audience. Hawkins Cookers launched new pressure cookers under the ‘Contura’ category in 1987 and it slowly gained popularity.
Later years and expansion
By the 1990s, Brahm ensured that while Hawkins should stay focussed on its core business, adjacent product categories are not something to be ignored.
The company launched iron griddles and cook-and-serve bowls. Considering the appeal of Hawkins among children due to its unique lid design, Brahm spearheaded the launch of Hawkins miniature cookers -- a toy model.
Over the subsequent years, the company launched anodised saucepans and entered the non-stick category by introducing frying pans and tawa. Cookware brands like Futura, Miss Mary and Bigboy came out of the Hawkins stable. Around the same time, Brahm felt that the company had to be aggressive on marketing and advertising campaigns.
Hence from the early 1990, Hawkins ads prominently featured across billboards and print publications. But industry insiders say that he was not satisfied with the data on print readership and television viewership, which was slowly being looked as a platform that could make or break customer buying behaviour.
When advertising industry players failed to distribute proper data about print readers, Brahm decided to take the lead and launched the Readership Research Users Council (later called Media Research Users Council).
Even as the industry was ignorant to his attempt, Brahm went and individually met industry bodies of newspapers and advertising agencies. Under him, the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) was launched in 1995. The rest is history.
After 38 years of service at Hawkins, Brahm retired as chairman and CEO on April 25, 2006, a day before his 70th birthday. With effect from April 26, he became the non-executive chairman of the Board of Directors.
Seven strands of Hawkins DNA
In his golden jubilee speech in 2009, Brahm mentioned that there are seven strands of Hawkins DNA that make the brand tick. He also declared a dividend of Rs 20 per share, the highest in the history of Hawkins.
The seven strands are treating everyone fairly, achieving results through the right means, seeking the best, staying close to the knitting, being prudent, being bold/brave/resolute, and doing your best and leaving the rest to god.
Staying close to the knitting or ‘Hot Focus’ was what made Hawkins Cookers stand out. Sixty-one years after its birth, the fact that Hawkins is still known for its cookers is a reflection of the strong focus on the core business and conservative approach towards diversifying.
Company insiders said that these are the traits which Brahm would personally follow and this is exactly what Brand Hawkins is all about.
His son Neil Vasudeva and son-in-law Sudeep Yadav, who are now part of the Hawkins Cookers team, have some big shoes to step into.