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An Interface With Ms. Sujal Shah, Director, NewAge Fire Fighting Co Ltd

For Ms Sujal Shah, joining her family business of fire fighting equipment manufacturing, which had been running for over six decades, came as a great opportunity but one that entailed huge responsibilities as well. We had a chat with her to understand her journey so far and here are some glimpses of the same:

Q. Can you share a brief overview of your family’s history in the firefighting equipment manufacturing business and how you became involved as a third-generation entrepreneur?

Sujal Shah, one of the third generation entrepreneurs at the NewAge Fire Fighting Co Ltd, a company that had started their journey in 1961. It was quite a humble start with making the hydrant valves and later NewAge progressed to manufacturing 300+ products eventually. The company also forayed into the fire vehicle space. Inspite of the growth, the third generation continues to believe that their organisation is built on a foundation of being socially conscious.

I am an Information Technology engineer by education. I was involved in IT Consulting for sometime after my graduation whilst pursued an MBA. When NewAge went through a split in the year 2010, we were suddenly short of marketing and business development team and my family business was in need of trustworthy people. Of course, the most natural choice in such a situation were family members. My family who was always involved in production activities for the business and who were running the factories, convinced me to join the business. This was the beginning of my journey with NewAge and since then, every single day has been better than the previous one. Today when I look back, I can only thank the circumstances which led me to join NewAge.

Q. What inspired you to continue and possibly innovate upon the family legacy in manufacturing firefighting equipment?

I was inspired to continue and innovate upon our family legacy in manufacturing firefighting equipment for several reasons. First and foremost, I have a deep respect for the work that my grandfather, my father and my uncles have done over the years. Their dedication to producing high-quality firefighting equipment and their commitment to fire safety resonated with me. Additionally, I saw an opportunity to build upon this legacy along with my brothers and make a meaningful impact in the firefighting industry.  Moreover, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to carry forward the values and principles instilled by my family. These values, such as integrity, quality, and customer-centricity, continue to guide our business decisions and interactions with our stakeholders. So it would be fair to say that, it was the combination of respect for the past, a desire to make a difference in the present, and a commitment to shaping the future of firefighting equipment that inspired me to continue and innovate upon our family legacy in this industry.

Q. You have been an active member of associations like FSAI, IPA etc. and you are also inclined towards service to society. Please tell us about that.

At FSAI, I am National Vice Chair of the Surakshit Naari Initiative of FSAI which was launched in 2020.  Surakshit Naari is a comprehensive program aimed at addressing and improving women’s safety and related issues across India. This initiative encompasses a wide range of strategies, activities, and awareness campaigns designed to create a safer environment for women and empower them to lead secure and confident lives. We conduct awareness sessions, workshops and trainings to achieve the objectives of women safety.

At ISHRAE, I am Advocacy Chair of ISHRAE Pune Chapter.

Indian Plumbing Association (IPA) does a lot of work in the area of SAVING WATER and one such initiative is IPA NEERATHON, a WATER AWARENESS FESTIVAL, which is Run For Water marathon. I am the National Convenor of this program. We concluded IPA Neerathon at Bangalore in April 2023 and at Chennai in September 2023. We have the next Neerathon scheduled in Ahmedabad followed by Delhi and Mumbai in the coming months.

I am the Secretary at Rotary Club of Pune Professionals where we conduct a lot of service projects in the focus areas like environment, literacy & education, water & sanitation, economic & community development as well as disease prevention and treatments. I am passionate about making a positive impact on the community. One of my life goals is to give back to society and make a difference.

Q.Could you describe some of the key challenges you’ve faced in the firefighting equipment manufacturing industry and how you’ve overcome them?

Certainly, the firefighting equipment manufacturing industry presents its own set of challenges like any other industry would. Overcoming the challenges is an essential part of journey and success.

The industry is constantly evolving with advancements in firefighting technologies. Staying up-to-date with the latest innovations and incorporating them into our products has been challenging but crucial. Firefighting equipment must meet stringent safety and quality standards to ensure the safety of firefighters and the effectiveness of their operations. We’ve invested in state-of-the-art testing and quality control processes to ensure that our products consistently meet or exceed these standards.

  • Global Competition, supply chain disruptions and changing customer needs & preferences are also some of the challenges. In navigating these challenges, our approach has been rooted in adaptability, innovation, and a commitment to quality. By continuously learning, staying customer-focused, and remaining agile in our responses to industry dynamics, we’ve been able to overcome obstacles and position ourselves as a leader in the firefighting equipment manufacturing industry.

Q. How do you ensure that your products meet the latest safety and quality standards ?

Ensuring that our firefighting equipment meets the latest safety and quality standards is of paramount importance, given the critical nature of these products. We have implemented a comprehensive approach that includes Regulatory Compliance, Dedicated Quality Assurance Team, Product Development & Innovation, Training, Stringent Testing Protocols, Certifications & Approvals, Supplier Quality Control  and Quality Management System.

We stay vigilant in monitoring and understanding the latest safety and quality standards set by relevant national and international regulatory bodies. This includes standards such as NFPA, ISI, FM, BSI, and UL, among others. We ensure that our products align with and exceed these standards.

We employ a dedicated quality assurance team responsible for monitoring and enforcing quality standards throughout the manufacturing process. Our employees receive ongoing training to stay updated on the latest safety and quality standards, manufacturing techniques, and technological advancements. We have established rigorous testing protocols for all our products. This includes extensive performance testing, durability testing, and safety testing. Our research and development team focuses on product innovation with an emphasis on safety and quality. We continuously seek ways to enhance product design and materials to meet or exceed the latest standards while improving overall performance.We conduct supplier audits and inspections to confirm that their processes align with our quality standards.Our products undergo thorough evaluation by independent testing organisations and certification bodies. We actively seek feedback from our customers, including firefighters and fire departments, who use our equipment in the field. Their insights and experiences are invaluable in identifying areas for improvement and ensuring that our products meet their operational needs.We also maintain a robust quality management system that documents all processes, procedures, and quality control measures. This system ensures consistency and traceability in our manufacturing processes.

This commitment to safety and quality is non-negotiable, as the lives of firefighters and the effectiveness of firefighting operations depend on it.

Q. In the rapidly evolving world of technology, how do you stay up-to-date and incorporate innovations into your product offerings?

Incorporating technological innovations into our firefighting equipment is a fundamental aspect of our business strategy. Staying up-to-date with the latest technology trends and ensuring that we integrate these innovations into our product offerings involves Market Intelligence, Research and Development (R&D), Prototyping and Testing, Customer Feedback as well as Collaboration and Partnerships.

We maintain an agile approach to product development, enabling us to quickly adapt to technological changes and market shifts. By embracing these practices, we ensure that our firefighting equipment remains at the forefront of technological innovation, delivering enhanced safety and performance to firefighters and fire departments. Our commitment to technological advancement is integral to our mission of saving lives and protecting communities.

Q. Describe Your Entrepreneurial Leadership Style.

As an entrepreneur, I have led effective teams through the years. As a leader, I possess the necessary skills, such as effective communication, teamwork, and decision-making. My leadership style is comparable to coaching. I have been a teacher in the initial phase of my career and I enjoy teaching & mentoring individuals who possess the necessary skills for the position but may lack confidence in specific areas. Over the years, I’ve observed that more confidence in a person’s talents leads to productive work habits and accomplished objectives.

Q. Can you share a success story or a particularly innovative product or solution that your company has introduced to the firefighting equipment market?

Manufacturing of Boom Towers under Make-in-India initiative. NewAge Fire Fighting Co. Ltd was the first Fire Truck manufacturer to introduce Boom Tower Fire Trucks to Indian customers. The range includes 12m, 15m, 18m, 20m, 23m and 28 meters. These towers are essential for effective firefighting in high rise buildings. By manufacturing them in India, NewAge provided a cost-effective import substitute thereby making it affordable for smaller fire brigades.

Q. As a third-generation entrepreneur, how do you maintain the core values and traditions of your family business while adapting to changing market trends?

Maintaining the core values and traditions of a family business while adapting to changing market trends is a delicate balancing act. There is a deep respect for the legacy established by my family. Our core values and traditions are the foundation of our business, and I understand their significance in shaping our identity and reputation.

  • Effective communication with family members and employees is vital. We invest in educating our employees about the history, values, and traditions of our family business. As a third-generation entrepreneur, I understand that adaptability is key. I encourage a culture of adaptability within our organisation, emphasising the importance of evolving with the market while staying true to our core values. Our core values include a strong commitment to customer satisfaction. We adapt to changing market trends by listening to our customers, understanding their evolving needs, and tailoring our products and services accordingly. We engage in strategic planning that considers market trends and long-term goals. We embrace diversity and inclusion as part of our core values. This not only reflects changing societal norms but also enhances our ability to adapt and innovate.

Q. How do you handle international competition and ensure that your firefighting equipment remains competitive in the global market?

Handling international competition and ensuring the competitiveness of your firefighting equipment in the global market requires a strategic and multifaceted approach. Market research, quality of products and the ability for customisation gives a competitive edge. Having local reach in the global market through distributors, representatives, or subsidiaries helps us to provide better customer support and build relationships. Competitive pricing and global supply chain are necessary aspects to remain sustainable in international markets.

By maintaining a proactive, customer-centric approach, we try to effectively handle international competition and ensure the competitiveness of our firefighting equipment in the global market.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those who may be considering joining a family business with a rich history?

  • My advice to them, based on my own experiences, is as follows:
  • – Take the time to thoroughly understand the history, values, and legacy of the family business. It’s essential to appreciate what makes the business unique and what has contributed to its success over the years.
  • – Embrace Continuity and Innovation, Finding a balance between tradition and innovation is key.
  • – Try to learn from Elders and also Seek Mentorship. Establishing Clear Roles and having open and transparent Communication is very important.
  • – Ensure that your decision to join the family business aligns with your passion and interests. The business landscape is constantly evolving. Be prepared to adapt, diversify, and explore new opportunities when necessary. Continuously invest in your education and skill development.
  • – Treat everyone with respect, and foster a positive and inclusive work environment. Entrepreneurship, especially within a family business, can be challenging. Stay committed to your goals, be patient, and remember that success often requires perseverance and resilience.

Ultimately, joining a family business with a rich history can be a rewarding and fulfilling journey. By respecting the past, embracing the present, and planning for the future, you can contribute to the continued success and growth of the business.

Q. In a male-dominated industry, have you encountered any specific gender-related challenges, and how have you navigated them?

I believe that challenges can arise in any industry, and the firefighting equipment manufacturing sector is no exception. While it’s true that it has traditionally been male-dominated, I have always focused on my passion for the business and my commitment to delivering high-quality products. I’ve found that by concentrating on our shared goals and objectives, I can work collaboratively in the industry, regardless of gender, to overcome any challenges that may arise.

Q. Can you share your perspective on the future of firefighting equipment manufacturing and any trends you anticipate in the industry?

The industry will continue to see advancements in materials and automation in manufacturing techniques, leading to advanced equipment. The integration of smart technology, AI and IoT (Internet of Things) capabilities into firefighting equipment will be a significant trend. This includes wearable devices, sensors, and real-time data transmission for enhanced safety and operational efficiency. Data-Driven Decision-Making will become more prevalent. Firefighting equipment will increasingly collect and analyse data to provide insights during firefighting operations. Predictive analytics will help firefighters anticipate fire behaviour and make informed decisions.

Manufacturers will focus on eco-friendly and sustainable materials and processes. There will be a growing emphasis on reducing the environmental impact of firefighting equipment production and disposal. Drones and robotic devices will play a larger role in firefighting, assisting in search and rescue operations, reconnaissance, and hazardous materials handling. Advanced training and VR / AR simulation tools will become more widespread, enabling firefighters to practise in realistic virtual environments and hone their skills. Research into alternative firefighting agents, such as environmentally friendly foam alternatives, will continue to reduce the environmental impact of firefighting efforts. As hybrid and electric vehicles become more common, specialised equipment for handling incidents involving these vehicles will be developed and refined.

Manufacturers will play a pivotal role in driving these advancements and ensuring that firefighters have access to the best possible equipment to carry out their life saving missions.

Q. Finally, what is your vision for the future of your company and the impact you hope to make in the field of fire safety and prevention?

My vision for the future of our company is rooted in our unwavering commitment to be a beacon of innovation, fire protection, and responsibility in the field of fire fighting. We aim to create a safer world by equipping firefighters with the most advanced tools, empowering communities with knowledge, and embracing sustainability in all our endeavours. Our ultimate goal is to save lives, protect property, and make a positive and lasting impact on fire safety worldwide.

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