• True colours

    Kansai Plascon CEO, Prejay Lalla, on the company’s turnaround plan and its sustainability journey

    True colours

    Over the past decade, the need for businesses to motivate an eco-sustainable turnaround has become increasingly more pressing. Within this context, how to retain the ultimate goal of continuing to create added value across the entire spectrum of operations in a manner that is decisive and credible is likely the biggest challenge facing organisations today. For Kansai Plascon, a leading branded-paint manufacturer in South Africa, this journey has been one of the biggest, hardest and most successful strategies ever implemented in its 133-year history.

    ‘We found ourselves in the perfect storm,’ according to CEO Prejay Lalla, who was appointed in 2017. ‘We were losing market share, lacked differentiation, had a negative cashflow, and strategic partnerships were becoming strained. We had very high negatives including inventory levels and operating expenses, all exacerbated by ever-elevating interest payments and a rising cost base with no top-line growth,’ he says. ‘Our brand had the potential to erode among these strategic challenges.’

    A radical transformation was needed, and the Kansai Plascon executive applied itself with due care and commitment, achieving a 420% improvement in operating profits in the past three years.

    Some of the changes impacted manufacturing, sales, procurement, marketing, warehouse and logistics, and even included a renovation of the Plascon identity. Other transformations were financially based, such as the exit from low-profit market segments and the selling of non-performing businesses – all of which, says Lalla, were ‘re-engineered to create a profitable business’.

    The insight-driven transformation affected employees and consumers, but it built a solid foundation for future growth, and not just in SA but across the continent.

    Lalla explains that Kansai Plascon is very active in Africa, with a comprehensive network of facilities across the Southern, East and West regions. ‘We have multiple manufacturing plants and over 2 000 employees producing paints and coatings for decorative, industrial and automotive applications, with established supply-chain networks in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Eswatini, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria.’

    These operations were equally positively impacted by the Kansai Plascon transformation, inclusive of changes in manufacturing, new sales and operating forecasting processes, outsourcing the needs of warehouse and logistics, the consolidation and resizing of production facilities, and the re-engineering of the business to a fit-for-purpose structure.

    Parallel to this journey has been the integration of eco practices into the heart of the business. ‘We have adopted strict measures on all key environmental, social and governance issues, setting bold targets in order to reduce carbon emissions, electricity, water consumption and waste production,’ says Lalla. The business has also observed the move towards eco-active consumers and introduced a number of ‘green’ paint products that have been manufactured and packaged in a similarly eco-friendly manner.

    Kansai Plascon understands that consumers have expressed their will to commit to protecting the environment, but the struggle remains for them in putting their intentions into practice. Much of this intention is realised in consumers’ choice of which brand to buy, and which company to support and trust. Some market analysts predict that within the next few years, up to 40% of all consumers will be influenced to buy purely from an environmentally friendly angle.

    Kansai Plascon is ahead of this trend, which is typical of its ongoing, traditional and core emphasis on research and development. The use of technology, be it innovated or adopted, is a constant in the business. ‘In fact, the technology we create has often been replicated, which gives us great pride in knowing that we still lead in research and development,’ says Lalla.

    Case in point is the removal of harmful lead from paint, which Kansai Plascon did more than a decade ago. ‘We also recently removed alkylphenol ethoxylate [APEOs] – a harmful endocrine-disruptor to animals and humans – from our products,’ he says. The business has, in other words, environmentally optimised its products with vast advances in quality and concern for the well-being of the end consumer.

    The brand’s Double Velvet Pure now includes air-purifying technology, which transforms formaldehyde in the air into undetectable, harmless water vapour. Micatex has been enhanced with Weathertough technology for added protection against tough weather conditions and also contains Polycell Polyfilla fine-crack filler, which helps prevent water from entering cracks that can cause damp problems.

    Silver Protect technology, meanwhile, has been included in the Plascon Cashmere, Double Velvet Pure, and Kitchen and Bathroom ranges – which, beyond a durable finish, has additional benefits.

    Then there’s Plascon Nuroof Cool, which has been trademarked with Environshield, a formulation that has UV protection and infrared-reflective capabilities to minimise the impact of the sun’s heat on roofs. This means cooler roof surfaces that are proven to reduce temperatures internally by up to 8°C during summer. This obviously has cost savings for consumers, and furthers the global drive to reduce GHG emissions and advance climate change mitigation.

    Yet another reassuring trademark is that of Aquatough, which has transformed the popular Plascon Velvaglo non-drip enamel paint into a water-based product that is associated with faster drying times, lower associated costs and minimal impact to the health of the environment and consumers, given its non-toxic properties.

    One of the aspects considered most relevant to Kansai Plascon’s sustainability agenda is the combination of efficiency and eco in its production facilities that, for more than a decade, have included the recycling of waste at source, water harvesting, effluent reuse, and energy considerations and methods. ‘We’ve also introduced in-line dispersion equipment and robotics in our filling lines to increase production throughput. Our coating production has received significant upgrades in how we mix solid and liquid particles and minimise volatile organic compounds [VOCs] in coatings-paint production,’ says Lalla.

    ‘Our packaging carries the Ecokind Low-VOC and Breatheasy Technology logos to emphasise our commitment and responsibility to protect the environment.’ This concern has been extended to the premium-range plastic-bucket paint containers, which comprise 70% upcycled material, thereby reducing the amount of solid waste entering landfills and/or otherwise polluting the environment.

    These are transformations that not only meet and exceed the strict criteria laid down by the Green Building Council of South Africa’s Green Star-rating system, but also deepens the high performance standards that Kansai Plascon has been acknowledged for. It further makes a broad statement that the company is accounting to its stakeholders and customers for every choice it makes, be that in the new design and longevity of products right through to the reduction of energy and waste and environmental efficiency of operations.

    ‘Marketing, which is supported by our research and development team, has played a major role in developing new products and our business being able to play a leadership role across the continent when it comes to consumer-centricity,’ says Lalla. ‘We are currently developing a customer-centric operating model that will have a dedicated focus on increasing sales in the decorative, performance-coatings and industrial markets in South Africa.

    ‘We’re going to saturate the African market with new business in existing markets and expand into new export territories. We’ll have a strong focus on Africa’s growing middle class, which is the final frontier, together with grounded operations in strategic zones, as well as distributors in surrounding markets. We believe we are ready to better serve these markets and ensure there is a Plascon product for every project.’

    Kansai Plascon is proving that corporate sustainability underscored by strong eco-friendly transformation is possible. ‘We have demonstrated that we are a resilient organisation connected by one purpose – to transform valued assets into lasting legacies that will endure and remain timeless,’ says Lalla.

    ‘The company has, through this journey, become agile, dynamic, determined, ever-changing, optimistic, expansive and passionate. The outcome is a reinvented Plascon – one that brings together beauty, science and innovation together to create value in everyday life.’

    By Kerry Dimmer
    Image: Marc Shoul