Rohit Saboo: Propelling Innovation in Manufacturing to Deliver Quality Products and Services

Founded in 1946, National Engineering Industries Ltd. (NEI) is India’s leading bearings manufacturer and exporter, renowned for excellence in quality and delivery. Headquartered in Jaipur, NEI is an integral part of the US$2.4 billion CK Birla Group. Having started with 30,000 bearings in 19 sizes in 1946, the company has evolved into manufacturing over 200 million bearings each year in more than 1450 sizes to serve a host of customers across India, with footprints in 30 other countries across five continents. An impressive base of customers from the US, Germany, Brazil, Japan, and Australia have entrusted NEI with their critical product requirements. The company also serves the Indian aftermarket through a countrywide network of 550 authorized stockists. With an employee strength of over 2,800 and five manufacturing plants in Jaipur, Newai (Rajasthan), Manesar (Haryana), and Vadodara (Gujarat), NEI is equipped with the global manufacturing and process technology, with one of the best R&D centers in the country. NEI also acquired Kinex, a European bearing manufacturer, in early 2020 


A Veteran Business Leader 

Rohit Saboo is the President and CEO of NEI. He has been associated with the company for over 25 years. Rohit started his career as the Executive Assistant to Chairman Mr. C.K. Birla, where he learned about different aspects of management. Later on, he managed the R&D and manufacturing functions of NEI for around eight years before taking on the position of President & CEO in 2008. During this tenure, NEI has grown consistently and highest amongst its peers. The growth has not just been only in terms of turnover, but also in the number of bearings the company manufactures as well as customers it now serves. Rohit says the company’s exports have also grown significantly with an international customer base comprising of world leaders in their segments. 

Rohit holds a BE and MBA degree from Rochester, NY. He has also been certified under the Columbia Senior Executive Program from Columbia University. 


Leading the Industry Niche with Dynamic Portfolios 

NEI takes pride in its ‘Made in India’ credentials. This is the first bearing manufacturing company in India that has grown its range and reach substantially in around 75 years of its progress. NEI was formed by Mr. B.M. Birla with the vision of a self-reliant India by making bearings for the Indian industries. Now, the company is not only a supplier for Indian automotive, railways, and industrial segment but is also a leading exporter of bearings supplying to over 30 countries around the world. 

NEI works with the best to deliver international quality products providing value to its customers. The company has won several quality awards, some of the significant being the Grand Deming Prize, becoming the only bearing manufacturer in the world to get this coveted award. 

NEI also has a large R&D setup in India with testing and validation facilities comparable to the best in the world. This helps the company to develop products specific to individual customers. In addition to this, the company has one of the largest product portfolios manufactured in the country. Its products keep evolving, depending on the needs of its customers. For example, NEI added needle bearings to its portfolio this year as its customers wanted the company to supply them with a complete offering for the automotive sector. 

Similarly, NEI has a significant share of business with Indian Railways. The company has been its partner for over 45 years, developing quality products to meet their changing requirements. 


Evolving Roles of New-Age Technologies 

Speaking on disruptive technologies, Rohit says, factories of today are digitized and connected where machines can self-optimize and improve processes. The benefits are not limited to just manufacturing but also help all other processes, whether it is supply chain planning, finance, sales, or product development, and others. It is an integration of production, information, and communication technologies across the entire value chain. NEI already has its machines connected in its factories and is working towards data analytics to make the processes faster and lean. The focus is to reduce time and increase productivity with a continued emphasis on quality. This ensures that the company produces the best quality products to its customers in time of their needs. 

Further, Rohit enlightens that leaders of today have to be up-to-date on market scenario and the technologies that are rapidly changing. Since there is so much of information overload, it is important to cut through the clutter and focus on the priorities, communicating them swiftly to the stakeholders. 


Radiating Innovative Leadership Attributes 

Rohit contemplates the world is changing so rapidly; innovation is needed at all levels to be competitive and grow the organization. There are several dimensions to innovation leadership. Innovation is not only about developing new products but also bringing new ways of doing ordinary things so that there is an improvement in productivity and customer service.  

He believes openness is key to innovation. “At NBC, we have an idea portal where we encourage all employees to submit new ideas. These can be about anything – processes, products, or work environment. Our leadership team is completely open to exploring ideas. This openness to new ideas helps create an innovative climate in the organization. We also hold a competition for young aspiring engineers called ‘Idea Factory,’ where we encourage these young minds to contribute innovative ideas that can help industries,” Rohit mentioned. 


Valuing People and Culture to Succeed 

According to Rohit, the initial phase in the company was challenging as he could not relate to the culture. “I realized quite early that if we have to be successful in the future, the culture of the company has to be contemporary and people-oriented. People need to enjoy working here so that they give the best output,” he explained.  


Extraordinary Achievements That Inspire Others 

Rohit’s journey from the Executive Assistant of Mr. CK Birla to the CEO of NBC has been very eventful. Over four years that he had the honour of working closely with Mr. Birla was the best learning opportunity. Rohit says, Mr. Birla involved him directly in some very prestigious projects that helped him learn about different aspects of the business. This also allowed him to understand Mr. Birla’s leadership style, which influenced and played a big part in how he evolved as a leader. 

As part of the management journey, there have been many failures and some successes. All failures were great learning opportunities that have molded Rohit to the person he is today. 

The greatest lesson he has learned is that “It is all about people.” Rohit tried to ensure that there were right people at the right place to ensure that he gets time to see the bigger picture and executes medium to long term strategies. 

According to Rohit, other key attributes that have shaped him as a successful leader are emotional stability and risk tolerance. While innovating, it is not always that things will work right the first time. One should be positive and keep a motivating environment in the workplace. 


Envisaging the Future Business 

Although COVID has slightly slowed down the pace of industry temporarily, Rohit is confident that NEI will bounce back rapidly. The company has aggressive growth plans, both organically and inorganically, and is also planning to double its turnover by 2025. 

Organically, NEI will keep expanding its portfolio based on the evolving landscape and needs of its customers. This year, the company has invested in new lines to manufacture needle bearings – a requirement from its customers.  

According to Rohit, in the coming period, NEI will complete a lot of its R&D projects. The company will be introducing more bearings for Electric Vehicles along with smart sensorised bearings and high-speed bearings to the market. NEI’s industrial range of bearings is being enhanced with spherical and cylindrical bearings. The company has been working with Indian Railways for many decades now and will continue to work with them to support their future expansion. NEI is also actively exploring aerospace, defense, space exploration, and other sectors to grow. The company has launched services like condition-based monitoring, bearing training, etc. to add another revenue stream to its mix.   

Apart from the activities NEI is doing in India; it will continue to expand its presence in international markets. The company has customers in over 30 countries and a good relationship with OEMs across the US and Europe. The recent acquisition of Kinex will also boost up NEI’s reach in the international markets as well as in the segments the company was earlier not very active, including the aerospace and textile. NEI will also continue to look for M&A opportunities to fuel its growth.