The first machine that Mahendra Patel shows is one that can turn out up to 400 bags a minute. “We assemble the components fully painted – and there is no smell of paint, because our Epocoat painting system is ecofriendly,” says the founder-chairman and managing director of the bag-making machinery manufacturing Mamata group that he has built up over three decades to a R1400-crore conglomerate of eight companies.
“There were just the two of us when we started in 1985,” says joint managing director C.B. Patel – who is not related to the chairman. “We had a small office, and a small factory.” Those small premises have since grown to a 400,000-sq ft sprawl of manufacturing units with in-house electronic department and paint shop and a capacity to make over 250 machines a year, spawned through organic growth as well as joint ventures with global specialists in packaging machinery.
One of those was with the Canada- based Brampton Engineering, the owner of which cb met accidentally at an exhibition abroad. “He wanted to come to India, so we decided to sign an agreement,” he recalls. “But I could not go to Brampton as I didn’t have a Canadian visa – so we signed the papers for Mamata Brampton Engineering Company at Baltimore airport in the US !”
Mamata also has two facilities in the US : a pre-sales and after-sales service centre for bag and pouch machines in Montgomery, Illinois, and a design and manufacturing unit in Bradenton, Florida, where it makes horizontal form, fill and seal pouching machines as well as multi-lane sachet packaging machines. Both locations are also showrooms for north, central and South America.
Mahendra Patel is particularly proud of the fact that flagship company Mamata Machinery is the first in the world to remove 90 per cent of all mechanical components in its machines, developing its own stepper motor with a macro controller. This, he explains, does away with the clutch and machine that have traditionally been part of every motor.
Another machine, he explains, is meant to make the plastic bags in which non-food merchandise is packed – like diapers and shirts. These items are filled manually, which allows the bags themselves to be turned out at higher speeds. The regular machines for food items go to a variety of customers like Haldiram, Balaji, Real, Patanjali, Wagh Bakri and Chitale. The plant also makes a range of sachet machines for GS K, Hindustan Unilever and others. “This is a hydrotropic product, so sealing is very important,” he points out. And in keeping with increasing awareness of the ecological damage that single-use plastic does, Mamata is now using recyclable material, not PET – and even this has good printability, he adds.
Patel: Mamata Machinery stands by its machine fully
With another group company, Mamata Energy, working in solar energy – another of Mahendra Patel’s passions for the past 25 years – the entire lighting and air-conditioning for the factory and office are taken care of through this. “We are now conducting validation tests for field use, and may commercialise our operations,” he says.
The group’s name is a combination of the founder’s family’s names: the first two letters from his own, Mahendra, the rest from son Manish and daughter Tarana. His wife Naina doesn’t figure in it because she is the one who coined it, he grins. A 1974 Masters in industrial engineering and administration from Cranfield University, he had learnt his fundamentals earlier, when he worked for 10 years from the age of 16 at R.H. Windsor, a manufacturer of injection moulding machines, blown film extrusion lines and pipe extrusion lines in its Bombay factory.
“My father N.K. Patel, who was known as ‘the father of plastics in India’, was heading Windsor right from its establishment in 1962 and through its takeover by Klockner and then by Deepak Piramal’s dgp, but he had to borrow money to pay for my tickets,” he says. “When I went to Cranfield, I apprenticed with the company’s British collaborator to earn my own way there.” But he was very clear that whatever he did in life, he would do it for his own country. So he came straight back after his degree – and joined Windsor again, working under the industrial engineering manager.
“After a year, I realised that everyone knew me only as the boss’ son and I had no identity of my own,” Patel says. “I quit the job and left Bombay, mainly because I wanted to start my own factory but couldn’t get an industrial licence around the city.” Neighbouring Gujarat had just announced a new industrial policy, so he decided to move to Ahmedabad – which held an emotional appeal for him, too.
Beginning business in 1977, he and C.B. Patel set up Patel Filters and signed a 49:51 joint-venture deal with epc (engineering, procurement, and construction) company Hindustan Dorr-Oliver (hdo). “We were their manufacturing arm, making machines exclusively for them,” he says. “We got to work with fertiliser, paper and sugar units all over the country, and got a very large footprint.” Seven years later, Dubai-based businessman M.R. Chhabria acquired hdo’s foreign parent, and bought out the Patels the following year.
Mahendra Patel moved out of the first company he had founded, and set up Patel Machinery on land he had bought in the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation area along with the plot for Patel Filters. Experienced in designing many special-purpose machines for Windsor as well as his own company, he decided to stick to his passion for machine design. “We began doing job work for Windsor and others, but that was no fun – it was not what I wanted to do,” he says.
Peter Windsor, who was his legal guardian when he was at university, sent him and his wife to Dusseldorf to meet a senior director of Klockner. “He took us to his weekend cottage and made me an offer: to join them for expansion in India, because he felt I could help take the company from R10 crore to R100 crore in five years,” Patel says. “My only conditions were that I wouldn’t report to my father, though he was md and my best friend, and that I would stay in Ahmedabad. Everyone agreed, and I built a second factory at Vatva nearby in 1985. This was an opportunity to give free rein to my design thinking:
I developed a small extrusion machine, and we started making these, fully designed and developed in India. My father knew R.D. Aga of Thermax very well, and we exported Windsor’s injection moulding machines to the erstwhile USSR through the Pune company, because it had a balance of rupees with that country.” He took the company to the targeted R100 crore in 1990 and quit.
Mamata continued to grow, with new manufacturing plants and companies, to keep pace with the changing and growing needs. “We were luckily in the right place at the right time,” he says.
Continuing to grow globally, too, Mamata set up its Chicago factory in 2005 to take and finish India-made machines for local needs. “We sent 250 machines from here last year, and are all set to increase this number in the current year,” adds C.B. Patel. “More than 50 of these were directly to the end customer.” Another seven years later came an opportunity to make packaging machines at Sarasota in Florida, but a takeover deal with Klockner Bartell fell through and Mamata set up its own factory in Bradenton, about 20 km away.
“Mahendra Patel is a respected person in the industry,” says S.V. Joshi, founder-chairman, Nichrome, a Punebased packaging machines manufacturer. “Our verticals are different. We never looked at M amata as our competitors.” The larger company had, in fact, contacted Joshi with a takeover proposal – which he declined because his son-in-law Harish Joshi, who had taken over the reins of Nichrome, had just died and “we had suddenly slipped down on our management bandwidth”, he adds.
Mahendra Patel’s management style is to interact freely with his employees at all levels, which keeps morale in the organisation high. Says Shirish V. Divgi, managing director of Mitcron Engineering, who was the group company’s first employee and has been there since 1995, along with five others who joined at the same time: “We get respect and the freedom to do what we want and grow.” While Desai has worked with N.K. Patel, too, all the ceos of the group companies are similar, know one another and have worked together for many years. “We are one big family!” he says – a family that continues to grow.