More Than Just a Business: The Story Behind a 60+ Years Legacy

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Like a firefighter stepping into a blazing inferno, Sujal Shah embraced the challenge of joining her family’s six-decade-old fire equipment manufacturing business. The heat of responsibility was undeniable, but the onus to carry on the legacy ignited a fire in her belly. Industrial Safety Review took off time to hear her story – a tale of navigating opportunity and legacy in the firefighting equipment industry. Excerpts:

Q. Please give a brief overview of your background and explain your decision to become involved in the family business.

I am Sujal Shah, one of the third generation entrepreneurs at the NewAge Fire Fighting Co Ltd., a company that had started its journey in 1961. More than just expanding its product range and ventures, NewAge’s third generation remains steadfast in upholding the company’s founding principle: unwavering social responsibility. This journey began with crafting simple hydrant valves, but has since branched out to encompass over 300 products and even fire vehicles.
With NewAge facing a critical juncture in 2010, family ties proved stronger than ever. My IT and MBA background might not have screamed “factory floor,” but my family, deeply entrenched in the production heart of the business, knew my potential. It was a call of duty, a chance to lend a hand to the legacy they’d built, and I jumped in. Every day since then has been a testament to the power of family and the unexpected turns that lead to the most fulfilling experiences. With every sunrise, NewAge rewarded me with lessons learned, challenges met, and a sense of belonging unparalleled. Looking back, it’s not just the business that thrives; it’s the unexpected joy I found within its precincts.

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 on 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 recently awarded the NAVRATNA AWARD by Indian Plumbing Association. Please tell us something about the same as well as your active role with other associations.

I am an active member of Indian Plumbing Association (IPA) and also the National Convenor of IPA Neerathon, which is an initiative of IPA for the mass awareness of water conservation. IPA NEERATHON is a WATER AWARENESS FESTIVAL, which is a Run For Water marathon. We successfully concluded IPA Neerathon at Bangalore in April 2023, Chennai in September 2023 and Ahmedabad in October 2023. We have the next edition of IPA Neerathon scheduled in Delhi on 4th February, 2023 followed by Mumbai in the upcoming months. I was recently conferred with the NAVRATNA AWARD of IPA in recognition of my achievements during the Indian Plumbing Conference at Ahmedabad on 21st December, 2023.
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 training to achieve the objectives of women safety.
At ISHRAE, I am Advocacy Chair of ISHRAE Pune Chapter.  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’s goals is to give back to society and make a difference.

Q. Could you describe some of the key challenges you 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?

We prioritize the safety and quality of our firefighting equipment through a comprehensive approach, including adherence to regulatory standards like NFPA, ISI, FM, BSI, and UL. Our dedicated quality assurance team enforces standards throughout manufacturing, and employees undergo continuous training. Rigorous testing protocols, supplier audits, and feedback from users contribute to our commitment to exceeding safety standards. Our research and development focus on innovation, and a robust quality management system ensures consistency and traceability in manufacturing processes. This unwavering commitment is crucial, as it directly impacts the lives of firefighters and the effectiveness of firefighting operations.

Q. In the dynamic landscape of technology, how do you ensure that you remain current and integrate the latest innovations into your range of products?

Integrating technological advancements into our firefighting equipment is a core element of our business strategy. To stay abreast of the latest technology trends and incorporate innovations into our product lineup, we employ methods such as market intelligence, research and development (R&D), prototyping and testing, customer feedback, and collaborative partnerships. Our agile approach to product development allows us to swiftly adapt to technological shifts and changes in the market. These practices ensure that our firefighting equipment remain at the forefront of technological innovation, providing heightened safety and performance for firefighters and fire departments. Our unwavering commitment to technological progress is intrinsic to our mission of preserving lives and safeguarding communities.

Q. May we have some insights into your entrepreneurial leadership style?

Throughout my years as an entrepreneur, I’ve consistently led teams to success by fostering a culture of open communication, collaborative decision-making, and continuous learning. My coaching style, honed by my early teaching experience, thrives on guiding individuals who demonstrate the potential but need a confidence boost. Witnessing their transformation through focused mentoring and seeing them flourish in their roles is a true reward. My conviction is unwavering: empowered individuals with strong self-belief translate into productive teams and impactful results.

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 is a glittering example. NewAge Fire Fighting Co. Ltd was the first Fire Truck manufacturer to introduce Boom Tower Fire Trucks to Indian customers. The range includes 12, 15, 18, 20, 23 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 to smaller fire brigades. NewAge will soon also start supplying the Air Crash Tenders, which are ‘Made in India’.

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 the key. I encourage a culture of adaptability within our organisation, emphasizing 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 ever-changing 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 manage global competition and maintain the competitiveness of your firefighting equipment on an international scale?

Effectively managing international competition and sustaining the competitiveness of your firefighting equipment globally demands a strategic and versatile strategy. Achieving a competitive edge involves thorough market research, product quality, and customization capabilities. Establishing a local presence through distributors, representatives, or subsidiaries enhances customer support and relationship-building, while competitive pricing and a robust global supply chain are essential for long-term sustainability. Through a proactive and customer-centric approach, we aim to adeptly navigate international competition and uphold the competitiveness of our firefighting equipment on the global stage.

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 your 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 the 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. Can you share your perspective on the future of firefighting equipment manufacturing and the 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 your company and the impact you hope to make in the field of fire safety and prevention?

My vision for 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.