Like many small business stories, the story of Turbocam India involves the spark of opportunity, mixed in with a great deal of perseverance and one or two major breakthroughs that have set the course of the company. But perhaps the most important ingredient of all has been a firmly held belief from its inception that Turbocam was to be a ‘Kingdom company’, existing as a business for the purpose of honouring God.
Turbocam International was founded by Indian Marian Noronha in New Hampshire, USA in 1985. Turbocam’s core business revolves around manufacturing specialised machine parts for turbines and turbochargers, using sophisticated software to machine very high-precision, delicately balanced parts. Right from its earliest days Marian envisioned the company would be used in the service of God. The ideas of creating jobs and generating wealth, supporting Christian service and manufacturing high quality turbo machinery products have all been integral to the mission of the company from the beginning.
One day in 1984, Marian and his American wife, Suzie, were walking the streets of Bombay and heard singing. They liked what they heard and went in to what turned out to be a small church led by British-born Duncan Watkinson and his Indian wife, Vasanti. Having cross-cultural marriage in common, the couples struck up an immediate friendship that would later lead to business partnership.
In May 1989, Marian invited Duncan to consider using his background in engineering to take on the establishment of Turbocam in India. Marian was looking for an opportunity to expand Turbocam operations outside the USA and into his native India. Coupled with this was a mutual desire to provide greater stability for Duncan and Vasanti’s work amongst churches and helping the poor.
The invitation was accepted and Turbocam India Pvt. Ltd. was established later that year. As Managing Director, Duncan’s role has been to oversee the company operations from his office, originally in Bombay and for the last 13 years in Bangalore. The manufacturing plant, located in Goa, has been from the earliest days overseen by trusted General Manager, Savio Carvalho.
Marian’s stance on corruption has always been firm and this has radically shaped the values and practices of the company. Marian was clear at the time of launching, ‘We can start Turbocam in India only if we never pay a bribe’. As a result of this stand, the company has on many occasions lost a great deal of time, and sometimes money and business too. The early years of the company were particularly frustrating as it took four years to acquire the necessary permits to import their first milling machine.
The company was founded in the early days of economic liberalisation in India and at that time the context for business was rapidly changing. The team would fill in all the necessary forms for their import permits and within weeks the forms would all be changed and another set required. They were harassed on all sides with demands for bribes to speed up the permit process but consistently refused to pay.
Turbocam manufactures turbine parts using a precision engineering technique called 5-axis machining. The 5-axis technique uses computer-controlled milling machines that move and tilt both the part being cut and the cutting tool itself on 5 different axes. This level of precision enables the machining of very intricate shapes and the machines required are extremely complex, involving delicate mechanical and electrical components.
In 1993, a full four years after founding, Turbocam India finally had all the paperwork it needed to import its first 5-axis machine. Upon its arrival in India, the machine was then held up in Customs at Bombay Airport with its delicate components exposed to the elements. Knowing the machine would likely be ruined by the humid climate, Duncan felt under pressure by demands to ‘oil the wheels’ of Bombay Customs with the payment of a bribe. One night, as things were coming to a head and the way forward did not seem obvious, Duncan’s wife encouraged him, ‘Why don’t you ask the Lord what you should do?’ Opening the Bible to his daily reading for that day, Duncan was quite sure that he had his answer when he read the words of Job 15 verse 34; ‘For the company of the godless will be barren, and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes.’ So the company stood firm on their core value of not paying bribes and waited for 3 months before their machine was released.
Sure enough, the first machine was irrevocably damaged by its sojourn in Customs and kept breaking down. Savio recalls, ‘If the machine came on at all, it was a good day!’ Eventually Turbocam India decided to add a second machine; they had learned to avoid importing through Bombay Customs and the machine was shipped through Mormugao Port in Goa.
Now the manufacturing of turbine parts could finally begin in earnest. Over the next six years or so, the company grew, but slowly. As Duncan puts it, ‘Turbocam India was just a tiny company, we were operating hand to mouth for many years. But God has a way of working when we are faithful’.
In 2000, Turbocam India received what Duncan calls its ‘transformative order’. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva ordered a high precision part for the insulator segment of its electromagnets. This sale alone was worth £1 million (approximately 1.5 million US Dollars) over 3 years.
Since 2000 sales have continued to grow exponentially. In 2005 another breakthrough came when the company started to produce nozzle rings for turbochargers. This has turned out to be an amazing growth industry which hadn’t existed 10 years previously.
Turbocam has steadily increased efficiency and is renowned in the industry for producing extremely high quality parts that are machined so precisely that they often require no corrective balancing or hand-finishing. The manufacturing operation in Goa now has 25 milling centres, 120 employees and is ISO 9001 certified. Their business ranges from prototyping and small batch production for high-end jobs to large volume orders for turbo machinery parts. The Goa plant produces on average 14,000 nozzle rings per month for turbochargers as well as a variety of impellers and blades for gas and steam turbines. Such parts require very challenging production techniques, with high value added in the process. These parts generate over 6 million US Dollars worth of sales each year for Turbocam India.
A Business as Mission Company
Turbocam International was founded with the vision of being a Kingdom company. Their mission statement reads as follows:
Turbocam exists as a business for the purpose of honoring God, creating wealth for its employees, and supporting Christian service to God and people.
Turbocam seeks to accomplish this purpose by achieving excellence in the manufacturing of turbomachinery parts by 5-axis machining and related technologies and satisfying the needs of our customers for Quality, Price, Delivery, and Service.
As we interact with our customers, suppliers, and employees we hold ourselves accountable to God’s law expressed in the Bible. We are committed to integrity in our business and personal relationships.
Duncan describes founder Marian as a ‘Kingdom man’ and himself as always having had a focus on mission and ministry. ‘With two mission-orientated men at the helm, Turbocam India was never going to be just about making money, it was always going to exist for the sake of missions’, says Duncan. However he adds, ‘The integration of mission with the business has been a work in progress’.
In the early days, Duncan primarily considered his role in Turbocam as a way to enhance his ministry outside the company. Although he wrote in a letter to Marian, as early as 1984, ‘the Kingdom needs business people, as well as church leaders’, the initial focus was mostly on business activities on the one hand, supporting church and mercy work on the other.
This vital activity of supporting ministries through financial support or offering skills has been part of company life from early on. Turbocam is directly involved in several projects and encourages employees to spend time ‘on-site’ contributing their skills and expertise. Marian explains, ‘As a company we are in a position to leverage our knowledge and experience. We can give financially to needs, but we can also find many ways to help practically. In Pune we have been able to give technical expertise, management advice and investment to a valve company that employs the leprosy-affected.’
Turbocam has helped the poor and needy in India and Nepal by installing safe water systems in orphanages and schools, sponsoring nurses training, providing a livelihood for freed slaves, and making micro-loans available in slum communities.
More recently Turbocam has begun to actively encourage and train others with the aim of multiplying Kingdom businesses. Under Duncan’s leadership Turbocam India started a Kingdom Enterprise Training program about 3 years ago. This is a 3 month residential training program based in Bangalore that runs twice each year. The 4 or 5 young entrepreneurs in each cohort are mentored in Godly character and business skills so that they will be equipped to bring Kingdom values into their business life.
Duncan shares that their understanding of what it means to do business as mission has been developing and expanding. ‘I used to be very Church-centric as I thought about ministry’, he shares, ‘But about 10 years ago I realised that it really is ultimately all about the Kingdom of God coming. If you make the Kingdom your ultimate goal, then there is something for everyone to do and business in itself is a key part of that’.
The leaders of Turbocam believe that producing excellent products, working with diligence and integrity, caring for their employees, generating wealth and creating jobs are essential facets of its Kingdom-building mission in the world, as well as the company’s work amongst the poor and needy.
The Power of a Story
After 25 years of never paying a bribe, Turbocam is becoming a catalyst for others in the fight against corruption. Many people have said it is impossible to do what they have done and yet they are still doing it. Just a few years ago they had to wait for 16 different permits to set up a new factory on land in Goa and despite the extra costs incurred they stood firm in their convictions to never pay a bribe. Now they are having a ripple effect as they share their story. Their company history has earned them a voice in the public square and they are using it.
Corruption is one of the hottest topics for debate in Indian society, with sporadic nationwide protests and Anti-corruption Legislation consistently stalled in the Indian political process. In this climate, those in the company have been able to share the Turbocam story and it has opened doors to be able to influence in the public arena. The Times of India newspaper ran a couple of features on Turbocam’s no bribe policy and back in Goa, Savio noticed the after-effects of those articles when the President of the industrial estate where the Turbocam plant is located forwarded copies to all the other businesses in the estate saying, ‘This is one of our own, now we need to act like this as a group!’ Both Duncan and Marian have received a prestigious “Karmaveer Puraskaar” the Global Awards for Citizen Action and Social Justice. Turbocam sponsors the work of the India No Bribe Coalition (INBC).
Hands on experience of applying biblical principles in the business world and a consistent track record is certainly what the Turbocam team have in abundance. They have started with an opportunity, a great deal of perseverance, some breakthroughs and an unwavering commitment to be a Kingdom-minded company. This business as mission company will continue to make an impact through their excellent products, through their generosity, through their commitment to encourage others and through the story of God’s faithfulness to them as they have taken a stand for integrity.
Jo Plummer is the Editor of the Business as Mission website, with thanks to Marian, Duncan, Daniel and Savio.
To find out more about Turbocam, please visit their website. You can read more about Turbocam’s work with the poor around the world and the Indian No Bribe Coalition. Turbocam works through The SPAN Trust to serve the poor and needy.
This story was first published on The BAM Review in February 2015.