Malayali knits success in linen, leads WFB Baird's textile revolution in India

KOCHI: Established in Ireland in 1912, WFB Baird and Company Ltd emerged as a titan in the textile manufacturer on the global stage. Embarking on a bold venture in 2005, Baird set its sights on the bustling markets of India, choosing Kochi as its base. The subsequent years were a period of much transformation and adaptation, culminating in the early 2010s with a complete localisation of its operations and leadership.

Malayali knits success in linenThis new chapter of WFB Baird and Company Ltd in India was marked by an unprecedented move: the appointment of a woman with no background in textiles as its CEO. Armed with a resolute spirit and a knack for steering large enterprises, Suchitra Menon shattered expectations. I’m a chartered accountant,” Suchitra reveals. “Before 2011, the thought of leading a textile company was alien to me. My world was numbers, not fabrics.

Yet, her ascension to CEO in 2013, after joining the firm in 2011, is proof that nothing can stop a person who is talented and committed to hard work and enterprise. Today, she stands as the longest-tenured Indian CEO of Baird’s India operations.

Suchitra’s journey at Baird began at the helm of finance. “Though I’m from Kozhikode, I have been working in Kochi for the past 21 years. Before joining Baird, I worked as the head of the corporate finance of Harrisons Malayalam Ltd from 2005 to 2011,” adds Suchitra.

On how she landed up with the Baird job offer, she says, “I came across the job opening here and decided to try it out. The job was interesting and the fact that this is a different sector was the icing on the cake for me.

It wasn’t long before she ventured beyond finance, propelled by the company chairman to dive into the sales department. Despite initial reluctance, Suchitra discovered a passion for the product and the market. “Linen epitomises sustainability. It’s a natural, premium, summer fabric that resonated with me,” she explains. Her sales experience proved enriching, opening new vistas in the domestic market and beyond.

Suchitra’s rise to CEO marked a significant transition for Baird in India, moving towards an entirely Indian-managed team at the Cochin Special Economic Zone.The journey was fraught with challenges, from overcoming industry biases to mastering the textile trade. “Various facts played against me. First, I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry. Second, I come from a non-technical background and was not from a textile family. So initially, dealing with the men in the factory was difficult. They were reluctant with me at first. However, I was able to break the ice in a year or two,” she says, adding what kept her moving was the strong support she received from the women in the company.

Under her leadership, Baird has fostered a culture of freedom and inclusivity, celebrating the contributions of women with policies like extended maternity leave. Her decision to join Baird, driven by a fascination with fabric and fashion, has seen the company’s Indian chapter shine at prestigious events like the Lakme Fashion Week.

With operations spanning Ireland, India, and Poland, WFB Baird & Co. Ltd continues to supply exquisite Irish Linen to the creme de la creme of designers, brands, and retailers across the globe.