a glass apart

January 22, 2018

Corning has made remarkable strides in the Indian market since the late 1980s. How critical is it, considering the high smartphone penetration in the country?

India is one of the fast-growing markets in the world driven by increasing penetration of technology, which in turn has spurred digitization. Additionally, the rising need for infrastructure is supported by a surge in investment by the government, private industry, and overseas investors. The country is indeed an important region for Corning and its growth. According to a recent report by Zenith, India is the second largest smartphone market in the world, with 1.17 billion mobile phone subscribers and 300 to 400 million smart phone users.2 Moreover, the Government of India recently launched the second and final phase of the BharatNet project in November with an outlay of $5bn. The telecom industry is in a consolidation phase and operators are now focusing more on service quality and network performance. This has led to a spurt in demand for optical fiber cables, which has more than doubled in the last five years in India.

This surge in the smartphone and internet usage gives our optical communications vertical as well as the Gorilla Glass business an opportunity to consistently innovate to enhance our offerings. As a result, it is important for Corning to lead the cover glass and telecommunications markets in the country while meeting the Indian consumers’ requirements.

How different is India compared to other developing markets you operate in?

Being one of the fastest developing markets puts India firmly on the map for expansion for many brands. The growing need for advanced infrastructure, a rapidly developing middle class, and increasing penetration of technological advances make the country a key market for Corning. The overall pattern of expansion of this market has continued to bring demand for many of our products that address the consumer electronics, telecommunications, automotive, and life sciences vessels sectors.

India is a key focus market for Corning, for all the businesses we operate in here. Due to an exponential increase in the smartphone user base in the country, the demand for Gorilla Glass is expected to increase in the coming years, especially in the value segment devices market. Moreover, with both state-owned and private carrier networks now focusing on strengthening the fiber networks across the country, there is an increase in the deployment of high fiber cables in anticipation of further explosion in bandwidth demand, which Corning is poised to cater to; thus giving a boost to our optical communications business.

As a dedicated partner to the Indian automotive industry by providing cutting-edge emissions control products and technologies, Corning is set to participate in India’s Clear Air initiative, which will see a further boost post the roll-out of BS VI norms in India by 2020. In addition, the Indian pharmaceutical market, which is expected to grow to US$ 100 billion by 2025, will lead to opportunities for Corning’s life sciences business to help researchers and drug manufacturers seek new approaches to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and compress timelines.

Corning’s capabilities are versatile and synergistic, and thus allows us to evolve to meet changing market needs, while also helping our customers capture new opportunities in dynamic industries. We are well engaged with different industry players and work closely with them on the challenges they face, and work towards providing solutions.

How do you foster an innovation-centric culture at Corning?

Innovation lies at the heart of everything we do, and it is our mission to solve tough problems faced by our partners across multiple industries. At Corning, we succeed in meeting these challenges head-on through sustained investment in research, development and engineering (RD&E)—a unique combination of material and process innovation and close collaboration with customers. Every year, we reinvest between 8% to 10% of our revenues in RD&E, which is significantly higher than our peers. We sustain this investment in good times and bad because we know that today’s investments create tomorrow’s growth drivers.

The company has a history of great contributions in science and technology—we are in fact, a four-time National Medal of Technology winner. Our talent pool has not only attracted and enabled the best scientific minds to become a part of Corning but has also brought life-changing innovation to your fingertips for over 166 years.

It is this same spirit of innovation that has enabled us to create new products and markets in India, to introduce new forms of organizational structure, and to seek new levels of employee participation.

How is your India strategy different from the global plan? What are the key aspects you take into account while designing a product for the Indian market?

Corning first began operations in India as a joint venture partner to manufacture glass tubes for black and white televisions. Over the years, we have established our presence as a market leader in telecommunications, life sciences, environmental technologies, and specialty materials. In our endeavor to develop our products and offerings to meet local requirements and current consumer trends, we locate our regional operations close to our customers. This helps us to work closely with them and better understand their requirements.

In addition, we collaborate with our partner OEMs and engage with their supply chain to deliver products that our consumers require. From catalytic converter substrates that help clean the air we breathe and life science technologies that assist in drug discovery, to optical fiber that will build the telecom infrastructure of the future and cover glass that will protect mobile devices from damage—we will continue to invest in the growth and development of India as one of our key markets.

The size, shape, and thickness of the glass used in smartphones is also a factor that contributes to the device design. How does Corning collaborate with manufacturers in this respect? Could you take us through the design process?

When working with our OEM clients, we try to understand whether the products we are providing match their consumers’ device requirements. Usually, a device manufacturer will have a road map that provides an idea of how they want to use glass in their product. Keeping this in mind, we undertake research to best understand these requirements and develop a product that matches the same.

In addition, in some cases we collaborate with the OEMs during the design process to understand their needs, and ensure that we keep the final device’s design at the center; thereby ensuring that our customers understand the trade-offs of the glass itself versus the design they are looking to create. We ensure that our customer is aware that maintaining the balance between the glass and the device’s design, especially the design of the glass itself, is extremely important with respect to how a product performs in the field.

In a recent interview to an Indian television channel, John Bayne, Vice President and General Manager, Corning Gorilla Glass spoke about how Gorilla Glass can be made available for a R5000 feature phone. Is this the next frontier for you and how do you plan to be available at all price points?

Corning Gorilla Glass has a suite of solutions and is not just limited to devices in the premium segment. From the flagship Gorilla Glass 5 to earlier generations such as Gorilla Glass 4 and 3, the brand has solutions for its customers across different price points and different segments. Therefore, we are able to provide cost-effective solutions across a range.

One of Corning’s trust areas has been quality, which often is at stake when one offers a wide spectrum of products/services. How would you define Corning’s quality paradigm?

With innovation being at the core of all that we do, we believe in maintaining the highest standards of quality. There are, four fundamental principles associated with our quality value. The first is to meet our customers’ requirements, while the second is striving for error-free work. The third stresses on the need to focus on design in quality while the fourth is to measure and improve performance. All of these principles together apply to the daily operations in our businesses across the globe, thereby lending uniformity.

How do you build brand awareness especially when your product is not chosen by the end user—for instance, in the case of smartphones the choice more or less lies with the manufacturer?

The growing demand for smartphones in India has seen an increasing number of brands across varying segments adopt Corning Gorilla Glass. Keeping this in mind, we have robust marketing plans across our various markets, including India. And while our focus is on developing and strengthening our B2B ecosystem, we understand that it is critical that we include the end users of our products alongside our OEM partners in our marketing campaign, as they are the main consumers. This outreach actually crosses over to the end consumer because
Corning Gorilla Glass as a brand is in a relatively unique situation where consumer awareness also drives OEM adoption. In fact, we use independent research in key markets to track consumer awareness on a monthly basis, and awareness about Corning Gorilla Glass as a brand among consumers is the highest in India as compared to most markets.

A great example of how we have built consumer brand awareness for Gorilla Glass is through a social media-centric global campaign that was launched this year— Corning Gorilla Glass: Incredibly Tough.  It is a marketing campaign that celebrates incredibly tough people doing incredibly tough things using incredibly tough devices. The campaign has featured some great stories from across the globe including India. In fact, one of the most widely watched videos from this campaign is the story that depicts the daily tough lives of Mumbai’s dabbawalas and how their smartphones are integral to their everyday routine.

Focus on R&D and innovation demands a lot of collaboration and constant upgrading of employee skills/knowledge. This places Corning on a track of continuous improvement and widening of the knowledge base. How do you achieve this with uniformity across a widely spread workforce?

Corning invests significantly in RD&E annually in order to continue innovating on a regular basis. We have a centralized R&D campus located near our headquarters in Corning, New York in addition to a global network of smaller laboratories throughout Asia and Europe including the Corning Research Center in India. These serve as important R&D resources for our local business and manufacturing operations and their customers. In addition, to this network of global Science & Technology (S&T) laboratories, many of our business divisions also have technology centers around the globe to support specific regional business innovation efforts.

Keeping in mind that we are working with a diverse customer base in varied markets, it is critical that we maintain a global standard of quality while meeting unique local requirements. While it is definitely a challenge, we ensure that our employees across different markets understand these varying requirements by taking advantage of our inclusive culture to solve problems. Our teams, regardless of location or language, collaborate and leverage diverse perspectives in this process; thereby allowing us to develop innovative solutions.

Our culture aims to create a caring and considerate work environment, offering empowerment, flexibility, collaboration, recognition, and respect. It is a culture of learning and innovation, where mentoring and being mentored go hand in hand.

“The more diverse the team, the better the output”— CEO Wendell Weeks had said in a 2015 Global Diversity Inclusion Annual Report. How does diversity aid growth?

We believe that our greatest strength lies in diversity—that of our products, businesses, and markets, which has allowed us to weather numerous challenges and succeed over the years. However, what makes Corning a brand to reckon with, is the diversity our people bring to the table, which is an integral part of our identity.

Diversity and inclusion are core to our belief in the fundamental dignity of ‘The Individual’—one of Corning’s seven core values. They are business imperatives that affect how we relate to and work with one another, our suppliers, and our customers. We understand that diversity of background helps us gain different viewpoints that further allows us to interpret and solve problems. By valuing and respecting the diversity that our people bring, we are able to leverage the talent and multitude of innovations they bring to the enterprise.

(As told to Ashutosh Gotad)

01 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/these-are-the-world-s-fastest-growing-economies-in-2017-2/

02 India to have 530M smartphone users in 2018: study