“Empowering employees to become problem-solvers”: interview with Sanchay Roy, General Manager Manufacturing at Shell Lubricants 

“In any industry, the workforce is fundamental to its success,” asserts Sanchay Roy, General Manager Manufacturing, Quality, and Engineering at Shell Lubricants. He emphasizes that effective leadership entails enabling colleagues to develop innovative, targeted strategies that align with current needs and circumstances. This is particularly crucial in a multinational, publicly traded corporation like Shell, whose scale can be compared to that of a small country and demands capable governance. 

Sanchay was keynote speaker in the most recent of 2024 Vision Dinners organized as part of the Smart Industry Network Netherlands. In the historic location of Slot Loevestein, a group of twenty prominent leaders from pioneering companies in the smart industry and manufacturing businesses from large companies came together for an inspiring Vision Dinner. For this occasion, we spoke with Sanchay about how he grew his vision of operational excellence, fostering a culture of change, and the goals he aims to reach during his career at Shell. 

Operational excellence as a common theme in Sanchay’s career 

Sanchay has been with Shell for nine years and with Lubricants business for 2 years. In his current role, he oversees manufacturing excellence, engineering, quality, and digital supply chain. Shell has consistently secured the top position as the global lubricant’s supplier for 17 consecutive years. The Shell Lubricants business has a global supply chain and a manufacturing footprint comprising of 31 blending plants, 4 base oil plants, 7 grease plants, and 6 base oil storage hubs. Striving for excellence is engrained in Sanchay’s day-to-day work, exemplified by Shell Lubricants’ partnerships with prestigious racing events such as Formula 1, a fact proudly showcased on his LinkedIn profile. 

Sanchay, born and raised in India, started his career in his home country working for General Electric. He soon expanded his expertise to Europe to continue his career for GE, focusing mostly on the automotive and appliance industries. After working in the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK, he settled in the Netherlands and in 2007 made the move to the Dutch company Philips. His tenure at Philips culminated in the revitalization and elevation of a key supply chain segment to peak performance. What Sanchay takes from his time at Philips, is the strategic know-how and experience on how to turn company vision into profitable results. In the pursuit of achieving operational excellence, being able to understand the talk of the boardroom as well as the talk of the operational ground is crucial. 

Operationalising Shell’s strategy into everyday action 

For more than a century, Shell has been actively engaged in the lubricants industry, establishing a notable presence in domains such as the automotive sector, industrial applications, and a key OEM supplier for iconic brands.. Over the years, Shell Lubricants has been a key supplier to companies in the automotive sector driven by quality and technology leadership. However, with the global transition to electric vehicles, the demand for lubricants is changing. Sanchay underscores the need to simultaneously attend to the needs of customers and the workforce during such transitional phases. “I believe that by partnering with our customers, we can reinvent ourselves in order to stay future proof.” Roy believes in the importance of fostering a culture of change, as the world will continue to evolve. Only by keeping up to date with the customers’ needs and by allowing yourself to step into new sectors, you can remain relevant. 

But also, or even more so, when it comes to employees, fostering this culture of change is the leaders’ responsibility. A strategy is only as successful as the people working in the plants. For Sanchay, the focus is on this kind of stakeholder management. The key is to allow plant managers globally to give local accents to their way of working, while at the same time ensuring consistency across the plants. “Our responsibility is to empower the plant managers in their work. I have seen the managers grow their problem-solving skills when they were trusted to run the local plant in their own way. And problem-solving skills in all layers of the organization is what makes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful company.”

Shell is like a small country 

Sanchay draws a comparison between Shell and a country, perceiving the matrix organization as functioning akin to a government, with its various units resembling ministries with complex pallet of stakeholders and global events. As an operational excellence leader, he encounters similar supply chain and operations challenges. For example, aligning the activities of the operational units and navigating the impact of global events like conflicts and pandemics. Therefore, Sanchay believes the resilience of the supply chain should be a top priority. 

But also when discussing the way of working within the organization Sanchay makes the comparison to a country, noting the presence of diverse cultures globally. He acknowledges that changing a culture is never easy, if not impossible. The way of working and the vision of a unit or plant have usually grown historically. Because of this, the directions that the top leadership gives require time to comprehend in all layers of the organization. For Sanchay, this means that he puts time and effort into gaining front-line support: “I try to ensure that the colleagues in the plants don’t see the leadership vision as a flavor of the quarter, but believe in it themselves.” The integration of technological solutions is one of the next big step Sanchay is working on. Technology, process and culture are interrelated and require a new way of working, “and will only result in success when our colleagues globally believe in the importance of adaptation and change.”

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