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Chennai's Surana family shows what it takes to run an ISO-certified house

Each member has been given a designation and a role, with their work instructions listed in a manual

Gireesh Babu & T E Narasimhan 

Surana
(From left, sitting): Keerti, Dev Kartik, Leela, P S Surana; (standing) Rashmi and Vinod

What is your dinner menu today? What will it be a week from today? Not sure? Then you’re probably not as systematic as the Suranas. At the Surana household in Chennai, the family knows precisely what its menu will be for the entire month — and probably even beyond that. And that’s not the end of it.

Everything in the house is listed and labelled. Even the purchases are categorised: things to be bought every alternate day, once a month, once a quarter or once a year. With such clockwork precision is the house run that for the last 13 years it has held an 9000 (International Organization for Standardisation) certificate for This is the first, if not the only, household in the country to receive an certification.

It all started in 1987 when P S Surana, a lawyer, went to Italy for a case. He was completely taken in by the systems in place for maintaining a law firm. The electronic typewriter was a new attraction; it could reduce the costs involved in preparing legal documents, while giving appointments to clients, allocating work to employees, and sharing bills in a transparent manner. Once back in Chennai, he implemented these practices in his office. Another visit to California in 1988 exposed him to computers. These also made way to the Surana office the next year. Supporting him throughout was his lawyer wife, Leela.

“We understood early how compliance to systems benefits everybody, in terms of technology, training people, delegating work, building the team and so on,” says Surana’s son, Vinod, who is also a lawyer. “In 1989-90, we had four computers, which was unusual for a law firm back then. People thought the Suranas were getting into the desktop publishing business,” he laughs.

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In 1999, the company applied for an certification and the Suranas claim it became the first law firm in Asia to earn it. Vinod, meanwhile, got married to Rashmi. She too trained in law and joined the firm.

In 2004, after the young couple had two children, the family decided to seek an certification for their house as well, which was unheard of then. The concept was that the certification was meant only for the manufacturing industry. Even the services industry hardly ever applied for it.

“‘Do what you say and say what you do’ is the fundamental theory of ISO, and Rashmi, while dealing with the auditors for the certification for the office, also wanted it for our house,” says Vinod. Doing things systematically and keeping record of it all was critical for the certification. Leela and Rashmi put all their energy into it and in July 2004, the house got the certification, which is now proudly displayed at the entrance.

Even for the (BIS), the nodal agency for the certification, it was a new task. The family sat with BIS officials to create a manual of standards, including a fixed annual food menu.

In 2009, when they built a new house on top of their multi-storey law firm in R K Salai in the heart of the city, various aspects, including the environmental requirements according to the latest standards, were taken into consideration. Built to conserve energy, both the office and the house do not require artificial lighting during the day.

In keeping with the guidelines, each member of the family has been given a designation and a role, with their work instructions listed in a manual: Surana (67) is Household Head, Leela (62) as Household Representative, Rashmi (41) as Management Representative, Vinod (44) and their two children, Keerti and Dev Kartik, are Customers. Guests are also Customers, who are expected to write out their feedback. For, feedback and satisfaction are key to maintaining the certification.

The buck stops with the Household Head, while the Management Representative is responsible for the execution of the task, much like the CEO of a company. The Household Representative oversees the operations and ensures that systems are in place. Every once in a while, the Board meets to take stock of the operations and to bring in changes, if needed, according to customer feedback. The permanent customers, too, are expected to give their feedback.

The Surana & Surana Household (SSH) Quality Policy stipulates that it is committed to providing effective, need-based food catering, housekeeping and facility management services at all times. The Household Administrator maintains a detailed work instruction for the SSH employees, including for reception of visitors, housekeeping, catering as well as personal hygiene.

“In a household, more than 160 hours in a year are spent on discussing the menu for the next day. We have it fixed for the entire year, saving time and removing the uncertainty,” says Rashmi.

All purchases are done at equal intervals, depending upon the requirement. Rice and wheat, for example, are bought once in a year. Perishables such as fruits and vegetables are bought on alternate days from vendors who have been rated well in advance. There is a checklist of cleaning and maintenance work and the house staff — three Domestic Assistants — follows it religiously. There is also a fixed day in a week to tank up the vehicles.

In the house, the family converses in Rajasthani, their mother tongue, which the auditor remarks is “nativity and humility”. Both the women in the family cook every day. The house goes through two BIS audits every year, apart from periodic internal audits by its own auditors to ensure that quality is maintained. The certification and BIS audits cost them Rs 80,000-90,000 a year and they spend another Rs 20,000 or so for compliance.

Everything in the kitchen is labelled and neatly arranged in cupboards in standard containers. Everything carries pictorial representation, to communicate without ambiguity. The motto is: “Everything in its place and a place for everything.”

Like the family, every room in the house, which is called Sudharma, has a name. The guestroom is calls Atithi, the kitchen is Annalakshmi, the dining room is Trupti, the puja room is Kevalyadham, the living room is Ashiyana, the children’s room is Sishu Kutir, the study-room-cum library is Saraswati, the bedroom for the older couple is Aanchal and for the younger one is Vaibhav, and the storeroom is Kothar.

The family is expected to show improvement on various parameters, including health. So, food containing preservatives or artificial ingredients is a strict “No” and after they are bought, the vegetables are soaked for three hours at room temperature to rid them of any chemical coating. Over time, the family’s and cost of office equipment and stationary has also come down.

Being a household, some relaxation from guidelines is granted. Sundays, for example, do not have a fixed menu.

The children were 3 and 4 years old when the house got the certification, so they are used to the systems. Their friends, however, find it uncommon. If the children have to go out for a few days, they first prepare a list of things to pack and do. The shopping list is prepared well in advance and the agenda is set before the journey starts.

Over the years, the family has hosted judges, advocates, professors, industrialists, foreign delegates, a former Chief Election Commissioner, and politicians such as Amar Singh and Jaya Prada. The guests are mostly their clients or friends. In the feedback register is a note from N R Madhava Menon, founder director of the National Law School of India University: “A new experience in visiting a house where everything is organised systematically.”

Next year, the family plans to apply for the 9000:2015 certification. It also hopes to share its expertise and experience with other households — if they are interested.

First Published: Fri, January 05 2018. 23:11 IST
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